Victor Davis Hanson

Obama’s Psychodramas

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Barack Obama has a habit of trying to energize his legislative agenda by stoking the fires of emotionally charged current events — and in ways usually illogical and incoherent. The shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords and the horrible mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School were cited as reasons for rapid enactment of new gun-control laws — even though the proposed tougher registration rules would not have prevented either mayhem.

Tightening up the process for legal acquisition of firearms would not much hinder the mentally ill from getting their hands on guns. And the various measures needed to stop a crazy Adam Lanza or Jared Lee Loughner would be mostly intolerable for liberal or conservative civil libertarians — incarcerating far more of the mentally unhinged, censoring the depiction of gratuitous and violent use of guns in video games and films, confiscating the vast pools of semi-automatic rifles and handguns owned by private citizens. No matter. Sandy Hook and the shooting of Gabby Giffords were still arguments to shame opponents — in the president’s words, “lying” opponents — into accepting the administration’s proposals.

Furthermore, the politically driven distortion of recent gun violence was aimed not just at passing gun-control legislation, but also at demonizing opponents for the 2014 elections. That is why President Obama’s political guru, David Axelrod, almost immediately floated the idea that the catalyst for the Boston violence was “tax day,” in a not-so-subtle insinuation that just maybe some right-wing tea-party types had set off the bombs. That theme soon metamorphosed among the Left into charges that right-wing-inspired sequestration had curbed law-enforcement vigilance and that right-wing opposition to laws against acquiring explosives had enabled the bombers.

In President Obama’s State of the Union Address this February, he cited current inclement weather to argue for renewed efforts to implement some type of cap-and-trade taxes and to grant more subsidies of “sustainable energy” (e.g., wind and solar): “Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen, were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late.”

Such weather hysteria brings to mind candidate Obama’s bizarre claim in May 2007 that the tornado in Greensburg, Kan., killed 10,000 people. (“In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed.”) The tornado actually killed ten or eleven people. In that particular abuse of current events, Obama was not trying to hype global warming; he was trying to blame incumbent president George Bush — as if the supposed dearth of Kansas National Guardsmen (you see, according to Obama, most of them had been sent off to Iraq) meant that 10,000 innocent people had perished for want of emergency attention.

Note that despite the psychodramatic “before it’s too late” reference to Superstorm Sandy, recent weather data show that the planet has not heated up in the last 15 years, despite a vast increase in the worldwide levels of carbon releases into the atmosphere. Moreover, the fact that the United States, almost alone among industrial countries, is beginning to cut its rate of carbon emissions is due almost entirely to the transition from coal to natural gas for generating electricity. Yet natural gas is a sort of politically incorrect fuel not usually seen as green enough for environmentalists.

In other words, there is no scientific support for Obama’s inference that in the last decade and a half increasing human-produced carbon emissions have heated up the planet, much less caused a scientifically demonstrable spike in extreme weather. The only germane contemporary fact is precisely the one the president usually omits: Perhaps the greatest green boon in a half-century is the advent of fracking on private lands, which has led to a huge increase in the availability of clean-burning cheap natural gas that is insidiously replacing far dirtier-burning coal — despite, not because of, administration policies.

Of course, references to current events can cut two ways — and in a manner that might have the president crying foul against anyone other than himself who dares to tap into anger over contemporary horrors. Citing Superstorm Sandy was a futile effort to scare up support for cap-and-trade, and the incessant citing of the murdered children of Sandy Hook still did not make the case that Obama’s proposed gun control would have saved them, but the Boston bombing might, in fact, remind us that something is indeed wrong with American immigration policy — right in the middle of a rush to push through “comprehensive immigration reform.”

The checkered immigrant family of the two Boston bombers is a tragic advertisement of almost everything wrong with our current immigration policy. The idea of life-saving asylum doesn’t make any sense when supposed refugees, like both of the Tsarnaev parents, can return to live safely in Russia. The elder of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan, himself had likewise just spent six months in a supposedly deadly homeland — for what exact reasons we can only speculate. Do our immigration authorities really believe that Russia is so dangerous for Muslims that they must be allowed unquestioned admission to the United States, but not so dangerous that they cannot from time to time choose to revisit their deadly place of birth?

Can a resident alien no longer be summarily deported for breaking the laws of his host country — in the case of the skilled boxer Tamerlan, for domestic violence against his non-boxing wife, or, in the case of his mother, for shoplifting over $1,600 in merchandise?

Does being on public assistance years after arrival in this country, like the Tsarnaev family, no longer qualify a resident alien for deportation?

Does being investigated by the FBI for apparently loud and public expressions of support for anti-American radical jihadists not mean much?

In short, if a Tamerlan Tsarnaev cannot be deported, then perhaps no resident alien can be under any circumstances.

I am sure that in theory there are all sorts of laws to the effect that asylum seekers must prove that they would be in constant peril in their homelands (cf. Obama’s Aunt Zeituni and Uncle Onyango), that they must become self-sufficient residents of the United States (cf. Aunt Zeituni and Uncle Onyango), that they must not break American laws (cf. Aunt Zeituni and Uncle Onyango), and that they must not promote anti-American activity. But what do such theoreticals matter if, for reasons of laxity or political correctness or connectedness, these statutes are ignored — and, in the Boston case, ignored to a degree that led to murder and mayhem on a vast scale?

These paradoxes will resonate with those skeptical of comprehensive immigration reform. We expect boilerplate and loud administration assertions of border security, well-publicized benchmarks for self-sufficiency, grand talk of the avoidance of crime, and continued emphasis on long-term residence, but — once de facto amnesty is conceded — all these requirements, like most of current immigration law, will not be worth the paper they are written on.

One final thought about the political use and abuse of contemporary horror. This generation of Americans has a propensity to prefer the showy and dramatic — but ultimately irrelevant — response to crises as psychosocial compensation for the fear or inability to embrace a useful, but difficult or controversial, remedy. We don’t dare deal with the felony, so we strut about addressing the misdemeanor. When deranged shooters strike, go after the NRA, but do not get near Hollywood, the mental-health industry, or the illegally obtained handguns of the inner city.

When a hurricane strikes, provide more borrowed money for failed wind and solar programs, but do not dare promote fracking on public lands, which might radically reduce carbon emissions. Talk loudly of immigration reform, but only in the therapeutic sense of granting amnesties to the deserving, and never in the tragic sense of deporting the undeserving. As with the parents of wayward adolescents, saying yes wins smiles and saying no does not.

We know this much about this therapeutic and dishonest age: When the next horrific act occurs, one of two things will follow. Either we will rush to pass laws that will make us feel good but do nothing to address the existential crisis. Or we will be silent about enacting reforms of our existing flawed laws that might have prevented the horror, but would make us feel far too uncomfortable.

©2013 Victor Davis Hanson

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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