by Victor Davis Hanson
Barack Obama has done the United States a great, though unforeseen, favor. He has brought to light, as no one else could, many of the pernicious assumptions of our culture from the last half-century. He turned theory and “what ifs” into fact for all America to see, experience, and, yes, suffer through.
The Years of Wandering…
Jimmy Carter tried to enact the therapeutic agenda, but he was inept. Liberals for the last thirty years blamed his failure on incompetence rather than his statist message. Until the Obama meltdown, progressives had faulted Bill Clinton as a wily sell-out who had won an improbable second term only by cynically reforming welfare and balancing budgets. Dick Morris engineered his comeback and now he works for Fox News: enough said. So the complaint was that the messenger was slick, but the noble message was diluted.
But Obama was supposed to be Clintonian in his political charisma and Carteresque in his devotion to liberal causes. When he boasted that he was “The One” we had been waiting for, he was more accurate than he thought in assessing liberal sentiment. You see, as a young, post-racial, first African-American president — glib, hip, cool, charismatic, with unapologetic Chicago hard-core leftist roots and Ivy League certification — Barack Obama was right out of liberal central casting. He would do what no other liberal had done in fifty years: prove to America that it really, really was left-of-center by ramming down its throat both a liberal agenda and thousands of left-wing facilitators. Greek columns, the Victory Monument, talk of a cooling planet, and worry whether the country would survive from December 2008 to January 2009 heralded His coming. We forget now that Obama arrived with a super-majority in the Senate, and a large majority in the House: anything was now possible and almost everything was thus tried.
Home at Last
At last we sheep got the messianic prophet to deliver the divine message. When he was declared a “god,” with supernatural powers that sent tingles up journalists’ legs, we were at last to climb the mount into the Promised Land. Electing him was the trick; simply enacting his redistributive agenda would be easy. “Wealthy” people would keep on working as before (they are by nature greedy and love working to buy superfluous things), but now the people’s money could be at last directed to saving the planet, helping mankind, and bringing heaven to earth.
Leading from Behind
I don’t think another president will ask the Arab League and the UN — but not the US Congress — whether he can lead from behind France and Britain in bombing an Arab oil exporter on behalf of “rebels” who promise Sharia Law. “Putting light” between America and Israel earned us this week’s charade at the UN, and a new Middle East war on the horizon in the manner of 1967 or 1973, but this time with new enemies on the periphery like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan in addition to a hostile Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. “Reset” won’t be used any more, and the idea that friends like Britain, Israel, Eastern Europe, etc. were to be shunned while rivals and enemies like the Palestinians, Russia, and the Latin American communists were to be courted is over also. Friends are friends for a reason, and enemies the same — regardless of what Obama learned at Chicago and Harvard.
After $5 trillion in borrowing and 9.1% unemployment, Keynesian economics has been slain by Obama. Oh, Obama may crisscross the country demanding just one more chance to borrow another half-trillion to “grow jobs,” but no one is listening any more. “Shovel ready,” “stimulus,” “investments,” and “infrastructure” simply have been redefined by Obama as euphemisms for wasteful borrowing. I doubt they will regain currency for a decade or so. And thanks to Obama, a billion is now a passé noun, and trillion has been reduced to the status of monopoly money. Poor Warren Buffett, calling for higher taxes on himself, as his companies and foundations seek to avoid existing taxes, learned too late the wages of signing up with the Obama redistribution plan, which is essentially an alliance of the super- and exempt rich and subsidized classes on the upper-middle-class private sector.
The old welfare state after Obama will soon be addressed as never before. With almost 50 million on food stamps, and record numbers on new extended unemployment insurance, with Medicare and Social Security nearly insolvent, the Obama boilerplate remedies of making “millionaires and billionaires,” “corporate jet owners,” and “fat cat bankers” pay their fair share won’t nearly be enough. Obama demagogued the “fair share” issue to the death, and it cannot be demagogued much longer since the money is about gone.
Now Obama wants new taxes on those who make over $200,000. But unlike the Gingrich/Clinton budget deal of the 1990s, a return to those higher rates will not solve the debt crisis. Obama got us well beyond that. It is merely the opening salvo in taking far more, in a path that leads to the scene in Doctor Zhivago where the old enemy-of-the-people house is subdivided for more deserving families. Obama’s one idea of redistribution does not work, as we see the world over, from the fall of the Soviet system to the collapse of the EU to the implosion of blue-state America. The more Obama says it does in teleprompted eloquence, the more the proverbial people grow terrified of it.
The American National Health Service
For much of the 1950s and 1960s, we were told that we lacked a British-style National Health Service, thanks to all sorts of devilish AMA conspiracies. JFK, LBJ, and Carter could not get passed what we all secretly were supposed to have craved. Hillarycare failed. But Obama alone brought us federalized health care, a trillion-dollar borrowing plan that will supposedly streamline care, save us trillions in the long term, and cost less in the here and now, as state GS-20 doctors attend to us, in DMV lines, far better than their greedy counterparts. Despite all the noble lies, no one believes that. After 2012, ObamaCare will be repealed in short order, and there will be no more fantasies about economical cradle-to-grave health care denied us by conspiratorial doctors and greedy insurers.
Civility for Thee
In the manner of Richard Nixon, Obama and his supporters gave us first “Fight the Smears,” then Journolist, and now “AttackWatch.com” — the common denominator being to watch, monitor, report, and quash criticism of Him, in enlisting the loyal flock to go after the heretic on the list. The old liberal sermons on civility are dead too for the foreseeable future. The unanswered profane slurs of the Black Caucus and Jimmy Hoffa Jr. illustrated that Obama’s calls for polite discourse were inane at best, and at worst a crude ploy to silence conservative critics. Obama urged Latinos “to punish our enemies” one day, and lectured others to talk more cordially the next, and then kept still as his “base” let loose on political opponents as “son of bitches.” The next time Obama — or any other self-described no more red/no more blue state “unifier” — calls for an end to polarizing discourse, for good or evil, he will be met by outbursts of hilarity.
Race in the Raw
In an odd way, racial relations will become soon more honest as well. Under Obama the racial boilerplate of perpetual victims and perpetual oppressors, institutionalized across crude racial lines, was explicit. The head of the Black Caucus now sadly, but honestly, admits that if the president were not black (i.e., he were white), his cadre would be marching in furor on the White House (which I think means skin color alone adjudicates attitude, which I also think we used to call “racism”).
The Caucus members have told their opponents to go straight to hell, compared them with lynch mobs, insisted Tea Partiers wanted slavery back — the entire race-based invective that everyone long ago tired of, but is the inevitable result of a misguided 19th-century system of racial-gerrymandering that had the unintended effect of ensuring that most local black politicians never had to run competitively in statewide races, and instead could pander to mostly districted black consistencies. The old idea that any centrist black congressman could be elected as a US senator in a Texas or even California is unlikely any more, given the Black Caucus record of racialist invective that polarizes the general electorate and, in circular fashion, also guarantees that a centrist would never be elected to Congress in a black district. When the head of the caucus admits race is all that matters in Black Caucus protest, the cards unfortunately are on the table.
This new racialist candor is also the dividend of the Obama bunch’s beer summit, “stupidly acting,” “punish our enemies,” “wise Latina,” “my people,” “cowards,” and the 2010 campaign video that appealed to supporters on the basis of race and gender.
The public thought, with their first “black” president, they would be hearing even-handed lectures, as one week Obama explained why the federal government had to ensure equality of opportunity in a multiracial society, while on the next he gently warned minorities not to rely on government to ensure parity when success or failure for all Americans far more often hinged on personal choices, discipline, and sacrifice. Instead, Obama voted present while his surrogates ensured that America is more racially polarized than any time in our history. But this too was cathartic. A majority of the population of all races has simply tuned out the now near meaningless charge of “racist” and sees the real danger to America in racial tribalization and balkanization rather than classical racial discrimination. We will see another black president some day, but race will be incidental not essential to his or her character.
“Millions of Green Jobs”
For the foreseeable future, “millions of green jobs” and “cap and trade” are also the stuff of comedy. Thanks to Obama we’ve been there with Van Jones, Solyndra, and EPA hyper-regulations, and done that. I don’t think Al Gore will be any more quoted or EU policies emulated. More likely we will go back to finding new fossil fuel sources as private technology keeps improving on alternative energy. Fairly or not, “green” conjures up everything from Climategate to Solyndra, and suggests an entire class of elite academics, financiers, and activists who wished to follow the oil companies’ crony-capitalist business plans of the 1940s and 1950s without the basic truth that oil is a logical energy source and so far a windmill isn’t.
The New Idiotocrats
After Obama, I don’t think there will be any more John Kerry or Al Gore sermons about the superior Europe model either. A disarmed, undemocratic, insolvent, shrinking, and increasingly polarized continent is now a model of what the United States should not be. There simply have been too many California as Greece stories for any politicians to advise us with the old admonition: “But In Europe, they….”
Obama thought that he would replicate the EU paradigm. He would bring in properly certified technocrats from academia or government like Chu, Geithner, Goolsbee, Holder, Orszag, Romer, and Summers to oversee massive new regulations and taxes that would dictate from on high how the ignorant masses must be protected from everything from cheap gas to old-style light bulbs. In less than three years, they all proved far more ignorant about what makes America work than the local car dealer, welder, or farmer. After Obama, Americans will not be fooled for a generation or so into thinking that a Harvard PhD or Berkeley professor “really” knows that borrowing is prosperity, that gas should cost as much as it does in Europe, and that the more we pay millions to regulate, the more the vastly fewer who produce make us all prosperous. (And given Obama’s mysterious silence about the undergraduate record at Occidental and Columbia that won him a scholarship to Harvard Law, we won’t take seriously any more the usual liberal critique of supposedly weak-minded conservative candidates who, based on their leaked undergraduate transcripts, could not get As decades ago in college.)
From Here On Out
Had McCain been elected, or had Obama proved a canny Clinton triangulator, we would never have gotten out of the bipartisan rut of massive borrowing, growing government, higher taxes, and unionized public employee regulators. But with Obama as the great liberal deliverer and with the masses scared to death of Him, the next president will inherit an America in catharsis. The future is uncertain, but at least now, after our cauterizing, we have some sort of chance to return to the old principles that might save us.
©2011 Victor Davis Hanson