by Victor Davis Hanson
Why Are People in Revolt?
The approval ratings on nearly every one of the President’s key policy initiatives — cap-and-trade, healthcare overhaul, government takeover of industry and finance, deficit spending, stimulus — are already less than half of polled voters. Obama’s own popularity has fallen dramatically and hovers near fifty percent. A number of well-publicized town meetings have erupted in shouting, as administration and congressional representatives try, often in condescending fashion, to explain the Obama agenda. The Republicans — written off just a few weeks ago as an obsolete party headed for oblivion — are now often polling higher in generic surveys than are Democrats.
Why the sudden uproar?
There is a growing sense of a “we’ve been had”, bait-and-switch. Millions of moderate Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats — apparently angry at Bush for Iraq and big deficits, unimpressed by the McCain campaign, intrigued by the revolutionary idea of electing an African-American president — voted for Obama on the assumption that he was sincere about ending red state/blue state animosity. They took him at his word that he was going to end out-of-control federal spending. They trusted that he had real plans to get us out of the economic doldrums, and that he was not a radical tax-and-spend liberal of the old sort.
Instead, within days Obama set out plans that would triple the annual deficit, and intends to borrow at a record pace that will double the aggregate debt in just eight years.
He not only took over much of the auto and financial industries, but also did so in a way that privileged unions, politically-correct creditors, and those insider cronies who favor administration initiatives. On matters racial, his administration is shrill and retrograde, not forward-looking. It insists on emphasizing the tired old identify politics that favor a particular sort of racial elite that claims advantage by citing past collective victimization or piggy-backs for advantage on the plight of the minority underclass.
In other words, the Obama swing voter thought he was getting a 21st-century version of pragmatic, triangulating Bill Clinton — and instead got something to the left of 1970s Jimmy Carter.
Those Who Receive and Those Who Dole Out
There is, of course, a growing fear of government — but a new sort of anxiety that transcends the traditional skepticism of statism. Few Americans younger than 60 can recall the magnitude of the current government take-over of the economy that may reach 40-45% of GDP. Evocation of “socialism” is still considered inflammatory by the Left, but it is now simply an empirical term, not a slur, given that America’s tax codes and entitlement spending may look like the social landscape in France or Scandinavia in short order.
Apprehensive voters dread turning their hard-won and paid-for private health care plans into something like the emergency room on Saturday night, where the care reflects the chaos. The new anti-Obamians do not want industry run like the Department of Motor Vehicles, where most time and money are invested mostly in those who do not follow the rules like registering their cars or getting a driver’s license. And it is not just the waste, inefficiency, and lack of accountability inherent in government-run enterprises that bother the growing cadre of angry voters.
There is, again, a mounting anxiety that the current federal expansion is politically-driven in rather radical ways — an effort to create a permanent new constituency of millions who either receive expanded federal largess or are gleefully employed in doling it out. The zealotry of expansive bureaucracy and dependency instills fears, rational or not, of a radicalized huge federal work force, a sort of national version of Acorn to the nth degree that in pack-like fashion is mobilized to target potential naysayers.
Bastille Day — All the Days
Voters are beginning to sense a certain edge to the Obama revolution, a meanness in its class-driven rhetoric aimed at the more successful. Even the middling classes do not necessary like this constant bashing of their bosses and lawyers, doctors, dentists, contractors, brokers, and real estate agents. The constant harangue about taxing only those who make over $250,000 (or is it now $200,000?, or $150,000) accentuates the notion that those who run successful businesses, who create profitable medical practices, and who are accomplished professionals are somehow culpable — greedy, conniving, or worse.
If well over 40% of the population pays no federal income tax, and the demonized 1% pay more federal income tax than does the bottom 95%, and still we are to hear whining about Bush-era greed, what is next? What does the Left ultimately want — confiscation of 90% of all income? Tax exemptions for 99% of the electorate? Continual Barney Frank show-trial congressional hearings to grandstand the bullying of the now satanic CEOs and investors?
In just six months has arisen a Storming the Bastille anger of “pay-back.” Class envy and anger are unleashed through careless presidential rhetoric about Las Vegas junkets, Wall Street vampires, Super Bowl trips, and all the other slurs and slanders that have nothing to do with the building contractor who makes $250,000 a year by working weekends and twelve hour days — only to plow back his profits immediately into his business.
Existential questions are now being raised — isn’t compensation fickle (why should the brain surgeon make more than the auto worker?) and in need of federal readjustment on April 15? Is your income really your own, but not more to be envisioned as something on loan from society at large, to be morally recalled as needed?
Yet how strange that the highly-compensated, privileged DC technocrat deprecates the manifestation of success of the small businessman while bailing out the Wall Street buccaneers who have so lavishly donated in the past to the Obama cause. In the world of Obama, make $300,000 in household income and you deserve to be in the crosshairs; make $30,000,000 and you are a sensitive fat cat donor, who rises above class and personal interests, and so becomes deserving of a bail-out, insider exemption, honorific federal post or ambassadorship, or dinner at the White House. The grandee talks of Harvard-educated children and Martha’s Vineyard, and so in his noblesse oblige is one of ‘us’, the grasping plumbing contractor goes to NASCAR and deserves what he gets.
One senses that a number of the successful are already detaching themselves psychologically from the American scene — and figuring out how to reduce, shield, and avoid income. They often see themselves, if not in melodramatic fashion, as modern-day Kulaks, targeted for extinction by equality-of-result state, FICA, and federal tax hikes that may result in nearly 70% of their income going for the Obama New Deal. They sense the more they pay, the more they will pay more to come. In Obama world, the fact that you will pay 40% federal tax, a healthcare surcharge, higher state taxes, and FICA on most of your income, is proof that you should have paid those tax rates all along, and will pay even more in the future.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
There is a cascading anger at a new sort of left-wing elitism and hypocrisy as well, one that feeds the rhetoric of class warfare. The rules of the game simply do not apply to this bunch of wannabe Platonic Guardians. Stopping Bush’s private Social Security accounts was patriotic; using the same tactics to stop Obama-care is nearly disloyal; a gross Joker-like image of Obama surfaces on the Internet and is deemed horribly unfair; that Vanity Fair published something identical about Bush was hilariously legitimate criticism. Radio talk show is now deemed radically insurrectionist; Moveon.org’s and Michael Moore’s open hostility to the U.S. military and American society at time of war (remember “General Betray-Us” ads, and Moore’s lament that bin Laden hit a blue-state city?) did not earn them ostracism from the Democratic leadership.
A well educated technocracy — we see such figures in the emblematic Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder, or Barack Obama himself — have most of their lives served in government, largely regulating, overseeing, organizing, auditing, and sermonizing far more productive and capable others. One of the worst flaws of this species of utopian technocrat is the notion that he wishes to curtail in others the very things he wishes to enjoy without constraint himself.
Thus we sense that a Geithner does not wish to pay the taxes he hikes on others. A Holder wants to destroy through subpoena and litigation the Bush lawyers, but pleaded once for mercy for his own shenanigans involving the crooked Clinton pardons. And Obama lectures about the inequality of wealth and the burdens of racism while his wife’s salary climbed as his political influence grew. Meanwhile his own rarified tastes translated into a shady transaction with Tony Rezco to help to score a stately home and expansive yard — while attending a Trinity Church that radiated racial venom from a charlatan preacher who ended up in a mansion on a golf course.
In other words, a great number of people are scared of these new versions of Al Gores and John Edwardses who live one way, and quite shamelessly preach another. I don’t think anyone in this green administration is going to be chauffeured to work in a Civic. Few will put their kids in the DC school system as they oppose vouchers. None would be happy in an environmentally-correct 1200 square foot home, with an ideal carbon-footprint, as they preach cap-and-trade taxes on energy for apartment dwellers.
Al Gore, for example, preached the evils of DC insiderism and the need for a new independent TV network. But when his company foolishly sent two of its employees into modern-day Mordor, he uses his status to convince the spouse of the Secretary of State and former President to grant concessions (by the mere fact of his presence with such a monster) to North Korea, free his workers, and set the precedent that hostage-taking does indeed earn high profile exposure. Some egalitarians.
I confess that when I first read Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, first learned in depth about Trinity Church and its tirades about “black middle classness,” first studied the modus operandi of Obama’s state legislative campaigns and the mysterious implosions of both his primary and general election senatorial foes — all this belatedly in late 2006 and early 2007 — I had little hope that he would prove to be anything other than the fossilized angry liberal that he is sadly proving to be.
But I erred in one key regard: I assumed his prepped oratory, youth and “cool,” transracial profile, media sycophants, and “Bush did it” excuses would ensure that his ratings stayed well above 60% at least through the midterm elections.
In other words, I underestimated the righteous anger of those who are daily deprecated by a utopian class — one that has neither the ability nor the fortitude to achieve what it now wishes to undo in others.
Post script: I will finish Mediterranean reflections, ancient and modern, next posting — on thoughts about Rhodes, Bodrum, the Cyclades and Istanbul as well as the Greek mainland.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson