The Imaginarium of Barack Obama

The presidency of Barack Obama is full of funny things that need not follow any sort of logic. Images and ideas just pop in and out, without worry of inconsistency, contradiction, or hypocrisy. It’s a fascinating mish-mash of strange heroes and bogeymen, this imaginarium of our president.

In the imaginarium there are no revolving doors, earmarks, or lobbyists. So Peter Orszag did not go from being OMB director to a Citigroup fat-cat. Once chief-of-staff Rahm Emanuel did not make $16 million for his well-known banking expertise. The more you damn the pernicious role of lobbyists and the polluting role of big money, the more you must hire and seek out both. Public financing of campaigns is wonderful for everyone else who lacks the integrity of Barack Obama who understandably must renounce such unfair impositions.

Those who now vote against raising the large Obama debt ceiling are political hucksters and opportunists; those who not long ago voted against raising the smaller Bush debt ceiling were principled statesmen. “Unpatriotic” presidents borrow $4 trillion in eight years; patriotic ones we’ve been waiting for can trump that in three.

Catching known terrorists and putting them in Guantanamo is very bad; killing suspected ones by drone assassinations — and anyone unlucky enough to be in their general vicinity — is exceptionally good. Tribunals, renditions, preventative detention, and all that were bad ideas under Bush-Cheney, but could become good ideas under Barack Obama, the law professor who often sees no need to follow the law when an immigration or marriage statute is deemed regressive.

A million Iranians protesting a soon-to-be-nuclear theocracy is false revolutionary consciousness and to be left alone; a few thousand Israelis wanting to buy apartments in the Jerusalem suburbs is subversive and worthy of presidential condemnation. And when atoning for supposed American lapses, what better place to begin apologizing than in Turkey, the incubator of the Armenian, Greek, and Kurdish mass killings? We need to deny history to make the case that America is not exceptional, and to invent it to persuade us that the Muslim world is extraordinary.

Twenty-four months of a Democratic Congress, and over $4 trillion in spending, resulted in 9.1% unemployment and near nonexistent growth. Yet the culprit for the current situation is ten months of a Republican-controlled House that has yet to approve another $500 billion of borrowing. In the imaginarium, just a little more of the massive amount that has failed will not fail. But if the Republicans are to be blamed for not wanting to waste the last half-trillion, are the Democrats to be praised for borrowing the first wasted $4 trillion?

In the imaginarium, all sorts of demons and devils can unite to derail the brilliance of Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan. ATMs have for the first time after 2009 begun to eliminate jobs. But then so did the Japanese tsunami and the EU meltdown. The DC earthquake did its part, but then so did climbing oil prices and the Arab Spring. Of course, the ghost of George Bush floats over all the present mess. Economic gurus like Austan Goolsbee, Peter Orszag, Christina Romer, and Larry Summers used to write brilliant essays of what would work if they were to be in charge, and now write brilliant essays about why it did not work when they were in charge.

There are lots of ways to bring Americans together across class and racial lines. One in the imaginarium is to focus on the “teabag, anti-government people.” Another is to encourage Hispanics to “punish our enemies” — or have the attorney general lambaste Americans as racial “cowards” and to defend “my people.” Joining foreign governments to sue a fellow American state is no more red/no more blue state unity. Still another is to divide up the people between the suspect who make over $200,000 and the noble who make less, or yet again target the dubious “1%” at “the very top” who do not pay “their fair share,” a mere 40% of the aggregate income tax.

Inside the imaginarium, the way to demonize the “1%” is to vacation among them — whether at Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol. Buying a corporate jet is a waste of the people’s money — unlike daily flying on a much bigger private jet paid by the people.

To encourage energy self-sufficiency, the administration lent a half-billion dollars to campaign donor insiders and got unsellable solar panels in return — as it prevents a huge pipeline from Canada that will bring “shovel-ready” jobs and fuel to the United States far more cheaply than from the volatile Middle East. We have a brilliantly obtuse energy secretary who is a Nobel laureate but who thinks California farms — a record $15 billion in exports this year — will soon blow away and that gas should climb to European levels of about $9 a gallon. In the imaginarium, the purpose of Dr. Chu's Department of Energy is not to encourage energy production and lower prices, but to find ways to prevent its development in search of raising its cost. The attorney general must be entirely conversant in small matters like a Black Panther voting intimidation case, but was completely ignorant of large ones like Fast and Furious that saw his subordinates sell automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels.

The president regrets that we are not innovative any more, and have gone “soft” and “lazy.” You see, his efforts at ensuring cradle-to-grave health care entitlements, of granting 99 weeks of unemployment insurance, and of extending food stamps to nearly 50 million are apparently incentives that should have led to a “hard” and “industrious” populace that was more self-reliant and willing to take risks on their own. “Spread the wealth” is a time-honored way of galvanizing people to become more self-disciplined and sufficient.

Business has failed us as well. And the way to get Las Vegas and Super Bowl junketeering CEOs profitable enough again to fund the growing redistributive state, is for them to take risks that result in the sort of massive projects that used to be an American trademark — things like the Hoover Dam, which changed the environmental landscape far more than would the apparently cancelled gargantuan pipeline from Canada to Texas. Business can be encouraged not to be lazy by a prod now and then — either by trying to shut down a big aircraft plant or a small guitar factory. And in the imaginarium, the way to gently chide the private sector is with words of encouragement like “millionaires and billionaires,” and “corporate jet owners,” along with grandfatherly advice to clueless capitalists about realizing the point at which they should cease making money.

In the imaginarium of Barack Obama there is no contradiction between smearing and shaking down Wall Street, a bunch that needs both to be told when and when not to profit, and to whom and to whom not to give tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Barney Frank, who helped pressure Wall Street and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to issue billions in unsound loans, and Chris Dodd, who shook down fat cats for below-market interest rates for his vacation home, logically are the eponymous heroes of the Dodd-Frank fiscal reform act to ensure others do not do as did they. Former liberal governor, senator, and Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine, who both wrecked MF Global and can’t account for $600 million in lost investments, is, in George Soros-like fashion, the best emblem of the contradictory desire to be the worst pirate on Wall Street in order to make the most money in order to be its most liberal critic. In the imaginarium we receive advice about the need for higher income taxes from multibillionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who have always sought to avoid them. Big government and big inheritance taxes, both magnates swear are good, and therefore the administration of their own postmortem fortunes will forever avoid both.

In the imaginarium, community organizer Barack Obama never lived in a small mansion. John “two Americas” Edwards never lived in a big one. “Earth in the balance” Al Gore never lived in a few of them, and yacht owning John Kerry never lived in lots of them. You see in the imaginarium of Barack Obama you can be whatever you wish to be. Just wishing and saying something can wonderfully make it so.

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The End of Sparta

As the Thebans help the freed helots build their new city of Messenê, the Argive general Epitêles decides his men are no longer needed and will head home to Argos, leaving the Thebans and Messenians to their work:

Epitêles did not back down. “I and my Argives, we feel no better or

worse from freeing them, and hardly think their freedom is a gift. Sparta

is weak. Finished as we know it. She has no farmers to feed her phalanx,

and won’t march out of Lakonia, at least for a while. That is good enough

for me and mine. These helots can do what they like.” Epitêles laughed

and for the next few days kept patrolling with his guard to hunt down

more thieves who were stealing from the bread carts next to the scaffolds.

He knew men by nature to be bad. They would kill and worse if they were

not tired from work or scared of punishment. It was not in his nature to

build, so he did what he knew best, he punished and hoped he killed

more guilty than innocent—and worried little when he did not. “These

Thebans can free anyone they please. But then who can’t do that? But

they have no idea how to knock heads and keep these half-tamed on their

leashes. Zeus in heaven, I think these Boiotians want to be liked rather

than feared.”

That the helots slacked off from the walls was of no real concern

to Epitêles, other than as reason enough to kill those who were probably

stealing rather working. When enough were executed to discourage

the no-goods, Epitêles would head home to Argos and the hard life among

the murderous factions there. And so he did soon, and passed out of the

history of the Hellenes.

Epaminondas thought he had Epitêles right when he had said of

him, “Don’t wonder that he will leave us soon, but instead ask why this

man in fur has even come. He is a warrior, one who wakes up in the

morning promising to cut down Spartans and goes to bed each night in

lamentation that he has not killed enough of them. We won’t see his like

again in Hellas. He’s the good coin side to Lichas, though both are at

home killing and so more alike than we think. Maybe our Chiôn if he

lives, is a third who could join this cabal of Aiases. But for now thank our

One God that Epitêles was on our side.”