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Monthly Archives: December 2011

America’s Two-Front War

December 28th, 2011 - 7:58 am

America Has the Slows

Sometime about mid-2009 America began changing psychologically. True, to the naked eye, America retained the old hustle and bustle, but in an insidious fashion it began to think a bit differently. And that change in mentality explains in part why a year-and-a-half recession that officially ended in summer 2009 seems never to have ended at all.

In short, a sizable fraction of the upper-incomes is hesitant, defensive, unsure — and to such a degree that for a while longer it is not hiring, buying, or investing in the old way. It believes not only that there is no certainty in the tax code, the cost of new entitlements, or our national finance, but that even if there were their own successes would be suspect and earn antipathy rather than praise.

In mirror-image fashion, those of the lower incomes are likewise hesitant to take risks — unsure that the rewards of work in the private sector are all that much better than what government can offer through subsidies. The former group fears government will grow; the latter that it will not. The one suspects that Obama will confiscate more earnings; the other hopes that it will. Either way, there are fewer enterprising employers and fewer self-motivated galvanized workers.

The result of this two-front war is that America has been slowing down.

Or in crudely reductionist terms: the one asks “why hire another worker, when it is not worth it to pay out more in new health care costs and taxes down the road?” while the other answers “why get off unemployment or food stamps when it is more likely that they will be extended than curtailed?”

We now accept the notion of the peasant mentality — that all wealth is finite and more for someone means less for another. In this new them/us atmosphere, Barack Obama took the natural tensions between the classes and exploited them as few other presidents dared. Suddenly, there really were two Americas: the suspect top who made over $200,000 and the more noble majority below who made less. Lost in that cheap division was any notion of the value to others from those who did well, or the reasons why some prospered, or the fragility of their brief good fortune.

If the upper 5% paid nearly 60% of the income taxes, then the problem was more fundamental: how had they been so well compensated in the first place to have the wherewithal to pay such taxes? It did no good to remind Obama that confiscating all the wealth of the 1% would not end the debt, or that steep new income tax on the 5% in and of itself will do little to balance the annual budget. His war was not about finding a remedy to his own profligate borrowing, but in retaining power through revving up anger at the better-off.

In the last three years, we have become so numb to Obama’s monotonous invective that it is now part of the national DNA: spread the wealth, fair share, fat cat, punish enemies, corporate jet owners, Super Bowl and Vegas junketeers, 1%, raise the bar, Grinch, millionaires and billionaires, at some point you’ve made enough money, no time for profit, and on and on. The subtext is always the same: the reason why, say, an orthodontist makes more than a Wal-Mart clerk is due to some sort of race, class, or gender discrimination, unfair advantage, or fatal flaw in the capitalist system, and only a technocratic elite in government retains the wisdom and morality to rectify that resulting inequality. One’s salary, then, is not quite his own, but more the collective’s — given that the professional’s good fortune results from an insidious system of exploitation from the moment he was born to the last bill he sent out for services rendered.

Republicans have no answer for all this, and the most recent polls reflect that fact. The more we watch Ron Paul talk about American culpability for 9/11, the more Newt Gingrich talks about hauling in federal judges for inquisitions, the more we hear that Romney is an opportunistic flip-flopper, the more a Cain, Perry, or Bachmann melts down, the more Obama plays cool — emerging from Hawaii or the golf links to sermonize on fairness while hoping that a Joe Biden, Eric Holder, or Steven Chu keeps his mouth shut for a little longer. In comparison to whom is to blame, it is as if near 9% unemployment, $16 billion in aggregate debt, pathetic GDP growth, a dead housing market, and a $1 trillion-plus steady annual deficit are no more than “whatever.”

Note here, however, that the president’s social sermonizing is predictably selective. On the top end, we hear about the horrors of the anonymous millionaire and billionaire, never of the real Jon Corzine who bankrupted MF Global, gave over $70,000 to the Obama campaign, and cannot remember what he did with over $1 billion of someone else’s money. In the world of Obama, human greed is not endemic, but of a particular conservative and grasping sort; in contrast, liberal conniving is always one of carelessness or can be recompensed by liberal activism.

So what I most resent in Obama’s pop socialism is not just its proven impracticality and moral pretensions, but its utter hypocrisy.

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Obama Derangement Syndrome?

December 23rd, 2011 - 9:56 am

I’d say if you live in the United States of America and you vote for George Bush, you’ve lost your mind. — John Edwards

When does the legitimate “I oppose Obama” descend into the illegitimate “I hate Obama”?

It is popular now to suggest that conservatives in general and congressional Republicans in particular suffer from an obsession characterized by an uncontrolled antipathy for Barack Obama — personal and visceral — that warps their entire political outlook. No doubt some do experience the same obsessions that infected the Left in their furor at George W. Bush. One can find unhinged posters at anti-Obama rallies similar to those at anti-Bush demonstrations. Bloggers can show hatred for Obama in the manner one found them despising Bush. Perhaps for Howard Dean’s rants about Bush’s supposed foreknowledge of 9/11, we have Donald Trump insisting on a fraudulent Obama birth certificate. Truthers are analogous to Birthers. And for every conspiracy theory that Bush was continuing a long family tradition of profiting from Nazi trade, there was a suggestion that Obama was a Manchurian candidate planted here by Islamic interests to destroy from the inside the United States.

But again, I am not talking about conspiracy rants and raves, but a general psychiatric affliction that infects the influential political class — politicians, journalists, and those in popular culture and the arts.

So how does one distinguish natural political opposition from a psychotic state? In other words, when will we know that popular opposition to Obama’s worldview and a dislike at the way he seeks to divide the country degenerate into the paranoid venom that was unleashed against Bush?

Here are some things to watch on the national scene to warn us:

1) Assassination Talk

Watch it when opposition to Obama evokes thoughts of assassination and is not countenanced by the conservative community. In other words, be on guard for the conservative equivalents of a Gabriel Range’s Death of a President — a docudrama imagining a hit on Barack Obama. Especially important is to note any positive reaction to such hatred, like a first-place award from the Toronto Film Festival.

And do not forget novels. We are in trouble when a mainstream New York publisher (say, an Alfred A. Knopf) publishes a novel in which characters fantasize about shooting Barack Obama — in the manner of Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint. Important here, then, is the reaction to such expression of murderous hate. Keep on guard for a conservative Michael Moore who might suggest that 9/11-like mass murder is appropriate for Obama supporters (“If someone did this [9/11] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him!”) or who might resort to teen-age trash-talking, such as “What I meant to say is that George W. Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk driver, a WMD liar, and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants.”

The point is not that there won’t be conservative deranged equivalents to Moore, but to watch whether such demonic figures are fully embedded within the conservative political establishment. If one were to substitute Obama for Bush in Michael Moore’s rants, would he then be invited as a guest of honor to the Republican National Convention? If so, we would have a good example of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Note too the spread of Obama tics into the entertainment industry: do Hollywood celebrities routinely in their award acceptance speeches, performances, and interviews interrupt to blast Obama in the obsessive manner of a Barbra Streisand, Matt Damon, Sean Penn, or Dixie Chicks?

2) Nazi Talk

Watch the Nazi analogies from public figures; they are good evidence of psychosis. Are there anti-Obama zealots like an Al Gore, John Glenn, or Garrison Keillor who without rebuke compare Barack Obama to a brownshirt or Nazi? If they do so, and go unchallenged, then opposition to Obama may be reaching afflictive levels.

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Obama Mythologos

Barack Obama is a myth, our modern version of Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. What we were told is true, never had much basis in fact — a fact now increasingly clear as hype gives way to reality.

Brilliant”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, on no evidence, once proclaimed Obama “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.” When he thus summed up liberal consensus, was he perhaps referring to academic achievement? Soaring SAT scores? Seminal publications? IQ scores known only to a small Ivy League cloister? Political wizardry?

Who was this Churchillian president so much smarter than the Renaissance man Thomas Jefferson, more astute than a John Adams or James Madison, with more insight than a Lincoln, brighter still than the polymath Teddy Roosevelt, more studious than the bookish Woodrow Wilson, better read than the autodidact Harry Truman?

Consider. Did Obama achieve a B+ average at Columbia? Who knows? (Who will ever know?) But even today’s inflated version of yesteryear’s gentleman Cs would not normally warrant admission to Harvard Law. And once there, did the Law Review editor publish at least one seminal article? Why not?

I ask not because I particularly care about the GPAs or certificates of the president, but only because I am searching for a shred of evidence to substantiate this image of singular intellectual power and known erudition. For now, I don’t see any difference between Bush’s Yale/Harvard MBA record and Obama’s Columbia/Harvard Law record — except Bush, in self-deprecation, laughed at his quite public C+/B- accomplishments that he implied were in line with his occasional gaffes, while Obama has quarantined his transcripts and relied on the media to assert that his own versions of “nucular” moments were not moments of embarrassment at all.

At Chicago, did lecturer Obama write a path-breaking legal article or a book on jurisprudence that warranted the rare tenure offer to a part-time lecturer? (Has that offer ever been extended to others of like stature?) In the Illinois legislature or U.S. Senate, was Obama known as a deeply learned man of the Patrick Moynihan variety? Whether as an undergraduate, law student, lawyer, professor, legislator or senator, Obama was given numerous opportunities to reveal his intellectual weight. Did he ever really? On what basis did Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan regret that Obama could not be lured to a top billet at Harvard?

That his brilliance is a myth was not just revealed by the weekly lapses (whether phonetic [corpse-man], or cultural [Austria/Germany, the United Kingdom/England, Memorial Day/Veterans Day] or inane [57 states]), but in matters of common sense and basic history. The error-ridden Cairo speech was foolish; the serial appeasement of Iran revealed an ignorance of human nature; a two-minute glance at an etiquette book would have nixed the bowing or the cheap gifts to the UK.

In short, the myth of Obama’s brilliance was based on his teleprompted eloquence, the sort of fable that says we should listen to a clueless Sean Penn or Matt Damon on politics because they can sometimes act well. Read Plato’s Ion on the difference between gifted rhapsody and wisdom — and Socrates’ warning about easily conflating the two. It need not have been so. At any point in a long career, Obama the rhapsode could have shunned the easy way, stuck his head in a book, and earned rather than charmed those (for whom he had contempt) for his rewards. Clinton was a browser with a near photographic memory who had pretensions of deeply-read wonkery; but he nonetheless browsed. Obama seems never to have done that. He liked the vague idea of Obamacare, outsourced the details to the Democratic Congress, applied his Chicago protocols to getting it passed, and worried little what was actually in the bill. We were to think that the obsessions with the NBA, the NCAA final four, the golfing tics, etc., were all respites from exhausting labors of the mind rather than in fact the presidency respites from all the former.

“Healer”

Take away all the”‘no more red state/no more blue state,” “this is our moment” mish-mash and what is left to us? “Reaching across the aisle” sounded bipartisan, but it came from the most consistently partisan member of the U.S. Senate. Most of the 2008 campaign was a frantic effort on the part of the media to explain away Bill Ayers, ACORN, the SEIU, Rev. Wright, Father Pfleger, the clingers speech, “get in their face,” and the revealing put downs of Hillary Clinton. But those were windows into a soul that soon opened even wider — with everything from limb-lopping doctors and polluting Republicans to stupidly acting police and “punish our enemies” nativists. The Special Olympics “joke,” the pig reference to Sarah Palin, the middle finger nose rub to Hillary — all that was a scratch of the thin shiny veneer into the hard plywood beneath.

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The President Who Never Was

December 8th, 2011 - 10:44 am

A Teen-age President in Search of an Adult Identity

Barack Obama keeps looking for a presidential identity not his own. In 2008, he wished to be JFK — whom he often referenced as a youthful and charismatic figure supposedly similar to himself. So we heard references to Obama’s father’s arrival to the U.S. during the golden Kennedy Camelot years. Caroline Kennedy herself came out of seclusion to assure us that Obama had the same Kennedy zest, and she flirted with a Senate run to help restore the lost age of grandeur. And at the Brandenburg Gate, Obama would have liked to electrify Europeans with another Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech. But even the left-leaning Germans sorta balked at that, and relegated the new Galahad to the Victory Column — a nice enough gesture that earned them a snub when a later President Obama chose not to go to Berlin for the commemoration of the twenty year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (But flying ad hoc to Copenhagen to lobby for the Chicago Olympics is a horse of a different color.)

The New Gipper

Next candidate Obama channeled his inner Ronald Reagan. He reminded us that that he too had a sense of a new “trajectory.” His supporters swore that he had the same sunny disposition and eloquence. Obama liked that new persona. Soon he was talking about being the same “transformative” president, as long as we understood that Obama was going to be Reaganesque solely in the way he campaigned and soared with “hope and change” rhetoric — a sort of ironic payback to the Reagan Revolution as Obama mimicked the Gipper’s personal talents to undue his legacy.

Young Mr. Lincoln

That did not last long. When he won the election, Obama now referenced the Civil War, slavery, and the civil rights struggle as he became the Great Emancipator to finally bind up the nation’s wounds. So he was for a bit Barack Lincoln. I mean this literally and to such a degree that he chartered a slow train from Springfield to DC in December 2008, to remind us that it had been 148 years since a similar messiah had trained from Illinois to Washington to save the Union. Aides got copies of Team of Rivals, since Obama had long seen himself as a saintly Lincoln in magnanimous fashion bringing in former political opponents who perhaps were more experienced but surely less talented than himself. A Biden or Hillary as Seward or Stanton?

Hyde Park Redux

But when he assumed office, there being no Civil War, Obama of Chicago Hyde Park now channeled FDR of New York Hyde Park to meet the same crisis of yet another Great Depression induced by Bush/Hoover. The “100 Days” of 1933 were upon us again. Those were the glory moments, as the White House let it be known, when a new FDR would bookend Social Security with Obamacare. That did not last too long —given the fury over the health care machinations, the Tea Party, 9% plus unemployment, the horrendous new debt, and the greatest mid-term setback since Roosevelt’s own in 1938.

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The Ancient Virtues and Modern Sins

December 2nd, 2011 - 9:59 am

Candor

Aside from courage — the essential trait without which, as the ancients insisted, all other virtues are impossible — candor is now the most appreciated. Herman Cain came a long way, despite not knowing much of anything about foreign affairs and with a past that could not stay in the past. Why? He was blunt-speaking, and so often could cut to the quick. “9-9-9” was at once clear and concise, and that even trumped the fact that Cain himself did not know all the details of his own nostrum. And when he was not, or could not be, candid about his past, he faltered.

Crazy Ross Perot capitalized on that virtue as well — for a time, until he was not forthcoming about his contradictions. The more complex present society, the larger the bureaucracy, whether corporate or government, and the less likely we are to encounter clarity. And we miss it so these days, especially in matters of taboo race, gender, and class. Read a Reuters or AP story about a flash mob, copper wire theft, rape or murder and one infers Martians did it; read the posted Internet comments below and they are right out of the Roman Coliseum, so tired is the reader of mush. Candor was the great attraction of Achilles in the Iliad. John Wayne mastered the trait in his Westerns. Reagan for a while enjoyed candor. I greatly admired his “Evil Empire” references. Was it not both an empire and evil?

The secret to candor? The willingness to place honesty over comfort, or a sense of allegiance to truth of the ages rather than the lies of the present. Candor need not be rudeness, though it can be, especially if one is in a superior position. Churchill told generals critical of Montgomery that their anger derived from the fact that the obnoxious Montgomery was “better than you.” I remembered my father lamenting about someone he found wanting. “He’s weak and I told him so” is what he would say. My grandfather would say of a nephew or cousin gone bad, “He was no good, that’s all there was to it. Bad from the beginning, bad to the end.” What a way to cut out one hour of sociological and psychological mish-mash. The antidote to groupspeak is candor, a virtue never more missed.

Irony

Irony is not sarcasm, much less nihilism. Rather it is a way of tolerating absurdity and appreciating that the world seems to have a pulse of its own, a karma or nemesis that evens things out. Obama is an ironic candidate, though he has no sense of irony himself. Do you remember December 2008 when the Left openly worried that something might happen that would prevent our deliverance from the messianic president-elect? Instead, Obama has done more to harm Keynesian economics, the entire notion of “green,” big government, race relations — the list goes on — all those areas that he bragged he would embrace. That’s ironic — so is the editor of Harvard Law Review confusing Britain with England, Austria with Germany, or 50 with 57. So is the big critic of Guantanamo saving Guantanamo. So is Predator in Chief expanding targeted assassinations ten times. Yet editors often worry about irony, as if you are being mean to express it or the reader will not appreciate your intent.

I remember an academic colleague (well, more a rival or an enemy) with a nice sense of irony. I just had a root canal and was in pain, and explained it was probably from years of eating too many raisins off the shaker (they are far worse for the teeth than candy, and shaking 200 tons of raisins a year can give you a lot of cavities). He did not smile, but observed, “But, of course, raisins are deadly for raisin farmers” and walked off. I replied, “Well, raisin growers usually try to buy their raisins in the store.”

I admire Charles Krauthammer precisely because he usually offers an ironic remark each week or two that sums up the present absurdity in a rare fashion. David Brinkley had the same gift, but to a lesser extent. William F. Buckley was ironic. Great presidents like Lincoln and Jefferson were too. Is there some sense of fatalism in the ironist? That even he does not escape life’s contradictions, or rather especially he does not escape them?

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