It Was the Power, Stupid!

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

I. Power — Always Was and Always Will Be

In my dumber days, between 2001-2008, I used to wonder why the Left relentlessly hammered the war on terror (e.g., renditions, tribunals, predators, preventative detention, Patriot Act, intercepts, wiretaps, Guantanamo Bay) when these measures had not only proven quite useful in preventing another 9/11-like attack, but had been sanctioned by both the Congress and the courts. In those ancient times, I was not as cynical as I am now. So I assumed that Harold Koh and, though mistaken, were worried about civil liberties, or measures that they felt were both illegal and without utility.

But, of course, the Obama (who attacked each and every element of the war on terror as a legislator and senator) Left never had any principled objection at all. Instead, whatever Bush was for, they were in Pavlovian fashion against. I can say that without a charge of cynicism, because after January 2009, Obama embraced or expanded every Bush-Cheney protocol that he inherited. In response, the anti-war Left simply kept silent, or indeed vanished, or went to work extending the anti-terrorism agenda. Guantanamo Bay, in other words, was a national sin until the mid-morning of January 20, 2009.

II. The Year 4

We are in the year four of our lord, when darkness was made light, the seas gently receded, and the planet cooled. In the space of 24 hours in January 2009 the world was turned upside down: massive deficits were no longer “unpatriotic”; 5% (heck, even 9%) unemployment was no longer to be seen as a “jobless recovery”; $4 plus gasoline no longer would become “intolerable.” [1] Filibusters suddenly became ossified obstructionism. Recess appointments were now quite legitimate; lecturing the media about the myth of objective fairness was salutary. Pay-for-play time with the president was consulting; attacking the “unelected” courts was progressive. Voter fraud was not thugs eyeing polling monitors with clubs, but officials asking voters to present a picture ID — and mentioning any of these inconsistencies or writing about the Trostky-ization of American life was either racism or Palinism.

Around March 2008, the Ministry of Truth had issued new edicts about campaign financing,big Wall Street money [2], and the supposedly pernicious role of contributions: all bad if Bush trumped Kerry, all now good if Obama trumped McCain. So when Obama became the first candidate in the history of the law to renounce public campaign financing in order to shake down $1 billion, there was silence. The Left never really worried about Big Money, but only if more Big Money went to conservatives than to themselves. (Consider the current shameless money grubbing of Jon Corzine to raise cash for Obama [3] after Corzine’s looting of thousands of individuals’ lifetime investments, or the shrillness over Mitt Romney’s supposed mansion in La Jolla juxtaposed to the prior silence about the Kerry mansions, the multiple Gore residences, or “John’s room,” as in the huge and crass Edwards estate.) What was interesting about Hilary Rosen was not her stupid thoughts on Ann Romney, but her cursus honorum that led to hired-gun riches by parlaying political contacts into commerce.

III. Tongue-tied Presidents

We can play this Orwellian game with almost everything these days. Take presidential cosmopolitanism and the Bush-as-oaf trope. The disdain was not for an inept president, but rather a simple means to destroy an ideological opponent. Why again the cynicism? Because the Left cares little that Barack Obama has no clue where particular islands in the news are and cannot even do political correctness right when he wishes to ingratiate himself to his South American hosts by wanting to trill the “Maldives.” [4] We have a president who can say Talêban, drop the g’s in a black patois, and trill his Spanish words in front of Latin American hosts, but is off 8,000 miles in his geography.

Ditto “corpse-man [5],” the Austrian language, 57 states, and all the other parochialism and gaffes that remind us not only that it is hard being a president without making gaffes, but that it is especially hard as a conservative president when each gaffe is cited as proof of ignorance.

IV. So What?

What is going on? Two things, really. One, the media believes that the noble ends justify the tawdry means. So if it is a choice between emphasizing the latest Obama embarrassment by digging into the scary Fast and Furious [6], the “millions of green jobs” Solyndra insider giveaways [7], the Secret Service decadence, the GSA buffoonery, and the work while getting food stamps con in Washington OR endangering Obamacare and by extension “the children,” or the war to eliminate autism, or the right to breath clean air — well, why would one ever wish to derail all that by weakening a landmark progressive and his enlightened agenda?

Or for you more cynical readers, why would you wish to enervate the present comfortable culture in Washington in which the press and politics are at last one? Or why undermine the first African-American president, who is a constant reminder of our progressive advancement? Or why weaken our only chance some day to have open borders or gay marriage?

Two, the Left has always operated on the theory of medieval penance. We surely must assume that Warren Buffett has never had problems with the ethics of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. or had a company he controls sued by the IRS for back taxes [8]. Why? Because he has confessed his sins, and accepted the faith and paid his tithe to the Church. Ditto a Bill Gates or a rich celebrity like Sean Penn or Oprah. In the relativism of the left, if the one-percenters will simply confess that their class is greedy and needs to pay their fair share — even if they are entirely cynical in the manner of GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and penance is written off as the cost of doing business — then they become exempt from the wages of them/us warfare and the “you want to kill the children” rhetoric.

V. Good and Bad Fat Cats

There is no difference in the way the Koch brothers or Exxon run their empires and the way that GM, GE, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and Google do. But the former are enemies of the people [9], while the latter are protectors who have confessed to their bishops and agreed to mouth doctrine and thereby obtained penance to make as much money as they want and to spend it as they damn well please. Suddenly in America after 2009, there are good and bad cable networks, good and bad celebrities, good and bad CEOs, good and bad sports teams (ask Lovie Smith), good and bad states, good and bad everything — not adjudicated on the actual basis of behavior, but rather on whether some are willing to go to reeducation camp, admit their errors, and join the effort to clean the air and feed the kids.

Or do any of you believe there are not Google “corporate jet setters,” or Facebook “fat cats,” or GE executives who didn’t know when it was time not to profit, or Microsoft grandees who ignored the point at which they had made enough money? (For that matter, why could not Barack Obama have made $550,000 last year; had he not reached the point where he didn’t need any more cash?)

VI. The War on Science

We are in strange times. When the Right is in power, the press, the academy, the arts, the foundations, the liberal churches, and the zillionaire class all lecture us on greed, scandal, profit-mongering, wars against science, destroying the planet [10] — the entire laundry list of exploitive greed. The result is that the Right is careful. Bush walked a tightrope, as his moral concerns about stem cells became killing Christopher Reeve, and No Child Left Behind and the prescription drug program were begrudged as too little big government, too late.

When the Left is in power, all of the above go silent.

There really is a war on science in the way a Steven Chu wasted billions on irrational subsidized schemes that produced no energy, while, along with Ken Salazar, neglecting proven ways to increase oil and gas production on federally controlled lands. The GM-subsidized Volt is de facto a war against science; so is high-speed rail — at least for now. The anti-deficit properties of the Buffett rule are make-believe accounting, and entirely anti-mathematical. There really are anti-constitutional scandals in which people died as in Fast and Furious. There really are Ken Lay-type con artists still around called Jon Corzine. There really are misogynists like Bill Maher that daily declare “war on women.”

VII. Fire With Fire

I have a confession to make that may upset readers. I was neutral in the Republican primaries, but especially interested in one fact: who would take off the gloves and run a “war room” campaign in the fashion of Bill Clinton in 1992 (as opposed to the McCain model of emulating Mike Dukakis in 1988)? Romney did it first and most effectively [11].

The result is that when we hear that Rush Limbaugh should be taken off the air for his profane misogyny, almost immediately now there are accounts of Bill Maher’s $1 million gift to Obama [12] and his far greater and unapologetic slurs against women. When we hear all those creepy “concerns” about Romney’s great-grandfather as a polygamist in Mexico, suddenly we are reminded that Obama’s father in Kenya was, too. Putting a dog on the car roof is now not quite the same as eating a dog [13] and then matter-of-fact reading [14] one’s account of it on an audiotape. Trivial? Yes. Distractions from the current economic mess, and beneath us all? Perhaps. All Romney’s doing? Of course not.

But at least 2012 won’t be a default campaign. In other words, to quote Obama, Romney will get in “their faces” and “bring a gun to a knife fight.” McCain more graciously and nobly lost by putting all sorts of concerns off the table. I would expect that should Obama keep harping about Romney’s tax returns, Romney will demand Obama’s transcripts and medical records at last to be released. If Obama’s surrogates keep writing about Mormonism, we will learn of new disclosures about Trinity Church. For every Mormon bishop who said something illiberal in 1976, we will hear of a Father Pfleger or Rev. Meeks trumping that in 2007. And so on.

VIII. Only Power?

Does that mean Obama does not care about ideology? Not necessarily. You can be cynical about trashing fat cats while enjoying Martha’s Vineyard — and still believe in nationalizing healthcare on principled grounds. A sort of medical TSA is a win-win situation in that we all line up for bypasses and antibiotics in the way the line at the airport snakes back and forth; health officers with epaulettes will take our blood pressure and pop us pills in the way unionized TSA officers so assiduously screen our luggage, five or six to a console. Just as you see a small crowd consult whether granny’s wheelchair is laced with plastic explosives, so too the Obamacare GS-10 examiners will huddle to see whether that appendix of yours really is all that close to rupturing, as you, the paranoid and greedy, suspect.

“Share the wealth” and “fairness for all” are not incompatible with a power-hungry technocratic class, an apparat to oversee all this liberality. As recompense for their noble sacrifice, a complete exemption is granted from the consequences of their own mandates. If Michelle is exhausted from trying to make us eat well, why should she not go to Costa del Sol or R&R in Vegas? If Barack Obama is worn out trying to win for us the Buffett rule, why should he pay 30% on his $760,000 in income? If Tim Geithner is fighting on our behalf to make us pay a “premium” tax for being privileged Americans, why should he have to pay his FICA? If Steven Chu takes the heat for trying to get us $8-a-gallon gas in our best interest, why should he have to buy a car [15] and drive?

In 2012, we will learn whether there is a year 5 or 2013.

IX. Footnote to Trayvon Martin

The liberal narrative about the case is now destroyed; it had nothing to do with finding out the truth, whether a trigger-happy vigilante murdered Trayvon Martin, or a desperate neighborhood watchman saved his head from being pounded to smithereens by pulling out a gun and shooting his assailant, or something in between. The narrative instead was solely concerned with taking a tragic shooting case and turning it into more fuel for a fossilized civil rights industry (since the case broke, dozens of violent crime cases of blacks against whites and Asians are splashed over the news, enraging readers and escaping liberal commentary). All we know now is that the “narrative” — a preteen shot “like a dog” while eating candy by a white “assassin” who uttered racial epithets and was never even touched by the victim, only to be let go by a wink-and-nod police force — is false.

I think it will be very hard to get a second-degree murder conviction, given the absence of racial malice on the tape (the narrative’s “coons” and NBC’s version [16] of Zimmerman on his own volunteering “he’s black” are now inoperative), eyewitness accounts of the fray, and the clear injuries to Zimmerman. Instead, the authorities will hope that by inflating the indictment, by airing the facts, and by making Zimmerman testify, tensions will ease — and so when he is acquitted or a judge throws out the case, or a lesser count is pressed, riots will fizzle.

X. Sacrificial Lambs

This is sort of the criminal version of the Scooter Libby case: after it was learned that Plame was probably not a covert agent, that her status was disclosed to Robert Novak not by Libby but by Richard Armitage, that Colin Powell knew the entire time that his deputy — not Libby — had made the initial disclosure, that there were areas of conflict of interest between Plame and Wilson in his selection for his yellow-cake mission, then Libby was sort of seen as a sacrificial lamb who had to be guilty of something to save the narrative of a fascistic effort to sabotage the Constitution.

Perhaps before the second-degree-murder charge is thrown out, the prosecution can so entangle Zimmerman in testimony that they can recharge him with perjury or conspiracy and then plea bargain him down to a year or two. The case is now not concerned with justice, but with politics, defusing threats of violence, and salvaging the careers of so many who so foolishly rushed to judgment.

URLs in this post:

[1] no longer would become “intolerable.”:
[2] big Wall Street money:
[3] Jon Corzine to raise cash for Obama:
[4] by wanting to trill the “Maldives.”:
[5] corpse-man:
[6] the scary Fast and Furious:
[7] Solyndra insider giveaways:
[8] for back taxes:
[9] are enemies of the people:
[10] destroying the planet:
[11] Romney did it first and most effectively:
[12] Bill Maher’s $1 million gift to Obama:
[13] as eating a dog:
[14] matter-of-fact reading:
[15] why should he have to buy a car:
[16] NBC’s version:

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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