Obama’s rhetoric has swung from hard-left to moderate to hard-left to conciliatory. The problem is, his policies were real, not rhetorical.


Victor Davis Hanson

In short, the Obama administration made four critical errors that ensured continued hard times instead of a natural upswing from the stagnancy of recession:

a) Obama ran up huge deficits of an additional $3 trillion that did not stimulate job growth, but most certainly the reverse: The deficits scared business into keeping costs low by not hiring new workers. When an employer believes the country either is going bankrupt despite higher taxes, or will inflate its way out of debt, he is not going to be bold and risk-taking.

b) Obama waged psychosocial warfare against private enterprise. In the space of just two years we learned from the president himself that we were two countries: Those who made above $250,000 were greedy and deserving of higher taxes; those below were okay for now and should receive rather than pay out. Traveling to Vegas or the Super Bowl (but not Martha’s Vineyard or Costa del Sol) was inexcusably self-indulgent. The president alone knew at what point we should cease making money. Doctors were limb-loppers. And so on. When an employer believes his efforts are considered unimportant or perhaps even nefarious, he is not going to be bold and risk-taking.

c) Obama did not encourage business to drill on federal lands, offshore, or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, nor did he fast-track nuclear power plants, or return irrigation water to previously productive land. There was no sense that our food and fuel, the stuff of life, come from somewhere other than rhetoric, and constitute real material wealth that enriches the country and provides millions of jobs. Ethanol sounds great, but it is a poor substitute for fossil fuels, and producing it inflates food prices. Pushing hard for cap-and-trade in the era of the global-warming-industry meltdown, while Energy Secretary Steven Chu muses that California agriculture will blow away, does not lower food or gas prices. When an employer believes professors will decide energy and food production, he is not going to be bold and risk-taking.

d) Obama did not just absorb the nation’s health care into the federal government, but did so in Byzantine fashion. To this day, frightened businesses know only three things about Obamacare: No one quite understands what is in the 2,000-page bill; it will cost employers much more than the present system; and a select few interests close to Obama can obtain exemptions for their organizations to opt out of the new plans. When an employer believes he has an obligation to borrow thousands for health plans that he does not understand, he is not going to be bold and risk-taking.

So if the United States is to join the global recovery, a Barack Obama 5.0 would have to reverse himself on points of substance. Can he? 

I doubt it. Other than some rhetorical reworking, Obama still believes borrowing money creates jobs. The only difference is that debt is now called “investment” rather than “stimulus.” Under his plan, keeping federal deficits at more than a trillion dollars per year, while cutting a few billion, is proof of fiscal sobriety. Obama will probably veto any changes to his signature health-care bill, as he grants ever more exemptions from it to selected companies. How odd — proof of support for Obama is found in not accepting his gifts. Talking about nuclear power, coal, and oil and gas is not the same as granting leases or licenses for their development.

In 5.0, I think we will instead be told that 9 percent unemployment is not — as 5.5 percent was in 2004 — proof of a “jobless recovery,” but the new reality because of “structural” changes beyond our control. In short, language can do only so much — masking but not altering reality.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.