Time to Beam Down to Earth

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Last week the United States got lucky again and took out several suspected terrorists by Predator drone attacks over Pakistan. Anti-war critics prior to Jan. 20 used to decry “collateral damage” from such controversial strikes. But there was a weird silence here about the Obama administration’s successful first attack — despite the usual complaints from abroad that several civilians perished.

President Barack Obama just announced, to great applause, that he wanted to close Guantanamo right away — sort of. But in the meantime he rightly worried over the immediate consequences. So, instead, in circumspect fashion, he appointed a “task force” to prepare for such closure within a year.

We forget that a less politically adept George Bush years ago conceded that he likewise wanted Guantanamo closed at some future date. But the media then, unlike now, largely ridiculed such pedestrian worries over what to do with unlawful wartime combatants who would either have to be released or tried as criminals in U.S. courts.

A saintly Obama upon entering the presidency announced to great fanfare that he would once and for all stop revolving-door lobbyists and end shady business as usual in Washington. But during the transition and the first two weeks of governance, Obama’s team has already experienced a number of ethical problems of the sort that often plague incoming administrations.

Obama’s commerce secretary nominee, Gov. Bill Richardson, of New Mexico, has been under federal investigation and withdrew from consideration.
Attorney General designate Eric Holder, as Bill Clinton’s deputy attorney general, helped pardon a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list who was a big Clinton campaign donor.
Timothy Geithner, just confirmed as secretary of the Treasury, cannot adequately explain why he didn’t pay thousands of dollars in Social Security and Medicare taxes and took illegal tax deductions.

Obama’s staff already has already waived its new ethics rules for former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, who was nominated for deputy Defense secretary.

Such embarrassments sometimes happen in politics — but to humans, not gods — and they often create media firestorms, not a mere flicker or two.

Throughout the campaign and after the inauguration, Obama also talked grandly of bipartisanship. The fact that he once had the most partisan record in the U.S. Senate, played tough Chicago-style politics to win elections and toed a strict liberal line in the Illinois legislature caused few in the media to wonder about such promises.

Yet despite aspiring to be an Olympian president, Obama just warned Republicans not to listen to earthy Rush Limbaugh. In words more like those of George Bush than of Mahatma Gandhi, Obama privately rubbed it in with, “I won.”

Despite the near-evangelical sermons, Obama, like most savvy presidents, assumes bipartisanship is the art of persuading — and coercing — the opposition into following his polices. George Bush likewise called for an end to acrimony while he pushed his agenda. The only difference is that the media mocked the “divider” Bush’s clumsy talk of bipartisanship but so far is still hypnotized by the “uniter” Obama.

Why is Obama’s grand talk already at odds with his actions?

For one reason, he is unduly empowered by a media that too often roots for him, rather than reports critically about his actions.

Second, in the last two years, Obama and his supporters advanced two general gospels that are coming back to haunt him:

First, that George W. Bush was a terrible president, and that his toxic policies had done irreparable damage to the United States.

Second, and in contrast, that Obama was an entirely novel candidate with fresh hope-and-change ideas that would bring a renaissance to the United States and the world.

Bush’s Texas twang and occasionally tongue-tied expressions strengthened the first supposition. Obama’s youth, charm and multiracial background enhanced the second.

But we are already seeing that simplistic polarity was infantile — even if the enthralled media desperately wanted to believe in the mythology.

In truth, Bush, after the left-wing hysteria over the 2003 invasion of Iraq, governed mostly as a traditional conservative rather than a reactionary extremist. Meanwhile, newcomer candidate Obama predictably embraced old-style and well-known liberal orthodoxy.

The result is that President Obama is quickly discovering that many of those easy Bush-blew-it issues of the campaign really involved only bad and worse choices of governance. Most solutions now call for realism instead of doctrinaire leftwing bromides and catchy speechmaking.

Obama should decide quickly whether to beam back down to earth. If he doesn’t, at some point even a sympathetic media won’t be able to warn him that his all too human actions are beginning to make a mockery of his all too holy sermons.

©2009 Victor Davis Hanson

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