Opinion

Boo! It’s going to be one scary law-and-order election

As Angela Merkel warns the world that the failure of the euro might well mean war, the new world disorder I predicted months ago approaches apace.

But if, as I argued, the likelihood of world chaos is of paramount importance this election year, its manifestations here at home are now set to dominate a presidential contest that everyone still thinks is about something else.

Some say we’re facing a referendum on debt and structural deficits. Some claim it’s all about jobs. Others declare a fateful choice between liberty and servitude, our constitutional principles hanging in the balance.

None of these are weak political narratives. But an even more powerful election-year framing is beginning to intrude — a monster issue with the power to scare into the background all our other policy polarities.

As police clash violently with Occupy protesters in Oakland and Atlanta …

As calls intensify for a military drug war in Mexico …

As the Obama administration doubles down on “rule by waiver” and stonewalls on Fast and Furious …

The race for the White House — and the state-level contests caught up in the maelstrom — could hinge on the old watchword of Americans bent first and foremost on averting national decline.

I’d bet my trick-or-treat bag it’s going to be a law-and-order election.

Don’t be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

We’re already deep into a major crisis in the rule of law. Even as he uses the regulatory state (a la Solyndra) to distort and defy legality, Obama himself understands he must take action to prevent a headlong slide into federal illegitimacy — deporting, for instance, hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.

But the administration’s heavy reliance on drones and kill teams abroad symbolizes our fear at home that, today, the maintenance of order anywhere, at any time, requires the use of brute force.

This sentiment is especially painful given the general political realignment of Americans toward a more libertarian set of ideals. Yet it prevails — leaving the electorate more favorable toward cracking camped-out skulls even as support for the legalization of pot tops 50% for the first time since polling began.

Today’s stewing new breed of pessimistic populists are increasingly permissive on social issues — from abortion to immigration to sex and drugs — while growing increasingly dismissive of those whose choices lead to costly disruptions of basic social order.

From the perspective of communitarians left and right, pessimistic populism is a crisis all its own — a scary indicator of the collapse of the cultural institutions that have long drawn us out of our narrow self-interest and into cooperation for a common good.

Leading the outcry is Pope Benedict XVI, whose newly announced vision of a global economic authority to care for the world’s wretched strikes America’s pessimistic populists as the worst of both worlds — too puritanical and too pampering, and an embrace of servitude to boot.

But beneath the apparent selfishness of the dog-eat-dog mentality that could caricature pessimistic populism lurks a grim determination to preserve the small portion of the social contract that actually can be preserved.