by Victor Davis Hanson
Gas Dreams Come True
High energy costs to the Obamites are only unfortunate in terms of overcoming short-term political challenges. Otherwise, they are more or less welcome. That is not a partisan slur, but simply a summary of the 2007-8 Obama team’s view of energy prices — and the 2009-11 uninterest in exploring for new oil. True, we are, as the president says, pumping more oil than ever. But that is only because of prior leases, approved by Clinton and Bush, that have come on line, and the quite spectacular — and unexpected — oil finds in the North Dakota Bakken fields.
If one were to collate Obama’s campaign rhetoric (bad coal companies would be “bankrupt” under his envisioned cap and trade plans, energy prices would “sky-rocket”) with that of Secretary Chu’s (“somehow” American gas prices should climb to European levels; we should be worried about our abundant fossil fuel resources that can “cook” us), then the present climb to near $5-a-gallon gas is what the president and his energy secretary once thought would be salutary — a sort of Europe USA. After all, we Americans in our ridiculous pick-ups and SUVs (remember the president’s advice to the questioner concerned about fuel prices to trade in his gas-guzzler, or perhaps his earlier advice to inflate our tires in lieu of off-shore drilling) sort of got what we deserved.
Just consider all the positives that accrue from climbing prices: Subsidized mass transit (“high-speed rail”) — managed by government and operated by public union employees — becomes more palatable. When fewer people drive, then we are “cooling” the planet and lessening our carbon footprint. Moreover, subsidized wind and solar and “millions of green jobs” are closer to reality. The Volt, not the Yukon, is on the horizon — but, again, only at $5-6 a gallon.
In short, the only reason why Obama brags about record US oil production is for purposes of reelection (otherwise, he would rather borrow to buy Brazilian off-shore finds to help our southern neighbor). We are living the Obama-Chu dream as outlined by both. Again, to quote Secretary Chu, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”
I think that “somehow” has been reified.
Big Debt, Small Problem
What is so bad about this year’s $1.6 deficit, or the additional $5 trillion in debt piled up by Obama since January 2009? Without the 2010 Tea Party-inspired midterm correction, would Obama today be at all rhetorically concerned about deficits? We lament that such borrowing is unsustainable, but why do we think others would agree? Is not Greece a more equitable, a more livable place in 2011 than in 1990? Instead, look at debt through the Obama prism.
Printing and redistributing more money devalue the currency, and are already leading to increases in inflation: those without capital benefit, those with it find their stash lessened in value.
The decline of the US dollar is an inevitable reflection of a new unexceptional America, one nation among many abroad, with a currency that reflects such a readjusted profile. If it were a question of balancing the budget or expanding federal employment and entitlement payouts, then obviously “people come first.” Record debt means record levels of federal employment and redistributive entitlements. We have now reached a point where half the population pays no income tax. More money was borrowed in February than in all of “Bush did it” 2007. Half the population also receives some sort of federal pay or entitlement. For a quarter of the population, federal money is about their only source of income. Some may vote on the basis of worrying over deficits; but others may vote on the basis of whether checks are cut off and reduced — or instead maintained and increased.
Republicans have leverage to cut spending instead of raising taxes when the deficit is $300 billion; but at $1.6 trillion, tax hikes may be part of any “deal.” Raising taxes in this gorge-the-beast agenda is, of course, good. Compensation is arbitrary, and the government has a moral right to readjust net income, to ensure an equality of result rather than a mere law of the jungle equality of opportunity. In short, learn to love deficits. Greece and Portugal had Germany for back-up, we have the “rich.”
The Logic of Illogical Foreign Policy
An alien from the outer solar system would look at what we see as the confusion, misdirection, irresolution, and disingenuousness of American foreign policy in the Middle East, but conclude instead several clear-cut themes. One, we are suspicious of democracies. Why else would we harangue Israel and complain about the policies that led to a constitutional Iraq — the only two democratic states in the region?
Two, an outsider would also suggest that anti-Americanism is a good thing. Why? The two most anti-American and deadly regimes in the theater, Iran and Syria, both exported terrorists to Iraq, are wrecking Lebanon, wish to destroy Israel, are trying to acquire nuclear weaponry, and slaughter their own. Yet they are precisely the two regimes which we consider most authentic and worthy of reset diplomacy, and thus we apologize to them, promise not to meddle in their countries, and declare their dictators “reformer [s].” In contrast, brutal pro-American dictators, who nonetheless do not exercise the level of violence against their own as do the Iranians and Syrians, are ordered to go — and did. The former two surviving rogue nations bandy about pseudo-words like “revolutionary”; the latter two defunct regimes were simply less flashy, more straight-forward kleptocracies.
Three, we also show forbearance to those who do not give up their nuclear weapons (Iran) and attack those who do (Libya). Finally, in the case of Libya, a mess might be viewed as a reset policy. The new Libyan possum way of war is to ignore Congress, subordinate our options to the Arab League and the UN, weaken NATO, sorta, kinda turn a blind eye to radical Islamists among the rebels, use the military for declared “humanitarian” intervention, and then show how a country of 7 million can stymie the United States. There are lessons to be learned for all of us — and a blueprint for a new, humbled America abroad.
Race Matters More Than Ever
Add up the following: the attack on the “stupidly” acting Cambridge police, Eric Holder’s “cowards” and “my people,” Justice Sotomayor’s “wise Latina,” Van Jones’ rants against white polluters and mass murderers, the president’s declarations like the following: “And if Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘we’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us….’” Or the following, “We can’t have special interests sitting shotgun. We gotta have middle class families up in front. We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.” Or the race, class, gender video appeal to “young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again.” What, then, is left of a supposedly racially neutral presidency?
In other words, if Obama had modeled his presidency after a Colin Powell’s or Condoleezza Rice’s tenure as secretary of State, then race would have been seen as incidental, not essential, to his character and agenda, and support for his presidency would have been predicated solely on principles rather than appeals to particular identity groups. The current rising racial awareness is no accident, but essential to focus support for liberal issues in traditional terms of polarization, victimization, and increased racial identity — especially as independents get frightened and peel off. Since 2009, we are less seen as an integrated, assimilated, and intermarried melting pot, but more a mosaic of competing interests that predicate their rival claims on society based on race, class, and gender.
Bloc voting and identity — the “base” — aid the Obama agenda; race as inconsequential does not. Before Obama, the now explosive and globally viral video of two young black girls’ savage beating of a white transgendered victim in a McDonald’s would have been one of many tragic morality tales about the generic dangers of drifting into the wrong places at the wrong times in an unsafe contemporary America. But after the precedent of the Skip Gates presidential intervention, the question naturally arises — when and when not does the president intervene in local issues, in symbolic terms, to offer the nation a teachable moment on racial bias: when an elite professor is inconvenienced in private or an adolescent is almost beaten to death in public? (Where is the Malibu outrage in the tradition of Matthew Shepard?)
Some of you see hypocrisy with Obama’s abject about-face on Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventative detention, Predators, Iraq, public campaign financing, revolving door appointments, earmarks, and promises to post legislation on the internet. Others note the paradox of an anti-war Laureate invading a third Arab Muslim oil-exporting nation that posed no threat to US security. Still others can’t figure out how progressives, people of the people, so easily melt into Martha’s Vineyard, Vail, or Costa del Sol. Or how a reformer, a hope-and-change avatar, can preside over the tax-cheating or tax-avoidance of Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder, and Hilda Solis (and let us not forget Tom Daschle or Charles Rangel).
Easy answer: sophisticated guardians, as liberal technocrats, cannot possibly live by the myriad of complex rules and regulations that are necessary to corral a less able, wild society. They need “down” time, given their herculean labors, and surely as Ivy-League experts can be trusted without the intrusive oversight accorded to hoi polloi. In the Obama dream, Harvard- and Yale- trained lawyers, empathetic Wall Street magnates, and progressive CEOs need not be bothered with fear of hypocrisy, conflict of interest, or taxes inasmuch as they have devoted their entire lives to making sure that we, the ignorant, do not destroy our own lives. What we see as rank hypocrisy, they see as an occasional expected carelessness, or overindulgence of the guardian class who is simply exhausted. The stage driver with the reins often gets more tired than the unthinking horses he whips on — and surely deserves a drink at the bar for ensuring that the steeds don’t take the coach into the ditch.
I could go on, but the picture is clear enough. We are living the Obama dream — one that about 45% of the population more or less embraces.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson