Victor Davis Hanson

The Obama Breaking Point

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Was it the blame-gaming — “Bush did it!,” ATMs are at fault, tsunamis are the culprit, no other administration has had such challenges, the euro meltdown is to blame, earthquakes shook our confidence — that finally turned the country off of Obama?

For the last two years, millions of Americans have grown, ever so insidiously, tired of Barack Obama and his administration. The Tea Party brought such frustrations to the fore. And now the debates — and the ability of Romney to show millions that he is a decent, competent alternative to Obama rather than the caricatured greedy white man of Obama’s sleazy ads — are closing the deal.

In the first debate, Romney was not just far better-informed and spoken, but far more likeable. Joe Biden’s frenzied rudeness was the sort of debate performance that mesmerizes one by its very boorishness, eliciting a weird reaction in the room like “Come over and check this out: I can’t believe the Vice President of the United States is trumping The Joker” (after all, the sick Joker is more entertaining than the sober and judicious Batman) — but within hours leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth of something along the lines of “Surely, we could have done better than that rude buffoon?”

The election is not over, but it is starting to resemble[1] October 29 or November 1 in 1980, when, after just one debate, the nation at last decided that it really did not like Jimmy Carter very much or what he had done, and discovered that Ronald Reagan was not the mad Dr. Strangelove/Jefferson Davis of the Carter summer television ads. Like Carter, Obama both has no wish to defend his record (who would?) and is just as petulant. In the next three weeks, he has only three hours left to save his presidency.

Do We Remember?

There are lots of reasons why various groups are tiring of Obama. It is not just the economy, but also all the untruths about the economy over the last four years that sounded like daily communiqués from the Ministry of Truth. Do we even remember the brilliant Obama economic A-team, chomping at the bit in December 2008 to get started to pull us into the good times — a Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner (remember, he was the “genius” who almost alone knew how high finance on Wall Street worked and so had to be exempted from cheating on his tax deductions), Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, and, later, Austan Goolsbee, who have now all come and gone.

When was “Recovery Summer”?[2] What were the “shovel-ready jobs” that were “not as … uh … shovel-ready as we expected”?[3] Where went the stimulus? How much are we owed by GM? What happened to the Volt? Where are the “millions of green jobs”?[4] Did the green-shade Joe Biden really go through the stimulus line by line? And was he smirking and guffawing at what he saw?

Do we remember the mad, obscene rantings of the “Truther” Van Jones[5] or the Mao devotee Anita Dunn[6]? How long have Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley been gone? For many, Obama has become one Steven Chu too many[7].

Feet of Clay

Or maybe Obama’s problem lies with the absurdly high expectations brought about by the faux-Greek columns, vero possumus![8], “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” and the promise to cool the planet and lower the seas — the sort of juvenile giddiness that brings embarrassment[9] when one sobers up?

Did we hear one tingle up the leg or one perfect crease of the pants or one “most brilliant president” too many? When Joe Biden[10] and Harry Reid[11] voiced quasi-racist commentary on Obama’s white blackness, they seemed to voice the liberal tingle that they could both embrace a black man and not embrace a black man, as if voting for Obama gave them exemption from worrying about their own apartheid existences, as cosmic inclusivity allowed private exclusiveness.

Jacksonian Without the Jackson

The first time candidate Obama courted rappers, appeared on celebrity TV and radio shows, or hipped it up, it was thought “cool,” a sort of armor that would ensure that the normal political invective bounced off his in-the-know defenses. Now, four years later? We have a sort of Jacksonian White House[12], but visited by zillionaire entertainers and without the populism. When Obama leaves Netanyahu cooling his heels to hang with Jay-Z, Beyoncé, or the ladies of The View, or flies to Vegas[13] on news that our ambassador has been murdered, it is either crass or juvenile or both. How, millions of Americans are starting to ask, did this man become president? With well over 400 rounds of golf and 200 fundraisers under his belt, no wonder Mr. Obama had to skip the national security briefings and the debate prep — what a “drag” they were[14].

A Bright and Shining Lie?

The sources of discontent are growing across the spectrum. Perhaps the disgruntled Left saw that promises about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” gay marriage, and amnesty only were kept late in Obama’s tenure when he had lost independents and needed, cynically, to rev up his base. Or was it that what in 2008 had come across as teleprompted eloquence, by 2011 was the same old monotonous and hackneyed “Make no mistake about!” and “Let me be perfectly clear!”?

Liberals used to go gaga over the man who promised that Guantanamo and renditions would be part of our distant criminal past, only to gag that he has embraced and expanded almost every one of the Bush-Cheney protocols that he once demagogued. Obama even recruited Yale Law Dean Harold Koh, who used to sue the government on behalf of Guantanamo detainees, to write surreal briefs explaining why stepped-up Predator missions can quite legally vaporize American citizens suspected of terrorism, and why American planes dropping bombs over a foreign country do not constitute warlike acts. A Yale Law dean who does that is like the proverbial dog walking on two legs, eliciting wonder not just that it is done, but why it is even attempted.

The once green Leftist who promised to bankrupt coal[15] and whose energy secretary designate bragged about sending gas prices up to the “levels in Europe”[16] now runs ads accusing Romney of being too hard on the coal industry[17], and brags that private energy companies fracked and horizontally drilled on private land to increase the nation’s fossil-fuel production. Who could believe that message of “vote for me because I couldn’t quite stop all the drilling and so now we have more domestic oil and gas than ever”?

Calling Dr. Freud

I think a growing number of Americans slowly grasped that with Obama, the best guide to his character is what is sometimes known as psychological projection — or the syndrome in which those unsure of themselves seek to massage their own natural but bothersome impulses by ascribing them to others, almost always in a negative context. The vicarious president who gave us[18] “get in their faces,” “bring a gun to a knife fight,” and “punish our enemies”; ridiculed the Special Olympics; slurred millions of doctors with accusations that they like to amputate for profit; and smeared, as fat cats, the one-percent, corporate jet owners, and Vegas jet-setters (his own generous Wall Street donors) of course also preached about the need for a new bipartisanship and civility. Like a moth to a light bulb, Obama was drawn to swanky golf resorts, Vegas, and vacations on Martha’s Vineyard of the sort he dismissed as the haunts of the one percent. When the president struggles to repress yet another appetite, we can be assured that he will attribute such a character flaw to others.

The Chicago Way

Of course, independents are tired of the scandals. One Fast and Furious, Secret Service debacle, or GSA mess is tolerable. But bit by bit the mosaic of a fast and loose Chicago way of fixing things was built from one too many scandalous tesserae — like the Blago mess, the wind and solar con, and now the Libyan cover-up.

The undecideds also are starting to see that while every recession has a recovery, it was needlessly prolonged in the case of Obama, due to his “never let a crisis go to waste” obsessions with socializing healthcare, taking over unionized bankrupt companies, and expanding food stamps, unemployment, and disability insurance. It took many four years to figure out that for Barack Obama, the need to transform America into some weird version of Greece or Italy trumped any concern about getting millions back to work and the economy going again. Obama’s prime impulse was not restoring lost income, jobs, and net worth, but seeking to ensure the wealthy did not prosper, even if that meant the far more numerous poor did not either. Stagnant equality was his aim.

Tear Us Apart

I know many people — including liberals — who voted for Obama on his promises of racial healing and will vote against him precisely because he amplified racial divides for his own political purposes. Again, one Cambridge police incident or Trayvon Martin flip comment would have been the normal stuff of presidential gaffes. But the fake-accented sermons to black audiences, the “punish our enemies” call to arms to Hispanics, the various racially targeted Obama reelection groups (using “we got the president’s back”[19] as their mottoes as if a deranged white person hourly were about to dry gulch the president without ranks of such self-appointed African-American or Hispanic bodyguards) became predictable. Only Obama could have brought out the worst side of a James Earl Jones, Chris Rock, and Morgan Freeman to accuse others of racism to divert attention away from Obama’s failure. Once such celebrities transcended race, now Obama-fed racialism has engulfed them[20].

At some point, Eric Holder’s various delusions (e.g., “cowards,” racism behind the Fast and Furious investigations, “my people,” etc.), Hilda Solis’s videos appealing to illegal aliens to call in about mean employers, and the Van Jones rants seemed like sound bites out of the Race / Class / Gender gut course in the university rather than the emanating from the US government.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid?

More than eight percent unemployment for 42 months could be an artifact. Maybe anemic below-two-percent economic growth happens. Five trillion dollars in new debt can be contextualized. Nearly fifty million on food stamps is regrettable. But after a while, they all become force multipliers of each other — cementing the notion that Obama is largely a hothouse potted plant who has not a clue about what drives business, or why employers hire and fire, or how oil and gas fuel the US economy. The only mystery is whether Obama sought to improve the economy but utterly failed — or if he had some vague idea that printing money, unsustainable borrowing, out-of-control spending, and demonizing the successful might create a gorge-the-beast moment[21]: only then might higher taxes be the only way to prevent fiscal collapse while the new entitlements would hook so many that the mere thought of their curtailment might prove impossible.

Enough Is Enough

Add all this up, and millions of voters — quietly, on their own, without much communication — are becoming wearied by Obama, in a way that is quite miraculous. They are coming to the conclusion not just that it is now OK to vote against Obama, but that even if it is not politically correct, they don’t much care anymore[22].

Incumbents should have all sorts of advantages. This year there is no Ross Perot on the ballot to siphon off votes from a President George H.W. Bush. The media openly slants its news to save Obama. Libya has gained none of melodramatic hourly coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis that finally did in Jimmy Carter pontificating from the Rose Garden. George H.W. Bush was destroyed by “it’s the economy, stupid” when unemployment and GDP growth were far better than today. George W. Bush almost lost the 2004 election on the charge of a “jobless recovery” when the unemployment rate was almost three points lower than it is today. Enough said.

Money can be printed. Official stats can be massaged. The president can dole out pork. The Federal Reserve can print money. Europe can, too. Obama’s unusual heritage makes Americans proud of their country. If some wished to prove that they were not racist in 2008 by voting for Obama, in 2012 they fear they will be condemned as racist for not voting to reelect him.

Yet add all of that up, and here we are three weeks before the election with Romney holding a slight lead in polls that are often suspect.

In other words, millions are feeling liberated and are starting to feel that they have simply had enough of this bunch. In short, it is becoming OK to vote “No, you can’t!”

URLs in this Post

[1] it is starting to resemble:
[2] “Recovery Summer”?:
[3] “not as … uh … shovel-ready as we expected”?:
[4] “millions of green jobs”?:
[5] the “Truther” Van Jones:
[6] Mao devotee Anita Dunn:
[7] Steven Chu too many:
[8] vero possumus!:
[9] that brings embarrassment:
[10] Joe Biden:
[11] Harry Reid:
[12] Jacksonian White House:
[13] flies to Vegas:
[14] what a “drag” they were:
[15] bankrupt coal:
[16] “levels in Europe”:
[17] too hard on the coal industry:
[18] who gave us:
[19] “we got the president’s back”:
[20] has engulfed them:
[21] might create a gorge-the-beast moment:
[22] they don’t much care anymore:

©2012 Victor Davis Hanson

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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