While we’re all looking forward to Mr. and Mrs. Obama riding off into the sunset on that magical date of January 20th, 2017, here are two very different projections of how America will look in the post-Obama future to come: First up, in his latest weekly article at PJM, titled “Obama Who,” Victor Davis Hanson writes, “Critics of the president are convinced that Barack Obama will do lasting damage to the U.S. I doubt it:”
If anyone were to repeat the Obama reform mantra of 2008 — a new transparency, an end to lobbyists, no more revolving doors — it would incur laughter. A Larry Summers or Peter Orszag forgot Obama’s promises not to make millions of dollars from the influence gained during their government service. Citibank seems to be bankrolling the retirement plans of all those who worked at Obama’s Treasury Department. I think Obama will do the same when he leaves office, in the fashion of both Hillary Clinton and Lisa Jackson. Expect soon his $1 million speaking fees to lecture Citibank and Goldman Sachs on diversity and green energy.
When we recount Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS mess, the AP/James Rosen affair, or the NSA disclosures, we think not of modern scandals per se, but rather in historical terms: which prior administration was more corrupt and dishonest — Nixon’s or Grant’s? Is that comparison fair to either of them? Did Obama, in compensation, give us Reconstruction or an opening to China? Has he accomplished as much as Harding?
Americans are always up for a good class war. Obama gave them one, with all the talk of the “one percent,” “millionaires and billionaires,” and the “pay your fair share” boilerplate. But to be a good class warrior also requires the pretense of populism. Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich were at least not habitués of Martha’s Vineyard, did not make second homes out of tony golf courses, did not have the family jetting to Aspen and Costa del Sol to take time off with those who forgot when to quit their profiting. How can a president so rail at the 1% and yet so wish to play, vacation, and be among those who didn’t build their wealth?
The president’s signature achievement? He has established a precedent that the president can play all the golf he wishes without being caricatured as a distracted would-be aristocrat.
Jimmy Carter’s four years had short-term consequences — almost all negative — but little long-term damage. Obama’s eight years in theory should have far more lasting ramifications, given the huge debt, radical appointees, job-killing regulations, and dismal economy of the last five years. Yet we are learning that he is proving even a more inconsequential figure than was Carter. And so likewise in years to come, even his true believers will talk more of an iconic Barack Obama before and after he was president — but rarely during.
Want a little Spenglerian Doom in your forecast? Actually — want a lot of Spenglarian Doom in your forecast? NRO’s Kevin D. Williamson has you covered:
IPAB is the most dramatic example of President Obama’s approach to government by expert decree, but much of the rest of his domestic program, from the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law to his economic agenda, is substantially similar. In total, it amounts to that fundamental transformation of American society that President Obama promised as a candidate: but instead of the new birth of hope and change, it is the transformation of a constitutional republic operating under laws passed by democratically accountable legislators into a servile nation under the management of an unaccountable administrative state. The real import of Barack Obama’s political career will be felt long after he leaves office, in the form of a permanently expanded state that is more assertive of its own interests and more ruthless in punishing its enemies. At times, he has advanced this project abetted by congressional Democrats, as with the health-care law’s investiture of extraordinary powers in the executive bureaucracy, but he also has advanced it without legislative assistance — and, more troubling still, in plain violation of the law. President Obama and his admirers choose to call this “pragmatism,” but what it is is a mild expression of totalitarianism, under which the interests of the country are conflated with those of the president’s administration and his party. Barack Obama is the first president of the democracy that John Adams warned us about.
“Democracy never lasts long,” Adams famously said. “It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” For liberal regimes, a very common starting point on the road to serfdom is the over-delegation of legislative powers to the executive. France very nearly ended up in a permanent dictatorship as a result of that error, and was spared that fate mostly by good luck and Charles de Gaulle’s patriotism. Long before she declared her infamous state of emergency, Indira Gandhi had been centralizing power in the prime minister’s office, and India was spared a permanent dictatorship only by her political miscalculation and her dynasty-minded son’s having gotten himself killed in a plane wreck. Salazar in Portugal, Austria under Dollfuss, similar stories. But the United States is not going to fall for a strongman government. Instead of delegating power to a would-be president-for-life, we delegate it to a bureaucracy-without-death. You do not need to install a dictator when you’ve already had a politically supercharged permanent bureaucracy in place for 40 years or more. As is made clear by everything from campaign donations to the IRS jihad, the bureaucracy is the Left, and the Left is the bureaucracy. Elections will be held, politicians will come and go, but if you expand the power of the bureaucracy, you expand the power of the Left, of the managers and minions who share Barack Obama’s view of the world. Barack Obama isn’t the leader of the free world; he’s the front man for the permanent bureaucracy, the smiley-face mask hiding the pitiless yawning maw of total politics.
In an important sense, the American people have no political say in the health-care law, for example, because Congress did not pass a law reforming the health-care system; instead, Congress passed a law empowering the Obama administration, through its political appointees and unelected time-servers, to create a new national health-care regime. The general outline of the program is there in the law, but the nuts and bolts of the thing will be created on the fly by President Obama and his many panels of experts. There are several problems with that model of business, one of which is that President Obama, and more than a few of his beloved experts, have political interests. The partisans of pragmatism present themselves as disinterested servants of the public weal, simply collecting the best information and the best advice from the top experts and putting that into practice. Their only political interest, they would have us believe, is in helping the public understand what a great job is being done for them. Consider President Obama’s observation that his worst mistake in his first term was “thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. . . . The nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.” (It never seems to have entered into the president’s head that he might have got the policy wrong.) But of course there is a good deal more to politics than that. For example, the president would very much like the unemployment problem to be somewhat abated by the time of the 2014 congressional elections, but he knows that this is unlikely to happen with employers struggling under an expensive health-care mandate that he has not told enough of a story about. And so he has decided — empowered to do so by precisely nothing — that the law will not be enforced until after the elections. Neither does the law empower him arbitrarily to exempt millions of his donors and allies in organized labor from the law, but he has done that too.
As Paul Mirengoff of Power Line wrote in May, “With so many scandals in the picture or looming, it’s easy to miss the fact that President Obama may soon become one of the most successful presidents in American history. I’m defining success as fulfilling Obama’s mission of substantially transforming America.”
By the time he left office, Lyndon Johnson was universally loathed — by the right, who replaced him after the anarchy and chaos of 1968 with the law & order-themed Nixon administration (which sadly, governed, particularly domestically, largely as an extension of LBJ’s policies), and by the New Left, because, well, Vietnam, maaaaan. But Johnson, thanks to his Great Society programs, was the most transformative American president since his idol, FDR. Similarly, as Mirengoff wrote, “in 20 years — assuming that Obamacare sticks and Schumer-Rubio style immigration reform is enacted — Americans will constantly experience the impact of the Obama presidency.”