Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Madness of 2008

A nation became unhinged by trivialities like “hope and change.” It has now awakened.  

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

On the campaign trail, October 2008 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On the campaign trail, October 2008 (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

America is suddenly angry at the laxity, incompetence, and polarizing politics of the Obama administration, the bad optics of the president putting about in his bright golf clothes while the world burns. Certainly, no recent president has failed on so many fronts — honesty, transparency, truthfulness, the economy, foreign policy, the duties of the commander-in-chief, executive responsibilities, and spiritual leadership.

For those who are “shocked” at the present meltdown, of a magnitude not seen since the annus horribilis of 1979, in their defense: Obama certainly did not campaign on a new health-care plan that would force Americans to give up the doctors they liked and their existing coverage, while raising premiums and deductibles, while giving exemptions for insiders and cronies, and while raising the deficit.

Nor did we hear on the campaign trail that Obama would push gay marriage, open borders, near-permanent zero interest rates, six consecutive $1 trillion deficits, and record food-stamp and Social Security disability payouts. He criticized Bush for relatively minor executive orders, suggesting that he would never rule by fiat — as he since has done in matters of Obamacare, immigration law, and environmental regulations. Remember the promise of ending the revolving door and stopping aides from cashing in — and then follow the post-administration careers of Obama’s closest advisers.

Obama promised to halve the deficit — not run up more red ink than almost all prior presidents combined. Indeed, he once as a senator voted against raising the debt limit and blasted Bush for borrowing from China. He once sermonized to us that the presidency is serious stuff, that it entails inordinate personal sacrifice and even a virtual absence of downtime and vacation — and then he became just the sort of president he was critiquing. But those deceptions were simply politics as usual, and it was logical for the hard leftist Barack Obama to try to appear to be a moderate, given that no Northern liberal had won the presidency in the half-century since John F. Kennedy.

The antidote to the great madness of 2008 would have been, instead of focusing on what Obama claimed or hedged, simply to recall what he had done before he ran for president and to notice what he did during the campaign. Had America done that, there would never have been a President Obama to surprise us now.

The racial animosity characterized by Obama’s editorializing about Skip Gates, Trayvon Martin, and, now, the Ferguson, Mo., hysteria, or his call to Latinos to “punish our enemies,” or the tenure of Eric Holder is simply a continuation of 2008’s “typical white person,” the clingers speech, Michelle Obama’s America as “just downright mean,” “They raise the bar,” and “For the first time . . . I’m really proud of my country” commentaries, and of Obama’s earlier boast that he never missed services at the Trinity Church of the hate-mongering and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright. If Obama had not proved to be a racial divider, we should have been surprised — given what we learned of his past in 2008. After all, it’s from Jeremiah Wright that Barack Obama got the title for his campaign brief, “The Audacity of Hope.”

We are now shocked at the current spate of alphabetic scandals — IRS, AP, NSA, VA. But why are we surprised, given that Obama never told the truth about his relationships with the old terrorist Bill Ayers and former PLO ad hoc spokesman Rashid Khalidi, or about the creepy land deal with the crook Tony Rezko? If the Obama White House demonized the Tea Party as tea-baggers, or compared the Republican House opposition to terrorists and arsonists, why should we be astonished, given how he was elected to the U.S. Senate? Quite mysteriously, his primary opponent, Blair Hull, and his general-election opponent, Jack Ryan, both of whom were favored to win, had their confidential divorce records leaked. Their campaigns subsequently imploded.

Obama has played fast and loose with ethical rules, from promoting crony capitalists to attending near-constant fundraisers among the pay-to-play 0.0001 percent. Again, why should we be surprised, given that he was the first presidential candidate who refused in a general election to accept federal campaign financing, with its accompanying rules curbing mega-fundraising? Obama was the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs donations in the company’s history, and raised more cash in 2008 and 2012 than any other presidential candidate in history.

We are terrified of the chaos that is spreading across the world: Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Putin’s Russia, and the Chinese–Japanese tensions. But was there any evidence in 2008 that rookie senator Obama had any foreign-policy experience or even knowledge of the world beyond Chicago, other than as a boy in Indonesia or a teen on a jaunt with buddies to Pakistan? We knew in 2008 that his opportunistic trashing of Guantánamo, renditions, tribunals, drones, and preventive detention was permitted only by the fact that the Bush–Cheney protocols he was criticizing had prevented another 9/11-like attack — and thus gave him the leeway of easy second-guessing. If we are now worried about Obama’s equivocation, there was plenty of evidence, as Hillary Clinton pointed out in 2008, that Obama as a state legislator had voted “Present” as a matter of habit.

Polarization? Partisanship? The National Journal warned us in 2008 that Obama was the most partisan of the 100 U.S. senators. Did we assume that he would revert to something that he never had been?

Critics are angry that Obama seems disengaged, or that as a man of the people he is inordinately obsessed with golf, a sport that the Left used to despise as a fixation of the rich in their lime-green pants and bright pink polo shirts. But again, can we point to any landmark legislation that Obama accomplished as a state legislator or U.S. senator? Was not Obama golfing during the 2008  campaign?

Then there is the matter of the presidential untruths. The problem is not just that Barack Obama says things that are untrue but that he lies about what Barack Obama has said. He brags that he set red lines, but then he says it was the U.N. had set red lines. He boasts of pulling out every U.S. soldier from Iraq but then alleges that President Bush, the Iraqis, or Maliki did that. He claims that ISIS are Jayvees but then claims they are serious. But his prevarication too is habitual and was known in 2008 when it was discovered that he had simply misled the nation about his relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. He had no desire, in the transparent manner of John Kerry, Al Gore, John McCain, or George W. Bush, to release his medical records or college transcripts. If Americans find their president ill-informed, there was no record that he was informed in 2008. His gaffes were far more frequent than those of Sarah Palin, who knew there were 50 states.

Historians will look back at 2008 as a time when the country became more or less collectively unhinged. There was an accompanying perfect storm of sorts: He was the first serious African-American candidate, whom condescending liberals like Harry Reid and Joe Biden heralded for being clean, light-skinned, and without a black patois; he was running in an orphaned election without an incumbent vice president or president on the other side’s ticket, a situation not seen since 1952; we had an unpopular lame-duck president and the Iraq war; the sudden financial meltdown in September 2008 caused a then-behind Obama to immediately surge ahead; the McCain campaign was lackluster; and the media became an advocate of the Obama effort.

Pundits vied for superlatives. On little evidence, Christopher Buckley assured us that Obama possessed “a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect.” For some, proof of Obama’s godhead became almost physical — a “perfectly creased pant” for David Brooks, a tingling leg for Chris Matthews. For Evan Thomas he was a “sort of God”; for one blue-chip historian he was the smartest man with the highest IQ ever running for the presidency. And on and on, as huge crowds acted as if they were watching Paul McCartney on tour in 1966. After the election, there was real apprehension that the country might not make it for the two and a half months until an elected Obama could take power.

Given that there was no evidence from Obama’s legislative career to justify such superlatives, we can only assume that our intellectual elites got caught up in the faux Greek columns, the Obama tutorials for fainting crowds about proper first aid, the teleprompted emphatics of “Let me be perfectly clear” and “Make no mistake about it,” the Latinate motto “Vero possumus” on the faux presidential seal on his campaign podiums, the boast that Obama & Co. were “the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the messianic promise to cool the planet and lower the seas, the Lincoln self-comparisons, and the other embarrassing childish banalities.

Obama, it is true, ran a brilliant campaign in 2008, hinting to the Other that as a non-white he shared both their racial bona fides and their frustrations, hinting to white elites that his own unique heritage would end racial hostilities and thus allow them to square the circle of living largely separate elite lives and not having to feel guilty about it. He dropped his g’s and went into Southern cadences among African Americans, and then back again into wonkish academese to mainstream whites. It was well known that in impromptu talks he stuttered and stumbled with uh’s in deer-in-the-headlights fashion, and used the pronouns I, me, my, and mine ad nauseam, but such unease was ignored given his teleprompted eloquence and the considerable elite investment in his symbolism.

In sum, in 2008 Obama gave America more than enough evidence to doubt that he was ready for the presidency, but when a nation becomes unhinged by trivialities like “hope and change,” there is not much one can do — until the patient wakes up from his trance and in embarrassment asks, “What exactly was all that nuttiness in 2008 about?”

We will be fathoming that strange madness of 2008 for decades to come.

 

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About Victor Davis Hanson

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.

17 Thoughts on “The Madness of 2008

  1. All this is known. What isn’t known is how the expansion of government and the unintended (or intended) consequences of this administration will impact our Country’s future. Everytime we have cut back on our military we have problems. How many times can we keep relying on the military to dig us out of the holes our politicians dig us into? VDH has always talked about the lack of consistency in American foreign policy because our republic form of government allows for disparate worldviews from our so called statesman elected by the democratic process. Barak Obamas worldview compared to Ronald Reagan’s is a perfect example. Obama’s view is that of a 5 year old, naive and detached. Reagan’s wary realism but optimistic. Humans are the most amazing species and our system of government along with a civil society without a doubt has created the opportunity for people to flourish but our younger generation doesn’t seem to grasp what the American experiment is/was. In general our schools have been corrupted. Can you imagine what educators from 50-100 years ago would think about the current curriculum we have in our public schools. They would think we’ve been hijacked by aliens. 5 year olds being taught about Adam and Steve instead of Adam and Eve in California textbooks says it all. We’re not going to be able to turn the clock back, genie ain’t going back in the bottle. 10-20 years from now and we won’t have but a few pockets of extremists left; Mormons, practicing Catholics, Southern Christian’s whose word is still good, farmers and ranchers who still farm and ranch themselves and just want to be left alone. Nope we’ll have google celebrating Al Sharpton’s birthday on their search page. Good luck and goodbye.

  2. Back in the day Reagan was an actor prior to becoming president. Now, you have Obama who turned actor after he became president.

    Gil Scott-Heron, back in the eighties, wrote a song about Reagan called B-Movie. His advice, somewhat cynical, ” You ain’t never really got to worry. And you don’t need to check on how you feel. Just keep repeating that none of this is real. “. Keep repeating now!

  3. Keith Hayworth on August 26, 2014 at 12:17 pm said:

    The excellence of VDH’s description of Barak Obama’s phenomenon should include a description of the pathetic efforts of the loyal opposition to properly demonize the political Luciferian nature of Democrats. The GOP positively believes in the myth of the swayable center. The Republican elite shy from mudslinging and name-calling hoping to campaign above the fray. From George W. Bush’s refusal to defend himself for fear of it being beneath the dignity of the office of President, to the irrational abandoning of the vibrant tea party movement, Republicans simply fear making people hate them. As a result, they cannot capitalize on what should be the overwhelmingly favorable conditions for political gain.
    Moderates are motivated by a strong aversion to ridicule. They rarely vote for candidates because of any move to the center. Instead they vote for the candidate that least likely places them in an uncomfortable position among their friends. Hence, Republicans fail to create any negative stigma in popular culture for being a Democrat. In contrast, the Democrats demonize Republicans on an hourly basis. In the late 70s and 80s, conservatives won the moderates through putting the fear of God in them for having anything to do with being a “liberal”. Now, the GOP candidates talk about “moving across the aisle” and “working together” (The Democrats shudder at such language). If the Republicans are going to have a future, they must make “Democrat” a bad word, emblematic of extremism, incompetence and ruination. Any wavering gives the upper hand to the radical left, whose commitment to the politics of personal destruction is unshakeable. If Ronald Reagan can win in spite of a dominant leftist media culture, then surely someone can properly take on the Democrats in a time of unprecedented conservative media resources. Remember, moderates will gravitate where they have the least chance of being rolled under by the dominant political spirit. Conservatives must assert themselves to claim dominance. It will not be handed to them.

  4. El Terryble' on August 26, 2014 at 1:26 pm said:

    This is a pretty damning cataloging of the deceit that has befallen our nation. But, I feel that the proper conclusion to draw from this litany of betrayal, disaster, and subterfuge has not been spoken. That Barack Hussein Obama is not merely ideologically misguided and incompetent as to how to steward America, but intentionally raping and destroying her, which makes him far worse than Jimmy Carter who was merely inept.

    His actions and policies are completely detached from any positive aspect, no American president with an ounce of human decency would not alter, or change course to some degree, which leads one to the conclusion that all this is by design. Obama doubles down on destruction and frivolity, like a true dialectical Marxist, seeking to convey meaning to his supporters and opponents alike. His golf is designed to prove a point- to spit in the face of his detractor’s. A Marine is still being held hostage in Mexico, while 5 Taliban are released for one deserter (which was itself a violation of the law), not because Obama is powerless to have Sgt Tahmooressi freed; but because he wants to send a message that it is in fact the deserter (traitor) of America that is worthy of his efforts, not the patriotic war hero. And Obama protects his own.

    His lies are of such breathtaking audaciousness, be they Benghazi, the IRS, “you didn’t build that”, etc., that they defy logic, and are meant to send a signal that he is untouchable. They are a call to arms, meant to signify that his adversary’s and opponents are 1) unable or unwilling to stop him and 2) illegitimate in their beliefs and ideology because of their fecklessness in voicing opposition ( and not taking the necessary steps to stop him and rectify the situation, if in fact their beliefs, traditions, and concerns were legitimate ). It’s like rationalizing or condoning rape because the victim didn’t resist vehemently enough. The victim (the patriotic element of the American People) look for help in the police (the GOP and traditional American institutions and ideals), but all they get is lines like “this is what you get when you associate with elements such as he. You should have expected this.” The rape, or total disregard for the rule of law and well being of America in this case, is not for pleasure, but to convey power and to induce humiliation on the part of the victim.

    What I am saying is that Obama has telegraphed that he’s not only willing to defy the law, brazenly lie, and oversee decline, more than likely this has been his plan all along, and he’s saying that any attempt to destroy his presidency before his job is finished will result in him opening the gates to the illegal alien barbarians, or for Iran not only get nuclear weapons, but use them to nuke Israel without American response. Obama is a fairly common historical phenomenon among men and the leader’s of men; it’s not that he’s incompetent, its that he is evil, or adhere’s to an ideology that is. He thinks he does good, but so do the child decapitator’s and rapists of the Islamic State who commit atrocities in the name of Allah. The only difference between why Dar Islamiya kills innocents, and Barack Obama is destroying America is that we know why Da’ish does what what it does- the Quran legitimizes these actions for the propagation of Islam in the course of Jihad. Relatively, we know little about Obama, his beliefs, and his ideologies, because their obscured by the ‘Big Lie’- his is the more dangerous ideology because we refuse to analyze and portray it as such.

  5. Theophilus on August 26, 2014 at 1:32 pm said:

    I want to thank you Mr. Hanson for your delightful but scary article on our so called “great” leader in the White House. Unfortunately, America is now reaping what it sowed; Obama was a mistake from the beginning! I pointed this out to my friends and relatives back in 2008, however too many of them were caught up in the euphoria. My friends and family is essentially a rainbow coalition (white, black, brown, yellow, red and pink :)) group, so most everyone was basically of the belief, as one of my relatives said “there’s one of us in the white house”. However, I was not of this sentiment and my original assessment back in 2008 proved to be right, now everyone in the family doesn’t even want to bring the subject up, they basically want to sweep it under the rug. From my advantage point this is just another rainbow coalition experiment gone awry!

    I hate to say this but our beloved America may never recover from this mess and we will reap the results of this insane vote for generations to come – most likely America will probably not be functioning as the nation our forefathers envisioned.

    It is interesting to note, that from a biblical perspective, America plays no significant role whatsoever in the end times scenarios it paints. All of the actions will be contested by Europe, Asia and the Middle-east. Perhaps there is a purpose behind the Obama madness of 2008 after all…

  6. John Lewis on August 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm said:

    It was a madness; the extent of the wilful ignorance was truly amazing. It wasn’t difficult, in the spring of 2008, to find a copy of “Problems with our Socialism”, by Barack Obama Sr., and to figure out what the “Dreams from my Father” actually were. Nor the details of the squalid career of Michelle Obama in the University of Chicago Health system.

    Thomas Sowell, of course, was not deceived for an instant.

    For me, what hope there was was destroyed by the speech at the Siegessäule in Berlin. No honest and decent American or Canadian would make such a speech at a monument to Prussian military victories! It was evident then that the media would give Obama a complete pass. Many of them would have looked up the Siegessäule
    if they didn’t know anything it before. And how could the media cameras so skilfully avoid the great frowning statues of the three Prussian field marshals who had led the Prussian armies to their remarkable victories? And yet they did. As an exercise in cheap demagoguery it has not so many parallels in American history, I think; and every part of it was facilitated by the media.

    Will the US come to its senses? A quotation comes to mind, which VDH will be able to correct if it deviates too far from accuracy: “those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.”

    For myself I am a Christian, and for the filthy obloquy visited on George Bush and Sarah Palin Obama is, I think, the just punishment; so my own favourite quotation is “meme, meme, tekel, upharsin.” God may be suspected of a rather nasty sense of humour – it is just not nice that He has kept the Persians around for the purpose of humiliating America.

  7. ray ilchene on August 26, 2014 at 5:53 pm said:

    saw this bumper sticker I’ll keep my bible,my gun,and my money you keep the change

  8. wwwild on August 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm said:

    I appreciate Mr. Hanson’s clear treatise on this little piece of history. Just on the basis of Jeremiah Wright alone I knew Obama was a liar and was telling people back then he would be the worst president in history, I didn’t need to dig any deeper.

    But what about the rest of our society. Sure, we can, and should, forgive all these fools who voted for Obama. But, this doesn’t address the question of, now what? Who’s going to hold anyone (e.g. the media) accountable for aiding and abetting this fraud. And I don’t mean the silly typical name calling one sees in Internet forums. I mean, if children we’re actually being educated to think and reason we wouldn’t be in this situation. So, let me answer it for you: no one. There’s no political, social, business, or even spiritual leader that I can see on the horizon that will enable this kind of honest reflection – they’re all afraid of being called raysisst, or something. Obviously, I may be wrong in my assessment, and I hope I am, but I doubt it.

    Only answer I suppose is prayer. Better get busy then.

  9. Steve Snyder on August 28, 2014 at 7:08 am said:

    I am humbled by the depth and accuracy of the preceding commentators, whose thoughts I agree with. Indeed, VDH, is one of the finest historians to date. His insights priceless, his conclusions irrefutable. What seems, to me at least, to be lacking is a prophetic understanding of the crisis at hand. I gave some thought to having T-shirts printed with just a picture of the back of BHO’s head (ears true to size, barely discernable little horns at the crest) with John 10:10a printed large beneath. This is spiritual war – above all else. It can only be fought – and won – in the strength of the Lord. At present, BHO is the enema a sin-constipated nation cried out for, and God mercifully permitted. There will soon follow a world leader that will convince Israel to sign on the dotted peace line. Frankly, there is little difference between them. He may be him. Perhaps. For those with ears to hear, be thankful for the preview. Read Psalm 149. Be comforted.

  10. Rick Bonsteel on August 28, 2014 at 8:39 am said:

    I hope your’re right, VDH, but my gym plays CNN a lot (when I don’t get over to change it) and there’s no shortage of Obama-worship still going on. I have this hope that Obama lives a long life, long enough that he realizes that he’s been a Petered-out abject failure before he dies, but I fear that his self-belief is unshakable. If he fails to win UN Secretary-General next — and thus fails to become the Ruler of the World — then he might start to harbour some doubts. Even historians, believe it or not, write from their own biases, and there will no doubt be some in years to come who say that it was inevitable that American influence was going to wane, and it was inevitable that the West would lose its predominance, and Obama was the visionary who helped the process along.

  11. Nero continues to play while the world burns.
    I don’t think DC can do anything because they have been funding “rebels” to fight in Syria and elsewhere for years. I’ll bet ISIS and Boko Haram sprung up thru Hillary’s funding.
    If these “rebels” talk about where they got their backing, who will Nero blame it on?
    But no money for our embassy employees that were murdered.
    What rebel group was our embassy giving money and guns to? ISIS?
    We know that our VP and others in DC are still friends with al qaeda because of certain things that our VP has said. Probably why we knew where to find Osama. He was getting old and it was time to replace him. Did they shoot him because he needed to be silenced?
    Hillary is a global thinker. Going around the world and funding rebels causes chaos.
    Hillary knows exactly what she is doing. “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”
    No matter what Hillary has done, there are still people who want her as our next Pres.

  12. Retired on August 29, 2014 at 10:06 am said:

    Agreed on the madness of 2008. IMO the greater madness was 2012 when O was reelected in spite of his failings. Now we’re upset and disappointed, a little late?

  13. TheRandyGuy on August 29, 2014 at 12:40 pm said:

    Superb, as usual. Despite the ineptness and incompetence of the Anointed One, American voters sent him back for another term. The country has fundamentally shifted left and it will not be good for any of us in the future (except the parasites that are growing in numbers daily).

  14. This was all set up by the nearly 8 years of pure hatred spewed by the media about George W. Bush. A consistent drum beat of lie after lie after lie was printed, televised, and digitized about W. so most of the country was completely brainwashed and ready for an empty suit like BHO.
    The problem really is not BHO, it is our educational system that has been corrupted by those who hate America which has led to so many millions of Americas voting for someone who was obviously not competent enough to lead America. To put it mildly.
    So BHO will be out of office in a couple years, but all those people will still be living here and voting. That is the scary part. The new rules of engagement for America is to have both our hands tied behind our back.

  15. Anyone watching Obama carefully has to come to the conclusion that he is part of the Moslem Brotherhood. This man from nowhere has no credentials, history or ability to be “the most powerful man in the world” via the Presidency of the USA. For all it’s power and wealth, there’s a lot of stupid, stupid racists in the USA who could only apologise to the Black Community of the USA for slavery, racism and failure to raise them financially and culturally to the level of white Americans, by making him the President, either by fair means or foul – not once but TWICE. The USA and the Western world is yet to pay the price for having such an incompetent or deliberately deceptive head of State. The only person to have profited from this enormous mistake is Putin and the Moslem Brotherhood. Thank heavens they never read that Egypt would revolt against the MB and throw out Morsi. The best laid plans of mice and men.

  16. Jeff Stanley on September 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm said:

    This country has been unhinged about race going back, not just to the Civil War, but to its founding. Obama — without a drop of slave blood in his veins mind you — was sharp enough and lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to game our national neurosis all the way to Oval Office. Twice.

    “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…” uh…

    Yep, we’re getting exactly the government that we deserve.

  17. Michael Wolin on September 3, 2014 at 10:34 am said:

    Mr Hanson writes: “We will be fathoming that strange madness of 2008 for decades to our come.”

    Indeed we will. But if, as he believes, we became ‘unhinged’ only in those days, we can expect that condition to be temporary and to pass. The recent recognition of Obama will certainly speed our recovery.

    My greater worry is what has happened to the American character, and what it will take for a recovery there. It is one thing to make a national mistake while ‘unhinged’. It is another to repeat the mistake four years later, in the light of day, after Obamacare was shoved down our throats, after Putin was assured Obama would be more flexible after winning the election, after the pattern of race baiting, of fiscal irresponsibility, of betraying friends and aiding enemies was clear.

    Mr Hanson, I look forward to your sequel.

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