Some Signs of the Times

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

How to distill the news? After watching it far too much the past nine months, I offer five random conclusions from what I think is going on in the age of Obama.

1. Disconnect. There is little semblance between how one lives and how one envisions others should live. We saw that with the cabinet nominees. Tom Daschle, cheating on the taxes on his free limousine service, was the obvious caricature of someone who likes the high life, has found a way through tribuneship to get it, and makes so much money that he easily has enough money to pay for the taxes he wants to raise on others — but would prefer, given his status, not to pay them at all. A Geithner, Dodd, or John Edwards typify a rather large influential class of such moralists who suffer on our behalf. The more influential the environmentalist, the more likely his house does not meet his own green requisites he wishes to impose on others, so that he might better think on our behalf. The more a Charles Rangel talks of affordable housing, the poor, and social justice, the more he suddenly finds hidden bank accounts, unreported income, and subsidized apartments in his name, so that he might better agitate on our behalf. Hypocrisy is a human, rather than a partisan sin (note the philandering evangelical or the capitalist who wants government money to rig the game), but the man on the barricades shouting about social equality is especially prone to it — since it pays so uniquely well both materially and psychologically.

2. Abroad. Foreign policy now starts with the assumption the world is not naturally chaotic, but tranquil — if not for the obtrusive presence of a largely ignorant and selfish United States. The past is selectively invoked — Native Americans, slavery, sexism, racism, imperialism — and always without consideration of the far greater sins of other comparable societies or the astounding achievements of American society that allow our present spokesmen their exalted status and influence. By reaching out to troublemakers, and airing our pathologies, we are supposed to calm the misunderstood and demonized, as we insidiously try to address their complaints. A Chavez or Ahmadinejad should be less hostile once they learn that we too are moving to socialized healthcare, income redistribution, high taxes, blanket entitlements and becoming more part of the statist solution rather than of the cowboy capitalist problem. To understand such a policy, shorn of its pretensions, as old-style appeasement is considered a smear. Or to think that a Syria, Venezuela, or Cuba hates individual freedom and exists for a professional cadre of elite autocrats is considered naïve and simplistic. The greatest defenders in America of a Castro or Chavez are precisely those whose lifestyles and income would be impossible under such regimes.

3. Top and bottom. Obama is the embodiment of the new Democratic Party that appeals to the very poor and the upscale, the one reliant on federal largess, the other making enough money not to care all that much about the taxes necessary to fund it. On almost every issue — environmentalism, social issues, larger government — there is a new alliance that simply downplays the ordeal of the larger middle class of all races and ethnicities, especially those who are self-employed and wedded to more traditional values. The hardware store owner, dentist, real estate salesperson, and farmer, are seen as the “boss” with capital to dispense to others, rather than the critical but harried entrepreneurs who get up each morning with no certainty of an income or benefits. The chief difference between the support for the new Obamism among those in the gated community (tastefully gated) and the barrio was the level of vehemence and near anger in which it was expressed — far greater the more upscale the neighborhood.

4. Getting Along. On matters racial, there remains just the old, fossilized thinking. The institutionalized slur of racism will offset needed discussion of the statistical evidence of higher rates of African-American illegitimacy, poverty, drug use, fatherless families, and incarceration; a quite large African-American elite, mostly in government service or federal employment, will be the self-appointed spokesperson for the problems of the black community, and negotiate with white upscale liberals over the conditions of federal redress. Obama’s intimate relationship with the racist Rev. Wright in his mansion, and the pass he was given by his supporters for such a creepy relationship, is emblematic of this nexus. In such a bargain, the affluent are granted exemption from white guilt and allowed to live their rather segregated lives of tony neighborhoods, college-prep schools for their kids, and apartheid private social lives — all with the sense of revolutionary progressive fervor, by reason of loud protestations of symbolic racial solidarity and a willingness to deem racist any who catch on. We can only hope that the African-American community can develop an entrepreneurial class on the model of many first-generation immigrant communities, since such activity frees the individual from government reliance and instills a sense of optimism in self-reliance.

5. The Mother Polis. It matters little that the public senses the emergency room, the DMV, the County Recorder’s office, and the district IRS center are all government-run bureaucracies that they seek to avoid, not due to illiberalism, and anti-government hysteria, but because in such places one can very easily lose an entire day, receive no instruction or help, and feel insulted in the process for daring to enter the front door. Most feel that they are not a model for anything, but may well end up being such for government-run healthcare or cap-and-trade auditors. The defense of larger government organizations in our lives is never that they are efficient, well run, or monitored, but simply that the greed and selfishness of Wall Street and the private sector are worse than the incompetence, waste, and petty corruption of government. In this “they do it too” argument, why worry about the DMV when there is Lehman Brothers? Rather than defend an ideology of statism, the retort is increasingly “Bush was worse.” End of discussion.

Ironies Corner

Hillary — Obama felt putting Hillary at State would ice potential political challenges, punitively rein in Bill’s extravagant overseas income, and tie her to his policies even as she was roped down by regional czars. But she may well like hiding from the messes of healthcare (remember Hillarycare?), apology tour, cap and trade, and other fiascos — until reemerging, after her chrysalis stage, unscathed if Obama hits 40% approval.

Europe — cf. Sarkozy’s exasperation — is getting what it dreamed of, and now finds Obama out-Europeanizing Europe. That cannot be, since they counted on our power and leadership to allow them to play their multilateral good cop to our unilateral bad one.

Taxes — the deficit is so large, that all sorts of taxes are coming. FICA tax caps will go, rates will climb on income tax, and still it will not be enough. Some sort of sales tax or value-added tax, on top of rising state income taxes, is coming — at precisely the time the stimulus waste reminds us that thousands of taxpayers’ first five months of work this year were simply given away or squandered as part of a $2 trillion deficit. Many voted for Obama thinking they would either not be taxed but receive more largess, or that they would not be taxed too much; I think both groups will soon discover the truth.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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