Belmont Club

Divide and Conquer

Michael Gerson at the Washington Post says President Obama is dividing the nation.

Every ideological slight — every Nazi comparison, every intemperate comment by a pastor or union leader — is elevated into a national controversy. The Internet and cable news have become an endless buffet, feeding the outrage of a nation. … But far from halting or reversing these trends, Obama has worsened them — setting the stage for the most polarized election of recent history.

Charles Krauthammer believes it’s intentional. “What do you do if you can’t run on your record?” Krauthammer asks. Answer: “Find villains.”

President Obama first tried finding excuses, blaming America’s dismal condition on Japanese supply-chain interruptions, the Arab Spring, European debt and various acts of God. Didn’t work. … Hence Obama’s new strategy: Don’t whine, blame. Attack. Indict. Accuse. Who? The rich — and their Republican protectors — for wrecking America.

In Obama’s telling, it’s the refusal of the rich to “pay their fair share” … It’s crude. It’s Manichaean. And the left loves it.

The trouble is, Krauthammer argues, the scapegoating strategy is fundamentally deceptive. The “fixes” advanced as excuses for the President’s mismanagement aren’t fixes at all, just talking points. And while the country divides between the people who want to keep their money and those who are determined to take it on grounds of “fairness” the problems grow apace. But scapegoating definitely has its uses. As Lee Smith points out in the Weekly Standard, once a ‘revolution’ finds that the next morning doesn’t bring out the angels with trumpets, the search is on for devils: capitalist roaders, saboteurs — or Copts to explain the lack of action.

This past Sunday night, the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak took another wrong turn when the same army once believed to be “hand in hand” with the people killed 27 Coptic Christians in Cairo and wounded hundreds of others. The Copts were marching toward Egyptian state television in the Maspero area to demand that the ruling authorities fulfill their obligations to the Christian minority. After the marchers were stoned by Muslim bystanders during their march, state security and the military attempted to put down the demonstration. When the authorities started to beat the protesters, the Copts fought back. The police opened fire, killing several Copts as others were crushed when soldiers turned their military vehicles into the crowds, leaving a trail of unspeakable gore in their wake.

If the “Arab Spring” had found a way to fix Egypts problem’s, then Cairenes would even now be stocking up on consumer goods, getting new jobs, buying homes, etc. But since it fixed nothing the “masses” have to be given something to do. What better entertainment then baiting Copts? It solves nothing but it’s good anger management therapy.

Unfortunately it is also polarizing Egyptian society. The Copts don’t stand a chance, but since they have no choice they are probably going to keep fighting until they are wiped off the board. Then the search will be on for some new scapegoats, because what Krauthammer failed to point out is that incompetence needs a constant supply of them. Once there’s no place left to s**t in Wall Street it will be time to find a cleaner street. As for the Copts, there is at present still enough room on their heads to keep dumping on them.

“If the Kurds are the Middle East’s most neglected minority,” says Tadros, “the Copts are the loneliest.” The Copts are proud of the fact that in spite of the Arab conquests and other violent encroachments on their community they did not fall like other long-forgotten and long-gone regional minorities. And in contrast to other surviving minority groups, like Lebanon’s Maronite and Druze sects, the Copts lacked influence abroad, which is to say they have been relatively separated from Western Christendom. They received little help, or even friendship, from London during Britain’s 72-year-long occupation of Egypt, and have been able to count on little support from Washington over the years, despite a substantial number of Coptic immigrants scattered throughout the United States.

But when you can’t go after what matters, the rule of scapegoats says you go after anything you can conveniently kick. Today Washington announced it was sending an armed force to Africa to put things to rights. The US military has been tasked with smashing the Lord’s Resistance Army. The what? The Lord’s Resistance Army, a cult group in Uganda. While the LRA is a ruthless, bloodthirsty group deserving of pursuit and suppression, in strategic terms it is zero on a continent where the Second Congo War sputters on, North Africa is in flames and Egypt trapped in a death spiral.  Watching the President go after the LRA is like watching a doctor put a plaster on someone suffering from Cancer, Ebola and AIDs.

The whole purpose of scapegoating is not to solve the problem but to define another one that can be solved in its place. Megan Mcardle writing in the Atlantic, notes that the White House itself is the major source of the corporate handouts that the current occupant purports to be shocked by. Looking at the Green Energy funding fiasco, especially Solyndra, she writes:

I have highlighted what jumped out at me: most of the money has gone to enormous companies that should have no trouble accessing capital. Established utilities, large multinational auto manufacturers, a global warehouse owner. The bulk of these funds are not going to rectify some gap in the capital markets. They’re straight subsidies to huge corporations. Even some of the smaller firms/deals are owned by large corporations like Total SA.

Giving large, established companies extra-cheap loans to build power plants, run transmission lines, and fix up the roofs of their warehouses is, in the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke, like paying a Dairy Queen owner to keep his ice cream freezers on.

The nice thing about scapegoating is that it is possible to do two different things with the left and right hand at once; hand out freebies to crony capitalist buddies and denounce capitalism simultaneously; attack the rich while inviting them to fundraisers on the same evening. It is even possible to attack corporations with the products they sell and claim receiving no value for it. There is no contradiction anywhere. You can live in a world entirely sustained by private enterprise while dreaming of a socialism whose products are yet to be discovered on any store on planet earth. But absurdity has nothing to with politics. Nothing is absurd provided you can lie with a straight face.

You don't expect us to go aorund naked, like the Lord's Resistance Army

Not actually having to achieve anything is a tremendously liberating experience for a politician. It frees them from the obligation to make anything work. They can devote their entire time to re-arranging the political balance of forces; to setting up on group against the other.  That maybe what the President once understood to be “organizing”, but which most other people would define as demolition.

In this unconstrained atmosphere, the polarizer can announce a Green program featuring cars that don’t even have to sell.  He can issue denials before he made them. Nothing is impossible. All that is necessary is to quickly move on to the next talking point. It sometimes helps to keep your fibs on the right timeline, but it is not necessary. Here is President Obama discussing how he was certain that Attorney General Eric Holder knew nothing about Operation Fast and Furious even before Holder knew anything about Fast and Furious. But the temporal rift proves nothing; Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.


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