by Victor Davis Hanson
Obama has been very good in lowering expectations by reminding us 24/7 that there are no easy solutions to the present fiscal meltdown. True enough. But why then a continuation of the megalomaniac sets — the retracing of the Lincoln Illinois trip to the inauguration in the spirit of vero possumus, the Victory Column, the Greek temple convention sets, etc?
The more he willingly takes on the Lincolnesque or Caesarian mantle, the more the media worries that we have put too many expectations on Obama. Well, surely one way to lower our expectations would be to take a night-flight on a 737 to DC from Chicago, rather than reenact train-bound Young Mr. Lincoln. (Remember, unlike Lincoln, Obama flew back to Chicago from DC to take the train back to DC again). It sort of reminds one of the lectures about the Obama family off limits / Obama family center stage for photo-ops and interviews.
One president at a time
Obama was also insistent that there is only one President at a time — well, sort of at least. On the economy, however, he started issuing communiqués weeks ago; on Gaza, in contrast, it was silence and all Bush’s. Note the Israelis just stopped in Gaza. Odd timing? They are unsure of the reaction of the Obama administration, fearing an off-handed sympathetic remark about Hamas, or, more likely, eager not to leave him with an embarrassing situation on his first day in office that he might not forget.
I wrote an essay about Bush’s successes for the Monday National Review Online. Here are some disappointments:
a. Cronyism: I don’t think Scott McClellan, Harriet Meyers, Michael Brown, etc. were employable outside the White House.
b. First-term spending: the gargantuan leap in the size of the federal government discredited the tax cuts (that brought in more revenue) and the entire notion that Republicans were financial watch-dogs.
c. The Iraq war was authorized on 23 Congressional counts — not just WMD. So why focus on that alone?
d. Why do administration figures conduct engaging and spirited interviews and defenses of policies in the last two weeks of their tenure, but not the last eight years?
e. Congressional Democrats were not bipartisan Texas Democrats: not vetoing their bills as the price for their support of the war meant endless red-ink.
f. Loudly with a small stick: Bellicose rhetoric like smoke ‘em out or dead or alive cannot be juxtaposed to pulling back from Fallujah in April 2004, or giving a reprieve to Sadr.
g. Katrina was mostly a state and local breakdown, coupled with a culture of dependence fostered by federal entitlement: Had Bush landed, sloshed around in the muck, had a photo-op wet and muddy, yelled at some bureaucrats, then the press would not have so easily turned it into a racist genocidal plot.
h. The financial meltdown was in part due to letting Frank, Dodd, Rains, etc. ruin Fannie and Freddie, the result of hundreds of billions of additional debt, and naïve promotion of an ‘ownership society’, when about 30% of the population always has no business owning the responsibilities of a home.
All the above is set off against a corruption free, honest Bush governance (cf. the Blago/Obama nominees pre-office problems), lack of another 9/11 at home, constitutional governments in place of the Taliban and Saddam, a decimation of al Qaeda, with negative polls in the Middle East for bin Laden and suicide bombing, no more nuclear processing in Libya, Dr. Khan shut down, Syrians out of Lebanon, pro-U.S. governments in Europe, good relations with China and India, the Obama acceptance of the Bush anti-terror framework, crashing oil prices, an isolated Ahmadinejad and Chavez, two good Supreme Court Justices, etc.)
All bad on day one?
I think history suggests that it is far better for an incoming President (cf. Reagan, Clinton, Bush, etc.) to face a recession than to enter office during a boom — given the cyclical nature of economic downturns juxtaposed with the four-year election span. And abroad the world is not in such dire shape, despite what we have heard the last eight years. Iraq is stable. There is an existing strategy to deal with the Taliban. The Bush second term was multilateral to the core, and pro-American conservative governments now flourish in Europe. Chavez, Putin, and Ahmadinejad are about broke, and losing influence. India and China are friendly. Africa appreciates the massive influx of U.S. HIV-relief. Al Qaeda is in disarray. Bin Laden’s popularity and that of suicide bombing itself have plummeted. Thousands of al Qaeda operatives were killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Dr. Zawahiri is shriller than ever, and more than ever neglected. The homeland has been untouched since 9/11. Gas prices have crashed, giving us a half-trillion-dollar stimulus and robbing our enemies of trillions more.
Bush was right then or is Obama wrong now?
Readers may cite some earlier criticism of Bush’s foreign policy (concrete not rhetorical) that Obama has not de facto retracted before even entering office, but I cannot. FISA, the Patriot Act, renditions, Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan? So what in the end was the opposition to FISA, the promises to summarily close Guantanamo, and the desire to have combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008 (yes, 2008 not 2009) all about?
There is no media, again…
After watching Eric Holder fumble over questions that pertained to his own independence, subservience to the President, and faulty memory, I thought those were just the problems that once prompted Senators and the NY-DC press to declare Alberto Gonzales unfit for the office of Attorney General.
In regards to the Geithner nomination, I also thought after the Zoë Baird and Linda Chavez doomed cabinet nominations that the press and Congress would not allow anyone to serve who had hired either an illegal alien or a worker with improper green card credentials. And in regards to the Geithner tax problems, believe it or not, most of us really do try to pay all estimates on self-employed income on time, do pay all of our self-employed FICA taxes, and prefer to overpay than to underpay them. So I am baffled that with his nomination, the two chief federal officers who oversee American tax policy — the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — simply cannot follow the tax codes. But if they cannot, who else can and will?
The rich party, the poor go hungry
The 2005 Bush inauguration, despite occurring in boom times, was, I remember, deemed by the media as crass and a rich man’s fest, insensitive to the general poverty around. The more than twice as expensive 2009 Obama inauguration, despite occurring in a severe recession, is a measured and proper celebration of diversity and landmark progress. Annuit coeptis indeed.
Is Biden obsessed with Cheney?
Now Joe Biden claims that he is better qualified than any prior VP, and knows as much or more than Cheney. I feel for Obama, for how can he expect Biden to behave the next four years? Joe is self-obsessed, insecure, and lacks the temperament for high executive office. In short, he will have to have a coterie of censors who monitor his every move. The more he gratuitously attacks Cheney, the more one senses that he wishes to be as influential as Cheney. Given Biden’s zillion positions on the war, and his impression that FDR addressed the nation on television as President in 1929, why does he believe he knows as much or more than Cheney?
That’s all it took?
Gulag Guantanamo becomes problematic and complex once it’s Obama’s rather than Bush’s. Suddenly what do you do with Khalid Sheik Mohammed? Will the Senators allow these non-uniformed terrorist enemy combatants to be tried or held in their states? Do any countries want their own detainees back? If you catch more terrorists on the battlefields of Afghanistan, do you turn them over to the Afghan army? Hold them in prison camps in Afghanistan? Let them go? Do an FDR — that is, try them in military tribunals and shoot them in secret if found guilty? Ship them to Cuba? Indict and try them — if so where — New York or DC (and hope a single juror doesn’t nullify the verdict and free the architect of 9/11)? Probable solution? I think it is the following: say everyday you’re going to close Guantanamo (but don’t for a year), sell some detainees back to their home countries (some federal perks given in the exchange), say you can’t try any of them since three were water boarded and Bush polluted the court process, and then put them in some sort of nameless facility overseas before quietly letting them go.
The Obama winning formula
1. Combine charm, youth, rhetoric, a multiracial persona with dramatic sets like the retracing of the Lincoln route to DC and the Latin seal to create a sort of messianic personality that ensures popularity ratings over 50%.
2. In deference to the Left, showcase black feminist poets, gay priests, radical environmentalists, open borders advocates — all in symbolic ways or in appointments to lower, less important offices that won’t turn up too embarrassing on the Drudge Report.
3. Tack to the center on the hunch that the media was anti-Bush rather than anti-his positions per se. So putting an Obama stamp on existing Bush foreign policy does wonders, and helps unite the country. As we have seen with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s softball questioning of Eric Holder (in comparison to his fiery dissection of Attorney General Gonzalez), or the media silence about the suddenly OK Patriot Act (there will be no more stories about a shredded American Constitution), power is all that matters, and all that ever did.
How long can all this last? Well, Clinton survived Monica as the media began emphasizing that Ken Starr was a ‘cigarette lawyer’ rather than the President as a serial philander with a subordinate employee in the Oval Office, who lied about it to the American people. To near silence, he pardoned a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list who had given Clinton subordinates and surrogates hundreds of thousands of dollars for the pardon. Again, we have no media anymore, only a group of rather elite socializers who believe they play a key role in ensuring social justice by their enlightened ethical commentary. A successful journalist in DC or New York is instead a social position, analogous to the thousands who lived in 18th-century Versailles, and occasionally were invited to dine with Louis himself.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson