Obama’s Wheel of Fortune

Has the president noticed his luck has changed?

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

No one in the Obama throng has ever believed much in the Roman concept of a “wheel of fortune” — rota fortunae — so often alluded to by the likes of Cicero and Boethius. 

But that metaphor for changeable fortune reminds us that at times we all enjoy inexplicable good luck — and therefore must brace for the moment when the wheel turns, and inevitable adversity follows.

Of course, the downturn is always worse for those who were flippant on the upturn — or so medieval moralists reminded haughty royalty. All cultures are aware of the fickleness of fortune — whether exemplified through the morality tale of Job, the polarities of hubris/nemesis, or the notion of karma.

Any student of the 2008 campaign could have seen that Obama’s messianic persona would not last — given the human propensity to tire of flashy neon signs that advertise empty trifles. Candidate Obama said nothing of real substance — even as he advised the wowed crowds that there were first-aid provisions for those who would soon faint in ecstasy at his very words.

That his platform was vague and disingenuous, contradicted much of what he had said in the past, and remained inconsistent mattered little. Any suspicions of the inexperienced community organizer from Chicago were trumped by popular fury at the Wall Street meltdown, weariness with eight years of the Bush administration, and the promise that the ascension of Obama would, on the cheap, wash away the guilt of the American suburbanite.

Remember his energy policy, such as it was?

When candidate Obama was pressed, he reluctantly mentioned nuclear energy, coal, oil, and natural gas. But these were castoff concessions. They were offered as sops until the popular anger over gas-price hikes subsided — and they were to become no more than mere bookends to soaring rhetoric about “millions of new green jobs.”

Infatuated voters apparently bought this fantasy. Our deserts and mountain passes would be scarred with ugly panels, turbines, and access roads, as millions of newly hired government construction workers rushed out to ensure that we could obtain 5 percent of our current power needs from such green salvations.

A charlatan like Van Jones (cf. the remarks of Valerie Jarrett, “Oooh. Van Jones, all right! So, Van Jones. We were so delighted to be able to recruit him into the White House. We were watching him . . . ”) surely knew more about America’s energy needs than did the CEO of Exxon.

But now, on the wheel’s downturn, President Obama must brace for spiraling energy costs when the world economy rebounds. Soon the sobering electorate will turn and ask why Obama did not push for nuclear power and encourage more exploitation of newly discovered natural-gas fields.

Ditto the war. For much of 2007–2009, “hope and change” masked the absurdity of Obama’s “I’m for the good war/Bush did the bad war” dichotomy. So now the wheel turns again, and hokey rhetoric cannot mask reality.

The bad war is relatively quiet. The good war has heated up — more Americans were killed in Afghanistan in Obama’s first ten months than in any of the Bush years. And the good-war president now addresses the nation with the look of “This is really not supposed to happen to Nobel Peace Prize winners!” and “Remember, Bush did it!” and “Where are the American people who used to support the Afghan war?” Had candidate Obama empathized with bad/worse choices in every war, rather than simplistically demonizing his predecessor, the public might be more sympathetic to his present plight.

Candidate Obama did not worry much about a creepy cast of characters that kept surfacing around him — Bill Ayers, Rashid Khalidi, Father Pfleger, Tony Rezko, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In the aggregate, they appeared as a coterie of unhinged, anti-American, and quite unpleasant people. Someone should have reminded Obama that he was running to be president, not a Chicago ward boss.

The lesson went unlearned. And so the cast was updated with the likes of Van Jones, Anita Dunn, and Kevin Jennings. Instead of “God d*** America,” we got George Bush was in on 9/11, the mass-murdering Chairman Mao was an inspirational political thinker, and homosexuality is merely an alternative lifestyle choice for our teens. The revolving planets change, but the pull of their sun remains the same.

On fiscal policy, candidate Obama could not quite explain who “they” were, who were to be skinned for the sins of Wall Street. Those who made over $150,000? Or was it $250,000, or perhaps $200,000?

In Obama’s never-never land, these amorphous “they” had all sorts of money from stealing bonuses, getting exorbitant tax cuts, or unnecessarily taking out tonsils or cutting off limbs. What was so hard about having “them” cash out a few of their hidden bank accounts to pay for green jobs and comprehensive healthcare?

So President Obama went on demonizing the productive classes, promising more taxes, gratuitously slurring the Chamber of Commerce and the town-hallers. And now suddenly there is surprise on the downturn that we are on the verge of what John Kerry once said of a 5.3 percent unemployment rate under George W. Bush  — “a jobless recovery.”

“Bush did it” was the repeated campaign message. Those soaring cadences of castigation silenced worries that a first-term senator and former Chicago community organizer did not know much about the world around us.

Apparently, Obama was convinced that apologies, bows, concessions to Iran, Putin, Latin American Marxists, and the Arab world would wow them all the way his tropes had mesmerized upscale suburbanites in Palo Alto and Greenwich. After all, Obama had as many suspicions about America’s past as did our enemies and rivals whom he courted.

But then Obama learned that — unlike professors, stockbrokers, lawyers, and teachers — the likes of Ahmadinejad and Putin did not care about his Kenyan father. They had not read his Dreams from My Father. Their names are even more exotic than his. Instead such thugs interpret his showy magnanimity as innate weakness, and men like these will manipulate it rather than show deference.

Soon Putin will flex his muscles in Russia’s backyard. In a year or two Iran will announce that it has the bomb. And we will witness more anguished debates over the motives of the next Major Hasan, more Khalid Sheik Mohammeds contextualizing their mass murders live from New York, and more terrorist plotting on the assumption that the new administration is more interested in shutting down Guantanamo Bay than putting the fear of God into radical Islamists bent on our destruction.

So the wheel turned, and now most of the country disapproves of President Obama — in the greatest crash of approval ratings of any first-year-presidency in recent history.

Will the wheel turn again? Not for a while, given Obama’s reaction to his downturn.

Foreign policy? It is still “Bush did it,” not reflection on his own rookie errors.

The economy? Jobs saved by borrowing are better metrics than the old unemployment statistics. Blame Bush again, tinker with the stats, and print more money.

Small businesses? Employers are still “they,” who must and will pay higher income and payroll taxes, and higher premiums for medical insurance. They won’t be thanked for their greater contributions; rather, they owe a sort of penance for doing well and creating the nation’s wealth.

Energy? President Obama is on his way to Copenhagen — oblivious to Climategate. He ignores the paradoxes of a planet the last decade slighting cooling, when it is supposed to be radically heating. And he does not worry at all about the effects of new green taxes on the country — when the productive classes may soon be paying 65 percent of their incomes in state and federal taxes and increased insurance premiums.

Spending? Obama, if given his way, will run up debts to match the aggregate red ink of all prior presidents combined. So far, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste” has not been repudiated. Instead, Obama continues to blame Bush and the Republicans for causing the recession, rather than wondering whether his massive borrowing and disbursement are making things far worse.

In other words, a very human President Obama still does not grasp that events are catching up to him and that even his empyrean rhetoric cannot allow him to escape. For now, the wheel has turned, and it is still heading downward. If he does not change, his luck won’t either.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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