An American Versailles

The liberal message ia all style and impotence.

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Editor’s Note: What follows is a collection of recent Corners from VDH.

The Shape of 2012 to Come

The outburst from Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the so-called Shanghai Cooperation Organization should close the chapter on the much bandied about “outreach” to Iran voiced by candidate Obama in 2008. Events in Syria, despite the administration appellation of Assad as a “reformer,” likewise ended another chapter in the supposed reset diplomacy of reaching out to illiberal Middle East regimes that might not have been so illiberal had Bush & co. just given them a chance.

I don’t think the outreach to Russia is paying any dividends; they were silent as Ahmadinejad went on his rampage, have been sounding off about missile defense and US ships in the Black Sea, and are clearly not “helping” to curtail the Iranian nuke project.

We hope for the best in Egypt, but for now the military interim government is jailing more people than did Mubarak and a plebiscite would probably elect an Islamist government that would reject the Camp David Accords with Israel. Pakistan just arrested those who helped us kill bin Laden, most likely in fear that someone would leak information that its own intelligence services were involved in shielding him for a decade. The Europeans are leaving Afghanistan despite the presence of a new multilateralist in the White House. Given that the Bush administration followed the War Power Acts by obtaining congressional decrees to go into Afghanistan and Iraq, one waits for the liberal anger at Obama for following in the footsteps of Clinton in the Balkans and not consulting Congress; all that is academic, since the Anglo-French and the lead-from-behind US are still flummoxed by 6-million-person Libya.

Pressuring Israel has led nowhere; since the apparent Palestinian coalition government-to-be that includes Hamas includes de facto a charter calling for Israel’s destruction. And the subtext behind much of this administration’s foreign policy abroad and redistributive plans at home — emulation of the soft-power, socialist European Union — has imploded: The only strange thing about the massive US debt is that Europe’s is worse and with less available in the way of mechanisms to address it. And if the air strikes over Libya are evidence of a new EU rapid-response force, well, enough said on that. If European redistribution and antagonism to private enterprise have shown us the way, it has been the way to their problems: near-steady 10 percent unemployment, massive deficits, sky-high gas and food prices, and an immigration mess.

All of the above can neither be defended as something positive nor blamed on George Bush, so the third alternative of simply not talking about the state of the nation and world, and instead focusing on either trivia, Republican heartlessness in trimming away entitlements, or the quasi-racist and illiberal criticism of Barack Obama, is about all that is left.

A Curious Insularity

In the world of Barack Obama, inflating tires and “tuning up” modern car engines precludes off-shore drilling. Four-dollar-a-gallon gas prices can be ameliorated by having the average consumer trade in his 8-mpg clunker. Medical bills soar because doctors unnecessarily rip out tonsils and lop off limbs. “Skyrocketing” power bills and bankrupt coal companies are abstractions, and do not involve personal tragedies. One third of the border fenced means that the fence is “basically” completed. Nine percent unemployment is due in part to automation like ATMs, which apparently first came on the scene during the Obama administration to eliminate jobs. Shovel-ready jobs were not so shovel-ready. Criticism is dismissed as “enemies” deserving “punishment” or opponents relegated to the “back seat” or adversaries caricatured with “moats and alligators.” And so on.

Two themes predominate: a cluelessness about how things work outside the Ivy League–Chicago–DC political nexus, and a sense that nothing is ever Barack Obama’s fault. In that regard, he has two legitimate mea culpas: One, Obama has never run a business, spent any considerable time off the public payroll or outside of politics, or spent any time with those who were once characterized as “clingers,” and thus cannot be expected to know much about how cars work, doctors are paid, illegal immigrants cross the border, or the basics of economics. Intelligence and achievement are instead measured solely in terms of what universities or the elite media decide. Second, at no point in his past soaring cursus honorum (Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law Review, Chicago Law School, Chicago politics and organizing, the US Senate) did anyone hold him to account, as in saying, “First, let us see exactly what you achieved that might justify yet another honor or promotion” — as in a stellar GPA, high LSAT score, brilliant law-review essay, a seminal tenure-winning book on the law, an award-winning law course, a landmark new community-organizing program, or a hallmark piece of senatorial legislation.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Obama (a) continues to say some rather strange things that seem naive and out of touch with the lives of average Americans to the point of absurdity, and (b) seems miffed that anyone might for the first time in his life dare to scrutinize his record, and collate what he said in 2008 and early 2009 with the reality of what has actually transpired by mid-2011.

I think a majority of Americans have now come to the above conclusions (as evidenced in the 2010 midterm election), and those in business, from the small entrepreneur to the captain of industry, have decided that it is wisest to sit out what is left of this administration, and wait to hire, buy, invest, and expand until someone at the top shows a basic knowledge of finance and economics, and some sympathy concerning what those in the private sector must contend with.

Draining the Swamp

The Anthony Weiner meltdown had all the congressional scandal points: the initial “how dare you suggest that” angry denial; the subsequent weepy confession of the act and the coverup, with meaningless “I take full responsibility” boilerplate; the hackneyed promise to seek “help” (for some sort of sexual-exhibitionism perversion?); and then the off-the-record phone campaign to congressional grandees to save his job as he publicly keeps up the tears and the contrived contrition. All that was missing was the dutiful, embarrassed wife at his side, made impossible in this case by her own high-visibility government career.

There is a hubris/nemesis theme to the entire squalor: When the story broke, Weiner was in the midst of trying to trash the fundraising efforts of Clarence Thomas’s wife in order to embarrass or censure Justice Thomas — just as the public moralist Eliot Spitzer was hectoring on the ethos of Wall Street or the socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn reputedly used force to gratify himself from a poor West African maid.

In all these incidents, from Spitzer to Schwarzenegger, the subtext is important: We have created a Versailles-like royalty in government, who enjoys too many perks and protocols, and confuses their exalted public profiles with some sort of inherited privilege. It would be wise in this era of Republican budget-cutting to start immediately reducing staff, travel, cars, etc., as a token of their commitment to reminding officials where they came from.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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