Ed Driscoll

Now They Tell Us

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The post I linked to earlier from Ace’s blog on “The Abilene Paradox” also contained a link to a great Tech Central Station column from 2002 by Glenn Reynolds on what he called “preference cascade:” As he wrote at the time, preference cascade “illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly:”

Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it – but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers – or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they’re also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

Which certainly helps to explain all of the “conservatism is dead” pieces from 2008 and early 2009, before the rise of the Tea Parties stopped that meme in its tracks. In its place, in recent weeks, we’ve seen two concurrent, and quite likely interconnected trends emerge from the MSM.

A growing number of journalists are now quietly admitting that, hey, maybe we overdid it a bit in comparing Barack Obama, while he was still a presidential candidate, with every great former president we could think of. But dammit, you rubes in the hinterland are just terrible people for not seeing the greatness in the president that we once imagined we could see. (As Ace himself writes, the word “Oikophobia” just doesn’t trip off the tongue very well. But the concept of “Why the liberal elite finds Americans revolting,” as James Taranto explains, is spot-on.)

Across the pond, the Guardian, the self-described in-house paper of the British left observes from a distance President Obama’s domestic policies and wonders, “How could a bunch of people who ran such a brilliant campaign be doing such a lousy job at the politics of governing?”

Meanwhile, the New York Times, the self-described in-house paper of the America left observes from a distance President Obama’s actions overseas and sagely writes, “For Obama, Steep Learning Curve as Chief in Time of War.”

Really? You’d think that a guy whom the MSM alternately compared to FDR, JFK, Lincoln and even occasionally Reagan would have been ready to go from day one. Instead, these days, the snake-bit president resembles nothing so much as an American Neville Chamberlain, complete with umbrella.

Once again, the wildly overhyped promises of the legacy media come back down to earth.

But wasn’t being ready on Day One a central pillar of the presidential campaign? Back in early 2008, that’s what Hillary Clinton told us:

Hillary Clinton told reporters that both she and the presumtive [sic] Republican nominee John McCain offer the experience to be ready to tackle any crisis facing the country under their watch, but Barack Obama simply offers more rhetoric. “I think you’ll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,” she said. “He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.” Clinton was referring to Obama’s anti-war speech he delivered in Chicago before entering the United States Senate.

Criticism has been leveled towards Clinton as well, though, especially her claim that she is ready to be the commander-in-chief on “day one.” When asked at the press conference if she could name a particular instance in her past that equips her to deal with a national security crisis, Clinton balked, saying, “Well, I was involved in a lot of the decisions that were made. Again, you are looking at it from the wrong perspective,” Clinton said. “You know, no one who hasn’t been president has done that, so that’s not the right question. The question is, what have you done over the course of that lifetime to equip you for that moment?”

By the way, in watching Hillary (who had only a few more years in the Senate as Obama before he ran) make these claims about herself in a rather stiff fashion at a press conference in the video at the top of this post, does anyone believe she’d be all that much better than Obama?

(Which is why Hillary’s 3:00 AM ad,  at least in terms of foreign policy, was actually the perfect McCain ad, as we graphically noted at the time.)

Meanwhile, Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh reminds us “Why the 44th president is no FDR — and the economy is still in the doldrums.” Nevermind that the economy was in the doldrums throughout the entire 1930s under FDR’s tenure, perhaps Time magazine might be having second thoughts about this cover these days.

And the Lincoln Memorial chosen by Beck and the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech there is also a tacit reminder that Obama isn’t the second coming of either of those great men, despite, in regards to Lincoln, the efforts of both Newsweek and Obama himself to make the comparison in 2008. (Other publications would make the MLK comparisons for him in 2008.)

With comparisons to all of those former role models now dynamited by both events and common sense, Peggy Noonan writes, “We Just Don’t Understand: Americans look at the president and see a stranger.”

Now you tell us, Peggy!

The president is a person who knows how to focus and seems to have a talent for it. But again, his focus is on other things. When a president and a nation are focused together on the same things, the possibility of progress is increased. When they are focused on different things, there is more discord and tension. Mr. Obama’s supporters like to compare him with Reagan: 18 months in he had difficulties in the polls too, and a recession. But Reagan was focused on what the American people were focused on: the economy, the size and role of government, the challenge of the Soviet Union. And on the eternal No. 1 issue, the economy, Reagan had a plan that seemed to make sense, in rough terms to try to cut spending and taxes, and force out inflation. People were willing to give it a try. Mr. Obama’s plan, to a lot of people, does not make sense, or does not seem fully pertinent, or well-executed.

Mr. Obama seems to be a very independent person, like someone who more or less brought himself up, a child with wandering parents, and grandparents who seem to have been highly individualistic. He is focused on what individually interests him. He relies most on his own thinking. He focused on health care, seeing the higher logic. The people focused on something else. But he’s always had faith in his ability to think it through.

Now he’s hit a roadblock, and in November’s elections he will hit another, bigger one. One wonders if he will come to reconsider his heavy reliance on his own thoughts. His predecessor did not brag about his résumé and teased himself about his lack of giant intellect, but he had utmost faith in his gut. By 2006, when he had realized he had reason to doubt even that, he flailed. The presidency has a way of winnowing you down.

The great question is what happens after November. The hope of the White House, which knows it is about to take a drubbing, is probably this: that the Republicans in Congress will devolve into a freak show, overplay their hand, lose their focus, be a little too colorful. If that meme emerges—and the media will be looking for it—the Republicans may wind up giving the president the positive definition he lacks. They could save him.

The White House must be hoping that a year from now, people will start looking at the president and saying “Hey, I do know that guy. He’s the moderate.”

OK, so he’ll morph from Lincoln, FDR, JFK, MLK and Reagan to Bill Clinton. Gotcha.

But isn’t he Bill Clinton already? Obama’s first two years as president mirrors the first two years of Clinton’s tenure in office perfectly: executive overreach, out of touch hyperliberalism, obsession with socialized medicine, the aloof tone, particularly when on vacation, etc. But as Victor Davis Hanson recently noted, it will be much more difficult for Obama to perform an “era of big government is over” triangulation than it was Clinton:

The public is waiting for an articulate conservative reformer who will quietly keep promises to balance the budget more through spending cuts than taxes, close the border to illegal immigration, either win or get out of long wars abroad, respect federal law and apply it equally, and restore a sense of American confidence and American exceptionalism.

The odd thing is that the entire country senses how Obama could restore his ratings to over 50 percent in the same way Clinton did in 1995. He would simply call in Republicans to work out a deal to balance the budget, quit his two-year “Bush did it” whine, stop suing the states, reassure business that there will be no more tax hikes, praise the private sector for its ingenuity and competence, stop trying to appeal to his base through race and ethnicity, and get engaged on Afghanistan.

Because there is no chance that Obama will or can do that, we are witnessing another Greek tragedy as our chief executive slowly implodes.

Still though, as Harry Shearer notes, guest-blogging at Ricochet this week, the legacy media is all about forcing stories into pre-determined templates, without bothering much to see if they fit. (QED. And again.)

This one’s due to be written any day now; the British left are already prepping the template.

Related: “He Really Doesn’t Want to Be Commander In Chief.”

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