by Victor Davis Hanson
It’s the Lying, Stupid?
“Lie” is a rather harsh word; the noun and its verb form leave little to context or extenuating circumstances. So I use it sparingly.
But I know no other word for President Obama’s long string of “misstatements,” especially the blatant ones about closing Guantanamo within a year of his inauguration or serially declaring that he would insist on healthcare debate airing live on C-SPAN.
How odd that the liberal block is quiet that once coined “Bush lied, thousands died” (even when the CIA and Defense intelligence was accepted by both parties and in sync with what the Arab world and Europe were insisting upon [recall the charge of a supposed naïve Bush taking us to war against a nut who would gas our troops marshalling in Kuwait.]). In any case, not telling the truth has a lot to do with sinking polls.
So I don’t quite buy the liberal lament that the people will support Obama when the economy improves.
It was roaring in 2005-6, and still Bush was unpopular — given the violence in Iraq and the administration’s inability to articulate our objectives there. And even when Iraq was winding down in 2008, polls still showed persistent American anger at the media narrative of a botched Katrina, the insurgency in Iraq, and a “jobless recovery.”
No, the American people are losing confidence in Team Obama because quite simply they are tiring of being lied to, and treated like children in need of Ivy-League Platonic guardians.
Yes, they intrinsically liked Obama and put away for a time their suspicions that he had not come clean on his real ideological intentions, his radical leftist past, his intimate association with the creepy Rev. Wright, and his partisanship that had made him the most liberal senator in the Congress.
Let Us Count the Ways
But almost immediately, Obama, again, in Platonic fashion, began to say things that could not possibly be true. Remember the categories.
1) The bait and switch lies. Here, we, the eager voters, were told that there are no more bad blue/red state dichotomies. We are a purple America. Instead, we immediately witnessed the demonization of the supposed “rich” (I say supposed, because the Buffet/Gates/Turner plutocrat is exempt), who are not “patriotic,” do not wish to “spread the wealth,” and must “pay their fair share.” Almost immediately Obama’s Bush became America’s Emanuel Goldstein — an Orwellian figure constructed to unify the people around an evil predecessor incapable of a single positive act — whether keeping us safe for over seven years from another 9/11-like attack, freeing 50 million from the Taliban and Saddam, or generating enormous national wealth from 2002-08.
Some deluded voters in November, 2008, went for Obama on promises of a new kinder, gentler politics. They got instead the most partisan, nasty Chicago politicking in memory.
2) The “noble” lies. These are untruths aimed at the common good. In Cairo, we were told Muslims did all sorts of wonderful things in the past like invented printing and sparked the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Why not fabricate and exaggerate when the intentions are global ecumenicalism?
Remember the new tactic of assessing job losses by “jobs saved”? And why not, since we wish to bolster our spirits and believe that our borrowing was not wasted on pork-barrel insanities, rather than “investments” that created “millions of green jobs” that otherwise would not have existed?
And we must believe that health care reform as envisioned by the Obama massive state assumption of private insured care will save “trillions in waste and fraud.” Believe that, and at last the dream of “universal healthcare” is obtainable.
Remember the phrase “using all our resources” during the high energy prices of the 2008 campaign? Obama then was a centrist who would drill, develop nuclear, look for more gas, burn coal — all to tide us over as we waited for the dream of Van Jones. That too was a noble lie, necessary for we fools to cling to, while the anointed fashioned a “green” cap-and-trade future for us, whose efficacy we could not quite yet fathom.
3) Tactical Lies. Then there are the tactical lies to achieve the desired ends in “that was then/this is now” fashion. Turn to Orwell’s Animal Farm for the right landscape. Healthcare debate on C-SPAN/healthcare debate behind congressional doors. Taxes on Cadillac health plans were an inane McCain idea/taxes on Cadillac health plans are a way to eliminate waste and fraud; stupid, clueless Bush was pushing unpopular Social Security reform that 65% of the people didn’t want/wise, hip Obama is pushing noble healthcare reform that 65% of the people don’t want. The list is endless and started in 2007 with public campaign financing as good for dark horse candidates/public campaign financing as bad for front-runner cash cows.
Apparently two or three “let me be perfectly clear”s and 3-4 “make no mistake about it”s — when prefaced to something like “no more lobbyists in government” or “posting legislation well in advance on the internet” — make it all so.
4) The Deadline Lies. Remember those? You’ve seen that sort of “if you don’t, then you….” in the supermarket when the poor harried mom has the three-year-old kid screaming and kicking on the aisle floor, and screams back as she blocks shoppers, “If you yell one more time, I’m going to spank you!” — as he screams and kicks all the louder.
Guantanamo shut by January 21, 2010? Iran in non-proliferation compliance by the U.N. summit or the G-20 meetings or the October face-to-face negotiations or the first of the new year? Remember healthcare done by the summer break? By Thanksgiving? By Christmas or else? By the first of the year?
I used to have a relative of sorts who came around the ranch and wanted $500. I gave it to him once and he’d return sheepishly every three months, and promise, “This spring I am going to pay you back.” “This summer I’ll paint your barn.” “Before the first rain, I’ll fix that tin roof on the shed.” Finally, I forgot I ever gave him the money, and now only vaguely recall how silly I was. So too, we forget the promises, so frequent and impossible they now seem.
The list could be expanded exponentially and already, reader, you are screaming even as you read this, “But Victor, you didn’t list the worst of all, the lie about (fill in the blanks)…”
The Catalysts for Such Prevarications?
1) Habit. Obama could more or less say anything in mellifluous tones, and the media would become enraptured. This ability to charm by sounding honey-tongued while saying nothing started perhaps in the Ivy-League and has never ceased. Some habitual liars persist since they are never caught or even admonished. Obama is never called to account (cf. Robert Gibbs’s angry reaction to the blasphemy when asked about the C-SPAN fantasies). The most transparent administration in history hasn’t had a news conference since mid-summer, even amid the toadies (Note to media: photo-ops and interviews are not press conferences). The media and Obama have an unspoken pact that goes something like the following: “We both are educated elites who know best for the Neanderthals. So from time to time I will have to lie to you to get our shared aspirations realized; and I accept from time to time, you will have to play act as critics to cling to some sort of legitimacy that is likewise necessary for our joint aspirations.” (And then we’ll both have a beer together afterwords.)
2) Morality. All philosopher-kings believe that the ends justify the means. To make us loving, caring equals — with no rich, no poor — we must sometimes adopt the Chicago politics that we insist we abhor. A Tony Rezko is bad, but a Tony Rezko is temporarily necessary to get the sort of hope and change we’ve been waiting for.
3) Squaring Circles. You can reconcile thinking that the U.S. is culpable for its race/class/gender felonious past, and globe-trotting the world on a presidential luxury jet with the red, white , and blue plastered all over it — the logical manifestation of a uniquely meritocratic, capitalist, and free-enterprise economy. One cannot damn insider, influence-peddling, private-jet flying Wall Street bankers, corrupt insurers, and “the rich,” and then hire the same, frequent the same, and aspire to be the same. Class warfare is hard when your own profile is the logical target. And so one is bound to change the story as hypocrisy begins to cramp.
4) Personal Confusion. Read both Obama memoirs (is that the right word for these auto-hagiographies?), and it becomes clear that he is still confused who he is. Barry Soetoro? Barry Dunham? Barack Dunham? Barack Obama? Barry Obama? Prep school upper-middle class in Hawaii or impoverished minority in need of affirmative action? African or African-American or plain old American suburbanite? Harvard Law Review and Chicago Law lecturer or unpublished wannabe legal professor? Harry Reid’s unaccented “Negro” dialect or Harry Reid’s ability to turn it on only as needed? Racial healer who wows the suburbanite and NY-DC insider clique, or angry racialist who throws out “stupidly,” the clingers speech, “typical white person” and brags about not missing a Rev. Wright sermon to the Chicago Sun-Times? When one is confused about who one is, one creates alternate narratives and personas — and, yes, often they will clash.
The economy might just be in what we heard once (wrongly, in fact, in 2004) categorized as a “jobless recovery.” And, yes, the people have roared that they don’t want the remedies of statist healthcare, mega-deficits, higher taxes, more government, green boondoggles, apologetics abroad, blanket amnesty, and more lunatic appointments like Van Jones and Anita Dunn.
But what is taking Obama down below 50% approval is mostly a public awareness that they elected a deeply cynical man, who either cannot or will not speak the truth or keep his promises (note the Nixonian resonance in “perfectly clear about…”). In fact, it is worse than that — in the postmodern world of Barack Obama there is no truth per se, just competing narratives privileged by the relative degree of power behind them and the relative perceived moral intent involved.
So when the advocates of hope and change, of non-traditional America, of the poor and the needy and the more noble, say something, it must be true because, you see, it should be true.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson