Tuning Out a President

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Tuned-out Presidents

Somewhere around early 2006, the nation tuned out George W. Bush for a variety of reasons, some warranted, but many not. Most thought the Katrina aftermath catastrophe was due to state and local officials (do you recall the utterly incompetent loudmouth Mayor [“chocolate city”] Nagan, or the clueless FEMA director Michael [“Brownie”] Brown?), while the president’s culpability was largely political: he flew high over, rather than waded into, the muck on the first day of the recovery.

No matter: either the media or his opponents succeeded in confirming the narrative [1] of an out-of-touch president at best, and at worst one indifferent to the plight of African-American poor in particular. The more the president talked of help and rescue, the more we heard absurdities from a malicious Nagan and inanities from an incompetent Brownie.

The same was true of Iraq by 2007. I felt the surge had a good chance of restoring calm and salvaging Iraq, especially given the skill and determination of David Petraeus and the admirable decision of George W. Bush not to give up. And establishing a consensual government in the heart of the ancient caliphate after removing the genocidal Saddam Hussein was an historic achievement. No matter again — almost every column I wrote in 2007 suggesting that Iraq was not only not lost, but also in the process of a brilliant recovery, earned lots of venom, much of it from some of the original staunchest supporters of the invasion. The people, I guess, had by then tuned the president out.

Perhaps it was the media barrage [2]. Perhaps it was the relief of the incredible three-week Iraq victory followed by the furor over the carnage of a botched occupation. Perhaps it was the visceral hatred on the Left of a Texan evangelical Christian. Perhaps it was the estrangement of the right-wing base, angered over the deficits [3], big-ticket entitlements like the prescription drug benefit, or No Child Left Behind. Perhaps it was the strategic blunder of hyping weapons of mass destruction rather than sticking to the 23 congressionally passed writs authorizing the use of force to remove Saddam. Perhaps it was weariness from the 24/7 assault on the Bush-Cheney security protocols, a paradox in which the more such measures succeeded in reducing the chance of another 9/11 attack, the more an increasingly complacent public bought the Barack Obama/Michael Moore line that renditions, Guantanamo, wiretaps, intercepts, Predators, and preventative detention were superfluous anti-constitutional excesses all along and the ensuing post-9/11 calm was more a natural development than the result of the new Bush vigilance.

One could not convince the American people, say in 2007, that deficits were heading downward and a balanced budget was scheduled on the horizon, much less that 5.5% unemployment [4] or 3% GDP growth was not that bad. And when the September 2008 meltdown came, no one wished to examine the policies [5] of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that allowed the utterly unqualified to receive government-guaranteed subprime mortgages. Few cared about the machinations of a Maxine Waters or Barney Frank, or wished to concede that government corruption, hand-in-glove with Wall Street buccaneering, had led to the housing explosion. It all happened on Bush’s watch, the public had concluded, and it was the fiscal bookend to Iraq and Katrina. All the good economic news of the first seven and a half years mattered nothing. Massive help to stop AIDS in Africa was of no consequence. Quiet in Iraq in 2008 was too little, too late. Again, no matter what one wrote to offer context, it mattered nothing. Fairly or not, the public had just tuned the president out — in the manner it had tuned out Jerry (cf. WIN [6] buttons) Ford in 1976, Jimmy (cf.the waterborne rabbit assault [7]) Carter in late 1980, and George (cf. “read my lips”) H.W. Bush in 1992. Some presidents recover from a tuned out public — Reagan did after Iran-Contra, Clinton did in a way after Monica — but most don’t, especially if they are conservatives and not adept rhetoricians.


Imagine if Barack Obama said the following: “I promise by the end of my second term that I will close Guantanamo Bay, end renditions and preventative detentions, cut the deficit in half, that my second stimulus program will put the unemployment rate below 6% within three years, that I will create 5 million new green jobs, that my healthcare plan will lower premiums, that I will ostracize lobbyists, end the revolving door and earmarks, that I will participate in public financing of the 2012 campaign, and that I won’t raise any tax whatsoever on those earning less than $250,000.”

Would any believe him?

So Barack Obama is likewise being tuned out. “Let me be perfectly clear,” “Make no mistake about it,” “In truth,” “In point of fact,” “I’m not kidding,” and “I’m not making this up” all tip off a weary public that just the opposite is true. We are so confused over Guantanamo, Predators, and renditions — being told everything from them being unconstitutional to vital — that we likewise just shrug at the absurdity of an Obama and Harold Koh embracing all the protocols that they once had so vehemently demonized. Were they then, now, or always just simpletons, naïfs, hypocrites, or abject careerists?

The Dog Ate My Economic Plan?

After nearly four years, no one, either supporter or skeptic, assumes the president to be either consistent or sincere. He expects us to believe that his economic problems date back to the Reagan and Clinton [8] administrations, when employment and growth were far more impressive than they are now. He thinks neo-socialism is the cure for the “failures” of the past — a past that also apparently explains why he inherited the reins of the most powerful and richest country in the world. His fables about Bush did it, the tsunami did it, the EU did it, ATMs did it, etc., have as much factual basis as his own memoir. When Obama swears he was outspent [9] in his earlier campaigns, I no more believe that than the details of his literary biography. Examine almost any current topic, and the president simply does not tell the truth about it, or contradicts what he earlier had asserted — or we are left with some contorted postmodern narrative. The concocted story about Rev. Wright (Obama was married in Trinity, baptized his children there, bragged about perfect attendance for 20 years, stole Wright’s sloganeering for the title of his second book while serially claiming he scarcely knew what Wright was saying all those years — in the manner he hardly knew either Bill Ayers or Tony Rezko) is sort of the model for all of Obama’s explanations: a current narrative becomes “true” if it is in service to a progressive cause. The result is that Obama has left us with a postmodern mess on about every current issue, about which what he has said and done never add up.

Illegal, Legal, Neither, or Both?

I think the current status of immigration law goes something like this. It is fine for a municipality or state to contravene immigration law by declaring a region a “sanctuary,” where federal law cannot be enforced. But it is illegal for a state to enforce immigration statutes when the federal government will not. Arizona was sued for trying to deport illegal aliens; so California is considering ways to grant them amnesty. If an illegal alien graduates from high school, serves in the military, or breaks no law, he can be exempt from deportation; but if he does not graduate, does not serve, or breaks a law, there is no expectation that he will now suddenly be deported at the time those eligible for amnesty will not be. The president told Latino activists he wanted to, but could not, issue exemptions by fiat, but then did exactly that a bit later as the campaign heated up. Eric Holder both claimed the Arizona law encouraged profiling and admitted he had never read it. Obama called for an end to vilification, and then begged Latinos to “punish our enemies,” in the manner he once asked supporters to “get in their face.”


The new federal takeover of healthcare requires a mandate, a tax, or a penalty, but the architects of the plan cannot agree on which — not a surprising postmodern turn when Justice Roberts reportedly wrote much of both the majority-confirming and the minority-dissenting opinions. It is unpopular now, but supposedly won’t be when it is enacted (or read for the first time) — and that is why over 2,000 insiders obtained exemption from such popular legislation. The 2,400 pages of ObamaCare were to lower our premiums by $2,500 a family, but they have already risen by almost 10% on average. Barack Obama ran against Hillary Clinton for her advocacy of a mandate, a position he ridiculed as both unfair and unworkable — before asserting just the opposite when he adopted her position as his own. One cannot be rejected for insurance for a preexisting illness, and therefore need not purchase insurance (preferring instead to pay the mandate/tax/penalty) until he is actually in extremis and in need of costly care — sort of like buying car insurance the day after you were blindsided, or life insurance on the day you were diagnosed with leukemia.

Bush Did It All

We have created four million new jobs since January 2009 which is cited as an impressive statistic, although we have also lost far more than four million old jobs, which is why a half million fewer Americans are at work today than in January 2009 — which is nevertheless supposedly good news given that more jobs were “saved” than would have been lost. In olden times, “It’s the economy, stupid” was the reply to 3% plus GDP growth under Bush I, and a “jobless recovery” was the charge against Bush II’s 5.4% unemployment rate. What name does 1.9% GDP growth and 41 months of 8% plus unemployment merit? Or in other words, since a younger Barack Obama damned the Bush record of job creation as dismal in creating only 310,000 jobs per month, what he would say of his own record of 80,000 jobs this month — a number 5,000 smaller than those added to the monthly disability roles? And does anyone remember Obama’s promise of “5 million new green jobs,” or cutting the deficit “in half” by the end of Obama’s first term? You should, since the candidate who swore there should be no more red or blue states declared George W. Bush “unpatriotic” [10] for running up a $4 trillion debt in eight years, which he then trumped in three.

Don’t/Do Drill

This is all so confusing. We have vastly curtailed granting new federal leases for gas and oil exploration in order to discourage fossil fuels, while subsidizing wind and solar. But as the former failed and cost us billions of dollars, gas and oil production on private land skyrocketed despite, not because of, the Obama administration — which now takes no credit for the green energy it squandered, but for America’s increased oil and gas development it ignored. Gas went over $4 a gallon at about the same time that it was announced that newly found US shale oil reserves and natural gas finds now mean the US (with the largest coal reserves) is sitting atop the largest fossil fuel resources in the world. To understand a Solyndra, remember that the president promised that coal-generated electricity plants would bankrupt their owners [11], that electricity rates would skyrocket, that proper tire pressure would preclude new drilling, and that he might enact the cap-and-trade protocols the Senate rejected — even as his energy secretary wished gas to reach European price levels [12].

No One Left to Teleprompter to?

Again, examine any current topic — green jobs, the Chevy Volt, cash for clunkers, the stimulus, tax hikes, ObamaCare, unemployment, amnesty, the debt, the deficits, race relations — and more or less incoherence follows. Either things have gotten worse or what Obama says is either untrue or not consistent with what he earlier had asserted. The result is that when he starts one of those long teleprompted orations, with the dropped g’s and the faux-African-American preaching patois, we still are impressed how the cadences can package the rather empty content and serial half-truths.

None of the above means that Barack Obama is necessarily going to lose the election, and here is why, given the following paradoxes. There are roughly now two groups of tune-outs: the first are the 50% who are either partisan opponents or who have had it with a president who does not speak the truth and blames his own failures on others. The second are the 50% who likewise don’t pay much attention to Obama’s rhetoric anymore, but they assume that mortgage bailouts; loan forgiveness; massive public hiring; more food stamps, unemployment insurance, and disability payments; freedom from income tax; racial and class resentments; and more still all offer, for the poorer, welcome material, and, for the richer, psychic and philosophical, recompense.

In other words, supporters, both the poor and rich, don’t worry all that much what Obama says, but focus instead only on the fact that he either wishes them to have more government stuff or abhors the same people they’ve always abhorred.

But either way, both the president’s critics and his supporters now are tuning him out.

URLs in this post:

[1] succeeded in confirming the narrative:http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2006/11/16/a-mighty-wind-2/
[2] the media barrage: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1145998/posts
[3] the deficits: http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/page/3/?s=porkbusters
[4] that 5.5% unemployment: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2012/07/06/less-than-expected/2/
[5] the policies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RZVw3no2A4&feature=player_embedded
[6] WIN: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whip_inflation_now
[7] the waterborne rabbit assault:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Carter_rabbit_incident
[8] and Clinton: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/07/06/Obama-Trashes-Clinton-Era
[9] swears he was outspent: http://twitchy.com/2012/07/07/mom-jeans-on-fire-obama-suggests-he-was-outspent-in-2008/
[10] declared George W. Bush “unpatriotic”:http://hotair.com/archives/2012/07/03/video-unpatriotic-debt/
[11] would bankrupt their owners: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpTIhyMa-Nw
[12] to reach European price levels:http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/73138.html

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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