Campaign Rhetoric, Election Reality

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

The King Is Dead; Long Live the King!

One dilemma for Obama is that his campaign was especially apocalyptic about America: Bush ruined everything. But not long after his tenure begins, he ‘s going to have to suddenly assure Americans that things really aren’t all that bad: there really is progress and quiet in Iraq; until we get universal health care, there are really many ways we are currently providing it; Gitmo has a lot of complexities that mean its instant shut-down is difficult; the problem in Afghanistan is not necessarily that we took our eye off it and so can’t be remedied with simple infusions of troops, FISA and the Patriot Act had some utility; public campaign financing has some merit; we may have to hold off on the civilian security force as large as the Pentagon; coal and nuclear power, and drilling have some temporary advantages; our former lobbyists we appoint can’t be demonized simply because they were once lobbyists; greenhouse gas emissions may be curbed after the recession, not during it; anti-Americanism abroad has deep roots and involves envy and resentment at least at some level.

It all reminds me of the farmers’ market shopper in the 1980s who used to berate me at our stall for all the horrible things we farmers did — until one day she lamented that she and her husband had recently bought a small patch of ground of their own, and suddenly the government, the regulations, insurance, taxes, labor, even the weather were all out to get her.

But why not the Clintonites?

There is much talk about Podesta, Emanuel, Holder, Hillary and all the other Clintonites that now seem to have done pretty well despite their brand name losing the primaries. But I don’t think their presence is explained by ‘keep your enemies close’ logic

Instead, why the surprise that we get 1993-2000 instead of hope and change? Obama’s victory was unique in a lot of ways, but none more than in his lack of a prior political career from which to draw inside advisors. There is apparently no Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell, or Bert Lance in Chicago.

Nor is there a Reagan California kitchen cabinet, or the Arkansas Webb Hubbell/Vince Foster pack that followed the Clintons to Washington or Bush, Rove et al. from Texas.

That is, given Obama’s absence of executive experience and brief tenure in the Senate, Obama never was in a position to assemble an insider team other than the Chicagoan Axlerod. So what was Obama to do when he needed savvy advisors and a brain trust he could count on from the old days to form the nucleus of his advisors and cabinet?

He could hardly draw on personal friends like Ayers, Khalidi, Pfleger, Rezko, and Wright. Other than Friends of Bill, the last Democrats to be insiders were the Carterites now in their 80s. So if a Democrat were to be elected President without much experience, and without friends or advisors he could draw upon who were qualified for office and worldly about Washington’s macabre politics, who but the Clintonites were there?

This seems to be an unprecedented development entirely neglected by the media, this sudden reliance on a primary rival’s team — ipso facto an illustration of Obama’s thinner political resumé. It is striking really how there is simply not a dozen or so Chicago vets who worked for Obama in the past as was the case with most other Presidents. But then who knows, given the careers of a Bert Lance or Webb Hubbell or Scott McClellan perhaps the already vetted old Clinton hands will work for Obama? But then on the other hand…

On being liked for the sake of being liked

One subtext of the current presidential transition — whether missile defense, immigration, the war on terror, domestic security, Iran, Iraq, Russia, etc. — has been hints so far that the new administration-elect will metamorphosize in such a way that America will be liked again abroad, and the U.S. on matters international, from the U.N.  to the ICC, will be more attuned to international consensus. While it is always better to speak softly and gently (while carrying an ever bigger stick) both to friends and enemies, and we should welcome the return of popularity, lost in all this are elemental questions like “Did they really dislike us just because of George Bush?” and “Do we really wish some of these creepy regimes to like us?”

Russia will like Obama to the extent he gives it a pass to bully and slowly Finlandize democratic former republics of the Old Soviet Union. China will have no problem with Obama once he understands that Japanese, Korean, Philippine or Taiwanese air space and waters are porous and more international than sovereign. Iran will love us if it can talk its way to the bomb. Europe wants Obama to charm its masses, move the U.S. more toward its socialist template, and still on occasions bomb a Milosevic or Mullah Omar to their post facto public disdain. Terrorists would prefer Gitmo closed, FISA and the Patriot Act repealed, our borders internationalized, our forward-shooting troops abroad sent back to the barracks, and stealthy U.S. counter-terrorism abroad subject to U.N. writs.

We know right now that all those players think George Bush is a little crazy, and are not quite sure what he might do at any given moment — and that such unpredictability and polarization for them is a bad thing. Perhaps. But what we haven’t answered is why it will be good that Russia, China, the terrorists, Iran et al. will be reassured that Obama is cool and restrained, and predictably liable to talk and half the difference on all the crisis issues they raise.

Speaking for myself, I hope we at least don’t see any more American emissaries bearing gifts. We don’t have a good record at that, whether it was Ramsey Clark in 1979 in Teheran with his personally signed Jimmy Carter “Dear Ayatollah” letter, or Robert McFarland with a cake and Bible for Khomeini or Madeline Albright with her Michael-Jordan signed basketball for Kim Jong Il.

©2008 Victor Davis Hanson

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