Our Age of Disbelief
We live in an age of disbelief, in which citizens increasingly do not believe what their government says or, for that matter, what is accepted as true by popular culture.
The Ministries of Truth
Do you believe any more that some of our Secret Service agents — once the most esteemed of all professionals — on presidential assignment will not get drunk and womanize in their evening spare time? Do you believe that the grandees at the GSA — once the stern penny-pinchers that frowned when bureaucrats wanted a new bookcase — won’t flaunt the waste that they incur? Do you believe that the government will never sell assault rifles to drug lords? Or do you believe what the president, the secretary of state, and the director of national intelligence will say to us when the next embassy is hit? And do you believe that there were “shovel-ready jobs” and “millions of green jobs” that arose from the “stimulus”? And what is a “stimulus” anyway, but borrowed money, in the manner likewise of “investments”? Did any of you believe that Solyndra was the wave of the future?
We don’t even believe that a commission on presidential debates will ensure us unbiased moderators, or that the candidates will have equal time in speaking, or that the supposedly quiet crowd won’t boo or clap to affect the tempo of the exchange. From now on, will debate moderators bring preselected transcripts to the forum, wait for a key moment, interrupt one of the speakers, and then wave a piece of paper to proffer authority to contradict him — eliciting applause from the supposedly neutral and silent audience, and affirmation from the president? Do you believe First Lady Michelle Obama — of “never been proud/downright mean country” infamy — when she accuses Republicans on talking down the country?
Do you believe that the Department of Labor always assesses its data and offers disinterested conclusions? I don’t. I suspect partisan grandees, perhaps in California, will massage the data on the principle of the ends justifying the means. The same is true of Libya: the noble idea of a reset Middle East, appreciative of the unique heritage and ideology of Barack Obama and his bold attempt to reformulate America, was simply too precious to be imperiled by al-Qaedist thugs who hate us as much as ever and will kill until stopped.
Our suspicions are not confined to what government of this era says and does. The disbelief is far greater still. There is a nihilism about that terrifies me. The Obama administration, trumping what George Bush did in four years, cares not a whit about how its $5 trillion in new debt will be paid back, other than a vague notion that those “who don’t pay their fair share” will come up with the revenue, or some clever clerk can offer a plan to inflate our way out of what we have borrowed from others. Each time Obama talks of a new student loan program, a new jobs training program, a new entitlement, I wonder whether any other Americans ask, “How can we borrow more when we cannot payback what we’ve already borrowed?” He reminds me of the farmers I knew in the early 1980s who in extremis kept talking of new equipment to be purchased, new trees and vines to be planted, new pick-ups to be had — even as their debts soared and the deadline when the bank cut them off and called in their loans neared. Have we become Greece or Argentina?
Challenger Obama/Incumbent Romney?
When I heard the president in the last debate, I thought I was in Cloud Cuckoo Land: he seemed to be running for office as a fresh challenger — with the same future tenses and subjunctive moods of “I will” and “I would” as he long ago used against Bobby Rush, Alan Keyes, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain, when he was the perennial potential office-holder. In other words, the president sounded as if he does not have a record to run on, only a speculative one about which to offer hypotheses. Note how Obama slept through four years and only comes alive in a campaign where he loves his own speeches, likes to accuse and belittle, and feeds off the frenzy of crowds — in comparison to all that, intelligence briefings and debate prep are a “drag.”
So what he said in these two debates was all a sort of lie, as if Mitt Romney has been president for four years or George Bush is now in his third term. The Greeks called such a busybody, non-stop talker a “polypragmôn,” someone who jumps from here to there, always talking, persuading, speechifying, but never really accomplishing anything. The more Obama promised, the more I thought I had amnesia: did he not have two years of a Democratic Senate and House, and in the beginning with a supermajority that was filibuster-proof?