by Victor Davis Hanson
Chapter One — The Liberal Hope and Dream
I think our Obama’s collective story will some day be written something like this. The leftwing anointed vision of America got stalled with the failures of the Great Society, and the high tax, big government discontent of the 1970s and 1980s.
Abroad after Vietnam, the gospel that America was the problem sputtered out — with the fall of the Soviet Union, the rejoicing in Eastern Europe with the liberation from communism, the market reforms of China, and the general rise of a murderous radical Islam, coupled with the later 9/11 attacks.
In short, doctrinaire liberalism, now to be recast as progressivism, was in trouble. About all that could be hoped for in lieu of ideological governance were entrenched liberal congressional enclaves, which served traditional Democratic constituencies — and offered occasional opposition to conservative excess and corruption of the Abramoff sort.
Jimmy Carter was simply too inept, self-righteous, and inexperienced to retake Rome from the barbarians. A gifted Bill Clinton might have; but he was too savvy for subservience to an unpopular ideology, too enslaved instead to his multifarious appetites and too malleable and worried about Bill Clinton to be a principled avatar of hope and change.
So the media, academia, the unions, the foundations, and the elite on Wall Street kept waiting for the Great Stone Face to appear — the saintly deliverer who would at last have the requisite skill and pedigree to bring a benevolent liberal statism to the unwashed, who for so long in their ignorance and selfish, petty agendas had resisted what was good for them.
Chapter Two — The Perfect Storm
Then the unexpected occurred without warning. The Iraq War was successfully demagogued as Vietnam redux. Indeed, we still apparently think it was lost, and the surge a failure. The Republican Congress by 2006 was mired in corruption. After eight years of Republican rule, conservatives of the base had tired of 50/50 deal making that had resulted in more big government and big deficits.
John McCain almost seemed more interested in losing majestically to our first serious African-American presidential candidate than conducting a hardball successful campaign. He too had alienated his base in the past, and many never forgot it, as their lackluster emotional and financial support attested.
Barack Obama, in contrast, offered to many an irresistible win/win proposition: centrist, bipartisan governance, and absolution for past sins through the election of a president of color. That Obama was young and patterned himself after JFK in his eloquence and pizzazz made a nice antithesis to George Bush’s tongue-tied speeches. And that the world promised that they would like us again only made it all the sweeter for the gullible.
Chapter Three — The Ascension
So Obama came in, quickly shed his thin centrist exoskeleton, and started in on the long promised bigger government agenda. In short order, we saw the absorption of some of the private sector, attempts at statist healthcare, and appointments that reflected an equality-of-result philosophy, mandated and enforced by a guardian class of Ivy-League technocrats, immune to the protocols they enforced on ignorant others, although, unlike Plato’s overseers, subject to no harsh regimen.
Abroad, at last we would fulfill the old pledge of the United Nations, follow global consent, back out of worthless old alliances, reach out to misunderstood nationalists, admit prior guilt, appreciate the role of race, class, and gender oppression in world affairs, scoff at artificial Manichean divides and inherit a multilateral world in which an unexceptional United States became simply one among many, unqualified to judge others, unable to enforce artificially constructed rules of international behavior.
Obama was the ultimate homeopathic — cure the patient by giving more of what caused the symptoms in the first place. If for a half-century an encroaching government, ever more regulations, politicized education, therapeutic stifling of free expression, higher and higher taxes, and expanding entitlements had threatened to make America less competitive, less free, and less prosperous than it could be, Obama in reaction would apply more of the same to cure the patient. Bush’s deficits? Expand them fourfold? Unfunded Prescription Drug — try Unfunded State Healthcare. Fifty-percent of income given over to local, state, and federal taxes? — raise them far higher.
Chapter Four — The Resistance
Yet all that was not easy for a variety of reasons.
1) The United States had become so fabulously wealthy, so unimaginably free, and so roundly envied precisely because for two centuries it had promoted individual freedom, equality of opportunity, and free market economics in contrast to the other Western variant of mandated egalitarianism, government control of behavior, and state-run commerce. As the tea-party protests proved, traditions die hard and free peoples do not easily surrender their prerogatives to Ivy-league philosopher-kings.
2) While Obama was certainly a new and gifted candidate, and while he was surely to the left even of Carter and Clinton, and while he inherited majorities in both houses of Congress, and while the stars really did line up for him in autumn 2008, he was in many respects to prove a flawed leader of the leftist renaissance.
Obama knew little of Middle America and had little desire to learn. His idea of the nuances of the United States was gleaned from the university seminar and the federal payroll. Hyphenated racial-self-identity had always proved lucrative and was not to be abandoned. Postmodern indifference to the truth and facts ensured that much of what the President asserted, in reality, was not merely inaccurate but the exact opposite of what he claimed.
While Obama, the quick study, understood the role of deception, triangulation, and fudging in free-for-all politics, it was nevertheless difficult for him for long to disguise forty years of inculcation. So like a leaky faucet, the drops of an entrenched and rather scary philosophy now and then splashed upon us — Van Jones, Ron Bloom, and Anita Dunn echoed a prevailing ideological landscape.
Then there was the presidential insistence that police stereotype and act stupidly. We heard non-stop the old-time gospel that the better off must pay their fair share and spread their ill-gotten wealth, if they are to be deemed patriotic. As in the 1960s, America should apologize, given that it was as culpable as Europe or Islam for current global tensions. And so on.
3) The hypocrisy of left-wing redistribution politics and the enjoyment of the high-life, brought about by the fruits of capitalism, is a heavy anchor for Obama. Tim Geithner does not like to pay high taxes. Nancy Pelosi does like nice jets. Barack Obama likes junkets. So does Harry Reid. Charles Rangel likes hiding income on resort property. John “two nations” Edwards likes “John’s Room” in his mansion, and Green Al Gore enjoys his most ungreen estate. In other words, “progressivism” is easily identified as cynicism, as a condescending plaything of the well-off, who are exempt, either by government largess or private capital, from the very strictures they would impose on less knowledgeable others.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson