In the age of Obama, we just ran up a $700 billion annual deficit and called it restraint, as if success were to be defined as not adding another $1 trillion each year to the national debt. The strange thing is that after the end of the Iraq War and the winding down in Afghanistan, forced sequestration, new taxes on high earners, and a supposedly recovering and revenue-producing economy, we are still running up near-record deficits. Stranger still, Obama is bragging that the deficit has been cut by billions — as if the 400-pound heart patient can be content that he lost 50 pounds in record time and so trimmed down to a manageable 350 pounds.
The Federal Reserve is pretty well stuck with near-zero interest rates. Even a slight rise would make servicing the huge debt nearly unmanageable. Yet continued record low interest, along with Obamacare, is strangling the economy. Millions of older Americans are learning that a mid-level government employee draws more in pension compensation than a private retiree receives in interest on 40 years’ worth of life savings.
“Millions of green jobs,” “cash for clunkers,” and “stimulus” are all now recognized as cruel jokes. Oddly, the more scandals come to light, the more immune the virtual president becomes. After the politicization of the IRS, the snooping on AP reporters, the Benghazi mess, the NSA eavesdropping, Fast and Furious, the multibillion-dollar overpayment in income-tax credits by the IRS, the Lisa Jackson fake e-mail identities, and the Pigford payments, the public has become numb — as if it to say, “Of course the Obama administration is not truthful. So what else is new?”
Three considerations are keeping the U.S. afloat without an active president. First, many working Americans have tuned the president out and simply go on about their business despite rather than because of this administration. If gas and oil leases have been curtailed on federal lands, there is record production on private land. Farmers are producing huge harvests and receiving historically high prices. Wall Street welcomes in capital that can find no return elsewhere. American universities’ science departments and professional schools still rate among the world’s best. There is as yet no French or Chinese Silicon Valley. In other words, after five years of stagnation, half the public more or less ignores the Obama administration and plods on.
Second, the other half of Americans gladly accept that Obama is an iconic rather than a serious president. Given his emblematic status as the nation’s first African-American president and his efforts to craft a vast coalition of those with supposed grievances against the majority, he will always have a strong base of supporters. With huge increases in federal redistributive support programs, and about half the population not paying federal income taxes, Obama is seen as the protector of the noble deserving, who should receive more from a government to which the ignoble undeserving must give far more. And if it is a question of adding another million or so people to the food-stamp or disability rolls, or ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon or that China does not bully Japan, the former wins every time.
Finally, the media accept that Obama represents a rare confluence of forces that promotes a progressive agenda. His youth, his charisma, his background, his exotic nomenclature, and his “cool” all have allowed a traditionally unpopular leftist ideology to enter the mainstream. Why endanger all that with a focus on Benghazi or the disaster of Obamacare? We have had, in the course of our history, plenty of Grants, McKinleys, Hardings, Nixons, and Clintons, but never quite an administration of scandal so exempt from media scrutiny.
As far as his image goes, it does not really matter to what degree Obama actually “fundamentally transforms America.” For the media, that he seeks to do so, and that he drives conservatives crazy trying, is seen as enough reason to surrender their autonomy and become ancillary to the effort. The media believe that once he is out of office, they can regain their credibility by going after the next president with renewed vigor as recompense.
In other words, the presidency has become a virtual office. Almost half the people and most of the media do not mind, and those who do just plod onward.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books.