by Victor Davis Hanson
From the Embarrassing to the Pathetic
I don’t want to beat the proverbial dead horse, but these media polarities are getting to the point of absurdity. Bush, the lazy golfer while we were at war; Obama the engaged commander-in-chief playing golf for needed relaxation more in one year than in Bush’s eight. Katrina, the emblem of federal inaction and culpable incompetence; the BP slick, either a result of private greed overwhelming noble federal auditors or proof of the Obamian competent response. Bush’s illegal war clearly alienating Muslims and thus creating terrorists daily; laughable excuses from a terrorist that Obama’s stepped-up targeted Predator assassinations “created” would-be killers such as himself. Right wingers in bed with Wall Street oligarchs greedily crafting federal policy for the exploiting class; Obama for some odd reason, no doubt in the end a noble reason, taking more money from the likes of Goldman Sachs and British Petroleum than any politician in history. The Bush-Cheney nexus shredding the Constitution with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, Predators, and renditions; Obama the civil libertarian reluctantly forced to maintain or expand such protocols, albeit at last under a watchful liberal eye. Bush’s “lost” war in Iraq miraculously soon to be Obama’s “greatest achievement.”
What is the theory behind all this other than partisanship or cynicism? I think it involves the power of faith and the irrational, in some cases not confined to the left. (e.g., I once got a prominent conservative angry at me when I suggested Reagan embraced large deficits, signed an amnesty bill, wanted nuclear disarmament, and raised payroll taxes). Politics is a religion, never more so than in the case of Obama. And true believers always prefer the saintly explanation rather than the most logical.
An Era of Zero Interest
I went to two banks the other day. The interest rates on interest checking, or short-term savings, or money market accounts (without tying money up for a half year or so) were all below 1%. In my lifetime of some 56 years, I cannot recall lower rates. I just refinanced last fall a loan at 4.8%. Two observations. That is quite a spread of profitability for banks; and, two, given inflation at 2-3%, it seems better to borrow than to save. For conservative, thrifty retirees, worried about the mercurial stock market in the post-2008 days and post-real estate crash age, there is essentially little income to be had from their savings. I don’t follow the inter-workings of either the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Department, but as an historian I note only that we are in a cycle in which debt trumps capital, and we are witnessing an enormous redistribution of wealth far beyond the implications of new tax policies. Interest income on savings simply has ceased to exist for millions — leading to profits for banks, and essentially cheap money (the interest rate minus inflation) for debtors. Was this an artifact of the recession or a planned act, and have we seen anything quite like it in recent memory?
Verdict in on Red/Blue?
A number of recent comparative studies of economic performance broken down by state, and in some by county, are revealing. The worst performers are California and Michigan, and the most dismal counties are mostly in the interior of California. In other words, we have been given a rare laboratory study (as if Greece/Germany were not enough) of the financial consequences of high taxes, large government, and generous entitlements versus lower taxes, less government, and less entitlements. Note what I mean by “study”: if an entity were to have generous services and high taxes, then its financial health might be no different from its antithesis that opted for fewer services and lower taxes, all things otherwise being equal. But that is not happening: the high service governments are running out of money despite their high taxes, as people either shut down, move away, or hide income, while others on the receiving end either lose incentive to seek employment or increase their claims. And in the case of the Central Valley of California we see the perfect storm of cut-offs of contracted irrigation water to thousands of once productive acres (in this, the wettest year since 2006 with an enormous snow pack), the flood of illegal immigration, a nearly bankrupt Medical system and social service agencies, and tens of thousands of high-earners, who for reasons of taxes, crime, and failing schools, have been leaving Modesto, Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield in droves.
“Orwellian” is overused, but what other word is there for the recent spate of terrorist incidents — a Maj. Hasan, Mutallab, and Shahzad? Hasan was given exemption to hate, due to political correctness (cf. Gen. Casey’s reaction to the murders by lamentation over possible harm to his diversity program). Mutallab was an “alleged” terrorist (as smoke wafted from his groin?) and Mirandized, his own father’s warnings unheeded, while Shahzad seems to have brazenly operated, perhaps suspecting that we would be far more worried about a “white terrorist” angry over healthcare than a Pakistani naturalized citizen who voiced his anger freely and traveled quite often to Pakistan, that oasis of religious tolerance. My liberal friends have assured me that Obama’s reset-button diplomacy, apology tour, Cairo speechifying, euphemisms (“overseas contingency operations” and the like), “virtual” closing of Guantanamo, and all that trashing of Bush gave him the cover to step up renditions, tribunals, and Predators, and escalate in Afghanistan without either liberal or Middle East criticism. Perhaps. But aside from the hypocrisy and cynicism involved in such thinking, we are in a symbolic war as well. And so far the philological message has been: “We Americans under Bush were culpable in our war against you, and promise to be nicer to you and harder on those who were not nice to you.” For many in al-Qaeda, they look to words and symbols — aside from the Predator body counts and the days that Guantanamo is still open past Obama’s promised closure date — and they see a stumbling pony not a strong stallion. They are encouraged and emboldened — and they act. To quote our president, “Don’t tell me words don’t matter!”
Some Modest Suggestions for the May Day Protestors
Suggestions for open borders advocates: do not plan protests on May Day. It is traditionally associated with hard left politics and embodies precisely the message you do not wish to convey — not when 60% of the voters either support the tough Arizona law or feel it is too soft. Ban all Mexican flags at your demonstrations: when they are ubiquitous, your message, fairly or not, comes across as “I am waving the flag of a nation that drove me, in desperation and in poverty, to seek a new life away from it, and I am chanting in anger at policies of a majority of a nation that I most definitely wish to stay in.” Do not showcase anybody from the National Council of La Raza. This is 2010. The “Race” is a fossilized word; in a society of Asians, blacks, whites, and everything in between, even the mere scent of racialism is odious and, again, counter-productive. Finally, get the narrative straight on the Left. Are the bad guys the unscrupulous employers who hire cheap labor or the same employers that give illegal aliens a job? Are aliens union-busting low wage earners or allied workers who reflect the solidarity of the toiling classes? Are aliens fellow people of color victimized by the dominant culture, or undercutters who ensure that poor African-Americans and first-generation Hispanics cannot organize for decent wages? And again, is Mexico a corrupt cadre of elites who oppress indigenous peoples and drive them out in expectation that they in turn will send back billions of dollars in subsidies, or a revolutionary mentor that energizes “Latinos” of the U.S. in their struggle for social justice (e.g., when the ubiquitous Mexican consular official habitually lectures the U.S. on the maltreatment of an illegal alien that fled Mexico, are we to laugh or cry?)?
What is the role of race? The accusation is that those who want laws enforced do so for racist purposes (e.g., as if they would not object to a million white Canadians each year, without diplomas and English, illegally swarming into Montana or the Dakotas); but to emphasize racism, why display all those placards that encourage racial solidarity? The message should be: “We want to get far away from Mexico, learn English, learn all about the traditions of this wonderful country we are fleeing to, and embrace the American notion of the content of our character rather than skin color.” Somehow I don’t get that from the demonstrations, the talking heads, and the politicians. “The borders crossed us,” “Get over it,” and Che flags just don’t resonate that lost message.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson