by Victor Davis Hanson
I. Communication — As If You Would Have Liked My Agenda Had You Just Been More Informed
President Obama’s postmortem press conference was a near disaster. He seemed subdued, but also sometimes petulant — still convinced that we, in fear and distrust, “lashed out” in anger at the doctor rather than the disease. In fact, the same voter furor that turned on him is, he thinks, what earlier elected him: only his failure to channel it properly explains the setback. Finally, he did admit that he was “shellacked,” but he believes that partisanship confused us voters into shellacking him.
This common complaint that he failed to communicate just how wonderfully he had done is quite an unhinged Carteresque/Kerryesque exegesis. The problem was not that the American voter did not know about the second stimulus, ObamaCare, the efforts to push cap and trade, card check, and $3 trillion more in debt, but that he knew them all too well. When framed by 10% unemployment, slow growth, record food stamp usage, and home foreclosures, the problem was, again, too much, rather than too little, information. Obama was overexposed, not underexposed. The more he communicated on the campaign trail — “back seat,” “enemies,”“they” don’t want you to vote — the more the jaded voter turned from his cause. I fear very few will now listen to the new Obama in extremis calling for a new civility of the sort he helped destroy with his offensive and polarizing slurs and smears the last month.
II. We Spent Too Little?
Given what we know of the models of Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and California, we should not take seriously another lunatic explanation that we did not borrow enough. Supposedly Obama followed the conservative Japanese route of the 1990s and thus was too fiscally restrained. This is more than insane: Increasing government spending on the way to a planned 40% of the economy, while borrowing $3 trillion was not timid. The real reason Obama turned a recession into a near depression? Let us count the ways:
a) He trash-talked business (from the Chrysler creditor mess to the “at some point I do think you’ve made enough money” toss-off) into stasis, and the private sector now sits on the sidelines hoarding trillions of dollars in fear of ObamaCare, more regulation, and government confiscation.
b) His team talked non-stop about raising taxes — income taxes, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, healthcare taxes, even VAT taxes. Psychologically that frightened off investors and entrepreneurs.
c) The government wasted the borrowed stimulus money on pork-barrel projects and spread-the-wealth social programs that produced no real wealth.
d) His advisory team simply quit and left town — Emanuel, Romer, Summers, Orszag — more or less confirming that they did not ever know quite what they were doing.
e) He wasted millions of legislative hours on healthcare that terrified employers, and very little on incentives to businesses to create jobs. I could go on, but you get the point that Obama supposedly not following the Greek mega-borrowing model was not our problem. (By the way, for all its innate crises, Japan still is in far better shape today than Italy, Spain, and Greece).
III. Obstructionist Republicans
A third explanation often aired is that Republicans are good at destroying noble things like Obamism, but not good at governing. Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox News and the usual partisan suspects deluded the gullible public. The result is that we still do not appreciate the wonders of ObamaCare (check those rising premiums), and will soon choke without cap and trade, and will applaud Obama for the trivial things like the Government Motors’ Volt. Yet Obama and the left seem oblivious to the fact that they gave as good as they got. Here in California Jerry Brown’s commercials, as well as Boxer’s, were as vicious as their opponents’, more so in fact. My only surprises are, one, that dozens of Republicans survived the smearing and character destruction, and, two, Obama et al. are now calling for a time-out and “can’t we all get along” brotherhood. Ask yourself this: had Obama enjoyed a 60-seat gain after his “enemies” talk, would he now have called for a new era of political healing and harmony? The notion that stonewalling conservatives derailed a successful president is adolescent.
Oh yes, race. I mention that because on election day Eugene Robinson in theWashington Post has already played that preemptory card to explain the repudiation of the Obama agenda. Here’s why that is also crazy:
a) The anger is against the Obama agenda and those who promote it. A Nancy Pelosi is as unpopular, or more unpopular, than Barack Obama. Lots of white-male entrenched incumbents lost not because they supported a black man, but because they oversaw the government takeover of healthcare, borrowed $3 trillion in 21 months, perpetuated the “culture of corruption,” and saw unemployment rise to 10%.
b) The Tea Party zealots backed all sorts of candidates, women like Sharron Angle, Hispanics like Marco Rubio, blacks like Allen West, and Asians like Van Tran. Contrary to Robinson’s charges, race or gender was incidental — not essential — to their support.
c) Barack Obama has encountered no more venom — and in fact much less — than what George Bush or Bill Clinton endured. As of yet, thank God, we have not seen an Alfred Knopf novel like Checkpoint aimed at Obama, or anything like the 2006 Toronto prize-winning film Death of a President, which imagined the shooting of George Bush. I don’t recall Robinson at the time suggesting that such sick, unhinged hatred of Bush was either untoward or motivated by nefarious forces.
d) By 2001 the two highest foreign policy officials of the US government — Secretary of State and National Security Advisor — were both African-Americans — and appointed by George Bush. There was some racism directed at them, but it came mostly from the anti-war Left (cf. the despicable comments of a Harry Belafonte) — and especially from abroad, as in the case of the sick, anti-Rice cartoons that appeared in the Palestinian papers. Again, I don’t recall outrage from Robinson over that overt racism.
e) To the degree racial divisiveness is more apparent after 2008, it is largely due to the Obama administration. The president himself called for Latinos to see Republicans as “enemies.” He appealed to racial groups to vote on the basis that the Republicans did not wish them to. He used racially loaded imagery to suggest that the Republicans should sit in the back of the car. He suggested that the Cambridge police, on no evidence, had engaged in stereotyping and had acted stupidly. His attorney general called Americans “cowards” for not wishing to talk about race on his terms. No need to repeat the past racist rants of Van Jones. His Supreme Court nominee gave reasons why a “wise Latina” intrinsically would make a better judge than a white counterpart. And all this came after the 2008 mess with the overt racist Rev. Wright, the “typical white person” slur, and the condescending put-down of the white clingers of Pennsylvania. To the degree racial polarization has surfaced, it has been due entirely to Barack Obama’s modus operandi, saying different things to different audiences, predicated on their race — and whether the comments are thought to remain private and not for public dissemination.
f) One thing has changed, however. The near obsessive use of the slur “racist” in lieu of an argument has now so inflated the currency of that charge that it has been rendered meaningless — and, in fact, tells us far more about the character of the accuser than of the intended target.
So What Was Tuesday?
The truth is always the simplest explanation. Here it goes in simple language from the beginning: Obama was elected largely because of public furor over Bush/Iraq. The fawning media hid his socialist background. He ran as a centrist. The Wall Street meltdown wiped away the small McCain/Palin lead. Obama in his hubris took that flukish set of events and reinvented them into proof that he could deliver to the left a once-in-a-century EU-style socialist makeover of America. That effort polarized the country, stalled the recovery, and terrified the private sector into stasis. Obama, who was always himself given something (take your pick — Harvard admission, Harvard Law Reviewbillet, Chicago Law School tenure offer, Noble Peace Prize, etc.) without requisite achievement, is thus stunned that the economy is not a malleable law school dean whom he can hope and change into compliance. So naturally he is angry and has turned to almost everything in the past that worked: the race card, the get-out-the-minority vote card, the enemy Republican bad actors, the greedy rich takers, etc. But now none of the old “them” bogeymen work; the more that tactic is tried, the more the economy stalls and the people get angry. It’s that simple. He can talk all he wishes, but until he offers fiscal responsibility, private sector encouragement, reassurance of adhering to singular American capitalism, and pro-jobs tax policies, he will continue more of these Orwellian, thinking-out-loud press conferences.
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson