Hope and Change’s Shelf Life

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

After listening to Obama’s speeches of the last few weeks, I think almost everyone now knows the boilerplate.

In essence, the script is the following: First, the president clears his throat by trashing Bush and/or the prior administration.

Then, as many have noted, Mr. 50/50 creates the proverbial straw men on the two extremes (e.g., those who wish to shred the Constitution to fear-monger, those who do not take threats as seriously as he does), as he places himself in-between two false poles.

Next he evokes his past (three themes usually here: He has lived in a different country; he is of a different race than mainstream America; and, in extremis, his father was of a religion other than Christianity), with a grand finale of pulling all that together to imply to us that if we don’t share his present views, then a rare avatar of hope and change such as himself would never have been president — he being the true reification of what America always could have been (a refined trope of Michelle’s “first time” she was proud of her country.)

Frankly, and with all due respect to our president, it is time to get a life and move on. It is almost midsummer of President Obama’s first year and there is no longer any need to constantly reference the past administration, usually in disingenuous fashion.

We know already that we have elected the first post-racial president whose personal profile represents a landmark change from previous presidents.

And we don’t need any more generic nouns like hope/change in lieu of honesty about a lot of things: Our annual borrowing may reach $2 trillion; states are going bankrupt; massive infusions of borrowed cash must be paid back and cannot masquerade the prior ineptness of business and labor models in banking and the auto industry that sent firms into bankruptcy. Even higher taxes won’t begin to cover the cost of proposed massive new spending programs that are unprecedented. All the prior demonized Bush anti-terrorism protocols have been kept with mere hope and change veneers.

In other words, rather than explaining the bleak choices before us and explaining why his preferences have the best chance of succeeding, Obama has so far reduced his presidency to two themes: “Bush did it” and “I’m not your normal white male President.” If he keeps this monotony up, at some point even the comedians are going to notice the predictability.

Sorry, we need more than that to keep us safe from some creepy enemies and get the economy back on track.

Abyssinia and Manchuria All Over Again?

I have a great deal of empathy for President Obama on matters like North Korea and Iran — both lunatic players that I think represent firsts in his own experience. You see, there are no good choices, and he can’t simply vote “present” this time. Any decision he makes will be evaluated not necessarily on the basis of its superior logic or the eloquence with which it is presented, but solely on whether it works or not. If it does, he will be praised; if it doesn’t, he will be damned, unfairly or not. Soon some wannabe Republican presidential candidate will be barnstorming the country, second-guessing Obama’s decision-making, giving him no benefit of the doubt, and adopting simplistic answers as a candidate that he could not possibly embrace as Commander-in-Chief — the one constant being that whatever Obama does, the potential rival, without the responsibilities of office, will argue that it was wrong.

Fate, chance, luck, and more will contribute to the outcome of any presidential action — unpredictable, of course, but in the cruel game of assessing presidential decision-making, no grounds for excuse.

Moreover, both these problems not only antedated Obama, but antedated Bush as well, yet they cannot be massaged with “reset” button and a “Bush did it,” nor by soaring “hope and change” rhetoric. Neither Ahmadinejad nor Kim Jong-il care a whit about Obama’s landmark advance to the presidency, or his sober and judicious efforts to show rational concern for their own predicaments; instead, they calibrate only the degree to which Obama poses an obstacle to their regional ambitions, whether they be rational or not.

In short, Obama will be dealing with two cruel entities, irrational at times, and both capable of great evil — thuggish regimes that laugh at calls for U.N. solidarity or multilateral fronts. Worse still, the soft-power advocates and internationalists abroad who praised Obama to the skies for his restraint and postmodern campaign rhetoric will be the first to damn him as Carteresque and hesitant should these two rogue nations begin to act a little crazy and start testing the waters.

The Vocabulary of ‘Concern’

Iran thinks it has a sort of blue-water navy. North Korea thinks it sort of has a nuclear ballistic-missile arsenal. The Taliban and the Islamists sort of think they can retake Afghanistan and topple Pakistan. Wannabe al Qaedists in New York think they can sort of copy Islamic terrorists.

I think most can make two easy predictions about these sort of rumblings and far more to come: At some date very soon Obama will cease with the “it’s our fault,” ‘reset’ button, “Bush did it” apologetics and realize that the world cares not about the past, but only how much things can be redefined under his administration.

And, two, very soon our vocabulary of “grave concern,” “totally unacceptable,” “deepening its own isolation,” “in violation of U.N. resolutions,” and “inviting stronger international pressure” will become exhausted, and, as in the case of “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations,” we will have to come up with new words and phraseologies for the new mood of the times — e.g., “really grave concern,” “absolutely totally unacceptable,” “greatly deepening its own isolation,” “in extreme violation of UN resolution,” “inviting especially stronger international pressure,” etc. and on and on and on.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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