by Victor Davis Hanson
I get loads of quasi-hate mail about questioning Obama’s candidacy and governance. But I am worried, not about Obama, or the politics of governance, but about the nation itself. The media has forsaken us. But after only two weeks we are in a crisis stage of confidence, and the story is spiraling by the hour out of control. I write here not to score points, but to warn readers that this is all very serious. Obama is our President, and we must hope he does something fast to save his administration from general ridicule that will incur real dangers for all of us abroad.
Again, anyone who cares about the U.S., at home and overseas, must be worried, very worried, about the disastrous last two weeks. Even the fawning media — that is responsible in some way for the crisis, given that they chose to be Pravda-like in encouraging the messianic style that got a haughty Obama in his present mess — will soon start bailing in efforts to restore their last fides. If a Dick Morris figure does not come to the rescue soon, Obama’s soaring rhetoric of hope and change will become the stuff of Leno/Letterman and general laughter. Bush was unfairly demonized, but no one abroad thought he was predictably soft and would be so-so about protecting U.S. interests, or that his words and his deeds would be so often in direct antithesis.
What happened? Count the ways, and then let us see what might be done pronto!
I. Obama claimed a new moral high ground, and the media seconded that. But nothing in his career — his failed congressional race, the divorce disclosures of his two Senate primary and general rivals, Rezko, Wright, Blago advisor, Ayers, etc. — had ever suggested he had on a single occasion challenged prevailing norms in efforts to raise the ethical bar.
Instead he was allowed to blather on about heaven on earth, while he was by needs governing from the corrupt cesspool of DC lawyers and lobbyists. So we got the worst of both worlds: the most exalted ethical rhetoric ever, and the greatest ethical lapses of any incipient administration in memory. Over 10 lobbyists now appointed. Consider further: Richardson (nuff said), Holder (helped to pardon a most wanted fugitive), Lynn (Raytheon lobbyist now at Defense), Killefer (sloppy taxes; she’s gone), Geithner (tax dodger), Daschle (would have been a tax felon had he been one of us), Rangel (blank check both to write and break our tax laws), Dodd and Frank (exemptions for ethical lapses at the eye of the financial storm).
There are still the Blago tapes and the fears that Prosecutor Fitzgerald short-circuited the investigation in recognition that once Team Obama started turning up horse-trading on tape they had to be warned to desist. The full release of those transcripts will either confirm or belie that fear—and Blago is sinisterly brilliant and eager for revenge.
II. Then there were the inflated lectures on historic foreign policy to be made by the clumsy political novice who trashed his own country and his predecessor in the most ungracious manner overseas to a censured Saudi-run press organ (e.g., Bush is dictatorial, the Saudi king is courageous; Obama can mend bridges that America broke to aggrieved Muslims [apparently Teheran hostages, Rushdie, serial attacks in the 1990s, 9/11, Madrid, London never apparently occurred, and neither did feeding Somalis, saving Kuwait, protesting Chechnya, Bosnia/Kosovo, billions to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinians, help in two Afghan wars, and on and on]). It is always dangerous to suggest that ‘America then bad, America now good’ — the former gives bad guys talking points, the latter reason to try something stupid.
III. Then there was the shrill, harsh campaign rhetoric of Bush shredding the Constitution — FISA, Guantanamo, Patriot Act, Iraq, renditions — followed by ‘all that for now staying the same’, inasmuch as we haven’t been attacked in over seven years. This suggests either that Obama was disingenuous then or disingenuous now. Let us hope it was the former.
IV. The stimulus is an ungodly disaster — a trillion dollars to foster Democratic constituencies that will leave a generation to come with unsustainable debt. Listening to Reid/Pelosi has proven catastrophic. Necessary loan guarantees to stop meltdowns have morphed into a liberal wish list (cf. Emanuel’s ‘don’t let a crisis go to waste’) of a half century. Borrowing trillions to cure an economy that borrowed hundreds of billions and got itself into an abyss of debt makes no sense.
V. Robert Gibbs, the new press secretary is, well, incompetent. He is a Scott McClellan nightmare that won’t go away — given his long McClellan-like relationship with the President (McClellan should have been fired on hour one on the job). When Davis now sorta blames Fox News for Obama’s calamities he is McClellan to the core. He is sounding as duplicitous, vague, and contradictory as Obama is supposedly transparent and bipartisan. The conflicting messages don’t mix. I think he is kind and a good person in a way McClellan was not (though not always so in the primaries), but Gibbs is not helping the President and absolutely exposing the press to ridicule, who otherwise would have ripped apart someone of his caliber long ago.
VI. True, Biden is just being Biden. But now he is Vice President Biden of our United States. Already, he’s ridiculed the Chief Justice. He has trashed the former VP. He has bragged on himself ad nauseam in very Bidenesque weird ways (best qualified VP in history he booms), and it has only been two weeks. He is as incompetent in foreign affairs as Gates, Jones, Holbrooke are skilled.
And the result of all this?
At home our President is losing critical credibility — but at a geometrical rate in week 2 of a four-year term. He must for our sake improve — fast!
Abroad, some really creepy people are now lining up to test Obama’s world view of ‘Bush did it/but I am the world’: the North Koreans are readying their missiles; the Iranians are calling us passive, bragging on nukes and satellites; Russia is declaring missile defense is over and the vulnerable Euros in real need of iffy Russian gas; Pakistanis say no more drone attacks (and then our friends the Indians say “shut up” about Kashmir and the Euros order no more ‘buy American” and no to more troops in Afghanistan). Oddly, Iraq stays quiet, our homeland security measures are keeping us safe, and the initial bank guarantees stopped a greater meltdown — so not everything was ruined on January 20.
I. Drop all the talk about the best, the most, the greatest ethical, moral, legal etc. Just keep quiet and call in Senate leaders of both parties and show them the names of nominees and ask for pre-hearing advice. I think Geithner cannot now stay: not when Obama confesses that Daschle had to go to avoid two tax laws for elites and mass. But Geithner’s sin was far worse, since he was the nominal head of the IRS itself. He should step down, and Obama should likewise distance himself from Rangel. Advice: Keep quiet and carry a big ethical stick.
II. Never trash your predecessor or the U.S. abroad. Defend it — always; America is better than the alternative; that it is not perfect does not mean that it is not great. Bush’s decision to surge was courageous; a Saudi royal calling for Israel to go back to the 1948 borders is just more of the same. Trust Billary, Gates, and Jones on foreign policy; ignore Biden. Send him to funerals (and that is risky).
III. Hush about the Bush homeland security measures. Just accept them as necessary evils. Express regret for the no-win choices, but insist that another 4 years of safety from 9/11 attacks is the primary consideration (and we will assume that ‘Bush shredded the Constitution’ was mere empty-headed Hollywood-imported campaign rhetoric.)
IV. Halve the stimulus. Insist on tax cuts rather than hand-outs. Include mandatory spending caps to come based on GDP performance; call for national unity to balance the budget when the storms pass. Do not listen to one word from Pelosi/Reid. The former is an extremist, the latter unhinged. Call in Lieberman for insider advice. Find some Senate Democratic moderates. We will endure this 1981-2-like Recession that is not the Great Depression, but increasingly an excuse for European socialism that has now imploded from Greece to the U.K.
V. Replace Gibbs. Perhaps bump him upstairs to some sort of communications czar. But don’t unleash him on the public or press. Bring some old Democratic pro out from the past, either a liberal version of a TV vet like Tony Snow or some Clinton-era flak.
VI. Give Biden a key assignment: something like an Al Gore reforming government thing — anything other than commentary on foreign policy or ad hoc philosophizing. In thirty days Dick Cheney will be Rushmorean in comparison.
Let us hope that the world doesn’t try to test us this month. And if the outlaws do, let the sober and judicious people (and there are many) in Obama’s foreign policy team be allowed to react. In week three, we are light years from ‘hope and change’; now it is let us “hope he can change.”
Basic message: stop, halt, quit NOW the “I am the messiah” rhetoric before the fair-weather media bails.
So stop “Bush did it” refrains. And stop the trash Rush/Hannity/talk radio/Fox. Arguing with talk radio is not what Presidents do (did Bush diss Keith Olbermann?). Speak softly and kindly (and HUMBLY) in preparing for mega challenges against American interests. Do all that and the American people will rally to our President. They want their President to succeed and can forgive a lot, but again not hypocrisy cum self-righteousness.
Ask President Carter.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson