by Victor Davis Hanson
Rays of Sun Amid the Storm
The Rasmussen Tracking Poll recently had Romney up 50 to 42 over Obama. At this early juncture, such polls mean nothing — except as diagnostic indices of why perhaps both candidates go up and down in popularity.
So why has Barack Obama plunged in the polls these last few days?
The Republican slugfest is over. The media cannot headline any longer the daily conservative suicide. Barack Obama’s job report came out at 8.1% unemployment — but, more importantly, with information that a smaller percentage of adult Americans are working than ever before, and fewer in absolute numbers than nearly four years ago when Obama took office.
So someone must be asking, “What then was the lost $5 trillion for?” Note, in this regard, the 5.4% unemployment rate that won George Bush the slur of a “jobless recovery” in 2004.
There was some pushback to Obama’s spiking the football on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
And have you noticed how Team Obama keeps losing the doggy wars? Seamus begat a photoshopped Dachshund sandwich; Romney’s supposedly terrible polygamist great-great grandfather in Mexico begat Obama’s polygamist father in Kenya; Rush Limbaugh’s “war on women” begat Bill Maher’s misogyny; Romney the high-school hair cutter begat tapes of Obama as the chronic drug user and recollections of Biden, the neighborhood teen bully. I know why the Obama people wish to distract from the economy, but at some point they must accept that they are losing these trivia tit-for-tats, and it now is beginning to show in the polls. (Hint: you may think it neat to ridicule a Mormon, but for purposes of fielding a clean candidate, Romney is a political operative’s dream in this age of adultery, sin, drug, and drink — which is why the Washington Post is back to a supposedly insensitive 18-year-old Mitt Romney this last week).
The flip-flop on gay marriage, of course, did not win Obama a single vote, just plenty of one-percenters’ money. More injurious to his cause was his idiotic refrain about his “evolving” views. No one believed that yarn: fifteen years ago he was for gay marriage when it was smart politically for him to be so, and then he revolved to “no” when it was not. All that happened this week was that clueless Joe Biden jumped the gun. Obama with a wink and nod had privately assured rich gays, as he had Putin, that after his reelection he would give them what was wanted, but could not quite yet, given his need to hoodwink the clingers to get reelected. I think most voters understood that con as emblematic of this presidency.
Then there are the lack of press conferences, the non-stop shakedowns of rich people whom he caricatures, and the somnolent speeches (“make no mistake about it,” “I/me/mine,” “in truth,” “let me be perfectly clear,” “I inherited a mess,” “pay your fair share,” and blah, blah, blah).
Add all that up, and one loses 6-8 points. Keep doing it and he will lose even more. At this rate, Obama will be October surprising Iran.
Despite, not Because of, Obama
But there is more good news. Surveys of federal oil and gas reserves keep soaring. At some point, some president is going to realize that by tapping such bounty all at once he can create new jobs, earn budget-deficit-reducing cash, stimulate the economy, cut down on the trade deficit, and marginalize the Middle East as a security issue. If Obama wishes to pass on that godsend, so be it: he can bequeath to his successor even greater riches that will only increase in value.
Rather than Obama destroying the economy, there is a sense emerging that he is merely restraining it. Should Obama lose in November, there will be the greatest collective sigh of relief since 1980 and a yell that all hell will break lose, in the good sense of business activity, commerce, investment, hiring, and resource utilization being unleashed.
Look at it this way: for four years Obama has poked and jabbed at the corralled stallion, and when the gate goes up he will roar out as never before. Or if you are a Greek, try this: for 30 years we have been lectured to death about global warming, the brilliant Ivy League technocrats, the genius of Keynesian borrowing, the need for multiculturalism in the White House, if only we had open borders, why lawyers and academics need to be in charge — all on the “what if” presumption that no one in his right mind would let any of the above become gospel. And so we had the constant liberal whine, “if only.…” Now we have it in the flesh, and in cathartic fashion Obama is going to purge us of that unhinged temptation for another generation.
We’re Mississippi and Massachusetts — All in One
In California, it is also the best of times and the worst of times. Jerry Brown just announced we are short $16 billion, not $9 billion, as he does his best to promote his massive tax increases on “them” on the June ballot. Yet it is still hard to kill off California.
Due to the globalized rise of Asia, there are now a billion new consumers in China, India, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, with money to buy California fruits, nuts, beef, and fiber. And while the state’s students have never been more unprepared in science and math, California high-tech farming — run by just a few thousand entrepreneurs — has never been more sophisticated and ingenious. Never have there been so many new hybrid species of trees, vines, and row crops, never so much mechanization and replacement of manual labor, never so much sophisticated computerized irrigation and fertilization. Just when I think no more production can be squeezed out of an acre, no more markets can be found for yet another 1,000-acre block of almonds or pistachios, no more new machines can figure out how to eliminate labor, prices keeps soaring and the profit margins keep growing — and in a government-induced depression no less.
New Carthage, Circa AD 400
Yet amid the good news, the wealthy agribusiness baron does not put his kid in the school next to his sprawling acreage. He factors into his expenses the serial theft of copper conduit from his pumps and the daily vandalism as the cost of doing business. He knows better than to drive a rural road after 10 p.m. when shootings, drunk driving, and violent crime will leave their detritus for the morning clean-up.
Most big farmers live in northeastern Fresno or Clovis for the ambiance and the schools, and then drive out to their goldmines in the outback in my environs. In some sense, rural central California has never been more lucrative for a few, and never more foreboding for the rest of us. I was reminded of this the other day, when an agribusiness man at a lecture I gave offered me some wise, if cynical, advice: “You have it backwards, Mr. Hanson. You’re supposed to live in a good place and drive out to lots of your farmland, not live right on top of very little of it.”
The same disconnect is true of the state in general. Facebook, Google, and Apple have never had more profits or cash. Silicon Valley has never been richer. I eat at restaurants on University Avenue amid software engineers, bankers, and lawyers from China, India, Germany, and Japan. Yet drive just 100 miles inland to the other California, the Mississippi half of the state, and you encounter not hundreds of thousands, but literally millions of those without high school diplomas, English, or legality. Last week, I was counting the different languages spoken at a Palo Alto outside Italian eatery (Punjabi, Chinese, German, Italian, French, and Russian) — and, three hours, 180 miles away, warning the stalled driver ahead of me not to dump his three cans of raw trash on the side of the road.
As the wine country booms, as Hollywood still reels in global cash, as universities like Stanford, Caltech, and USC are flush with cash and with long waiting lists, the infrastructure of high-tax California is shot, with repair and improvements diverted to redistributive social entitlements. Last month, I drove again down 101, the state’s coastal “freeway”: lots of Mercedeses, Lexuses — and clunker trucks with boards, wire, and scrap bouncing in the back — all weaving in and out of the two-lane, pot-holed excuse for a freeway. It reminded me of Road Warrior.
I went to a rural hospital lab two weeks ago to get a simple blood test: six were ahead of me. Two spoke English. All had presented their Medi-Cal cards. Altogether there were ten small toddlers, with parents all either sick or pregnant or both. A five-minute visit in 1980 now took an hour — all a world away from Stanford Medical Center or the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Yes, there is free care in California without Obamacare — available to anyone who wishes it, as good as my university Blue Shield plan. Part of me looked at the lab crowd, with dependents, little income, no education or much English, and health problems galore, and sighed: “This isn’t going to work”; and part of me sighed: “At least they are confident and having kids and not neurotic like so many of the childless elites on the coast.” You decide, reader; I cannot. (A final observation: Do not believe the liberal myth that hordes of young hardy Mexican nationals are going to suffer to take care of aging whites and Asians on fat pensions. From my observations, morbid obesity and an epidemic of onset diabetes among new arrivals from Mexico are the next great health crises to come. The sociable, kindly woman ahead of me at the lab earnestly explained to me her health issues: diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure. She looked about 26 and was pregnant with her fourth child.)
What a weird, weird bi-state. In the Bay Area, acquaintances initiate conversation by announcing the discovery of a new underappreciated bistro in Los Altos, Palo Alto, or Menlo Park. In Selma, conversations are started with the latest weird theft. (Yes, roses are the most recent: any rural residence with lots of roses growing near the road will find them gone, periodically picked for the new burgeoning flower industry of peddlers, who sell pilfered bouquets on the rural intersections. [This Mother’s Day I feel like buying back at the stand down the road the long-stemmed roses that were stripped off my roadside bush]). Oh, for those who write in: The tab the last two weeks? Just roses and an air compressor. Not too bad.
In the last few months some disturbing statistics made the news about California. We now have about nine million residents who were not born in the US — or one of every four Californians. In recent public school science testing, California school students ranked 47th in the nation. That’s the scientific reality beneath the thin tony veneer of Apple, Facebook, and Google elites. And of the last ten million persons added to California’s population, seven million of them are now on Medicaid. In that same last twenty years the number of new tax filers (150,000) was almost matched by the number of new prison inmates (115,000).
Yes, it is the best or worst of times in California. My poor grandfather huddled around an ancient black and white TV to get the news; I flip open my laptop in his house and in a nano-second read analysis about the news in Germany, or access the corpus of Greek literature. Yet he never had a lock on his door; I’ve installed gates to close my medieval compound at 9 each evening before the hunters and gatherers begin their nocturnal foraging for copper wire and tractor batteries.
Now and then, you can almost catch glimpses of greatness again. Were the borders to close, were integration and assimilation to catch up, were we to unleash the entrepreneurs in farming, oil, and minerals, then these isolated spots of prosperity would spread and turn the desert green. Even a Jerry Brown, the California legislature, the Berkeley professor, or the Santa Cruz activist could not stop the prosperity.
Give Obama some credit. He has framed the 2012 election as a conflict of visions unlike any of our time. It’s our choice now, no excuses, no one left to blame. Change is coming, and with it, hope. This week I saw a ray of sunshine amid the clouds.
©2012 Victor Davis Hanson