There are four factors that explain why the amorphous “they” do all sorts of strange things to convince President Obama that our problems are not historic deficits, huge increases in entitlements, a vast new health-care program, anti-business rhetoric, federal interventions against private enterprise, and new government regulations, which collectively have terrified the private sector, demoralized consumers, and put us on the path to European-style stagnation.
First, much of the Obama blame-gaming is apparently sincere. The president and his economic advisers, most of them now departed, really did believe that too little government spending and not enough taxes accounted for the sluggishness. In almost religious fashion, they believed that near-zero interest rates, trillion-dollar-plus deficits, exploding government spending, greater regulation, and more entitlements would ensure recovery.
This religion was based on a misreading of the 2008 meltdown that put blame solely on Wall Street, rather than including federal lending agencies that, with their guarantees and mandates, warped market reality by encouraging risky home loans. Obama and his advisers also mistakenly thought Republicans were tax-cutting free-marketeers in need of Keynesian correction. In fact, a statist government grew enormously under President Bush. Millions of Americans were excused from the tax rolls, and vast new entitlements went unpaid for. In other words, Obama was a reactionary who vastly expanded what already was growing dangerous. He is not yet to the point of accepting that his worldview results in collective impoverishment — and he will continue to blame any and all until he faces that unpalatable reality.
Second, blaming is always a symptom of first-time responsibility. As a gifted rhetorician, Barack Obama charmed and talked his way into the Ivy League, law school, and a lectureship, and reinvented an unexceptional and brief Senate career as a mythical bipartisan achievement. He ran for president on grand talk about Bush’s nefariousness from Guantanamo to Iraq. Now, for the first time in his life, he is responsible for something other than soaring platitudes and easy invective. He clearly is uncomfortable with that newfound responsibility and so blames others for his novel “buck stops here” predicament.
Third, Obama has picked up a lot of technocratic data but little common sense, or even the sorts of basic facts that most people acquire in the workplace. Only a hothouse plant would think that inflating tires and getting “tune-ups” are a substitute for greater petroleum production. “Millions of green jobs” is the sort of pie-in-the-sky theorizing one hears in the faculty lounge among tenured apparatchiks, but which means little to a small businessman who must meet a payroll. No business or household off the subsidized campus or government dole could run the way Obama runs the government — and it shows in his naïveté about what is ruining the recovery.
Lastly, there are no consequences for Obama’s blaming his failed economic policy on someone else. The media long ago gave up their role as presidential watchdogs and became invested in Obama’s success. Obama knew that he could golf far more with exemption than George W. Bush could. He could renounce public campaign financing and shake down Goldman Sachs and BP for record donations — and still demagogue Wall Street greed. Polls suggest that the public has finally grown tired of Obama’s finger-pointing and his embarrassing contradictions. No matter — Obama himself knows that those who deliver and shape the news will never hold him to account.
George McClellan telegraphed President Lincoln weekly to tell him how other people and things had stalled the Army of the Potomac — in a way Ulysses S. Grant never did. Douglas MacArthur blamed the surprise Chinese invasion of Korea on the Truman administration, Congress, Communists, his Pentagon overseers, and other officers — in a way unknown to his successor, Matthew Ridgway. William Westmoreland thought the politicians and the Sixties lost him Vietnam — in a way foreign to the thinking of his successor, Creighton Abrams. Before David Petraeus, U.S. generals in Baghdad blamed their civilian overseers, Iraqis, someone else’s strategy, Washington neo-cons, or enemy terrorists for their failure to secure Iraq.
Attention, Mr. President: History is not kind to blame-gamers.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of the just-released The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.