Obama: Transforming America
From energy to foreign policy to the presidency itself, Obama’s agenda rolls along.


Victor Davis Hanson

That leaves the middle class, who so far have not felt the upside of zero interest rates — the interest on their credit-card debt remains sky-high, their student loans are steep, and their mortgage interest for the most part is not all that low. The banks loan at high interest and pay almost nothing on deposits; Wall Street welcomes in cash without much worry about competition to produce returns; and the poor are the beneficiaries of the vast federal borrowing that goes some way toward explaining why interest rates cannot climb, given that servicing the ever-rising federal debt would become almost unsustainable.

The presidency. An imperial presidency is not new. But rule by executive fiat that escapes audit from the media is. We live in an age when a president can arbitrarily nullify a law, like Obamacare’s employer mandate; ignore it, like the Defense of Marriage Act; or simply create it, as with partial blanket amnesties. Various wars — on coal, guns, non-union businesses, and political opponents — are waged by executive action. For now, the logic is that the president’s means are justified by the exalted ends that he professes. Obama has set the precedent of a president creating, ignoring, or defying laws as he sees fit to forward a progressive agenda.

Scandal. Bill Clinton gave us plenty of scandals; but, as in the case of the Nixon administration, the media galvanized public attention to the danger of a sometimes lawless administration. But whether it is the Benghazi deception, the IRS scandal, the NSA disclosures, the AP monitoring, or Fast and Furious, a new precedent has been established that the public is supposed to weigh two considerations in assessing scandal: the truth versus the damage that the truth can do to a progressive vision of a fairer America. So far the truth has lost.

Politics. In his political style, Obama seems to operate on the medieval concept of exemption. Through lofty spoken abstractions, he excuses low behavior. Praising “civility” allows you to call your opponents veritable terrorists; talk of unity means energizing supporters to get in their opponents’ face; advocacy of a campaign of principles reduces Romney to a veritable ogre. Plenty of presidents have proved vicious, but few so adept in attributing their own base behavior to others. Damning fat cats and corporate-jet owners allows a president to hold serial $50,000-a-head fundraisers. Ridiculing Romney’s elevator seems to make vacationing in Aspen, Costa del Sol, Vail, and Martha’s Vineyard perfectly natural.

Energy. Before Obama, natural gas and nuclear power were seen as preferable alternatives to oil and coal. If new restrictions on reactors and a de facto end to the new federal leasing of land for oil and gas exploration are any indication, neither energy source is now acceptable. Had Obama opened up federal lands for fracking and horizontal drilling, built the Keystone Pipeline, and encouraged natural gas as a transportation tool, power bills would not have climbed and gasoline prices would not have doubled. The U.S. would have enjoyed an even brighter energy future than what private enterprise alone has provided.

Obama’s view of energy — whether we cite former energy secretary Steven Chu’s lunacy on the desirability of raising U.S. gasoline prices to European levels, or candidate Obama’s own promises to bankrupt coal companies — is elitist to the core. His signature energy achievement is to change the terms of the debate: The chief energy issues for the Obama administration are not national security, not energy independence, not greater competitiveness for American business, not savings for the American consumer, and not jobs. Instead, whether a fuel might heat the atmosphere seems the sole concern.

Race. Had Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell been elected president, race would have been incidental rather than essential to their governance. Nothing in Barack Obama’s past suggests that such a statement could ever have been true of his presidency.

From the beer summit to “punish our enemies” to the two occasions of pop editorializing about Trayvon Martin, and from Eric Holder’s “my people” to “nation of cowards,” the Obama administration has sought at opportune times to emphasize racial differences, mostly to secure the base for Obama’s own reelection and for midterm elections.

The result is that race relations have become more polarized than at any other time in the last 30 years. Under Obama’s leadership, celebrities, political analysts, and politicians traffic more in racial animus than at any other time in our recent history. Obama has had an uncanny ability to energize the Black Caucus to voice unusually inflammatory charges. How did it happen that suddenly Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx sound racially biased? When did the post-election commentary of pundits (e.g., “too old, too white, too male”) become so race-based?