Roger’s Rules

Theory and Reality in the age of Obama, Or, how what you don’t know can hurt you

Here, under the rubric “U.S.  Economy,” are some headlines posted on RealClearPolitics this morning.

  • Jobless Claims Jump to 6-Mo High
  • Market Signals Fears on Economy
  • Big Trade Gap Sign of Weak Growth
  • Analysts Predict Market Malaise

A bit further down the page there is a section headed “President Obama.” Under that rubric we find:

  • Obama: Worst of Recession is Over
  • Could Meet With Iran President
  • Approval Falls to New Danger Zone
  • Weary Aides Head for Exit

Which set is right? Yesterday in this space, reflecting on Obama’s  enthusiastic commendation of Ramadan and all things Muslim, I wrote that Obama is historically unprecedented as an American President. What I had in mind was his apparent equivocation about the nation he was elected to lead. As many commentators have observed, Obama is a “post-national” or “trans-national” political figure. In this, he mirrors the left-liberal, “progressive” consensus the world over—well, in Europe and the North America, which pretty much defines the habitat of that consensus. Somehow, the soil is quite right for it elsewhere: you might get a hard-edged revolutionary leftism in South America or Southeast Asia, but those are inhospitable climes for the elite, politically correct progressivism that has embraced the post- or trans-national solution to the problems of governance.

The problem (well, one of many problems) with having a post- or trans-national President is that America remains (if I may so put it) a pre-post-national country.  Outside the ivy-bowered halls of academia, the newsrooms of the so-called “mainstream media,” and the chambers of left-leaning politicians, people in America are, by and large, national not post-national in their patriotic affiliation. (What would it mean, by the way, to be a “post-national patriot”? “Patriot” derives from patrios, of or relating to one’s fatherland, i.e.,  a particular place. Here, as elsewhere, there is a deep wisdom in etymology.) In other words, most Americans are proud of their country.  They like it that America is rich, powerful, and generous. (Furthermore, I suspect, for most people,  pleasure in the contemplation of their country proceeds more or less in that order.)

Barack Obama is not like most Americans, however.  He eschews — he positively frowns upon — talk of national “exceptionalism,” American or any other variety (but especially American or British pretensions to exceptional status). He never misses an opportunity to apologize for America, most recently, I believe, on August 6 when he dispatched a delegation to Japan to “apologize” for  dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In other words, he apologized for saving a few million Japanese lives, hundreds of thousands of American lives, and ending the war in August 1945 instead of many months later.

But the larger issue is not Obama’s position on America’s behavior in World War II. It is, rather, his feelings about America tout court.   In many ways, he acts more like a British colonial administrator circa 1850 than a citizen who was democratically elected by his own people. Obama and his extended entourage — the politicians, professor, and pundits who share his progressive outlook — treat most Americans as unenlightened charges who require a paternalistic guiding hand. This is not a new current among Democratic elites. Nor is it new for Obama. Remember how he almost sank his campaign when he patronized those small-town folks who “cling to guns and religion” because they  have nothing better occupy their lives.

The problem is, most Americans don’t see themselves as children or semi-savages in need of a paternalistic hand-up or hand-out.  They see the humor in Ronald Reagan’s observation that the nine most frightening words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” They like the story of Calvin Coolidge (at least, I think it was Calvin Coolidge) saying to  some government busybody: “Don;t just do something, stand there!” They basically want they government to stay out of their lives, their businesses, their pocketbooks.

This basic discrepancy highlights another way in which Obama’s tenure in the White House is historically unprecedented. We’ve had plenty of Presidents who have been out of touch with the people. But has any President whose liberal self-infatuation made him so ostentatiously out of touch, not just with the people but with implacable exigencies of economic and political life?

Look again at those headlines I began with: On the one hand, you have the voice of the market: “Jobless Claims Jump to 6-Mo High,” “Market Signals Fears on Economy,” “Big Trade Gap Sign of Weak Growth,” “Analysts Predict Market Malaise.” On the other hand you have Obama assuring us (and maybe himself) the “Worst of Recession is Over.” It’s the difference between theory, according to which massive government spending “stimulates” the economy, and reality, in which massive government spending stimulates massive government debt. In the world according to Keynes, a “fiscal multiplier” takes over from all those government-directed dollars lifting the economy on a tide of new investment and higher employment. In the real world, unsustainable debt drags down the economy because the market sees that, after all, what is unsustainable cannot go on. Its the difference between fiction, between what we would like to happen because it accords with our wishes about they world should be, and fact, which accords with the way the world actually is is.

It’s not only that Barack Obama deep down doesn’t like America. There’s also the fact that he doesn’t understand it, or us. Odd, isn’t it, that an American would say “us” in such a way as to exclude the people elected to represent them?

The fact that more and more people are doing just that has yet to penetrate the corridors of power.  I have every confidence, however, that come November those rarefied purlieus will be brought face to face with the awful truth that most Americans have wearied of the malodorous fairytale that cast them as perpetual, semi-helpless dependents and the country they love as an insufficiently enlightened atavism.