by Victor Davis Hanson
Such a Strange Malady
A strange thing, this Obama worship (cf. the New York Times op-ed on Sunday where the columnist imagined having sexual relations with Obama) and Bush hatred (cf. the Will Farrell Broadway show trashing Bush, and showing images of his purported penis). They are flipside manifestations of the same sickness that has taken hold of a large subset of the population. Millions seems to think by demonizing A and worshipping B, then once intractable problems (that transcend both A’s faults and B’s merits) suddenly, magically will disappear. But the apocalyptic style is quite dangerous, and the 20th century should have told us that answers are not found through fixating evil on “them” and seeking a “He” to address it. In the meantime, civility is prized, and one should criticize Obama in a spirit and tone that are the exact opposites of the way in which Bush was demonized.
That said, stranger, read on.
Change You Can Imagine
Americans know that Obama announced his candidacy on certain principles and positions on the issues that are now, well, “problematic” — 1) campaign financing reform, 2) coal burning, 3) nuclear power, 4) off-shore drilling, 4) NAFTA, 5) hand-gun control, 6) capital punishment, 7) the surge, 8) withdrawal from Iraq, 9) FISA, 10) the Patriot Act, 11) renditions, 12) talking with Iran, 13) Jerusalem, 14) lobbyists and ethics and on and on. Most are silent about this metamorphosis, since the change from his initial positions was in many cases for the good. I agree that the newer Obama is far more realistic than the 2006-7 version. Some welcomed common sense I guess trumps the charge of hypocrisy.
Three observations about such flexibility:
a) Yes, all primary candidates shift positions in the general elections and then often shift back in the first year or two of office (until they get burned and need to return to triangulation). So even Obama’s breath-taking flip-flop-flips have some historical precedents. (Still, I do not understand why Obama didn’t Morris-like triangulate against the Congressional Democrats and the Republicans — something like “x gave you this mess, and y wants the same old, same old pork rather than my z-way out.”)
b) That said, I think a number of Americans are not quite sure what the current Obama position is on tax cuts, the future of publicly financed Presidential elections, rendition, ethics in government — or really on anything. Everything, in contrast, seems in play on any given day. Any position can be hoped and changed with soaring cadences, so the question is what position will fit today, but perhaps not tomorrow?
c) That said again, I think from the first three weeks in office, and the rhetoric of the base, and a few solid facts, we can assume there are about five areas in which Obama really will break from the past, and these issues will prove contentious in the next year or so. Here are examples.
1. Big Brother. In the past eight years there was great acrimony about “shredding the Constitution”. Some of us did not think the Patriot Act, FISA, renditions, or Guantanamo had, by historical measures during the exigencies of war, damaged the civil liberties of Americans, but in toto had made it much more difficult for radical Islamists to repeat 9/11.
Many disagreed. But recently Obama has mentioned a number of things that suggest the government or private concerns might in other areas be quite intrusive — and they will be so without the watchdog Left that was once keen to any perceived intrusion of Mr. Bush’s administration:
A) We hear that the President wants “eyes and ears” to monitor the stimulus bill, as in reporting those to a website who supposedly stray from proper conduct (do we really want a nationally-sanctioned, electronic vigilante group reporting to the White House each time a nebulous “they” purportedly takes away their “fair share” of government “stimulus” hand-outs?);
B) Did you have a strange cough in 1978? We are told that our health records, which of course are blueprints to how our lives were lived, will become part of a national data base (do we really wish some clerk in HHS or a regional office, with instant access to the details of 300 million Americans, leaking (cf. Joe the Plumber and leaks about his post-marriage problems) information that candidate X, critic Y, or political opponent Z had a positive TB test once, or took some meds for some unmentionable disease, or tried an anti-depressant for a month or so?);
C) Then there are a number of internet companies like Google that are developing technologies that allow retrieval of information in quite unprecedented fashion (e.g., I am amazed that we spend hours beating ourselves up over the FISA acts about wiretapping terrorists’ phone calls, but are unworried about the ability, in just a few seconds, to find out what the backyard patio, or the condition of the roof, of any American looks like through Google Earth.)
D) Obama is fixated on talk radio — serially mentioning Limbaugh and Hannity, the two top draws. I remember talk radio in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yes, many of you remember? — it was sort of “OK, let’s discuss the local sewer plant”, or “Aliens have been among us since 1951” or “Call in to vote on your favorite heavy metal band.” So do not believe that the ‘fairness’ doctrine’ is dead — it isn’t and the argument won’t be made that we need “free” speech, but rather we need “kind” and “civilized discourse” so that the “selfish” and “hate-mongers” don’t drown out the chance for a small, occasional “progressive” “response”.
2) Israel. If Netanyahu is elected in Israel, and if the Obama team feels that the key to historic “progress” in the Middle East lies in rehabilitating Hamas, or in forcing 99.9% withdrawal from the West, or hinges on normalization with Iran, then look for a fundamental recalibration of our relationship with Israel, as we lock horns with our traditional ally. I’ll leave it at that. (Note well: one of Obama’s first acts was to allot $20 million for help in settling refugees from Gaza, apparently (?) in the United States. That seems to be unwise, especially given the Palestinian clapping to news of 9/11 on the West Bank. E.g.,
By the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 2(c)(1) of the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (the “Act”), as amended (22 U.S.C. 2601), I hereby determine, pursuant to section 2 (c) (1) of the Act, that it is important to the national interest to furnish assistance under the Act in an amount not to exceed $20.3 million from the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund for the purpose of meeting unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs, including by contributions to international, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations and payment of administrative expenses of Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the Department of State, related to humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza.
3) Afghanistan. In the current World Affairs, I wrote about the politicization by the Left of the Afghanistan/good war, and Iraq/bad war, and how that contortion was disingenuous. The upshot was that when Iraq settled down, as it likely would, then chest-beating liberals on Afghanistan were sort of forced into a ‘put your money where your mouth was’ stance. They had preened that we unfortunately shorted the right war due to the quagmire in Iraq — and logically of course now have their chance to rectify things. Yet with no more quagmire in Iraq, I doubt they will now wish to “put their eye on the ball” in Afghanistan. Again, the bottom line is that soon a rationalization (watch the op-ed columns first, then State Dept communiqués) will emerge that Afghanistan is either not worth it or unwinnable — as we slowly back out of the country.
4) Taxes everywhere? Conservatives used to call supply-side economics “starving the beast” on the flawed assumption that with less revenue, there would be commensurate cuts in wasteful government spending. Hardly. Now liberals are “force-feeding the beast” on the valid assumption that by spending astronomical sums on government, there will have to be tax hikes and the long desired return to redistributions of income.
If one were to do the math on the multi-trillions in aggregate debt and annual deficits in the next 4 years, then one would conclude as soon as we get to positive GDP growth, and get back to unemployment below 7%, we will see some stunning tax-increases. I can envision combined state and federal income tax increases to levels of well over 50-60% in aggregate (we are almost there now), which, when combined with existing (and perhaps soon to be increased) FICA rates, would easily put those above $150,000 (or will the hit level be at 200-250K? voiced during the campaign?) in the 70% income tax bracket. And such hikes will be justified as “patriotic”, and “paying your fair share”, coupled with rhetoric about “the rich” otherwise flying to the super bowl in private jets (see the Monday Obama press conference) — as if the professional couple making $225,000 routinely gets in their $40 million Citation X to fly cross-country. There will always be an example cited of some Wall Street selfish SOB to justify the raising of taxes on the local hardware store owner—until the upscale lawyer or community doctor or full professor at last cries out “Wait, why I am included with the greedy “they” who must pay higher taxes?”).
5) Counting everybody. I think we will also see a radical redirection on the census, which in its most expansive manifestation is the linchpin for everything from congressional redistricting and justification for affirmative action to national statistical data that is key to justifying redistributive efforts of government. As it comes under the White House umbrella (had Karl Rove tried that….), I would imagine a radical surge in the number of women and minorities who are counted, and issues of immigration and legality becoming suddenly problematic.
Change, at last…
In other words, many of us cynics — who did not quite believe the Obama Hope and Change caravans last summer, and who were quick to tally all the times Obama simply trashed Bush and then adopted his positions, or flip-flopped on his original stances to beat Hillary and then Bush — will have to grant that Obama on issues like the above really is going to bring radical change.
So yes, hope and change in some sense are on the way, and I think there is a very good chance that the government and/or sympathetic private concerns will both know more about us, and know more about us for “patriotic” and “good” reasons than ever before. And I believe in four years our foreign policy will essentially become indistinguishable from that of the European Union’s. Finally with the stimulus, restructuring of the census, and recalibration of taxation, we will see traditional Democratic constituencies strengthened and institutionalized in ways we have not seen since the 1930s.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson