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Ed Driscoll

Our Postmodern President

April 5th, 2010 - 10:36 am

In his latest article at Pajamas, Victor Davis Hanson explores the Foucault-esque worldview of President Obama:

I could go on, but you get the picture of our first postmodern presidency. For 14 months we have tried to use abstract benchmarks like “did Obama contradict himself?,” “did Obama break another promise?,” “did Obama really think borrowing another $2 trillion won’t help to bankrupt us?,” “did Obama indeed think another entitlement ’saves’ money?,” “did Obama snub another ally and court another enemy?,” “did Obama apologize again?” — when, in fact, such linear thinking, such artificially constructed “norms,” such “facts” are nothing of the sort at all. To Obama, our first postmodern president, such facts and truth are mere signatures of privilege, and so he is offering us another — a postmodern — way of looking at the world.

When President Bush left office, Mark Steyn wrote a postmortem of his eight years for National Review (online here, but subscription required). Steyn began by noting Bush #43′s less-than-perfect conservative record (“it requires a perverse genius to get damned day in day out as the new Hitler when 90 percent of the time you’re Tony Blair with a ranch”), but ended by complementing the outgoing president’s extremely rare penchant for saying what he meant, and doing what he said:

Two months into the new regime, [Regime?! Don't let Chris Matthews hear you using language like that! --Ed] no less an authority than Anthony Lewis of the New York Times assured us that “George W. Bush and his people are driven by right-wing ideology to an extent not remotely touched by even the Reagan Administration.” In those heady days of spring 2001, it was easy to take Señor Compasión at the Left’s estimation of him. Do you remember some of the “controversies” around back then? Arsenic in the water supply? I didn’t even know I was in favor of that until Bush started doing it.

But it turned out the compassionate conservative did mean it — on immigration, education, and much else. And, whatever we feel about those policies, we cannot say that we were betrayed — for few candidates have ever been so admirably upfront. Indeed, it is a peculiar injustice that the 43rd presidency’s most obvious contender for a Bartlett’s entry should be “Bush lied, people died.” The activists who most assiduously promoted the line are now having to adjust to the news that their own beloved “anti-war” candidate’s commitment to bring home every last soldier within 16 months has been “revised” into a plan for some 30,000–70,000 troops to remain in Iraq after 2011. On Fox News the other night, I found myself talking to a nice lady from Code Pink who was trying to grapple with the fact that Henry Kissinger and Karl Rove are more enthusiastic about Obama’s national-security team than she is. Many other Obama policies now turn out to be inoperative, and we haven’t even had the coronation. I don’t know about my Code Pink friend, but I already miss Bush’s straightforwardness. He spoke a language all but extinct in the upper echelons of electoral politics. “Bush lied”? Here he is in Crawford, early in 2002, being interviewed by Trevor McDonald of Britain’s ITN:

“I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go,” said Bush.

“And, of course, if the logic of the War on Terror means anything,” Sir Trevor responded, relentlessly forensic in his determination not to let Bush get away with these shifty evasions, “then Saddam must go?”

“That’s what I just said,” said the president. “The policy of my government is that he goes.”

“So you’re going to go after him?” pressed Sir Trevor, reluctant to take yes for an answer.

“As I told you,” said the president, “the policy of my government is that Saddam Hussein not be in power.”

Etc. George W. Bush is who he is, and he never pretended to be anything but. Do you know how rare that is? If you don’t, you surely will after six months of Barack Obama’s enigmatic cool.

The sandwiching of Bush’s eight years between Bill Clinton’s “What the meaning of ‘is’ is” postmodernism and Obama’s even more extreme fabulist style makes the contrast that much greater.

Speaking of another definition of postmodern, Steve Green writes:

I just finished reading Charlie Martin’s piece on President Obama’s political prestidigitation — and I suggest you do, too. In fact, let’s call it this weekend’s Required Reading. But to se tup my point, I’ll go ahead and give you one snippet:

In the meantime, with considerably less fanfare, the Obama administration announced several other changes. They intend to accelerate the CAFE standards, forcing the U.S. auto industry to increase average mileage from roughly 25 miles per gallon to about 35 mpg. That is, a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency. By 2016 — that is, in six years. [Emphasis in the original. And also, yikes.]

At this rate, Obama won’t be just our first “post-American President,” to borrow John Bolton’s apt phrase. He’ll be our first post-industrial President.

It’s the dawn (dusk?) of a new Dark Age. And we won’t even have to remind the last person with power to turn out the lights.

Earth Hour, 24/7. Ironically, the de facto CEO of Government Motors would probably love that. As long as it doesn’t impact his own lifestyle, of course.

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