by Victor Davis Hanson
Puritanism can grate even more once its practitioners have lost their god. If 19th-century liberals were courageously at the forefront of abolition, religiously inspired college education, and the notion of American budgetary parsimony — in accordance with their notions of religious piety and soulful duty — their descendants have substituted Lord Logos for God. Still, they are now just as zealous in condemning the sins of the supposedly less educated and poorly informed, but on the quite different premise that they are simply smarter, better educated, and more enlightened. In the past, the premise was that they were the more true Christians.
Americans do not like being lectured at, much less when those sermons are misdirected and lead to higher taxes, the creation of a preachy, Ivy-League overseeing class, and legions of federal employees whose prime directive is to vote in more politicians that give them more money with less accountability.
Twanging to the White House
For that reason, it was usually a truism of the latter 20th-century (1964 onward) that after the narrow election of the Cold War hawk and tax-cutter JFK, doctrinaire liberal northerners simply could not win presidential elections. Without a southern accent (cf. LBJ, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore), Democrats fell under the suspicion of being sanctimonious liberal Northerners. And as far as the presidency went, that meant electoral suicide. (Ask Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, and John Kerry).
Thundering from Olympus
Sometimes liberal candidates were quite honest about their sense of self-importance, what Michelle Obama described as her husband “deigning” to run for office for our benefit. Long before John Kerry lamented that “we have an electorate that doesn’t always pay that much attention to what’s going on, so people are influenced by a simple slogan rather than the facts or the truth or what’s happening,” he once blurted out about his failing effort against George Bush: “I can’t believe I’m losing to this idiot.”
Barack Obama, for the reasons outlined last week (e.g., the novelty of the first African-American president, anger at Bush/Iraq, the 9/15/2008 meltdown, an orphaned election without incumbents, a stealthy centrist, money-laden campaign, a weak McCain effort, etc.) disproved that truism. But he did not thereby change at all the fact that, like a Kerry, he had a certain disdain for average folks, which eventually would come back to haunt him. We saw Nemesis at work with his self-destructive dismissals of yokel police, xenophobic Arizonians, and Islamophobic Ground Zero mosque opponents.
Sometimes Obama was quite explicit and rechanneled his infamous condescending campaign putdown of rural Pennsylvanians (e.g., “So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”).
So for example, the Tea Party, far from having legitimate grievances, actually owes Barack Obama a favor: “So I’ve been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. You would think they would be saying thank you.”
Are you disappointed with Barack Obama’s leadership so far, and worried about building an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks? If so, you are, well, captive to your fears: “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface — suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.” We have here a reincarnated Massachusetts churchman railing about the sins of those south of the Mason-Dixon line, but this time without either a god or a noble cause.
Perhaps you are worried about record annual deficits, federalized takeovers of everything from healthcare to the auto industry, or the specter of 10% unemployment, and therefore might question the present policies. No problem, you simply do not “always think clearly” when “scared.” Note the following: “Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does [sic] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.” (A confession: actually I am scared. The Obama deficits are unsustainable. I think healthcare will be ruined. The demonized job-hiring classes are in hiding. An entire generation of young people is relegated to second-class employment status. The world abroad is heating up in expectation that the US is tired and through. And race relations under the divisive Obama have worsened.)
On the other hand, maybe you are a hardcore liberal. You voted for Obama because he promised an executive solution to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the closure of Guantanamo, no more rendition and tribunals, a public mandated socialized medical program akin to Europe’s, withdrawal from Iraq — and instead he’s triangulating on all those issues and you’re worried. No problem. Preacher Obama says that you weren’t serious leftists in the first place: “If people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place. If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.”
But does Parson Obama follow his own protocols?
1) Obama apparently was so fearful of losing the 2008 election that he “lashed” out at the public financing of campaigns, becoming the first president since the law was enacted to renounce it — after saying he would not. In other words, he took his ball and went home.
2) Since neither science nor argument could prove that ObamaCare would lower healthcare prices while extending coverage, Obama apparently thought he could push the bill through on the false argument that it would save money while expanding entitlements — all on the premise that the country was “scared.”
3) You would think that America would say “thank you” to President Obama for running up nearly $3 trillion in additional debt that will require a new healthcare surcharge, a return to the Clinton income tax rates, increases in capital gains taxes, and more talk about lifting caps off income subject to payroll taxes and a possible VAT tax. Or maybe we should praise him for taking the unemployment rate to nearly 10%? Surely we are grateful that he gave us Van Jones and tried to turn NASA into a Muslim outreach organization.
4) When “suspicions and divisions can surface” in America, it becomes possible to scapegoat a) George Bush, b) Rush Limbaugh, c) the police, d) surgeons, e) the Chrysler creditors, f) Justice Roberts, g) Fox News, h) the people of Arizona, i) John Boehner, j) the Chamber of Commerce, k) opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, and l) Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie — suggesting that they all engage in some sort of nefarious activity harmful to the state.
When Ronald Reagan descended to a 35% approval rating, he went out and told jokes, made fun of himself, smiled — and praised America. When Bill Clinton hit 37%, he charmed the public, bit his lip, felt our pain, and drawled that the era of big government was over and welfare as we knew it was gone. When Barack Obama arrived at 43%, he began telling us that we, the disenchanted with him, are scared, frustrated, and simply not able to fathom his arguments or even basic science — to the end an angry northern parson thundering at us from his pulpit.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson