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Eight Wasted Years
And the ratchet slips free.


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John Derbyshire

To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism, and patriarchy.

Thus Barack Obama, writing in his autobiography about his time at the expensive liberal-arts college Occidental in California. I’d like to tell you that he goes on to mock his young self for naïvety and infantile leftism, to deplore the way those “Marxist professors” used their prestige and influence to fill young heads with poisonous rubbish long discredited by events in the real world. I’d like to, but I can’t, because he doesn’t. Obama doesn’t think Marxism is rubbish. He thinks it’s basically … correct.

Not that our president-elect is going to roar through the U.S. economy nationalizing the means of production, distribution, and exchange. (The current administration has that well in hand, in any case.) Nor, I am pretty sure, will he incite a violent class war, with the losers hustled off to labor camps or driven into exile with the family jewelry sewn into their petticoats. We are long past the point where classical Marxism has any application. Obama can’t incite the workers to seize control of the factories: the factories are all in China. He can’t consolidate peasant small-holdings into communal farms, because there aren’t any peasant small-holdings; and if he tried anyway, no one would notice, farming being the occupation of less than half of one percent of us.

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Barack Obama does, though, have the heart and soul of a cultural Marxist. He sees history in terms of class struggle, with pitiful, soulful Oppressed being brutalized and impoverished by arrogant, heartless Oppressors. Anyone who sees matters in these Who-Whom terms has absorbed the essence of Marxism, even if he has never held a hammer or a sickle — even if, like Obama, he has never held anything heavier than a Community Organizer’s clipboard.

This was the import of the Joe the Plumber incident. In a long campaign your true self is bound to emerge once or twice. No matter how tightly your handlers apply the shrink-wrap, a sharp claw or beak will work its way through now and then. In Barack Obama’s worldview, the Who and the Whom are locked in a bitter struggle, from which the Whom is bound to emerge victorious at last. Then the victors, purified by suffering, will lead mankind on to the sunlit uplands where from each shall be taken according to his abilities, to each shall be given according to his needs.

That these doctrines are utterly false, completely mistaken, and catastrophically destructive in practice, is a thought Barack Obama cannot think. That “ability” and “needs” turn out to be shapeless and slippery concepts when politicians try to corral them, has not occurred to him. (I need a new car. Will whichever citizen has been delegated to pay for it, please mail the check to National Review? Thank you.) How could such thoughts have occurred to him? He was a red-diaper baby, offspring of a love-the-world, hate-America sixties gal and an African socialist in the Mugabe mould, raised by leftish grandparents addled with “Uncle Tim” racial guilt, and mentored by a hard-Left labor radical.

Pat Buchanan (Whom God Preserve!) gave his own autobiography the title Right from the Beginning. If Barack Obama had been a tad more honest when writing his, he could just as well have titled it Left from the Beginning. He was honest enough though, lavishing praise on coarse, fascistic radicals like the odious Jeremiah Wright. (You can let Rev’m Wright out of the basement now, guys.)

Margaret Thatcher used to talk about the “ratchet effect.” When the Left gets power, she said, they drive everything Left; when the Right gets power, they slow the Leftward drive, perhaps even halt it for a spell; but nothing ever gets moved to the Right. U.S. politics in the 21st century so far bears out this dismal analysis. What does the Right have to show for eight years of a Republican presidency? I supported George W. Bush in 2000 because I thought he had a conservative bone in his body somewhere. I supported him in 2004 because I thought him the lesser of two evils. At this point, I wouldn’t let the fool park his car in my driveway. Bruce Bartlett was right, every damn word.

I see that some of my NRO colleagues are scratching around for shards of optimism — of Hope! — in the general wreckage. Good luck to them. I see nothing for conservatives to hope for in an Obama administration. We just have to stick it out. This shallow, ignorant, self-obsessed man, who held an actual job for just one year of his charmed life (low-grade editing for an obscure newsletter — he felt, he tells us in Dreams, “like a spy behind enemy lines,” the enemy of course being capitalism), this red-diaper baby and his wife, will be our First Couple for the next four years and some weeks. It’ll be interesting. Interesting.



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