by Victor Davis Hanson
I wish President-elect Obama well, and hope that even his critics can concede that he waged a successful and often brilliant (if not shrewdly stealthy) campaign.
It seems to me that conservatives have a golden opportunity to offer criticism and advice in a manner that many liberals did not during the last eight years. By that I mean I hope there are no conservative versions of the Nicholson Baker Knopf-published ‘novel’ Checkpoint, the creepy documentary by Gerald Range, the attempt to name a sewer plant after an American President, or the celebrity outbursts that we have witnessed with the tired refrain of Hitler/Nazi Bush — that all have cheapened political discourse. When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years.
In the future, criticism should be offered in unified pro-American tones, rather than anti-Obama screeds. When disagreements arise, they should be couched in a sense of regret rather than ebullition. There should be no conservative counterparts of Bill Maher, Michael Moore, or Al Franken.
That said, read on.
Be Careful of What You Wish For…
Note the Iraqis immediately rushing to say Obama surely won’t pull out of Iraq prematurely. Note secondly that just recently they were grandstanding that we had to leave. I had noted earlier a Zen-like possibility with an Obama victory: those who counted on Bush-Hitler to both defend them and be a big target for their cheap anti-Americanism, might not like going it alone as equal “partners” in the much praised “multilateral” fashion.
Obama may just say “We are right behind you when you deal with Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, etc.” Note again, as Europe goes wild over Obama, the subtext is, “This would never happen here.” After all, we Amis have had African-American secretaries-of-state for eight years (well over a quarter-century ago Andrew Young was U.N. ambassador) — and still no Turkish-German Foreign Minister or Congolese-French Prime Minister? In some sense, Obama will bring welcome moral clarity to foreign relations, because if he really is a multilateralist, current opportunistic foreign dependencies will be forced to weigh in on multilateralism.
On the Taboo of Race
The landmark consequences of electing the first African-American President dominated the news cycle for the last 24-hours. But just as importantly, we have forgotten that we have chosen the most hard left candidate since Henry Wallace assumed the Vice Presidency, in a transparent fashion without fraud or deception. That marks a landmark shift in American attitudes, like it or not. And no one reported on that anomaly, or on the fact that Obama was the first northern liberal to be elected since JFK — or even the first senator to make it since JFK (and LBJ via the Vice Presidency).
On matters of race, at some point the country will evolve beyond the current narrative of the last day that runs something like — ‘You redeemed yourself by voting for Barack, and now we can all say we are truly Americans’. The problem with that understandable sentiment is a number of its corollaries: ‘Unless you support European socialist solutions offered by a charismatic African-American candidate, then you confirm America as a quasi-racist nation.’ And this thought: African-Americans voted for a black candidate at a 95% rate; Hispanics at perhaps 75%; yet the country was judged as free of racial tribalism on the basis of whether whites voted for a black candidate far to the left of any Democratic nominee during the last three decades in pluralities greater than they did for past white Democratic candidates like Gore or Kerry. And they did!
It will be interesting when the first Hispanic candidate wins to see whether Mexican-American citizens en masse reaffirm the country to be finally fulfilling its promise — and what would be the reaction of African-Americans and Asians to such ethnic solidarity.
This solidarity may be a natural reaction, but something is still puzzling about hours of television showing African-American ecstasy based on apparent racial pride rather than glee that someone of Obama’s views was elected — all often editorialized by teary-eyed objective journalists. A person from Mars who watched this post-election celebration, might study the popular reaction to the Obama victory and become puzzled: “Aren’t people now saying pretty much what Michelle Obama said twice, and to great criticism, during the campaign: that the emergence of Barack Obama was occasion for many to have pride in their country for the first time?”
Be Careful Barack
When off the teleprompter, natural exuberance takes over. The day before the election, Obama was praising his late grandmother and I heard him say that his grandmother, born in 1922, had witnessed both world wars (including 1914-1918?). In his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned that he might not achieve all his aims in “one term” — so we are talking about dynasties of two terms before even assuming office? We remember likewise he kept saying we are only going back to the Clinton tax hikes (up to 40% on top brackets), while omitting the 15.3% FICA and Medicare taxes once the caps are to be eliminated. And we remember that he kept saying he was going to pay for (a trillion dollars worth of) entitlements in large part by “ending that war” (which even by his figures was running at about $100 billion or so now a year (we would need to be in Iraq another 10 years to waste enough that would have gone to new social programs?))
After running up the annual deficit to a near half-a-trillion dollars in stimuli rebates and bailouts, now we are to send checks out again for subsidies for food, housing, and power? And how to pay for it? And the consequences of looking for others to channel money to be redistributed? At some point, there should be some overarching exegesis to explain all this. Something like: ‘Compensation is arbitrary and not based on either fairness or logic. So government is necessary to make the needed corrections and to redistribute in the way a flawed market cannot.’ At least then we could learn the logic involved.
We are going to witness a gargantuan struggle among the Obama camp in the next 90 days. On the one hand, the following argument will be advanced:
“Look, Barack, we have a historical opportunity with the Congress, the honeymoon, voter momentum, and your communicative brilliance. Carpe diem!”
“Liberals will never have such a window again, so let’s move full blast with Axlerod, Emanuel, and the Chicago Boys before they know what hit them: make lots of hard-left appointments for agency heads, executive branch controllers and cabinet posts; restore the fairness doctrine and get talk radio out of the picture as it was pre-1987; empower unions with an end to secret elections; move on de facto amnesty and keep the borders porous, given how the continually replenished illegal alien community, with periodic amnesties, evolves into Democratic constituencies in key states; go for BOTH tax increases on income up to 40% and ending the FICA caps so you can get another 15.3%. That way we can pay for some of these new programs. Try to create a national health care system akin to Canada’s. Don’t just go for the agenda, but for structural changes that will make it almost impossible for conservatives to win again. Now with incumbency, restore campaign financing in all its manifestations, lest some Republican gets smart and emulates our money-raising strategies. And while we are at it, why not call in Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Bush neocons and charge them with war crimes for Guantanamo and water-boarding?”
Realists will counter:
“Wait! LBJ, Nixon, and others all blew their mandates. Festina lente (‘make haste slowly’). Remember the Clintonian 1993-4 debacle with gays in the military, Hillarycare, Les Aspen at Defense (cf. his no armor in Somalia decision), Travelgate, etc., so we don’t need more hubris that means calling in another Dick Morris and triangulation to save the Obama presidency. Either raise income tax or lift FICA caps, but don’t do both unless you want to gut, not shear, the sheep. Throw the loonies looking for jobs under the bus where they can join Ayers, Wright, Khalidi, etc. Adopt the Petraeus withdrawal plan, but claim it was really the “Obama” plan all along. Turn over the cabinet to Larry Summers and Robert Rubin types and a few Republican-lites like Chuck Hagel.”
So we will see who wins — or whether Obama votes “present,” and the sides go to and fro, back and forth ad nauseam. Beware, we will hear soon a Reaganesque “Let Obama be Obama!” — if we knew exactly what that would mean?
There was something bothersome about the treatment of Sarah Palin. Her final campaign appearances and interviews showed calm, poise and competence. Her charm galvanized the base. And yet the hard Left on day one reduced her to a Neanderthal creationist. The DC-NY Republican grandees demonized her as a cancerous bimbo who spoke in a patois and represented a culture that was an anathema. Now after heroic campaign work, she returns to Alaska with leaks that she was a diva, appeared in a bathrobe, and threw things, as failed strategists grasp at scapegoats for their lapses. I hope she completes her term, runs for Senate, and comes back to DC to haunt her critics. Long after 2008, we shall remember that an Atlantic Mazagine blogger for days on end trafficked in rumors that her own daughter delivered her mother’s Down Syndrome child. That smear says it all.
Good/Bad John McCain
Let me understand the current media analysis of John McCain: 2000 — “Old” John McCain runs against the more conservative George Bush and loses, so he’s declared principled and good; mid-2008 — “new” John McCain runs against a messianic Barack Obama and could win, so he’s ruthless, quasi-racist, and bad; late 2008 — “new-old” John McCain loses against Obama and makes a typically gracious speech, so suddenly he’s the new ‘old’ John McCain again?
We, of course, wish to be liked abroad. But there are reasons why in many cases we are not. That is, many governments welcome authoritarians. They prefer tribal, religious, and racial chauvinism compared to our diverse plurality. They like class hierarchies and resent our mobility. They prefer statism, are anti-democratic, and have contempt for consumer capitalism. So why would we wish governments currently composed of radical Palestinians, Iranians, Venezuelans, North Koreans, Syrians, or Russians to like or admire us? While we would wish not to gratuitously excite their ire, their empathy toward us should make us worried not relieved. Who cares whether the royal House of Saud is happy over the election, or those in the Iranian parliament or the activists of Hezbollah?
1. No one will again trust the media to report objectively a general election. Turn on NBC or CNN or read the front page of the NY Times, and you will expect an editorial for the more liberal candidate without pretense of objectivity.
2. Public financing is over as a bipartisan tradition. The Democrats may try to resurrect it, once as incumbents they see advantages in limiting fund raising, but no one will ever again believe the mantra of big money + big politics = sleaze.
3. Colin Powell. Now a tragic figure. His endorsement of Obama came too late to appear principled (at a time of Obama’s soaring ratings rather than, say, in mid-September when McCain was ahead). And when he had nicer public things to say of the crooked Ted Stevens than he did the principled hero John McCain, one remembered that his former subordinate Mr. Armitage once apparently knew that Mr. Libby had been charged with a crime that was not a crime, and if it were, Mr. Armitage himself had privately admitted that he was the culpable party. Surely Armitage should have been fired or at least reprimanded by Mr. Powell.
4. Obamacons. The timing and rationale for conservatives jumping for Obama became suspect not because of their decision per se, but because it came late, and was often without an explanation of why Obama’s tax or spending plan, or foreign policy, or proposed new entitlements were superior to John McCain’s.
They will be orphaned since there are too many more liberal in line ahead of them to enjoy Obama’s graces, and they burned their bridges with their former conservative supporters. Had any of them simply said in March, “I am for Obama since I think he is a superior candidate to Clinton, Giuliani, Romney and McCain because his preference for a European-model is to be welcomed”, I think they would seem mavericks and issue-orientated thinkers rather than opportunistic.
5. Beltway Republicans. When the conservative party spends wildly, runs up deficits and justifies them by citing percentages of GDP rather than apologies for trillions borrowed, gives us the likes of the criminally-minded such as Cunningham, Abramoff, and Stevens, the morally dubious like Craig and Foley, and the sycophantic like a Scott McClellan or FEMA’s “Brownie” and the other incompetents in high-profile administration jobs, then don’t they naturally lose?
The promises of bailouts and fiscal reprieves from the two candidates were like two Roman emperors outbidding each other for the services of the Praetorian Guard in order to become coronated. Not a word where the borrowing would ultimately come from, how it would be paid back, or how the indebted incurred their obligations in the first place.
As a self-interested columnist, I would hope Obama reassumes his natural hard-left position of his 1996-2005 period that would provide both plentiful column topics and prove counterproductive to his I fear scary agenda. But as an American, I surely hope he doesn’t, and so wish him personally well, and success as a possible centrist commander-in-chief that advances American interests.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson