The 2016 Pack

Plus some thoughts on Michael Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, and the damage inflicted upon American culture by the Frankfurt School.

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

gop_reagan_library_debate_9-20-15-1We don’t know yet what issue will end up driving the autumn phase of the 2016 election. In 2008 a hectoring Obama thought it would always be Iraq — an issue that he had scrubbed from his website by mid-2008 when the surge had rendered his anti-war traction irrelevant.

Instead, the key moment was not the war, but the sudden Lehman Brothers meltdown — and the herky-jerky McCain reaction to it, coupled with Obama’s monotonous “Bush did it” blame-gaming of the crashing stock market. Before September 14, 2008, John McCain and Sarah Palin were consistently up over the supposedly transformational first African-American president by anywhere from 2 to 4 points; afterwards it was steadily downhill.

No one knows what will happen to the economy in the fall of 2016, much less what North Korea, Iran, Putin or ISIS will be doing. If nothing, Democrats benefit; if something, not so much. Obama last week reminded us of the rules of media and progressive politics for 2016: he announced that critics of his presidency were de facto unpatriotic — apparently in the same manner that as a presidential candidate in 2008 he slurred a sitting president as unpatriotic. No one even noticed.

2008 was the first orphaned election since 1952. When an incumbent president or vice president does not run, things are wide open, and often favor the out-party. Unless Joe Biden jumps in, 2016 could be another.

We have not elected a non-politician since 1952; sixty-four years is a long time and suggests why it is a wise tradition. So far even on their best days, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump are no Gen. Eisenhowers. Maybe we aren’t overdue for someone new.

Unspoken are the majority/minority dynamics. Barack Obama’s community organizing has bequeathed a new election calculus. It goes like this: how much Democratic racial mongering and divisive identity politics is necessary to persuade minorities to (1) continue to turn out in record numbers, (2) vote in bloc fashion (e.g., 70% for Latinos and Asians, 95% for blacks), and (3) keep voting for a liberal old white guy or woman without Obama on the ticket, (4) without turning off the so-called Democratic share of the white vote down to levels around 35%.

Whites only make up about 72% of the voting electorate; it is also equally valid that, thanks to Obama, the shrinking Democratic share of that vote is reaching 1980s Reagan-era levels. So there are two Obama legacies, not one, in the 2016 race. Democrats must pick up a few percentage points of white voters lost to their pandering in order to make up for a few minority percentage points lost without Obama on ticket. Second, Obama’s legions of loyal minority voters must register, turn out, and vote in mass for Hillary or Joe Biden in the fashion that they did for Obama.

It is iffy to calibrate debate performance with candidate viability. A bad night of repartee and verbal gymnastics can sink a descending candidate but not do much harm to a frontrunner. But three or four dismal performances in a row are quite a different story, given that there are 12 scheduled debates. Give Trump a flat last hour of tedious “tremendous,” “awesome,” and “great” in a 3-hour marathon debate, and who cares? Give him a flat hour month after month, and he wears on us.

In general, when a party has weak candidates — cf. the Republicans in 2012 — lots of debates are lethal: Herman Cain of the last debate really was Herman Cain of the first. But when there are strong choices, as in 2016, debates rev up interest. The Democrats are wise to have just six debates; Hillary versus socialism will wear after three outings.

After two debates, and not a single primary, here’s an aphorism for each of the Republican candidates:

Bush: The more he professes conservatism and cites, quite accurately, a solidly conservative record, oddly the less conservative he appears.

Carson: Is rooting for him to speak more loudly and perk up a good or bad sign?

Christie: How can one so informed, energetic, bold, and glib so soon become so irksome?

Cruz: Is it good to have a candidate whom you would prefer to be a high judge?

Graham: There is a reason for his candidacy, but no one has discovered it yet.

Huckabee: Would that his noble creed be inductively inferred rather than deductively applied.

Fiorina: Witty, sharp, informed, and bold in debate — so what’s next?

Jindal: Never can one learn in such a short time so many things from just one man — and regret the valuable experience so much.

Kasich: One can be impressed with his sobriety and judiciousness if only he is permitted to read rather than hear it.

Pataki: Is he running for secretary of Commerce?

Paul: Quirky smart, and a quirkier speaker — and always just a quirk away from scary.

Rubio: The best argument for the lack of political experience not mattering.

Santorum: If only we really could go back to the wonderful 1950s!

Trump: A transient and guilty pleasure like a double martini that may kill you if continued.

Walker: A noble reminder of why we liked the sheriff in Fargo.

The Democratic field is far less impressive than even the Republicans’ circus of 2012. The viability of Hillary Clinton, however, hinges on the degree to which Valerie Jarrett & Co. wish to turn off or on Justice Department and intelligence community leaks about Clinton’s felonious behavior. Bernie Sanders, the rich man’s Eugene Debs of our age, is another Howard Dean campus flash-in-the-pan. The rest of the field — announced and rumored —  are other old white guys of the sort Democrats used to clamor were the doomed future of the Republican Party: Joe Biden, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and John Kerry, Al Gore, and Jerry Brown in waiting if Hillary implodes and Biden balks. Here they are:

Biden: Somehow he did manage to make plagiarism quaint, being habitually wrong habitually predictable, and his crude ethnic insults were dismissed as little more than Joe just being “Old Joe.”

Brown: As if out from cryogenics, he will soon pledge to “protect the earth, serve the people and explore the universe.”

Chafee: Who?

Clinton: We thought Bill was Dorian Gray, but look! — it was Hillary all along.

Gore: I don’t think even he would try it.

Kerry: Soon to come: He was for the Iran deal before he was against it.

O’Malley: See Pataki.

Sanders: A tired socialist insider masquerading as a fresh populist outsider.

Warren: A perennial scold and contemporary of Hillary, who looks twenty years younger but sounds thirty years older.

End of the Summer Reading

I’ve read now twice Michael Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West [1]. As Walsh shows, one of the most depressing things about the 21st century has been the habitual whining of elites, and the vast abyss between their own privileges and their constant haranguing against the culture, politics, economics, and social life of America.

Walsh senses our anger with that disconnect, and he demonstrates that while in the past we always suffered through such nihilistic fits — self-critique is the lubricant of Western culture — the prewar and postwar importation of ideas from charlatans of the Frankfurt School in Germany was something new, and far more malignant.

Note that Republicans have taken back both houses of Congress, often win in the Supreme Court, have majorities in the state legislatures and governorships, and may win the presidency in 2016. And yet if one examines the schools and universities, Hollywood, the art world, what shows up on televisions and the news, whom the foundations are funding, what the clerks in government do — everything really from our monuments to poetry — it is hard not to confess that “we lost.”

In a word, relativism seems to have won. There are few standards left. Everything is negotiable, from the now fossilized idea of a traitor like Bergdahl to a neo-Confederate sanctuary city. A play, a movie, a building, a novel — anything really — cannot be assessed by absolute criteria, given that such “standards” are always set by oppressors of some sort, usually the children of capitalism and bourgeoisie consumerism who wish to enshrine their “privilege.” Take a sentence, chop it up into lines, and presto — a poem. By what standards is Chopin any more a genius than a Snoop Dogg? I thought of Walsh’s book yesterday when watching the various newscast reactions to the migration crisis in Europe and the deer-in-the-headlines faces of the European Eloi: Who are we to say that our culture is better than theirs? What is a border anyway? What even is a migrant? Whose values construct someone into the “Other”? Why do hosts enjoy privilege and guests do not?

Frankfurt intellectuals have done a lot of damage: from multiculturalism to postmodern art, they have destroyed the individual experience and made us cardboard cut-outs by their constant Marxist-inspired dumbing down, ending in a dreary predictable sameness. The past has become melodrama adjudicated by 30-year-old PhDs rather than muscular tragedy. When Obama decides to rename a mountain or brags that Trayvon looks like the son he never had or urges Latinos to “punish our enemies” and quips “typical white person,” he is more or less offering a paint-by-numbers version of the postmodernists who despise both the rich capitalist West whose bounty created their own leisure and subsidizes their nihilism, and the rest of us who lack their awareness and thus are unthinking cogs in a huge monotonous wheel. For the postmodernist, Middle America lacks the romance of the poor of the inner city that is never visited and the high culture of the Upper West Side or Georgetown that is prized.

Walsh writes both authoritatively and angrily. And he is right to be furious since 21st century America is branded with a highbrow nihilism, sarcasm, cynicism, and falsity, from the one-second pause of Jon Stewart to a David Letterman smirk. Walsh’s survey of art, music, literature, and history recalls much of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind [2]. But as we creep up to the 30th anniversary of that book’s appearance, you put the The Devil’s Pleasure Palace down with the depressing sense that we have done a lot more damage and lost a lot more of what we were since Bloom’s warning of 1987.


[1] The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00PSSEIXE/pjmedia-20

[2] The Closing of the American Mind: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2013/08/31/i-want-my-weimar-tv/

Copyright © 2015 Works and Days. All rights reserved.

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17 thoughts on “The 2016 Pack”

  1. Whereas Frankfurt-damaged-brained “Progtards” swapped out the “Tragic-Liberty” worldview education system starting in 1900 in the US with their own “Great Evil” pedagogy, in 2015 who demands “Tragic-Liberty” education be swapped back in?

    This is, of course, the solution to everything. Give… a good brain and good eyes and good ears to ALL Journalism School students by defunding “Progressive-Retardnation” education. Give a brain and eyes and ears to university students by defunding “Progressive-Retardnation” education. Same for K-12. Same for military schools. Same for political schools from Bombay to Boston, Kenya to Alaska.

    We must see, this solution would work for the U.K., for India, for Russia, for the Middle East, for China, for Japan, for Australia, New Zealand, South America, Central America, Mexico, Canada and Africa.

    Because all these places are becoming worse over this modern time — worse civically! despite tech-improvements — because “Progressive-Retardnation” is the universal, unquestioned pedagogy and media.

    So really, tho great Moses’s rise up among us, nothing will change until education is returned to sanity.

    Because if you look at it closely, Progtardism is simply a legal way for multitudes to be one unified Joker — a severely damaged and therefore aggrieved person — whom collectively reign chaos upon order, destroy money created and earned honestly, and kill via “legal” abortion or euthanasia, and consume all energy, time, money and galaxy good… just for a crazy laugh at the expense of sanity.

    Logic dictates if Rome is burning, it is one thing to put out a fire at a hospital. It is another thing to put all the Nero’s into straight-jackets, Nero’s army into straight-jackets and Nero’s educators into straight jackets. Why save just a hospital building or some other building from systemic arson, when all the crazy arsonists are running around with flame throwers, legally somehow laughing it up?

    Hence, the sane among us should stop all dispersed effort against this “Great Evil” and cut this damnable tree down at the root… by defunding “Progressive-Retardnation” worldview education across the planet.

  2. This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. No one expected it to just mysteriously show up. The downtrodden are realizing their equality in God’s eyes.
    You failed to mention some issues with Repubs. Jeb Bush rigged the FL election in 2000. He authored the PNAC plan for 911, which W &Cheney executed. He used a private email server, as did Walker. The man belongs in prison, not being the third Nazi Bush clan member to run this nation into the ground.
    Then there is Cruz. No one can find a Baltimore birth certificate for his mother, but they have found her documented Canadian citizenship. This makes the arrogant power hungry Cruz a Cuban Canadian, ineligible for the presidency, but Bush/Cheney set the precedent of calling the constitution.just a piece of paper and defied it with their joint run in 2000. They made stealing elections and defying the constitution an easy path to taking over all levels of government.
    You apparently are fine with such criminals taking control of our nation; either that or you just don’t dig for facts vs opinions.
    You, along with the Repub media, have tried to turn Bernie into another Dean since Day 1, and continue with it despite his drawing enormous crowds.
    Even the Dem party is trying to block his success.
    It’s all pretty pathetic, esp seeing ignorant support of criminals who belong in prison.

  3. Glad you touched on the Frankfurt school contribution.

    I’m also a huge Paul Gottfried fan, I think his ‘Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt’ really nails it. The Frankfurt school being the revolutionary leg of the Multiculturalism table and post-protestant guilt, the liberalization and feminization of the church being a significant other leg that is overlooked in other developments of Cultural Marxism.

    I was never a fan of Christianity until I saw the secular fruits, which are as intolerant as they are absurd.

  4. What I want to know is your answer to my hypothetical question: What in your opinion is the likelihood of this Prez. trying to either a) find an excuse to cancel the 2016 elections “indefinitely;” or b) just flat out make a power grab (with his pen and phone and media buddies, naturally) sometime between now & when he steps down?

    What I’m hoping you’ll say is ZERO. But for me, I can’t seem to shake not thinking about it every now and then.

  5. Professor,
    We have exchanged messages in the past, when I used to work for a “development bank” over in Africa. (I returned to the US two years ago). Thirty years ‘there’ was enough and my family had needs that could only be met stateside. As a sort of ‘Rip van Winkle’ I have been slowly getting reacquainted with the country of my birth. So much has changed in over the past 24 months.
    I’m afraid that this column strikes me as one of the most cynical that you have written to date. But, you have made an extremely important observation: school, arts and culture – with the exception of some talk radio – which speak to the people at a popular level are infused and teach values contrary to the original Judeo-Christian ethic. The norms which made Western Civilization strong are being eroded day by day. I agree. I understand you to say that even when / if the Republicans win the next election, there is only a limited chance of conveying the messages and values needed to stop our moral, economic, and spiritual decline. Despair not! A revival need not be ruled out; nor a divine intervention. We may yet see more difficult times in regards to thought control and prosperity (or the lack thereof), but hope need not be entirely extinguished.

  6. Is it correct that The Devil’s Pleasure Palace misses or obscures the ethnic identity shared by 100% of the Frankfurt School’s founders?

    1. Kevin MacDonald’s ‘Culture of Critique’ is a great reference. I don’t fully buy his evolutionary theory, but he lays out the motivated attacks on Christian Bourgeois culture in great detail.
      Of course, as Gottfried points out, Post-Protestantism is just as culpable for much of the destruction and for the generally Calvinistic authoritarianism of the current Managerial state.

  7. Oh, man! If Dr. Hanson is this pessimistic then there is no chance for America! I think I need to find another place to call home!

  8. Witty comic relief characterizations. TY.
    No known real time Solutions to the nauseatingly distressing plight that you so aptly describe. Access to the human mental flexibility necessary to confront our plight noted in “The Necessity of Poor Drawings” hnmsci.com

  9. I like the basic philosophy of Mr. Hanson but I continue to question his continuing dismissal of him as a suitable POTUS, certainly given the brand new political environment for the USA. Positively viewing that hack Eisenhower as the only non-political candidate experience in the USA is not only wrong but in fact, does not recognize the perilous situation we have in 2015 vs. post WWII in 1952. As a student of and professional public policy expert, I believe Mr. Hanson needs to reflect on the bumptious era that Eisenhower governed. Eisenhower’s #1 failure was that, in spite of his military background, he failed to defuse the cold war.

    He tried. When the Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, visited the U.S. in 1959 and agreed to a Paris Peace Conference for the following spring. But then the Soviets shot down the U-2 spy plane, Khrushchev scuttled the peace conference, and all hope of deflating the Cold War ended. When Eisenhower left office, the Cold War was even more threatening than when he embarked upon the presidency eight years before.

    He also failed to moderate the Republican Party. This was a personal goal of Eisenhower’s. He wanted to reenergize and modernize the Republican Party, making it less conservative and more acceptable to mainstream America. His failure became evident when Republicans nominated the conservative Barry Goldwater as their presidential candidate in 1964.

    There were many other failures from this guy Hanson thinks was OK. Do some research Mr. Hanson…

  10. This analysis doesn’t seem to be up to Dr Hanson standards. You could make a one line quip about anyone, including Reagan, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, or Thomas Jefferson. We could use a leader with character, decisiveness, and intelligence. There will be no perfection to be found.

  11. I first read about the Frankfurt School in Breitbart’s book, Righteous Indignation, chapter 6. Since then I have studied about it. I find it depressing that writer’s like you and conservative talk radio hosts and what conservative television there is so rarely discuss the Frankfurt or the Fabian schools of thought and rarely mention Professor Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. If more Americans understood the pathology behind our current sordid culture and politics there could be hope that a cure could be found. Until everyone dials back amusing themselves to death and begins to hear what progressives have done to us, we will continue to slide into the abyss you describe. Americans need educating. Get the ball rolling, somehow. Why is the only conservative forum I ever hear about Bold Fresh with Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller. I would love to see forums where you, Rush, Levin, Shapiro, Whittle educate us dummies.

  12. The premise “We have not elected a non-politician since 1952” is only valid if you consider JFK (whose senate seat and presidency were purchased for him by his father), Jimmy Carter (I’m sorry, I never detected the slightest political ability in the man), George HW Bush (a bureaucrat mascarading as a politian) and Barak Obama (a vacumn filling blank slate with a winning smile and nothing else) politicians. As much as I hate LBJ, he, Nixon, Regan, Clinton and to a lesser extent even Ford, were all consumate politicians, all (except for Ford) extremely talented in their own ways. I think GW Bush was a better politician than he gets credit for, though many would disagree. Still, by my count about half of the presidents since Ike have been placed in office by circumstances that overcame, or took advantage of, their lack of political skill

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