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Works and Days

Our “Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain” Moment

December 16th, 2010 - 8:27 am

Them/us—so what?

Until 2008-9, the rubric $250,000 was just an arbitrary number. Now it is a sharp ethical divide in a strange new class war in which those above are veritable parasites who “do not pay their fair share”, while the 50% of the population who pay no income tax ipso facto are suddenly moral and patriotic. In sum, no president in 78 years has done more to incite class resentment, envy, and polarization—and that fact is as shocking as the sun rising in the morning. “Oh, more of Obama’s class warfare? So what else is new?”

Abroad, there is now not a reset foreign policy but a reset, reset foreign policy. The president could not give another straight-faced speech about the Islamic roots of the Western Enlightenment, why Guantanamo has to be closed this year, how KSM will be tried in a civilian court, or why Harold Koh is stopping renditions, tribunals, and predators in worry over their constitutionality. Either no one would believe him, or they would snore half way through at the boilerplate, or they would point out that Obama 1.0 and Obama 2.0 do not even share the same operating system. If an American diplomat were to give another “we are not Bush” reset speech, the audience would respond with a Jon Stewart type ironic look. A bow to another Saudi prince would be as shocking as Obama on the golf course. We live in an age in which Iraq is Obama’s “greatest achievement”.

When a Paul O’Neil, Scott McClellan, or Colin Powell left the Bush administration, critics saw a crisis and looked for whistle-blowing juicy tell-alls about Bush incompetency. Now we sleep when Obama officials plan to flee halfway in a first term, the fixer Rahm Emanuel, the architects of the $3 trillion borrowing that was supposed to ensure that unemployment did not go above 8%—Peter Orszag, Christina Romer, and Larry Summers—the wartime team of a General McKiernan, General McChrystal, and soon to be gone National Security Advisor Gen. Jones, and Defense Secretary Gates.

I do not think President Obama is our “worst” president, as the Left said often of George W. Bush (who of us is all that familiar with the administration of a Millard Fillmore or James Buchanan? And are not we all tired of such empty superlatives?). Much less do I think Obama has ruined the United States, or has done such damage that it cannot be undone. But I do feel that after only 23 months, the presidency is becoming a caricature of a presidency—and, scarier still, is being recognized as such abroad. Whereas Bill Clinton triangulated to save his administration from descending into Carteresque liberal irrelevancy, the choices of Obama seem much starker—perhaps understandable given the vast lacunae in his resume.

In sum, Obama will either insidiously ignore everything he once preached about (e.g., the seas endlessly rising unless we have cap and trade, the evil rich who make $250,001, the Constitutional-shredding Bush-Cheney nexus), or he will simply give the same empty platitudinous sermons that now come off as convincing as an Al Gore thundering about carbon offsets, John Edwards pontificating on “two Americas” or John Kerry lecturing about the need for higher taxes—or he will at times do both.

The crowd fainting at the sound of our “hope and change” Oz is over. We are already at the end of the movie when Toto pulled away the curtain—witnessing the nuts and bolts of how it once was all projected onto the screen.

And it isn’t pretty.

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