Let the Games Begin?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

I don’t follow the Democratic thinking. Their president polls below 50 percent. The Democratically-controlled Congress polls less than 20 percent. Healthcare reform polls at about 45 percent support. Looming future bills like cap and trade and amnesty as a part of immigration reform poll even more poorly. Usually in such circumstances, a party is careful to enlist bipartisan support and protect the notion of minority participation. But the Democrats not only did not do that, but went even further and destroyed the process of conciliation, congressional tradition, and transparency.

When they return to minority status (and they will), what will they say when some Republicans seek to radically change vast swaths of current economic and social life, employing everything from the nuclear option, reconciliation, and pondering deem and pass to special kickbacks and buy-offs to fence-sitting congressional representatives?

I think the die is now cast and the message for both parties is: Get a president and a 51 percent congressional vote, and you can remake America in the most radical fashion, damning the polls, the opposition, and the traditional processes of government itself. It’s a new arena and apparently the ends will now justify any means necessary. Good luck to that.

Our New Friends and Out-of-date Allies

The acrimony between the Obama administration and Israel over new building in Jerusalem was supposedly over appearances, timing, dissing the U.S., etc. But that concern over symbolism works both ways. While we have brewed up a new crisis with Israel over its supposedly horrendous act of building homes, we say nothing to the Palestinians about the far more abhorrent symbolic act of naming a town square in honor of a mass murderer. Meanwhile, President Obama has just sent another video to Iran, reminding Ahmadinejad et al. of his prior outreach — this to a regime that both boasts about mass murdering to come, and sends its agents into Iraq to kill Americans.

Taken individually, each of these incidents can invite discussion and debate. Taken together, they raise the question that has so often been raised over the past year: Why does this administration hector or ignore our friends, while it appeases our rivals and enemies?

Various answers have been given: Allies are passé; they offer no chance for headline diplomatic breakthroughs brought on by our president’s charisma and postnational magnetism. At the same time, in their distrust of what America has traditionally stood for (a powerful, proud, free-market Western nation), belligerents abroad like Castro, Chávez, and the Palestinians voice themes that Americans like Van Jones or Anita Dunn (to take a symbolic pair) share. Thus, the flip side to nationalizing healthcare, banks, and student loans at home is to look sympathetically at those who long ago did the same abroad. Seen in that light, the growing rejection of Britain or Israel is the logical symbolic bookend to the Obama administration’s multicultural, statist agenda here at home. Another answer is that, like academics who rarely venture out from the university lounge, the members of this administration think our enemies and rivals listen to reason and logic and were deemed difficult only because of a sort of anti-Enlightenment denseness in past administrations, and especially the Bush administration.

Whatever the cause, the effect is now clear: there is no such thing any more as allies and rivals, much less friends and enemies. That Manicheanism is part of our Neanderthal past. We won’t judge anyone abroad on what he does or says — unless he represents forces of traditional privilege and is sympathetic with traditions within the United States that we are desperately trying to shed.

The problem is obvious. The thuggish regimes that we court, given the value systems that have made them what they are, will interpret all this as either disingenuousness or the decadence of those who don’t even believe in themselves. And so the pressures on us to engage in ever more appeasement will only magnify. Because America now apologizes for everything, and China and Russia for nothing, soon the impression will be fixed abroad that America has a lot to atone for and its authoritarian rivals nothing to answer for. Pressures for constant concessions and reparations will mount on democratic us, and lessen on autocratic others.

An Historic Pelosi?

I suppose one could interpret the healthcare bill as “Pelosi’s historic achievement,” as the media has been insisting, but that would also mean that an unpopular President and a more unpopular Congress and a most unpopular Speaker together railroaded through an unpopular, sweeping piece of legislation without a single opposition vote, and through the sort of tawdry legislative bribery and procedural gimmicks we haven’t seen since the 19th century. So the bill is historic mostly in the minds of the D.C.–New York liberal punditocracy and Democratic stalwarts, for about another seven months, before the people weigh in themselves.

I don’t think by year’s end too many will call the bill historic; and when the opposition eventually takes over the Congress (and it always does), and its zealots begin to ram through radical, partisan changes, in the manner of Pelosi’s precedent, “historic” will be the last adjective we used to look back on March 21 and the role of the Speaker. The means live on; the ends are ephemeral — and Pelosi’s conduct tarnished the Congress and will unleash a no-holds-barred reaction when she is out of power that will make historians think very carefully about the real lasting wages of her most unpopular tenure.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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