She is one of the best big-picture writers, along with George Weigel, on contemporary politics—both are Catholic—as she does it once more in her Friday Wall Street Journal column.
“If you write a column, you get a lot of email. Sometimes, especially in a political season, it's possible to discern from it certain emerging themes—the comeback of old convictions, for instance, or the rise of new concerns. Let me tell you something I'm hearing, in different ways and different words. The coming rebellion in the voting booth is not only about the economic impact of spending, debt and deficits on America's future. It's also to some degree about the feared impact of all those things on the character of the American people. There is a real fear that government, with all its layers, its growth, its size, its imperviousness, is changing, or has changed, who we are. And that if we lose who we are, as Americans, we lose everything.
“This is part of what's driving the sense of political urgency this year, especially within precincts of the tea party.
“The most vivid illustration of the fear comes, actually, from another country, Greece, and is brilliantly limned by Michael Lewis in October's Vanity Fair. In "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds," he outlines Greece's economic catastrophe. It is a bankrupt nation, its debt, or rather the amount of debt that has so far been unearthed and revealed, coming to "more than a quarter-million dollars for every working Greek." Over decades the Greeks turned their government "into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums" and gave "as many citizens as possible a whack at it." The average government job pays almost three times as much as the average private-sector job. The retirement age for "arduous" jobs, including hairdressers, radio announcers and musicians, is 55 for men and 50 for women. After that, a generous pension. The tax system has disintegrated. It is a welfare state with a cash economy.
“Much of this is well known, though it is beautifully stated. But all of it, Mr. Lewis asserts, has badly damaged the Greek character. "It is simply assumed . . . that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed. . . . Government officials are assumed to steal." Tax fraud is rampant. Everyone cheats. "It's become a cultural trait," a tax collector tells him.
“Mr. Lewis: "The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. . . . Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible."
“Thus can great nations, great cultures, disintegrate, break into little pieces that no longer cohere into a whole.
“And what I get from my mail is a kind of soft echo of this. America is not Greece and knows it's not Greece, but there is a growing sense—I should say fear—that the weighty, mighty, imposing American government itself, whether it meant to or not, has for years been contributing to American behaviors that are neither culturally helpful nor, as we now all say, sustainable: a growing sense of entitlement, of dependency, of resentment and distrust, and an increasing suspicion that everyone else is gaming the system. "I got mine, you get yours."