by Victor Davis Hanson
Running Away from the Record
Even the bogeyman George Bush has a finite shelf life. It is as if he is now somehow last fall’s Halloween goblin that we are still supposed to worry about months later during the Fourth of July. Yes, Bush’s utility for blame is now like that of the demonized Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party, Fox News, Glen Beck, Wall Street, the insurers, the surgeons, the Republicans, and John Boehner, and so has pretty much expired. Even MoveOn.org cannot believe that all the above kept the country at nearly 10% unemployment.
Instead, the new mantra for Democratic candidates is a sort of “Obama made us do it!” And I cannot recall ever quite seeing that in American politics. Even the slaughtered House Republicans of 2006 did not plead in their campaigns that they were coerced or duped by George Bush.
Consider the Liberal Dilemma
After passing ObamaCare, providing more bailouts and stimuli, castigating greedy CEOs and their corporations for selfishness, and embracing Keynesian $1.5 trillion deficits, suddenly no one wishes to support that record.
I understand the president prefers to say that the full effects of his deficit policies, coupled with a natural rebound that follows every recession, will bring us prosperity. Perhaps so, but only in the European sense of plodding on with perennially high unemployment. Instead, very few of those in the Congress who in just 20 months rushed to pass the Obama agenda now wish to run on it. How odd.
Take Bill Clinton. His most recent admission that he was wrong about the eventual positive public reaction to ObamaCare was embarrassing not just for his faulty logic — that the bill was unpopular in part because it was unfairly demonized by the right-wing media — but for the vehemence with which in finger-shaking fashion he once asserted that false analysis, and the casual way in which he now acknowledges that he was wrong.
The triad of the president’s economic advisors — Larry Summers, director of Obama’s National Economic Council; White House Budget Director Peter Orzag; and Christina Romer, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — have all quit or will quit, without finishing their second full year, in the middle of economic chaos. If the Congress won’t defend their own borrow-and-spend policies of gargantuan government, and the administrative team that crafted the fiscal agenda is vanishing, who is left to assure us that all that was the right course? Timothy Geithner? The columnist Paul Krugman, who, after hammering for the mega-deficits that we got, now turns on Obama for not doubling them?
Proud and Loud?
In other words, why cannot liberal defenders of Obama simply say, “Government, much more wisely than a selfish private sector, can ensure a vibrant economy. When people are assured of comprehensive government entitlements, they use that security as a base for renewed work and investment. Deficits create consumer demands, spread money around to those who need it most, and spur economic prosperity. And when business provides society with over half its profits in income, payroll, and assorted state and local taxes, the resulting redistributive change and spread-the-wealth equality ensure aggregate economic growth”?
But no one seems to wish to run on the very philosophy that just two years ago was gospel. Instead we get “Obama made us do it.”
So few wish to embrace Obama’s other policies and politics. Take cap and trade, now stalled in the Congress. Cannot those who voted for it in the House make the renewed case for catastrophic man-made global warming, refuting the attacks on Al Gore or the Climategate scandal?
Or perhaps try immigration. Will not liberals at least say something like the following: “We must give amnesty to most of the 12 million illegal aliens here, and here is why…”?
Or gay marriage and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Cannot liberals run on the theme that sexual difference has nothing to do with the sanctity of marriage or the efficacy of military service, so we proudly see both issues as those of human rights?
Instead of that honesty, what do we get? Court action to nullify passed ballot propositions in California; efforts to hijack a Defense Appropriation bill unless it ends “don’t ask, don’t tell” and gives amnesty in exchange for military service and good grades in college. Again, we see here a weird recognition that most people apparently don’t know what is best for them, so they must in some fashion be deluded into accepting what will make them better.
On the issues of the Arizona law and the Ground Zero mosque, once again the president simply cannot make the liberal case, but must obfuscate the issue and challenge the integrity of his opponents: so a 70% majority is apparently trying to deny the constitutional right to worship freely or wishes, in Gestapo fashion, to arrest children as they go out for ice cream. Again, we see the same unwillingness or inability to proudly articulate the liberal vision and convince a majority of Americans to embrace it. Instead, we get slander.
No one was more critical of the Republican Congress’s corruption than me — from Jack Abramoff to Duke Cunningham. Yet now we have Democratic lawlessness embedded within racial politics. We know that charges of racism are used to deflect scrutiny, and wonder only whether thereby they encourage, rather than merely sanction, criminality. The result is that we are reduced to Barack Obama making an ethical and moral argument against the Republicans to the Black Caucus of a Rep. Johnson who diverted scholarship funds to her family and cronies; Rep. Waters, who used influence to save her husband’s financial interest in a failing bank at government expense; Rep. Rangel, who is a serial tax cheat and flaunts congressional statutes; and Ms. Norton, who brazenly calls lobbyists to shake them down for political donations. And we know that it is very unlikely that we will see any sort of Patrick Fitzgerald press conference about any of these issues in the manner of a Scooter Libby. This is hope and change? Cannot one Democrat run on the platform of “no more corruption”? I remember quite a lot of conservatives who gave no mercy to Rep. Foley, Rep. Cunningham, and Sen. Craig.
So we are reduced to the bizarre spectacle of a president of the United States, beginning his tenure with supermajorities in both houses of Congress and a 70% approval rating, now blaming conservatives that they are stopping the completion of his agenda that his party won’t defend and won’t run on — while the architects of his economic policies have left town ahead of the proverbial posse. Obama made us do it!
We know there is only one way to restart the economy and spur private enterprise to begin hiring: remove uncertainty and win trust.
That would mean to spell out exactly what the income, payroll, inheritance, and healthcare tax rates will be. Repeal ObamaCare and its feared drag on employers; stop all the new programs and instead prune red-tape; enact targeted tax cuts for employers coupled with reductions in federal spending; offer a five-year plan to achieve budget surpluses; bring into administration financial policy-making business people and expel academics; quit the psychological harassment of “boot on the neck” slurs, limb-lopping surgeons, and greedy businesses, and stop the presidential “at some point you’ve made enough money” editorializing. Do all that — and Obama cannot and will not — and employers will start taking risks, hiring, and buying.
It Gets Stranger Still…
Obama, we are told, is becoming unpopular with his liberal base, as we saw from his acrimonious CNBC town-hall meeting. In this trope, he has not gone far enough to please the Huffington Post and Daily Kos crowd. Instead, he sold out by adopting the Bush national security policies from Guantanamo to Predators, by appointing some centrists like Sec. Gates and National Security Advisor Jones, and by not granting amnesty, not ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and not shutting down Guantanamo.
But this too is disingenuous. Note that the now liberal counterpart of Joe the Plumber, Velma Hart , was not faulting Obama for being too liberal in raising taxes, scaring small business, or piling on debt. She was largely opportunistically piling on Obama’s growing unpopularity, in apparent anger that he had not been liberal enough in enacting her long-hoped-for hope-and-change, spread-the-wealth largess that was supposed to ensure her a booming economy.
His base supporters are griping largely because Obama is tanking and taking a liberal Congress down with him, and therefore construct a homeopathic exegesis of wanting more bacteria to end a bacterial infection. In other words, Obama is too liberal for the country; therefore, the medicine is that he is not liberal enough and must adopt even more progressive policies.
That is a cheap way of avoiding two painful realities: one, the liberal agenda is not popular; two, it does not seem to work in a post-modern, globalized, and largely therapeutic America. The problem is not that Obama did not give us enough of it, but that he gave us too high deficits, rising debt, Keynesian stimuli, government takeovers, race/class/gender editorializing, identity polarizing politics, UN-neutrality abroad, and ridiculous appointments like Van Jones and Anita Dunn.
So What’s Next?
The Problem. Obama succeeded in getting elected where other Northern liberals like McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Kerry had failed because of a perfect storm of events: the novelty of our first African-American serious presidential candidate; Obama’s teleprompted rhetorical gifts and charisma; Obama’s misleading moderate and centrist proclamations; the inept McCain campaign; the September 2008 meltdown; Bush’s Iraq; and the first orphaned election without an incumbent since 1952. Take any of those criteria away, and he would probably have lost.
But instead of accepting that flukish reality, in hubristic fashion Obama either figured his singular divine powers won us over or a national yearning for neo-socialism had spread among a majority of Americans — or probably both.
So rather than being a Clinton in 1995 and moving to the center, curbing debt, working with centrist congressional Democrats, or praising the opposition in the no more red/blue state fashion of yesteryear, he went the hard left route and quickly alienated the country.
The Solution. We are now told there is a Carter/Clinton choice for the president: persist in Carterism and 2012 follows the losses of 2010. Or change, and get reelected on some updated form of school uniforms, space exploration, more cops, an end to big government, no more welfare, balanced budgets, or a Republican shut-down of government.
But the latter would require Obama to be Clinton, and quite simply he is not — either by skill, experience, temperament, or volition. He is petulant and angry at us for not appreciating his genius and divinity. We in the 70% who oppose his sermons are the proverbial Pennsylvania clingers who can’t figure out Ground Zero, Arizona, or the Skip Gates mess. We forgot we killed thousands at Hiroshima, killed off native Americans, and were mean to Muslims. We are a nation of greedy fats cats on the wrong side of the new $250,000 Mason-Dixon income divide.
A savior like Obama comes around once in a century. If we cannot see that we are blessed with a Mandela-like laureate, then let us lose our souls. We shall sink into reactionary irrelevance; he shall trump the Bill Clinton lucrative post-presidency.
Sort of at least. He will also for the next thirty years parrot a Carter on 60 Minutes assuring us how awful were his successors, how brilliant his unappreciated record was, and how illiberal and dense we remain — as he jets from Indonesia to Paris on missions of world peace from a corporate and Middle East funded Obama Peace Center.
The Prognosis. There is only one mystery left. Will the Republicans screw it up? Or do they have the courage and skill to tell the American people that the mega-deficits and entitlements are our road to serfdom? Or, in contrast, will they return to 2004-6 and gorge the beast while talking of how it could be much worse without them?
I have no idea.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson