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The Great Madness of 2004-10

Stage Two of Worship, 2008-10

Then the mad hatred turned to the mad worship. Do we remember the great campaign of 2008? The madness now metamorphosized, as an obscure, heretofore unremarkable rookie senator became the Great Savior who would deliver us from Bush. Newsweek declared him a god; almost nightly we heard of leg tingles and speeches comparable to the Gettysburg Address. To doubt was racist, to really doubt was un-American. But now there was no shrieking, shrill Hillary Clinton to scream that such dissent was not really un-American.(She would soon charge that doubt about Libya was a sort of un-American support for Gaddafi.)

Denial was part of the madness. Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright were right-wing slurs. “No more disown Rev. Wright than…,” “typical white person,” “cling to their guns…” either never were uttered or were irrelevant. Soon the Pied Piper had everyone leaving Hamelin into the Weser. I rode a bike in the Palo Alto suburbs and watched as Obama signs on lawns were replaced each month by larger ones, until this "keeping up with the Joneses" reached billboard proportions — the more and larger they sprouted, the more the Stanford-affiliated community felt less guilty about never venturing into nearby downtown Redwood City or East Palo Alto.

The liberal press warned darkly of the dangerous months to come between November and January, the scary 80 days in which the discredited lame duck Bush might do terrible things (start another war somewhere like Libya? Make some dreadful Van Jones appointment?), until the savior came at last down from the mountain top. So we waited in terror until the danger passed and the salvation arrived in January. “Cool,” “competent,” “assured” were the media epithets; “reset” became the national motto.

In this second-stage madness, suddenly mediocrities like Timothy Geithner were deemed messiahs, tax-cheating or not. Tax-delinquents Hilda Solis and Tom Daschle were not quite tax delinquents. Geniuses like Peter Orszag, Larry Summers, Christina Romer, and Austin Goolsbee (as either formal or informal advisors), were going to apply Paul Krugman-like Keynesian borrowing (“stimulus”) to save us from the Bush "he did it" meltdown. Money was a construct and need not be paid back — whether at the Federal Reserve or at your own credit card, home mortgage, or tax problem level.

Relief was finally here. You see borrowing was not really printing money but a new sort of math in which the “people” would be saved from Wall Street chicanery by brilliant new stimulatory theories. Borrowing money “created” more money; spending “money” was stimulus that made even more money. Most of the debate centered around the pitifully small size of the new deficits: a three-year plan to print $5 trillion was deemed conservative or too timid by many of the Obama geniuses. Joe Biden, given his sterling credentials and vast knowledge (re: his call for Bush to rally the people — as FDR supposedly did as president "in 1929" and “on television” no less) would oversee the trillion-dollar borrowing to ensure it was “shovel-ready.”

Amid all this, the Pied Piper began to bother a few on the hard left with a new tune: Guantanamo did not close “within the year.” Renditions and tribunals were embraced. Predators, under Harold Koh’s brilliant legal defenses, killed five times more than Bush had dared, including U.S. citizens. The Patriot Act was now A-OK. Troops should not have left Iraq by March 2008, but rather according to the Bush-Petraeus plan. Escalation was the new plan in Afghanistan. And, of course, bombing started up against Libya and on the sly in Yemen. But now there were no Harper's mad op-eds, no anguished exegeses in the New Yorker, no Dark Ages have returned glum to be found in the New York Times.