Explaining the Inexplicable

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Almost daily we witness things that make no sense. A few examples, from the profound to the trivial.

Rich Without Being Rich

The president, as is his wont, blasted the “one percent,” the “millionaires and billionaires,” and the “well-connected” in his recent State of the Union speech — and then he flew off to golf and hang out with the one percent of the one percent in South Florida while his wife and kids jetted to Aspen to ski. Then Obama flew back for more class-warfare rhetoric over so-called sequestration, ridiculing the Republicans as again being for the “rich” — and on Al Sharpton’s radio show, no less (of Tawana Brawley fame[1]).

How does this two-step actually work? Obama likes to wear metrosexual golfing clothes, stay in one-percent elite digs, and play with the super rich while damning just that entire cargo? Does he see himself exempt from his own rhetoric because he demagogues those with whom he feels most comfortable[2]?

Are there good and bad rich — depending on whether some embrace his redistributionist agenda? Mitt Romney is guilty of an elevator and a wife in riding clothes; Beyoncé and Jay-Z are mere Edwin Markham oppressed laborers with hoes in the fields of socialism?

Is Obama just a hypocrite, or perhaps genuinely oblivious to the optics? Or, in contrast, is he quite canny in his appraisal that Americans just want more government stuff and couldn’t care less whether he is a paradox?

Bill Clinton liked a little less the good life, and waged a little less class warfare. Jimmy Carter in blue work shirts and jeans mimicked the life of the common man. JFK joked about the contradictions in his status, and was not a typical class warrior. Never — or at least not since FDR — have we seen such boilerplate rhetoric aimed at the well-off coupled with such indulgence in the spoils of wealth. What is the logic of “downright mean country” and “never been proud” leading to Aspen and Costa del Sol? Why the moth-to-the-flame attraction to the high life coupled with the rhetoric of the class warrior?

Is it as simple as Occam’s Razor — the Obama class warriors always, as most, liked the idea of the privileged lifestyle: when they could not afford it, they were consistent in their boilerplate rhetoric about the injustice of it; when they could afford it, they were merely hypocritical? End of story?

$4-a-Gallon Cheap Gas

I filled up today in a rather poor Selma (per capita income under $20,000; unemployment over 15%). The cheapest regular gas I saw in town was $3.99. I paid $4.06 a gallon. It was under $1.90 when the evil Bush left office.

Any gas station that is now just 10 cents cheaper per gallon is packed with cars that trail out to nearly block traffic. (On this clear day, we could see the eastern face of the Coast Range Mountains in the distance — beneath them is reportedly 20-30 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Monterey Shale formation that apparently will remain mostly untapped.)

Aren’t gas prices supposed to stay low during hard times (as now), when demand is off? And aren’t Americans proverbially jumpy at the gas pump, supposedly ready to blame-game their politicians for high gas prices in a way that they do not even over escalating housing, food, or clothing costs?

So, all that said, why the general quiet about gas[3]? Do we think our newly found vast reservoirs of gas and oil, at some point recoverable, will ensure that these spikes are only temporary? Do the masses love so the administration that they have forgotten the president’s past talk of “skyrocketing” power rates, breaking the coal companies, and former Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s silly dreaming[4] about the desirability of reaching European levels of gas pricing? Or are cars so efficient at the 30-plus MPG average that we don’t note the pain as much as in the past? Are we all driving Priuses? Or are people so dense that they scream over a one-half-a-cent increase in sales taxes, while keeping mum as they pay far more through a $30 or $40 per week hit in gas prices?

In any case, it is inexplicable that gas has gone so much higher in the last four years, that the public cares so little, and that there is so little connection made[5] (rightly or wrongly) between the decision to go green and to ignore fossil fuels on public lands, and the subsequent skyrocketing price of transportation fuel. Were Bush — or even Clinton — president, would not a $2-a-gallon climb during their first four years earn outrage? Do things change at $5 a gallon? Six?

Non-racist Racism

Almost daily on internet news agencies is some lurid story of a shooting, flash-mobbing, or beating that unfortunately involves a racial motif. The Daily Mail and the Drudge Report (if indirectly) specialize in these racy tabloid tales, as does the New York Post, but also CNN.

Yet such information is usually implicit rather than overt. The paper or news agency that reports the crime either provides no overtly physical description of the suspects, or offers almost every detail of their appearances (sometimes even artists’ renditions!) except for their race. Fine, we understand political correctness[6] and the theory of censorship in service to avoiding racial polarization.

But why, then, do the news agencies post readers’ uncensored comments to their own stories — readers who are often furious over the PC reporting inches above? The tepid commentators note the hypocrisy and self-censorship; but the livid ones end up posting the most abjectly racist slurs: crude, even sick and repulsive.

So what, then, is the point of trying to avoid race in the news story if the publication is willing to publish readers’ overtly racially based reactions? Would not it be wiser to do anything other than what the agencies are now doing, like be honest about the race of the suspected perpetrators, or perhaps censor the worst comments as proverbially “inappropriate,” or maybe not publish any comments at all?

As it is now, we read the most ridiculous postmodern prissy news accounts followed by the most abjectly premodern racist furor. Inexplicable.

Or is it? Are the editors hoping to incite animosities by both reporting lurid crimes without offering common-sense information about the suspects, thereby getting off the hook for fanning divisions, while simultaneously stirring up tabloid interest, as the juxtaposed unfiltered commentary attests? It is almost as if the sick policy is: “Come here to read how sensitive to race we are while experiencing how racist our readers are.”

I Love What I Leave

I understand why millions come to the US, given the wretched poverty of Latin America, the proximity of the US border, the ability to work here, and the generosity of the American people and government. I don’t understand at all the ensuing iconography of the open-borders movement.

Why the obsession with the Mexican flag and the racialist identification with La Raza and the reversion to 19th-century ethnic chauvinism? Why the ethnic stickers on cars, on mobile kitchens, and on homes?

I am confused, because such overt identification with Mexico and its culture is embedded within a movement demanding American citizenship. But here again is the rub: in the entire debate over illegal immigration, almost nothing is ever spoken about why millions are leaving Mexico and why they prefer the United States. And given that fact, why is the natural impulse of so many of the La Raza leadership to criticize America and to be so gentle toward Mexico? One country creates conditions — corruption, statism, racism, class divisions, lack of transparency, lack of the rule of law, etc. — that drive out millions of its own. Another allows just those millions to cross its borders to enjoy the antithesis of what they left. Given that, why would Mexican nationals boo an American team at the LA Coliseum, and scream approbation for a Mexican one? I offer possible explanations for the inexplicable.

1) Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans involved in the immigration debate feel a sense of public anger unfairly directed at them for the present intolerable situation of illegal immigration, even though employers and ethnic politicians were mutually at fault. It is a natural human reaction to push back. Therefore, while no one in his right mind prefers to return to Oaxaca, or to suggest that the protocols of Tijuana are superior to those in San Diego, it is difficult to admit just that, and to confirm your critics’ position. So we of the host country are to remain mature and to read between the lines: “Yes, I wave the Mexican flag. And, yes I fully agree with the La Raza complaint against America. But I do so more from hurt, not sincerity. And you, of the majority culture, are therefore supposed to fathom that natural human compensation, of one in a sort of humiliation forced to leave his own world to seek the world of others. As I wave my Mexican flag, grant me that small indulgence for a while — that I most certainly do not wish to live under the flag I wave, but prefer living under the flag I cannot wave, for understandable psychological reasons.”

2) There is no overt sense of Mexico or the United States. There is just a there and a here. Millions go “there” and then end up “here.” Who cares what we call it? Borders are irrelevant, just constructs. The American Southwest looks a lot like Mexico. People just go where work or entitlements are, and don’t worry why or how that is so, at least in the larger existential sense. The attraction of the United States is not “capitalism” or “democracy” or “the law,” but mostly that one can achieve a lot higher standard of living there than in Mexico, while oddly enjoying much of the cultural landscape of Mexico, given the sheer millions involved in illegal immigration. That is, life in an Orange Cover or Parlier is a lot more livable than in a comparable small town in Oaxaca, in the sense of sanitation, security, water, healthcare, transportation, consumer goods, and education. But it is also not really all that foreign either — signs are in Spanish; most speak Spanish and are of Mexican ancestry. Food, culture, and behavior have as much in common with Mexico as with America, resulting in the best of both worlds:a Mexico without Mexico[7]. Why worry about why or how that is so, much less silly things like flags: just enjoy that it is so, and let others more neurotic sort it all out.

3) The more one hammers American culture — its history of supposed racism, its unfairness to the nation of Mexico, its white male privilege — the more it is likely to grant concessions out of guilt. If the host nation either cannot define its own culture or cannot explain its attractions, why then should the immigrant do so for the inept host? If under the present system, a 17-year-old young person can cross the border illegally, reside illegally for a brief tenure, and then apply to school without worry of audit, and eventually qualify for affirmative action as a victim of historic prejudices, why would anyone seek to dismantle such an advantageous system? The prevailing mood, then, is that the host or mostly majority culture is played out, devoid of pride or knowledge of its own tenets, and all too eager to offer compensations the more one indicts it. So the more one indicts it, the more benefits will accrue. Why stop?

4) There is a sense in Mexico that the American Southwest still should belong to Mexico or at least to a vague sense of Latin America. So the separatist sense makes sense. What was lost in a long ago war can be regained by demography. Polls taken in Mexico reveal the absurdity: a majority of Mexican citizens believes both that southwestern America properly belongs to Mexico and that they would prefer to live there. One of two things is thus probable: people are nuts and would prefer to extend a failing culture that they are fleeing to a country that they would flee to; or, that the American Southwest was so rich that it was always Mexico’s golden province and that life is best to the north because it just always was: therefore an “Alta California” as a place always better than existing Mexico is not inconsistent with wishing it to resemble, or indeed belong to, Mexico.

I give up — you decide. I just drove past the Selma Sunday swap meet and saw only Mexican flags blowing in the wind and nary an American one. I was perplexed.

When Debt Is No Debt

There are no major programs that the president wishes to cancel, but plenty of new ones he envisions. Given the scale of borrowing, and given the abject denial that there is a spending problem, what gives? Here are some possibilities.

1) The president really does believe that at some mythical date the capitalists and profit mongers have no choice but to get back to work and make tons of money, and that the resulting increased revenue will pay off the debt without cuts or hardship. Therefore, he genuinely thought in 2009 that the stimulus would lead to the summer of recovery. He believed that the first $4 trillion in debt would stimulate the economy, and so is surprised that we are still massively borrowing. Now Obama is in a quandary, in which we can’t cut spending in a recession, and cannot afford to run bigger deficits to jumpstart the economy. The old narcotic jolt[8] no longer has a stimulatory effect on the fading addict. So do we just deny we are addicted to borrowing, shoot up with more printed money, and hope someone picks us out of the gutter of debt?

2) Low interest will continue. So as a percentage of the budget we have the wherewithal to pay the annual interest for years to come. Deficits for the foreseeable future are easily sustainable. What’s the problem? We are in the grip of deficit hysterics. After all, two trillion dollars were wiped out in stock losses and lost home equity during 2008, so why can’t we just print them back into existence? Ever wondered why we have near deflation while printing trillions of new dollars?

3) There is no crisis, at least for the next three years. Obama can still get a recovery from the massive Keynesian kickstarting, while the next president can deal with the disaster when the debt tab comes due. Maybe he too can blame Bush, as did Obama.

4) Deficits are essentially good: a) they guarantee more federal spending and thereby more federal entitlements and constituents; b) they are the best mechanisms for spreading the wealth through redistribution and eventually to demand higher taxes that will fall more heavily on the well-off; c) they will result in inflation, a good thing that erodes the power of accumulated wealth.

5) The president is more interested in golf, photo-ops, or picking the Final Four, and so he shrugs and thinks: “Debts, schmebts. Who cares?”

URLs in this post:

[1] Tawana Brawley fame:http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/time_to_pay_up_tawana_VNfKyp8kwALfSZZE4DdAQI?utm_campaign=OutbrainA&utm_source=OutbrainArticlepages&obref=obinsource
[2] those with whom he feels most comfortable: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2009/12/12/obamas-corporatist-kabuki/
[3] why the general quiet about gas: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2008/12/09/big-journalisms-bronx-cheer-for-the-common-man/
[4] Steven Chu’s silly dreaming: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/73138.html
[5] there is so little connection made: http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/291806/now-what-victor-davis-hanson
[6] we understand political correctness: http://old.nationalreview.com/weekend/books/books-corry011902.shtml
[7] a Mexico without Mexico: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594032173/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1594032173&linkCode=as2&tag=pjmedia-20
[8] The old narcotic jolt:http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/02/23/the_keynesian_depression_117142.html

©2013 Victor Davis Hanson

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