by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
The media finally conceded the Obama administration to be inexperienced and inept, reminiscent of the Carter administration — but, they maintained, not possibly involved in any corruption. Then suddenly scandals erupted on nearly every conceivable front: the crony-capitalist half-billion-dollar loan guarantee to a now bankrupt Solyndra; the Fast and Furious gun deal, in which, in lunatic fashion, the US government sold deadly automatic weapons to Mexican drug-cartel killers; the administration’s pressure on a four-star general to fudge his testimony as a favor to a big campaign donor whose suspect company, LightSquared, was doing business with the Pentagon; and the politically inspired dropping of investigations by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
The administration got itself into these messes because it customarily counts on a medieval notion of compartmentalized exemption. In the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama’s loud and welcomed hope-and-change promises to end insider influence, lobbying, and earmarks were essential to his well-crafted image of the outsider reformer. Once that liberal narrative was embraced by the media, few seemed to care whether the other, cynical Obama was the first candidate in the history of public financing of presidential campaigns to renounce the program — in order to maximize his campaign stash, much of it pouring in from firms like Goldman Sachs and BP.
The country shrugged at such contradictions: Surely such a saintly progressive had saintly reasons; or, if he didn’t, exemption must be given for a messianic figure to use questionable means to achieve his noble ends. Yet, according to PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, of the 17 grand promises candidate Obama made on ethics reform, he has so far kept only five.
That principle of liberal exemption from accountability explains much of both the fundamental and the trivial about the Obama administration. As a candidate, Obama railed against “Karl Rove politics.” Few seemed to notice that he had established a website (“Fight the Smears”) asking supporters to collect information on opponents, in a Nixonian effort at preemptive action to discourage opposition. The notorious and now-defunct JournoList followed. Currently we see that creepy tactic resurfacing a third time with the new AttackWatch.com website, which lists pictures and names, in the glaring red-and-black style of an intelligence dossier, of those who have criticized Obama — juxtaposed with supposed rebuttals and a puerile request for readers to snoop about and send in more names of those who dare to oppose the president.
“Civility” has followed the same tired script. Channeling the outrage over the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama in sonorous accents called for a new civility and a softer tone of public discourse — even though the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords was clearly sick and incited by neither left nor right political rhetoric. That the president, both in campaigns and in governance, had begged Latinos to “punish our enemies” and had called on supporters to “get in their faces” was irrelevant. The Congressional Black Caucus and the union bosses apparently understood that disconnect, as progressives called Tea Party types “son of bitches” who could go “straight to Hell” — the modern equivalents of the lynch mobs of the old segregated South. In the postmodernism of Obama, self-proclaimed underdogs and victims are not bound by protocols intended for their oppressors: Some illiberal targets clearly have to be demonized to thwart their demonic plans.
We all know that Obama supports the DREAM Act and ridiculed the calls to build a border fence as a conservative effort to install “moats and alligators.” Why, then, would such an enlightened administration that wished brotherly porous borders have its agents sell guns to Mexican killers? No doubt a rogue subordinate, or a well-intentioned effort to do some sort of good, would soon surface in righteous explanation that would preclude partisan gotcha audits.
The Solyndra mess, in Sophoclean tragic fashion, revealed these same requisite exemptions and penances. In 2010, a buoyant Obama visited the doomed plant to boast of government-generated green and homegrown jobs. By inference, Solyndra was just the sort of noble federally sponsored factory that the greedy private oil companies, non-union profit-hungry employers, and dastardly outsourcing CEOs just won’t build. The far wiser China and Germany subsidize green energy, so we must too. Case closed.
Once that huge moral superstructure went up, then no naysayers dared to look into the nitty-gritty mechanics down below, where some insider financiers and con artists were squeezing out of the taxpayers a $500 million loan without much intention of ever paying it back. The earthly laws of profit and loss, market demand and rationale, and the human tendency to connive to find profit were all to be superseded by Barack Obama’s ethereal appeals to help the unemployed and cool the planet.
In this world of liberal exemption, a suspect Dick Cheney conspires with an evil Halliburton; but liberal financiers who donated to Barack Obama to ensure progressive change can’t really want unwarranted insider profits from a Solyndra or a LightSquared. We are supposed to be outraged by recent lurid revelations that yokels like non-presidential candidate Sarah Palin supposedly long ago in her youth once tried coke; when Barack Obama confessed in print that he did so rather routinely, we automatically appreciated the angst of a sensitive soul coming of age in the course of his long odyssey to a progressive presidency. Sins are to be magnified or lessened depending on the larger perceived moral intentions of the sinner.
Liberal pundits are outraged that candidate Rick Perry was supposedly a dismal student from the evidence of his leaked undergraduate transcript. Yet they were weirdly reluctant to ask candidate Barack Obama what exactly were his grades at Columbia and Occidental — still unknown to the public. Grades from decades ago are absolutely necessary to deconstruct questionable Texas cowboys, but need not be produced to confirm the assumed straight A’s that earned Obama a scholarship to Harvard Law.
At some point, Barack Obama and those around him grasped that utopian rhetoric and progressive intentions made discordant facts irrelevant. They appreciated that they could do pretty much what they wished and could outsource the rationalization to enthralled intellectuals, academics, and activists, without worry of much media scrutiny. That they thereby helped to destroy the reputations of the bamboozled media was of no concern.
But in tragic fashion, such hubris ensured the present nemesis of Obama — and the loss of credibility among his media apologists. In short, it would have been odd if scandals like Solyndra had not followed from such liberal exemption — and odder still should no more surface.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson