2010-12-17 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

The Prophet In His Own Land
by Stuart W. Mirsky

Suddenly, it’s winter. A fierce cold snap and the first real snowfall of the season, swirling eddies blotting out the glow of the street lamps outside my window just a few nights ago. Time to pull out my aged leather jacket (World War II bomber style), which a pal of mine has been poking fun at for years, and ditch the thin cloth one I’d been relying on. It’s time to think about the passing of another year, too.

Roughly twelve months ago I wrote in these pages about someone else who was thinking about other years. Former Russian KGB analyst Igor Panarin made a name for himself as a pundit and prophet in post Soviet Russia when, in 1998, he predicted the impending break-up of the United States – by the year 2010 he told audiences and reporters, a year now passing into the history books with no such imminent break-up in sight.

Panarin had forecast that mass immigration into this country, combined with an ongoing economic and moral disintegration here would be the end of us as a unified nation, precipitating the collapse of our currency and our fragmentation into several smaller and much weaker states.

This would make room for the rise of other powers including (no surprise here!) a resurgent Russia, he said. Texas and the American south, along with parts of the southwest, would fall under Mexican domination, if not her outright annexation, while California and other far western states would fall to Chinese control. Midwestern America and many of the north central western states would come under Canadian influence while the eastern seaboard, as far south as South Carolina and as far west as Tennessee, would end up under the domination of the European Union. Hawaii, he added, would be peeled off by China or Japan while Russia would, of course, get back Alaska. Well, so much for prophets.

As it happens there’s hardly enough time left in 2010 for any of it and Mexico, with raging unrest along its northern border hardly looks like a likely competitor for any part of the United States at this writing. The EU’s got problems of its own, too, with a sovereign debt crises across a number of its member states, from Greece to Ireland and Spain, and a currency in need of shoring up. China is certainly growing in economic and political clout but it still has its hands full with inflationary pressures and underemployment, while North Korea, not averse to a little mischief on China’s eastern border, kicks up its heels and annoys the region once more. Even China, delighted as it must be at any American discomfiture, doesn’t need that headache now. And Russia? Yes, they’re flexing their muscles again and pressuring America in Europe, but it’s eastern Europe where their worries currently lie, in the lands between themselves and the European Union to their west.

So it looks like Panarin’s predictions are a little bit off as the year of reckoning winds down. But it’s fair to say that we’re not over the hump quite yet. We still have some pretty big difficulties including budgetary problems as we’re now borrowing an estimated forty cents on every dollar we spend. Unless this deficit and the coming debt crisis it will fuel are finally brought under control, Igor Panarin could still look like a genius because an America that’s borrowed to the hilt is an America whose global clout must stand diminished.

How can we hope to sustain a strong military – the only thing between us and the instability of an increasingly rambunctious globe, from Iran to a resurgent Russia and China, to Hugo Chavez’ bellicose Venezuela and the stateless al Qaeda family of terrorists – if we can’t pay for it? And how can we exert influence in more peaceful ways if we’re dependent on the goodwill of the nations we need to influence, like China, because we’re in hock to them? How do we stay prosperous and stable if our wealth is ultimately inflated away through a dollar that’s been weakened to deal with a massive debt load we can’t handle in other ways – or if taxes go so high that our economy is hammered back to the seventies when stagflation sucked the life and wealth from this country, along with its pride and self assurance?

Panarin seems to have gotten the details wrong, but he’s certainly noticed something – problems which have only grown worse in the recent political environment. The election this past November reshuffled the political cards once again in light of the spending bonanza which two years of Democratic rule in Washington have bequeathed us. But those in Congress who voted for that spending show no signs of going quietly.

House Democrats re-elected Nancy Pelosi as their leader despite the electoral debacle she brought them to and now they’ve balked at the tax compromise worked out by a Democratic president and the newly resurgent Republican leadership. It’s likely to pass anyway, despite the posturing of those who have long sought more taxation to pay for their spending habit. But their intransigent class warfare bodes ill for the year ahead.

The problem we’re facing isn’t that we aren’t taxed enough, contrary to the narrative of the spenders. It’s that we’re spending too much in a frenzy of new benefits spearheaded by the outgoing Democratic Congress and the White House. This week we’ve been hit by the continuing evidence of that as the lame duck Democratic Senate under its leader, Nevada Senator Harry Reid, delivered an omnibus spending bill exceeding 2,000 pages which no one but its writers seem to have read (if they have even read it all) full of earmarked spending and bulking up the federal baseline in anticipation of the promised fiscal restraint of newly strengthened Republicans in Congress. Shades of the 2,000 plus page you’ll-find-out-what’s-init when-we’ve-passed-it Obamacare bill!

Democrats in the House and the Senate are still playing chicken with their Republican counterparts, hoping that, as in the Clinton years, Republicans will get the blame if the government has to be temporarily shut down because of their intransigence on spending. It’s a dangerous game, the more so as it represents a continuation of the bitter partisanship that came to the fore in the Bush years. And it’s where Igor Panarin could still have a point.

Decades of bitter political sniping between left and right have carved a political divide down the middle of this country as evidenced, most recently, by the stubborn refusal of those on the left to compromise despite the outcome of elections which have put a brake on their spending agenda. As we go into a new year with newly divided government, only compromise and an interest in the greater national good can heal the wounds of past political battles.

Even President Obama seems to see that, despite his sometimes impolitic choice of words about Republicans being “political enemies” and “hostage takers.“ Even he seems to be trying to find some middle ground from which he and Republicans can jointly govern (although those words suggest a residual eagerness to pull the rug out from under the other side as soon as he’s able).

But there are still those in his own party, like Pelosi and Reid, with a take-no-prisoners mentality, even after this past November’s message from voters. And it’s that mindset, that refusal to meet other Americans half way, that can do us in. America may yet be strong enough to weather its current spending and borrowing problems – if we start doing so now. And it may be strong enough to deal with a host of nations newly feeling their oats across the globe, some of whom would gladly see us removed entirely from the world stage. But is it strong enough to deal with its own political divisions? Can its political class recognize that in democracies they’re supposed to do the will of the people rather than their own thing?

If compromise isn’t possible now, if diverse and diverging political factions cannot at last come together to pursue the common good of guiding and governing this country, if we cannot put an end to the class warfare and partisan stubbornness we’ve been witnessing for decades, then Igor Panarin and others like him could still have it right – whatever the year of reckoning turns out to be.

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