Elizabeth Warren, Ben Sasse and history’s Zen moments

Ours since 9/11 has been a time of Zen moments. They forecast a future seen now through a glass darkly, later to become clear. The British parliament's recent vote not to follow President Obama into combat in Syria was a Zen moment, changing American foreign policy, possibly this time, forever.

The most powerful Zen moment since 9/11 came perhaps in early 2009, when New Hampshire state Reps. Paul Ingbretson (R) and Dan Itse (R) declared that New Hampshire need not participate in ObamaCare, citing Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions. As many as 20 states spontaneously followed suit. The Supreme Court turned back their challenge, but what is more important is that at least 20 states spontaneously rose together on a legislative issue in direct opposition to the federal government. It was possibly the first time this had happened with such impact since 1865. America’s future opens from there.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — an Oklahoma country girl and Patriots fan who baked a Valentine’s Day cake for her mother's birthday every year and made a very nice one again this year — brings a Zen moment to New England. What political strategist Larry J. Sabato called “the Kennedy half century” has past. We in New England will likely no longer be governed by European ethnics. That period has passed just as WASP governance has passed. You might say we, ethnic New Englanders like myself, have lost our European shadow and have passed a three-generation “rite of entry” to Americanization. We will no longer see ourselves as hyphenated Americans, just Americans. We have, in effect, “come into the country.” Warren brings us Andrew Jackson and Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, and it is a remarkably good fit.

Recently, Ben Sasse, who is running for Senate in Nebraska, intentionally brought on a Zen moment. Calling it just a “thought balloon,” he wondered if it was time to move the nation’s capital someplace else, like Nebraska. It could have made him a laughing stock in the many minor conservative sites which laugh so heartily at any new thinking. Instead, it brought him to the front line of conservative politics and a cover story on William F. Buckley, Jr.’s National Review

As The Hill reported on Sunday, “nearly two years after Ted Cruz's come-from-behind primary victory, Tea Party challengers are fizzling in Texas.” They are fizzling in Alaska too, where more mainstream challengers from the “establishment” but still claiming Tea Party karma are raising more cash. This suggests that the rustic, at-the-barricades phase of Tea Party challenges to the “establishment” has passed. Even Glenn Beck has apologized for his buffoon antics. 

And that is why Sasse is so important. A former university president, he brings a thoughtful, mature and seasoned approach.

Sasse’s comment on moving the nation’s capital suggests that he has the ability to see beyond the North-South America of 1776 to a state rising to an East-West world. And as China sends warships today to the East China Sea, the western sphere will rise in status and importance. It is an America in which economy and movements of population have shifted to the center and the west, an America where economy grows in the middle while the edges sink into debt, an America in which Texas and California rise first to the future in population, economy and ideas. They are to be as our century rises what Virginia and Massachusetts were to our beginnings.

Future history needs new thinking and new thinkers, and Sasse has the ability to approaches these fateful abstractions with maturity and intelligence.