Roger’s Rules

Mr. Magoo Goes to Washington

“Mr. Magoo,” my friend said: “He’s like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, stumbling around blindly, somehow avoiding the open manholes, careening buses, and other deadly  hazards that surround us.”

We were talking about Barack Obama, his petulant prose poem to higher taxes — a.k.a., his speech on the deficit last week — as well as his unscripted comments to Democratic donors (“You think we’re stupid?”) and his attack on Paul Ryan’s budget proposals over the weekend.

“To restore fiscal responsibility,” he said, “we all need to share in the sacrifice —  but we don’t have to sacrifice the America we believe in.”

As his dismal rankings in the polls show — every week, it seems, the headline reads “Obama’s Approval Hits New Low” — the bloom is off the rose.

The bloom is gone, the magic dissipated (remember: “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow”?).  And what’s left?

My friend and I were pondering that. Arrogance.  That’s one thing that’s continued unabated — a function, I suggested, of the Magoo myopia.

And then the penny dropped.  Obama’s arrogance is often remarked upon, even by his less starry-eyed  supporters. Arrogance, a chilly disconnection with common reality. (Don’t like the price of gas? Buy a new, smaller, more  fuel-efficient car. How many kids do you have, for God’s sake?) Some diagnose narcissism. Maybe so.  But here’s the extraordinary thing:

Obama actually believes he is doing a good job.

That thought struck me like a thunderclap. It seems improbable, I know. And I don’t discount for a second the thuggishness and habit of calculation ingrained by his Chicago background and cronies. But watching Obama perform these last weeks, I suspect that there is something more than political calculation behind his brittle contempt for his GOP opponents, his Marie-Antoinette disdain for ordinary Americans, his tone-deaf self-absorption and sense of entitlement. What is it?

The delusion of competence.

Listen to those off-the-cuff remarks, linked above, to some of his high-rolling donors: Obama actually seems to believe that his disastrous policies have made things better. $14-point-something trillion in federal debt (excluding unfunded entitlement liabilities).  A current deficit north of $1.6 trillion. (How easy it is to inscribe those numbers: how difficult to comprehend the misery they portend.) Soaring gasoline prices.  Food prices skyrocketing.  Real unemployment above 10 percent. The housing market in the tank. Inflation churning ominously in the wings. The flight, internationally, from the dollar (“The Toxic Dollar: Why Nobody Seems to Want U.S. Currency”). **UPDATE** This just in: Standard and Poors moves  the U.S. long-term credit rating from “stable” to “negative”: that crashing sound you hear are the markets reacting.

In short, a litany of disaster — a sort of Napoleon’s-retreat-from-Russia scenario but without the consoling prelude of strategic brilliance.

And it’s not just the economy that is suffering. In foreign affairs, Obama’s combination of sanctimoniousness, on the one hand, and indecision, on the other, has made the U.S. a worrying laughing stock on the world stage. Who are our friends? Who are our enemies?  Can we tell the difference?

Another friend, a passionate, if idiosyncratic, conservative lady, objects to people on our side of the aisle describing Obama as a “radical” or a “socialist.”  “He’s just a Democrat,” she says.  “All his policies have been out there before: ObamaCare, for example,  is just a reprise of what Hillary Clinton attempted to do in the 1990s. The same with his policies on the environment, mass transportation, unions, etc.”

Yes and no. Obama has certainly resuscitated many items from the left-wing side of the Democratic agenda.  He is not, I think, a full-blooded socialist — by which I understand someone  who advocates government ownership of “the means of production.” He is, rather, a European-style socialist, i.e., someone who advocates government control of the economy and centralization of authority of social and economic life. He’s a Democrat, but not an ordinary or garden-variety Democrat. He is a left-wing, ideologically driven Democrat. A male Nancy Pelosi.

I have in this space quoted Tocqueville’s description of “How Despotism comes to Democracies” more times than I care to count.  But Tocqueville did get to the nub of the issue when he warned about that paternalistic, infantalizing power that

extends its arms over society as a whole . . . [covering] its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; . . . it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Obama sees himself as that shepherd. “To restore fiscal responsibility,” Obama said, “we all need to share in the sacrifice —  but we don’t have to sacrifice the America we believe in.” Several conservatives have scoffed at the first bit:  what sacrifice is Obama himself likely to make, they ask, noting that his words had hardly stopped echoing before he was out  on the links agains for his 64th presidential round of golf.

But the really ominous part of that statement is the second part: “the America we believe in.” For Obama, it is an unexceptional America (America, he said, is “exceptional” the way every other country is, i.e., it is not exceptional). The America he believes in is a gray-on-gray America — or perhaps I should say a “green” America — an America where political correctness, of which “Green” ideology is an allotrope, reigns. It is a one-size-fits-all America: an America where your life is planned, managed, regulated from Washington. It is an America  where the individual is subordinated to the state — where decisions about everything from health care to education to what sort of lightbulbs you may use are decided by a far away unelected and therefore unaccountable committee. (A friend of mine, speaking at a tea party rally in Effingham, Illinois, Friday put it well: Obama is pro choice when it comes to abortion and no choice when it comes to incandescent lightbulbs.)

That’s not the America I believe in. I believe in an America where there is a premium on limited government, individual freedom, and individual responsibility. I believe in an America that secures those virtues by practicing fiscal responsibility: that does not spend more than it can afford. I believe in an America whose behavior  earns the affection of its friends and  the respect of its enemies. Above all, I believe in an America that believes in itself.

In a rousing speech in Madison, Wisconsin, the other day, Sarah Palin criticized several of Obama’s more ostentatious policy initiatives. The idea of nationwide high-speed rail service, for example. The idea is like catnip for many left-wingers. It doesn’t matter that it is a fiscal sinkhole of terrifying dimensions. Actually, that may be one of its attractions for Democrats: it is a nearly unlimited opportunity to spend money and create new skeins of government regulation: what could be better?

But if you are not infatuated with the idea of wasting billions upon billions of dollars, Obama’s proposal is, as Ms. Palin put it, merely “a bullet train to bankruptcy.”

That’s the thing about Mr. Magoo. He careens wildly down the road, oblivious. In the cartoon, anyway, he survives unscathed.  But watch what happens to those around him as he plows into barns, tears up houses, topples fire hydrants.  The man is a menace. The fact that he doesn’t know this, that he thinks he is a benefactor of all around him, does not mitigate his destructiveness. He is delusional. In a cartoon, Mr. Magoo can be funny. In real life, he is a danger to us all.