"Never Again," Obama Style
No president in modern times has managed to conceal so much of his biography as this one. The journalists assigned to the Obama beat seem to have lost their traditional avidity for digging out the missing details. We do not have a medical report, or a college transcript from Columbia, or a notion of how well he did in Harvard Law School.
These things are not automatically significant, but they can be. Nobody thinks the president has some basic medical problem. He shows every sign of being in excellent physical condition. But so did John F. Kennedy, who turned out to have had Addison’s Disease, and was taking steroids and pain killers, which had an effect on his performance. We didn’t know it at the time. We should have.
What did Obama study? With whom? How well did he do? Obama occasionally says things that are uncharacteristic of cultured persons, as when he flubs the number of states in the U.S., or when he seems to believe that they speak “Austrian” in Vienna. Are these just occasional slips of the tongue? Or did his college and law school years show a pattern of ignorance? We’re entitled to know these things, but there is a disappointing, albeit quite predictable, lack of curiosity by the usual suspects in the media hunter/killer packs.
A great quantity of newsprint was filled with criticism of the Bushitlercheney insistence on secrecy, and rightly so. Critics, and even would-be friends of the Bush Administration, were encouraged to believe all kinds of nonsense, much of which was fueled by the administration’s famous inability to explain what it was doing, and why. In like manner, the stonewalling of basic information about Obama fuels dark suspicion about the very legitimacy of his presidency, as in the ongoing demand that he prove his constitutional qualification for the office.
Lacking the basic information, we must use the old tools. We must infer, deduce, and guess. We have to parse his words and compare them with his actions. He himself insists on this. In March, when the North Koreans launched a rocket in the teeth of multiple international warnings, Obama insisted that “words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response.” He rightly insisted that mere talk wasn’t good enough, because if warnings were ignored and no price was subsequently paid, warnings would become meaningless. Without action, words mean nothing.
A joint U.S.-Europe declaration reiterated this theme, noting that North Korea was developing “the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction. This action demands a response from the international community, including from the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate that its resolutions cannot be defied with impunity.”
Which brings me to his little-analyzed recent speech in the Capitol on the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, a theme inevitably close to the heart and soul of our first black president. Some of it is Obama at his best, elegant, spare, right to the point. He made a point near to my heart, which is often forgotten in the history of fascism:
It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses...
Yes, fascism and Nazism came from two of the most advanced and most cultured Western societies, Italy and Germany. And the institutions of those societies were enlisted in the service of the Holocaust, with precious little protest from the most cultured and advanced individuals in those societies.
the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands...
Those words about bureaucracy, “that sustains modern life,” are a useful window into the way Obama views government. He loves government, especially his own. But he’s got the Nazi story wrong. The bureaucracy that conducted the mass murders was largely military, and the most important component was not part of the bureaucracy, or even the traditional army, but rather the SS, which was tied directly to the Fuhrer, not to the old German state.
Obama’s description of the killing process, in which the victims were processed on a mass assembly line of death, was accurate and important, but he didn’t recognize that Hitler created a new kind of state. Nazism seized power in Germany, but the Nazi state was very different from the “state of laws” that preceded it.
He then gave his version of “never again,” and it’s a very odd version indeed. First, he draws hope from the survivors of the Holocaust. Those who came to America had a higher birthrate than the Jews who were already living here, and those members of “a chosen people” who created Israel. These, he says, chose life and asserted it despite the horrors they had endured. And then he goes on:
We find cause for hope as well in Protestant and Catholic children attending school together in Northern Ireland; in Hutus and Tutsis living side-by-side, forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable; in a movement to save Darfur that has thousands of high school and college chapters in 25 countries and brought 70,000 people to the Washington Mall, people of every age and faith and background and race united in common cause with suffering brothers and sisters halfway around the world.
Those numbers can be our future, our fellow citizens of the world showing us how to make the journey from oppression to survival, from witness to resistance and ultimately to reconciliation. That is what we mean when we say “never again.”
So “never again” means that we learn from others how to forgive and forget, and ultimately live happily with one another. But that is not what “never again” means, at least for the generation of the Holocaust and for most of those who followed. For them, “never again” means that we will destroy the next would-be Fuhrer. In his entire speech, Obama never once mentions that the United States led a coalition of free peoples against Germany, Italy and Japan, nor does he ever discuss the obligation of sacrifice to prevent a recurrence. Indeed, his examples suggest that he doesn’t grasp the full dimensions of the struggle against evil. Northern Ireland is a totally inappropriate example (nothing remotely approaching a Holocaust took place there), the relations between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi are hardly characterized by forgiveness, even though the president of Burundi is striving mightily to achieve a peaceful modus vivendi, and as for Darfur, well, despite the tens of thousands who demonstrated on the Mall, nobody has done much of anything to stop the Khartoum regime from slaughtering the peoples of the south.
In the history of modern times, the United States has done more than anyone else, perhaps more than the rest of the world combined, to defeat evil, and we are still doing it. Yet Obama says that we must “learn from others” how to move on, forgive and forget, and live happily ever after. But these are just words, they are not policies, or even actions. And the meanings he gives to his words show that he has no real intention of doing anything to thwart evil, any more than he had any concrete actions to propose to punish North Korea.
Significantly, Barack Obama is a lot tougher on his domestic American opponents than on tyrants who threaten our values and America itself. He tells the Republicans that they’d better stop listening to Rush Limbaugh, but he doesn't criticize Palestinians who raise their children to hate the Jews. He bows to the Saudi monarch, but humiliates the prime minister of Great Britain. He expresses astonishment that anyone can worry about a national security threat from Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, even as Chavez solidifies an alliance with Iran that brings plane loads of terror masters, weapons and explosives into our hemisphere from Tehran via Damascus, fuels terrorists and narcotics traffic, and offers military facilities to Russian warships and aircraft. He is seemingly unconcerned by radical Islam and a resurgent Communism in Latin America, even as his Department of Homeland Security fires a warning shot at veterans–the best of America–returning from the Middle East. He seeks warm relations with Iran and Syria–who are up to their necks in American blood--while warning Israel of dire consequences if she should attempt to preempt a threatened Iranian nuclear attack.
Thus far, at least, the one clear message from President Obama is that he is not prepared to fight...our international enemies. He sounds more like a psychotherapist than a national leader in these words from his Holocaust Day speech:
...we have the opportunity to make a habit of empathy, to recognize ourselves in each other, to commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference, in whatever forms they may take, whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur...
These words are calculated to internalize conflicts that are raging in the real world, and they are precisely the sort of words that will encourage our enemies to redouble their efforts to bring us down. For if the president of the United States will not act, who can stop them?
UPDATE: Many thanks to Powerline for the link and very kind words.
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