Which Way Will Obama Go?

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

The Great Guessing Game

Will Obama, the old ideologue from Chicago, go hard left, OR, as the repackaged moderate of the campaign, “rule” (his campaign’s word, not mine) with Augustan moderation, OR, as a cut-the-difference “healer,” simply vote present — even as each faction now cries for its own version of “Let Obama be Obama”? 

The wiser course would be to govern in the manner of the post-flip-flop part of the campaign (e.g. after the ‘adjustments’ on NAFTA, FISA, guns, abortion, capital punishment, Iraq, Iran, drilling, nuclear, coal, etc.): if one must raise income taxes on the top brackets, then by all means don’t also lift FICA caps and de facto add on a 15.3% Medicare and Social Security additional payroll tax increase; don’t go for the whole trillion-dollar entitlement enchilada at a time of massive deficits; avoid the loony left in appointments; etc. Conventional wisdom says all that is supposedly the only way to ensure a Clintonian second term, but I doubt that happens.

Instead, I think many advisors privately are thinking that the turn-out the vote hoopla in key states wasn’t all that much more than in 2004. And for all the talk of a new realignment and the end of the old conservative regime, 2008 is more likely explained as a once in a lifetime alignment of the stars (cf. Carter in 1976): the mid-September meltdown that ruined McCain’s lead; the normal weariness after eight years of incumbency; two wars; a charismatic young and path-breaking Democratic candidate, a liberal’s renouncing of public campaign financing to amass $600 million.

If such reasoning were true, then the sentiment might be ‘strike now’, while the House, Senate, media, and indeed the world are all on board since they may not be either six months from now, much less two years from now. And that would suggest, I think, quick action on the fairness doctrine, an end to union secret ballots, a stop on a lot of drilling (all this in the short term costs nothing), as well as hefty income and payroll tax increases — in short, the big government Euro-model at home, and the U.N./We-Are-The-World model abroad.

So maybe because the election did not show a radical and permanent shift in the electorate, it is more, not less, likely that we will see a leftward lurch, especially on structural things like unions, open borders cum amnesty, and fairness doctrine/talk radio, etc. that would all be seen as investments in ensuring more liberal voters in the next elections.

So Now We Shall See

For much of the last few years, and especially the last few months of the campaign, we have heard a familiar narrative. Guantánamo was a virtual stalag, where far more innocents than terrorists were unjustly incarcerated. Given that this gulag served no useful purpose, it should be summarily shut down, and the unfairly detained suspects at last returned to their families back home. The FISA laws and Patriot Act were aimed more at bogeymen than jihadists, and what little advantage they gave us was not worth the shredding of the Constitution.

The ‘fly-paper’ theory of Iraq — thousands of belligerents flocked to Iraq, were killed and defeated, discredited radical Islam, and, their loss of face, coupled with a constitutional Iraq, made the region and the U.S. safer — is a puerile reductive fiction. What bellicosity we experienced with supposedly rogue terrorist-sponsoring states such as Syria and Iran was largely due to George Bush’s juvenile cowboy rhetoric — ‘bring ‘em on’, ‘smoke ‘em out, ‘dead or alive’ — and his refusal to defuse tensions and misunderstandings through reasoned diplomacy.

The promotion of democracy was a neocon pipedream, in which partly through violence, partly through cultural arrogance, we tried to clumsily project our values on deeply religious, traditional, tribal — and in the end, deeply different — societies, whose own alternate politics cannot be so crudely dismissed by our rather arbitrary standards.

American unpopularity in the Middle East had nothing to do with globalization, westernization, age-old envy or the newfound ability via instant communications to see how much worse life was in an autocratic Arab world than in a free West, but was largely a phenomenon of George Bush’s Iraq War and his neocon advisors’ crude tilt toward the Zionists. “The War On Terror” was largely a construct to wage perennial war, impugn the patriotism of critics, and scare the American people, through false consciousness, into voting against their real economic interests.

I think that is a fair enough appraisal of the opposition’s view of the Bush anti-terror philosophy. And as is true of all theories, we will soon perhaps see the extent to which it proves the more accurate in the real world of the next administration.

So the closing of Guantánamo, repeal of the Bush anti-terrorism legislation, rapid withdrawal from Iraq (though we are already past Obama’s original target date of March 2008 for withdrawal of all combat troops), cessation of pressure to democratize and the end of hectoring against Arab authoritarianism, soothing rhetoric from a new Chief Executive, renewed diplomatic reaching out to Teheran and Damascus, more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and rejection of the notion we are in some sort of war, much less one of a “global” nature, should ensure greater American popularity, win-over our critics, defuse tensions with Iran and Syria, and ensure another seven years of safety from a major terrorist attack at home.

So come late January and beyond we shall see, and we all should genuinely wish the Obama administration well in their promised radical departure from the past, since the stakes are high for us all.


We have seen it all the last two years: Weeping journalists on election night; a journalist openly promising to help make Obama successful (“Yeah, it is my job.”); film takes of journalists cheering an Obama speech; the savaging of Sarah Palin and the hands-off treatment of Biden; soft-ball interviews and long puff-pieces on Obama as the young cool crusader; comparisons to JFK’s Camelot, and on and on.

In the 3rd book of his history, Thucydides has some insightful thoughts about destroying institutions in times of zealotry — and then regretting their absence when there is a need for refuge for them. The mainstream press should have learned that lesson, once they blew up their credibility in the past election by morphing into the Team Obama press agency.

There will come a time in the year ahead when either Obama’s unexamined past will come back to haunt him, or his inexperience and tentativeness in foreign affairs will be embarrassingly apparent, or his European-socialist agenda for domestic programs simply won’t work. And as public opinion falls, what will MSNBC, the New York Times, the editors of Newsweek, a Chris Matthews or the anchors at the major networks say?

Not much — since they will have one of two non-choices: (1) either they will begin scrambling to offer supposed disinterested criticism, which will be met with the public’s, “Why should we begin believing you now?” or “Why didn’t you tell this before?”, or (2), they can continue as state-sanctioned megaphones of the Obama administration in the manner that they did during the campaign. They will lose either way and remain without credibility.

In short, we live now in the Age of Post-Journalism. All that was before is now over, as this generation of journalists voluntarily destroyed the hallowed notion of objectivity and they will have no idea quite how to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

©2008 Victor Davis Hanson

Share This