by Victor Davis Hanson
Suddenly, half the country is upset with Obama for the recent flurry of scandals. Even some in the media are perplexed. Why the sudden angst, given that Obama is simply being Obama? We, not he, changed the rules.
Once Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois legislature, his career as a statesman was mostly an afterthought — either voting “present” on controversial legislation (cf. Hillary’s 2008 complaint) or simply showing up to sign off on a straight left-wing agenda. Even his supporters can cite no lasting legislative achievement other than his controversial votes to allow babies born alive from botched abortions to be liquidated. As a political unknown, he got elected and defined his tenure as a legislator into a perpetual effort to find higher office.
Ditto the U.S. Senate. Obama was noted in his brief career mostly for compiling the most partisan record among a diverse group of 100 senators, while making the argument that he worked “across the aisle” and was a model of “bipartisanship.” Because newly elected Senator Obama swore that he would not run for the presidency, we inferred that he would certainly do just that. (Yes, it is axiomatic that when Obama swears [“make no mistake about it”/”let me be perfectly clear”], then we expect what will follow will prove to be the very opposite.)
In the Senate, there was no signature legislation, no principled opposition, not much of anything, except a vote against Justice Alito and some similarly failed efforts at other filibusters to deny nominees an up-or-down vote. He spent most of his brief sojourn attacking George W. Bush for the very protocols that he as president would later embrace. The only thing important was getting elected in the first place as a left-wing senator, and Obama accomplished that in brilliant, if not Machiavellian, fashion — with the help of the leaked divorced records of both his primary and general opponents.
The Man Who Never Was
The saga of Obama is marked by the uncanny ability to soar through the academic and government cursus honorum without ever being held too accountable for what followed. Obama’s selection as editor of the Harvard Law Review broke new ground. But to this day, no one cares much that his record was mediocre with no scholarly work to show for his tenure.
For that matter, ditto also his law career at the University of Chicago: an impressive appointment, but no scholarly book as promised, not even an article, and no distinguished record of teaching. Not much of anything. The point of the Nobel Prize was winning it — not doing anything that might have earned it. Just as there was no foreign policy achievement that preceded the prize, so there was naturally none following it. Why expect anything different now?
The Mind of the Liberal Elite
Obama always has a unique insight into a disturbing pathology among wealthy white liberal elites, who often seek, in condescending fashion, to promote particular aspiring minority candidates into positions of power and influence by virtue of their profile rather than past record. Hence the prep-schooled Barry Dunham returned to the more exotic Barack Obama, an authentic enough “other” fresh out of Rev. Wright’s Church, but also the pet of the Ivy League. Had he been born in Chicago to a Daily ward boss, it would have been a bit much to win statewide office. Had Obama been named Reggie Davis I don’t think the liberal resonance would have been there. Had he intoned like Jesse Jackson — all the time — he would have worried big-money liberals. Had his mannerisms been Al Sharpton-like, that would have been a bridge too far. There is something in the liberal mind that ignores the anti-constitutional transgressions of a smooth Eric Holder, but goes berserk over the comparatively minor obfuscations of a twangy Texan Alberto Gonzalez, perhaps along the lines of “how dare he?” Politics aside, liberal elites would always prefer to hear a Barack Obama fudge than a Clarence Thomas tell the truth.
Obama brilliantly threaded the multicultural, Ivy-League, prep-school, affirmative action, just like us-sorta, yuppie needle. I’ll let you decide whether wealthy liberals practice such racialist paternalism because of feelings of guilt, because of their intrinsic dislike of the NASCAR/Sarah Palin working and middle classes, or as a sort of medieval exemption — the huge “Obama for President” sign on the lawn of the Palo Alto professor means never having to put your kids in schools where some are bused in from East Palo Alto. But what is absolutely non-controversial is that Obama’s prior record as a university undergraduate, a Harvard Law Review editor, a Chicago law lecturer, an Illinois legislator, and a U.S. senator was as undistinguished as his efforts to obtain those posts were absolutely dazzling.
The presidency followed the same earlier script. Obama ran a brilliant campaign both in 2008 and 2012, more inspired even than Richard Nixon’s 1972 CREEP run, or Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” 1984 touchy-feely pastel effort. In 2008, Obama offered cadences of something known as “hope and change” that were supposed to cure the evils of George Bush — and left everything else to the media. The second time around, he turned a decent Mitt Romney into a veritable greedy ogre from the Utah nuthouse, who did everything from ignoring his African-American garbage man to torturing his poor dog to buying pricey horses for his wife who was found guilty of being an equestrian.
But Obama’s record as president? There is pretty much nothing other than ramming through an unpopular takeover of health care, leveraged by political bribes and deemed unworkable even before it is enacted. A “train wreck” is how its author in the Senate dubbed his own legislative offspring. Otherwise it was golf, down time, and free rein for zealous subordinates to “fundamentally transform America” by any means necessary, usually through administrative fiat and subversions of the vast and always growing bureaucracy.
Obama is now somewhat shocked that a few in the media hold him responsible for lots of bad things that his administration did: destroyed the reputation of the IRS; had a rogue EPA director invent a phony persona; let the HHS secretary shake down PR money from corporations to sell Obamacare; turned the Justice Department into a veritable Stasi enterprise going after the phone records of reporters; reduced the State Department into an arm of the 2012 Obama reelection effort; and helped erode the reputations of both Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, who advanced campaign narratives about Benghazi that were not just untrue, but were demonstrably false the moment they were presented.
So where’s the beef? Obama, who was given a pass from Rev. Wright to Tony Rezko, is justifiably confused: who now changed the rules? Why should he suddenly be held accountable in a way he never was prior? He signed up to be a transformational president who was above politics, not someone subject to the vagaries of Washington scandals.
The result of the serial dishonesty is that Obama almost immediately reverted to his natural campaign mode, the soaring rhetoric and non-traditional persona that won him everything on the guarantee that there would be no audit, no assessment, no final appraisal. In other words, Obama never really became president of the United States. He simply kept running for the office against “them” even when he is now “them” holding the highest office. So Pavlovian was his campaign mode that he never quite stopped to wonder why he was running against himself — now damning the very abuses of power that he committed, upset only that someone might be disturbed about a record in a manner that they never were at Harvard, in the Senate, or during his first term.
Where do the scandals lead? To about three more months of Washington inaction. At some point soon, the Democrats will accept that the novelty of Obama in opposition to the First, Second, and Fourth Amendments has worn off. Who cares to hound out our first black president, our first northern liberal commander in chief in a half-century? Likewise the media will strut a bit to show it is not entirely reptilian, but then will revert to the usual hagiography. Why endanger Obamacare, or “lead from behind,” or the apology tours, or the new 50 million on food stamps by cannibalizing your own?
There are lots of metaphors for Obama. Some cite King Henry II, who dreams out loud for advantageous things to follow, only to shed alligator tears when toadies reify his deadly desires (Becket dead? That was a bit much, wasn’t it?). Others cite the clueless Jimmy Carter, whose agendas proved unworkable and ended up as caricatures of a presidency. I still prefer Chauncey Gardiner of Being There. In January 2012, I wrote the following on these pages :
What got Obama to the presidency was being a man without a past or present, Chauncey Gardiner of Being There — without a college record, a medical record, a scholarly record, or much of a legislative record, the “smartest” president in history without having to say or do anything smart, who “busted hump” his entire life without any proof that he ever did any such thing, who proclaimed himself a greater president than all but three, but left nothing great in his wake, now or in the past. Obama had forgotten that winning non-persona for a time, and so after 2009 fooled himself into thinking out loud that at times he would play a real Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy, or Reagan.
But now Obama accepts what he was and always will be — Chauncey Gardiner.
And just being there is apparently the way to being president a bit longer.
Nothing has changed in the last 18 months, and the Obama presidency remains what it has been since 2009: a path-breaking candidate who was elected America’s first African-American president; a gifted teleprompted speaker who is as accomplished from a script as he flounders ex tempore; and an opportunist haunted by George Bush and the post-2010 Republican House that are supposed to be responsible for most of what he gets caught for.
Otherwise there is not a lot there—mostly a carnival of McCarthyite (AttackWatch, JournoList, IRS) henchmen and left-wing extremists trying to push through an agenda by any means necessary that the majority of America probably does not welcome.
Obama is perturbed that we question any of this malfeasance. I think he is right to be angry. In his case, we made up the Obama rules that symbolism (not performance) and amnesty (not accountability) count. So why break our covenant with him, and now start asking for concrete and honest accomplishment when the teleprompter was always enough? In 2008, did we ask for the specifics of “the audacity of hope,” or ponder how someone who did not miss a service at Trinity Church (“Yep. Every week. 11 o’clock service”) somehow missed Rev. Wright’s serial racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American rants? That we now want to know the president’s role in Benghazi, or in the IRS, AP, and Fox scandals is something that was just not part of the smartest-president-in-history bargain—as if once upon a time America ever demanded, “What the hell is your hope and change?”
So as they say here in Selma, “Get over it”.
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