by Victor Davis Hanson
What might explain the inexplicable like the following?
A president comes into office facing a $500 billion deficit and grows it to $2 trillion.
A president comes into office facing a threat of radical Islamic terrorism, and at home changes the very name of the struggle from war on terror to a variety of wishy-washy euphemisms.
A president comes into office facing a variety of Middle East thugs, from al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas to Syria and Iran, and employs the ancient kowtow, the postmodern apology, and the Carteresque reach-out to allay the threat?
A president comes into office after record high energy prices have nearly crippled the American economy, and he ignores new drilling and brushes off nuclear power — only to wax about wind and solar that provide less than 5% of our energy needs, and crushing cap-and-trade taxation to come.
The Wrong Narrative
I think candidate Obama had the wrong narrative. Many presidents do. Bush railed against nation-building and decided he would do just that. Reagan raised not lowered deficits. Clinton ended up being a moderate after 1995. But rarely has a candidate’s entire world view been so abruptly refuted in the first year of a presidency.
As president, Obama suddenly found himself a stranger in a strange land, far from that of the Ivy League dean, the upscale liberal suburbanite, the radical chic, hip world of Chicago yuppies, and the brooding, shrill pulpit of Rev. Wright. The result is that his fantasies are out of place in the all too real world of the White House.
When he started his campaign in 2007 the U.S. economy was still strong, and he felt his redistributive agenda would merely need to skim off a few trillions from the wannabe rich.
There was plenty of money socked away; we could “share the wealth” and “they” could “pay their fair share” in “patriotic” fashion to ensure “redistributive change.” But when the recession hit, the money dried up, and there was no “they” any longer. No matter, Obama is stuck with his preconceived notion of gorging the beast, and so we will rack up $8 trillion more in aggregate debt and redefine the English language, as trillion becomes billion, and billion a mere million.
War — what war?
It was so simple in late 2007. The surge was “not working.” Few were dying in Afghanistan, now dubbed the good war where there were lots of Europeans. Al Qaeda was quiet and its dozens of plots all foiled.
Presto — the real narrative was how the Bush-Cheney nexus destroyed our liberties. Only a Chicago law lecturer could understand the complexity: the Patriot Act, renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, Guantanamo, Predators, all that had shredded the Constitution. Such a compelling thesis — as long as one could blame the prior administration for keeping us safe.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Barack Obama would drop this mythical war on terror, and instead conduct legal seminars at press conference to remind us how the “prior administration” had scared us to death to destroy our liberties.
Then the real war returned in Afghanistan. Iraq quieted down. And there really are thousands of radical Muslims like Major Hasan and Abdulmutallab who want to kill us.
So the narrative imploded. Even the most fawning Obama aficionado does not wish to get blown-up at 30,000 feet, because a political hack appointee wanted to broadcast politically-correct credentials.
Now a reluctant Obama has to face the reality that all his chest-thumping about his middle name, his unique background, and his liberal sensitivity means less than nothing to a killer such as Dr. Zawahiri.
In 2007 candidate Obama had some interesting theories about the world abroad — not unlike those voiced in the 1920s by the well-intentioned who formed the League of Nations to end all wars. A Gilbert Murray or H.G. Wells or Alfred Zimmern all had interesting things to say, as did Smuts and House — all interesting and all dead wrong once an Austrian-born corporal fancied himself the architect of a new Reich.
The “reset button” foreign policy postulated that twangy, “smok’ em out” Bush had caused all the bad feelings. As an antidote, a postracial, postnational charmer could assure the world that we were on its side. We are back to 1930 in a blink of an eye.
Remember, in this reset narrative, there are no such bothersome things as irreconcilable differences, antithetical agendas, or reductionism such as thugs like Ahmadinejad, Assad, Chavez, or Putin, who always interpret magnanimity as weakness in their nonstop quest for more influence and power at the expense of the perceived weaker party.
So here we are after all the apologies, all the bowing, all the trashing of Bush, all the Cairo speeches and Al Arabiya interviews: Putin brags about a new generation of nuclear weapons, bullying his neighbors and doing nothing to stop Iran; Iran kills its dissidents while we sleep and promises a bomb to come. Chavez wants one too, and Syria does its best to destroy Lebanese autonomy. And that is just the beginning.
It was not supposed to happen that way. (All those adoring crowds in the streets of London, Cairo, and Nairobi were supposed to translate into their leaders’ infatuation with Obama.)
Tilting at Windmills
Those in the faculty lounge, in the community-organizing hall, or media green room often wax on about how “they” are doing nothing to make us energy independent. In this fantasyland of a con artist like Van Jones, millions of windmills and solar panels will free us from energy costs and cool the planet.
In such mythologizing, and without any knowledge of the grubby world of oil rigs and dirty pipeline laying, we could have all the clean power we wished if only an Exxon just weren’t so greedy. So the narrative emerged that we need not drill for more oil here in the U.S. New natural gas fields still meant bad carbon fuels. Coal, burned daily, was still politically taboo. Nuclear plants were always referenced in terms of Chernobyl and Three-Mile-Island.
The result, however, in the real world was that low energy prices are a result of a global downturn in the economy, not Obama’s dreams of ugly windmills on every mountain ridge. In short, very soon a President Obama is going to have to explain what exactly he did to transition us to new sources of power during this reprieve, as we begin to pay for $5 a gallon of gas.
I could go on. But most of you readers remember young Barack Obama in late 2007 hitting the stump against Hillary, proclaiming to the world how his hope-and-change bromides would stop the Bush-Cheney nexus from destroying the planet.
Those were heady times when Guantanamo was still a gulag with its hundreds of Solzhenitsyns, not psychopaths like Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds, when we could just leave Iraq by “March 2008,” and when there would be no lobbyists, no tax cheats, no insider buy-offs and horse-trading for votes. In such a dreamy world, geniuses like Timothy Geithner don’t pocket their FICA allowances, and Tom Daschles don’t fudge on their complimentary limo services.
And then tragically Obama got elected and discovered that the real world had no relationship whatsoever to his fantasy impressions of it. In a cosmos of radical Islam, Chinese bankers, Japanese exporters, and Arab oil producers, there were no more law school profs, Rev. Wrights, or Chris Matthews and Newsweek editors to wink and nod and reassure Obama that his mellifluous but empty rhetoric allusions were at all reality-based.
So here we are. A president of the United States does not want to rush to the microphones and swear he will hunt down the Abdulmutallabs of the world and their sponsors, or that there will be no more Major Hasans (so much easier to rush to call the Cambridge police “stupidly” acting, while employing “allegedly” for the bomb-making of Abdulmutallab).
He does not wish to sound like a can-do guy who reassures us that we will tap all the American energy we can to ensure that we don’t go bankrupt before the new generation of power arrives. Obama does not wish to sound like some retrograde SOB who warns Ahmadinejad there really will be things he won’t like if he insists on going nuclear. Our commander in chief does not wish to snarl at the American people to announce that the party is over and all those trillions really do have to be paid back.
No, all that was someone else’s fault, others’ reality — and certainly not what Obama signed on for.
So if he seems bewildered, angry sometimes, and more at home in warm, lush Hawaii, you would be too — once you discovered that your easy fantasies and winged rhetoric of the last thirty years have no relation with the here and now.
All the soaring cadences in the world, all the self-referencing, and all the whining and blame-gaming sadly cannot put the shattered Humpty-Dumpty view of a once comfortable world back together again.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson