The Chrysalis Opens
The new Barack Obama has learned not to offer instantaneous editorial commentary in the fashion of his past editorializing on hearing of the Skip Gates affair, the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab bombing attempt, the Ground Zero mosque controversy, or the Maj. Hasan mass murdering.
Instead, the metamorphosizing president put his finger to the wind. He soon learned that his leftist base within 72 hours had turned off the public with its demagogic charges of conservative culpability for a deranged killer murdering the innocent. And so Obama summarily jettisoned his leftist scapegoating base. In dispassionate fashion, he figured that within hours the New York Times et al. would Trotskyize their earlier narratives, and most of the left would cease the poll-killing (excuse the metaphor) “climate of hate” narrative.
He was right. The progressive community snapped back into line, reminding the country that the desire for power and status always trumps ideology. Hillary Clinton was especially embarrassed: one day she was sermonizing on foreign soil in morally equivalent fashion about an American version of an “extremist”; the next day, her boss told the world that the only thing extreme about the killer was his own nihilistic madness (and by implication damned those vultures [e.g., Ms. Clinton included] who clumsily try to make political points from tragedy).
Now gone from the Obama rhetorical arsenal (excuse the metaphor) entirely are his old partisan Chicago allusions of both the campaign and last autumn — the potpourri imagery of knives, guns, enemies, punishing, kicking ass, relegation to the backseat, get angry, getting in their face, hostage takers, trigger fingers, tearing up, etc. Instead, all that was replaced by an elegant speech that was also both sober and judicious. Had a Republican given such a sensitive oration, the right would be praising the text for its undeniable logic, humanity, and sense. Many, in fact, in the conservative community did just that.
And the Polls Prove It
The result is that for the first time in well over a year, Obama’s positives outpolled his negatives, and pundits almost immediately evoked Bill Clinton in 1995-6, with all the requisite strained but not necessarily incorrect symptomatology — the Bill Daley chief-of-staff appointment, the cave-in on the Bush income tax rates, and, of course, the continuance of the Bush national security measures here and abroad, with the general amnesia about closing Guantanamo within a year of his inauguration and trying KSM in a Manhattan courtroom. In a world in which the Gulag in Cuba has been reinvented as a campus for “detainees,” anything is possible. And the likelihood in this new age of increased Predators, renditions, and preventative detention that we will ever see another Hollywood Redacted or Rendition is zero.
Will Obama 2.0 work? Perhaps, especially if conservatives ornate the Clinton ’96 analogy with their own Bob Dole in 2012. But all that said, the wages of hubris — nemesis — are not so easily forgotten. She is a persistent goddess that like a moth to a flame is drawn to narcissism and “I/me/my” self-congratulation.
Then There’s Gas
Obama in 2011 has a rendezvous with $4 a gallon gas and $100 a barrel oil. For two years, the administration has shut down new leasing of fossil fuels in the West; curtailed them in and around the Gulf; pontificated about, but not acted much on, nuclear power; and more or less unleashed everyone from Van Jones to Steven Chu to talk up global warming and talk down finding a necessary window of security in new sources of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear power until technology and the market transition us to next-generation fuels.
The worldwide recession gave Obama two years of relatively cheap oil and gas, a breathing space which unfortunately he used to fantasize about wind and solar, rather than rush to create expanded sources of tried energy. That tab is coming due. “Drill, baby, drill” was not Sarah Palin’s mythmaking. We forget that what sunk the McCain campaign was the September 2008 meltdown that not only raised specters of a 1929 crash, but soon crashed oil prices as the world went into deeper recession — and gave Obama between 2009-10 relatively cheap gas at the pump and thus a buffer to his otherwise disastrous Keynesian policies.
Easy To Borrow, Hard to Pay Back
The same irony holds true on debt. The new ceiling of $14 trillion is really $14 trillion, and the borrowing shows no sign of much abating. Markets are getting edgy. Any slight spike in interest rates could explode annual debt servicing costs. Obama can talk of higher taxes and “defense cuts,” but the only way one can balance the budget is to address entitlements, specifically Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. (The fact that Obama is not calling for 50% income rates, a VAT, and expanded Medicare and Social Security benefits suggests that even he grasps that more of the progressive agenda is tantamount to political extinction [pardon the metaphor].)
Riding the Tiger
Yet when one cuts (pardon the metaphor) defense (70,000 ground soldiers slated over the next four years to disappear), one must expect that the DMZ, Iran, Hezbollah in Syria, Lebanon, the Hindu Kush, China/Japan, China/Taiwan, Cyprus, the Balkans, the former Soviet republics, Venezuela, the Mexican drug state, and on and on will remain relatively quiet, or that they are really none of our business anyway when a vacuum is sensed and parasitic regional parties rush in to fill it. One can argue that we were on the tiger’s back in an unsustainable position. Perhaps. But getting off the tiger’s back is neither easy nor safe.
In Theory or In Fact?
I’m not sure that the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011 is going to be all that easy either. Will the transgendered and transsexuals demand parity? And if not, why not? Will the overtly gay soldier create edgy atmospheres that the quietly gay did not, and what will be the ramifications of a more overt otherness, if any?
Some will say that now overrepresented white, Christian southern males will insidiously discover the new landscape less inviting and quietly begin leaving or at least not enlisting in prior numbers. If true, will that be good riddance for the new progressive Army or a bad thing when the spirit of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee is needed in places like Fallujah?
Will gays be eligible for the sort of “diversity” affirmative action that is often a consideration in officer promotions that we have seen with women and minorities? Will populations self-select, in which certain branches of the military create inexplicable niches, perhaps in the fashion of male airline attendants?
And if so, does it matter at all? Will small combat units on the front line worry among the bullets much about the overtly gay in their midst, or in Sacred Band fashion supposedly forge new ties of solidarity?
Will ROTC return to liberal campuses? (I think rarely). These were questions that were apparently so politically incorrect and impolitic as not to be raised, but will be adjudicated by facts in 2011. And the political repercussions among the general public may not make the December 2010 widely celebrated decision so widely celebrated.
Addressing the Misdemeanor, Sighing about the Felony
The same is true of the START treaty. We are already hearing, in rather characteristic post-Soviet style that equates magnanimity with weakness, of Russian plans for quite ambitious missile-defense systems and unilateral interpretations of the applications of the treaty. Yet that cynicism is small beer in comparison to the reality that such showboating treaties usually address the minor problems and ignore the insolvable real ones — in this case North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. So we may well have a START treaty where none was needed, and a nuclear confrontation where there was no treaty. And what will that say about the power of paper to make us safer?
It is a commentary on how desperate we are that Americans are supposed to become giddy over news that a new 9.4% unemployment rate is slightly closer to 9% than 10%. Yet as long as ObamaCare scares away jobs, and record deficits and new regulations frighten businesses (along with the administration’s now entrenched “spread the wealth/fat cat” rhetoric), it is hard to see the jobless rate getting much below 9% (Bush was tarred by John Kerry in 2004 for his “jobless recovery” when unemployment for a bit went over 5.5%). What $4 a gallon gas will do to hiring is anyone’s guess.
Lulls and Storms
So to sum up: Obama just returned to his 2004 “no more red state/blue state” healing speech modes that would provide years of cover for the reality that he would soon become the most partisan senator in the Congress. I congratulate him on dispelling in a few minutes the entire leftist smear campaign. He soon saw the results of his calming in the polls and, no doubt, his appetite for more was whetted — especially given that his base capitulated so easily and in such humiliating fashion, in a nanosecond going from sounding like Michael Moore to a calm Gandhi.
Unfortunately, we are in a lull before the hurricane. For two years we have ignored the ramifications of ObamaCare that now begin to kick in; the consequences of going from $11 to $14 trillion in debt, with a trillion more in debt scheduled each year; the inevitable return of sky-high energy prices — and forgot that herky-jerky legislation that is pushed through to high-fiving (think prescription drug) often later proves either too costly or complex to be sustainable.
I was encouraged by Obama’s Tucson speech, but also believe he will not be encouraged by what lies ahead in 2011, most of it the result of his own making.