O-Bobma the Builder, or Why a philosophy of "yes we can" is as dangerous as it is embarrassing
George Will, in the guise of offering Obama some advice for his speech tonight, provides a partial but alarming inventory of the shortcomings of Obama's O-Bobma-the-Builder ™ ("Yes we can!") political platform. I am not in Denver, so it is difficult for me to gauge with any precision the mood of the party faithful as the Democratic convention wobbles to its climax. There have, I know, been some paroxysms of enthusiasm, but that comes with the territory and, after all, Denver is famously the "mile-high city": the air is thin, thin, in that part of Colorado, and a certain giddiness is the predictable result.
Personally, I think John McCain is going to win, and I'm not talking about a hanging-chad squeakeroo. No, I think it will be a blow-out for McCain. He won't take the People's Republic of Massachusetts, of course, or New York, Vermont, and the half a dozen other reliable left-liberal bastions of incipient socialism. But, absent some serious mis-steps on the part of the McCain campaign, Obama will, I predict, not only lose, but lose big.
This is not a popular opinion on the Right. (Though, curiously, it is a possibility that seems to be making unhappy inroads among Democrats.) Many of my friends have glumly accepted the prospect of Obama's victory as an historical inevitability. I think they are precipitant. First of all, nothing is historically inevitable except the unpredictable. But, second, and more to the point, Obama is an extraordinarily weak candidate, a fact that the media's love affair with him can only partially conceal. As of last night, Obama is officially the Democratic candidate for President. But the road has not been the smooth thoroughfare his acolytes would have us believe. Forget about the still-simmering dissatisfaction among Hillary's girls. Think instead of what happened in the final weeks of the primary season. Obama lost 9 of the last 14 primaries. Why? George Will suggests that Obama's poor showing "might have something to do with the fact that when he descends from the ether to practicalities, he reprises liberalism's most shopworn nostrums."
That sounds right to me, and the fact that Obama pronounces those nostrums in pulpit tones adds only a superficial patina of plausibility to his O-Bobma-the-Builder ™ "Yes-we-can!" message. (Can what? Change! Change what? Yes-we-can, yes-we-can, yes-we-can.) Maybe, to alter the childhood reference, it's more like the Little Engine That Could, bringing toys and universal, taxpayer-funded health care to the poor children on the other side of the mountain.
But it is not only Obama's general vapidness that is the problem. A O-Bobma-the-Builder ™ approach to politics may be OK, may even be considered cute, in a world that is reliably stable, prosperous, and secure. If, per impossible, Francis Fukuyama had been right that we had arrived at "the end of history," an elysium in which all the important problems were solved and the chief difficulties politicians faced were figuring out novel ways to increase taxes, diminish individual initiative, and redistribute the country's wealth. But we have not achieved that utopia, even though many are behaving as if we had. No, history is still very much with us. Ponder, if you doubt it, the issues that George Will instances:
Russia, a third-world nation with first-world missiles, is rampant; Iran is developing a missile inventory capable of delivering nuclear weapons the development of which will not be halted by Obama's promised "aggressive personal diplomacy." Yet Obama has vowed to "cut investments in unproven missile defense systems." Steamboats, railroads, airplanes and vaccines were "unproven" until farsighted people made investments. Furthermore, as Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute notes, Democrats will eventually embrace missile defense in Europe because they "will have nowhere else to go short of pre-emptive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities."
Obama, who might be the last person to learn that schools' cognitive outputs are not simply functions of financial inputs, promises more money for teachers, who, as usual, are about 10 percent of the Democrats' convention delegates and alternates. He waxes indignant about approximately 150,000 jobs sent overseas each year -- less than 1 percent of the number of jobs normally lost and gained in the creative destruction of America's dynamic economy. U.S. exports are fending off a recession while he complains about free trade. He deplores NAFTA, although since it was implemented in 1994 the U.S., Mexican and Canadian economies have grown 50 percent, 46 percent and 54 percent, respectively.
Recycling George McGovern's 1972 "Demogrant" notion, Obama promises a $1,000 check for every family, financed by a "windfall profits" tax on oil companies. Obama is unintimidated by the rule against legislating about subjects one cannot define.
Obama thinks government is not getting a "reasonable share" of oil companies' profits, which in 2007 were, as a percentage of revenues (8.3 percent), below those of U.S. manufacturing generally (8.9 percent). Exxon Mobil pays almost as much in corporate taxes to various governments as the bottom 50 percent of American earners pay in income taxes. Exxon Mobil does make $1,400 a second in profits -- hear the sharp intakes of breath from liberals with pursed lips -- but pays $4,000 a second in taxes and $15,000 a second in operating costs.
Obama's rhetorical extravagances are inversely proportional to his details, as when he promises "nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy" in order to "end the age of oil." The diminished enthusiasm of some voters hitherto receptive to his appeals might have something to do with the seepage of reality from his rhetoric. Voters understand that neither the "transformation" nor the "end" will or should occur. His dreamy certitude that "alternative" fuels will quickly become real alternatives is an energy policy akin to an old vaudeville joke: "If we had some eggs, we could have ham and eggs, if we had some ham."
I think Will is right in his estimate of voters' understanding. Which is why, frightening though I find O-Bobma-the-Builder's ™ messianic socialism-by-another-name, I am reassured that, come election day, it will once again be consigned to those grumbling purlieus where move-on-dot-orgers rub shoulders with college professors and reporters from The New York Times, CNN, and other organs of puerile self-satisfaction.