Barack Obama has taught us a great deal about dealing with radical Islam, an ideology not predicated on what presidents do or say. There will be no shutting down of Guantanamo as promised, and no end to either renditions or preventive detentions and tribunals. Khalid Sheik Mohammed will never be tried, as promised, in a New York courtroom not far from the scene of his mass murdering. The so-called Ground Zero mosque — once so dear to sanctimonious members of the Obama administration — will never be built; either liberal New Yorkers will quietly prevent it, or the architects of the scheme will be exposed as financial as well as cultural con artists. Obama will never again give an interview to Al-Arabiya expanding on how his own heritage will ameliorate relations with Arabs. The Cairo speech will go down in history not as a landmark creative effort to win over Muslims, but, to the extent it is remembered, as one of the most ahistorical constructs in presidential history. The Obama legacy in the War on Terror is as Predator-in-Chief — boldly increasing targeted assassinations tenfold from the Bush era, on the theory that we more or less kill the right suspected terrorists; few civil libertarians care much, apparently because one of their own is doing it.
We have learned from Obama that the messianic presidency is a myth. Obama’s attempt to recreate Camelot has only reminded us that JFK’s presidency — tax cuts, Cold War saber-rattling, Vietnam intervention — was never Camelot. We shall see no more Latinate presidential sloganeering (“Vero Possumus”), no more rainbow posters. Gone are the faux-Greek columns, the speeches about seas receding and the planet cooling — now sources of embarrassment rather than nostalgia. Chancellor Merkel won’t want another Victory Column address from someone who ducked out on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Obama himself will not lecture crowds any longer about the dangers of their fainting when he speaks; Michelle will cease all the nonsense about “deign[ing] to enter the messy thing called politics” and finally acquiring pride in the U.S. when it nominated her husband. Even Chris Matthews’s leg has stopped tingling. There will be no more Newsweek
comparisons of Obama to a god. Even the Nobel Prize committee will soon grasp that it tarnished its brand by equating fleeting celebrity with lasting achievement.
“Green” will never be quite the same after Obama. When Solyndra and its affiliated scandals are at last fully brought into the light of day, we will see the logical reification of Climategate I & II, Al Gore’s hucksterism, and Van Jones’s lunacy. How ironic that the more Obama tried to stop drilling in the West, offshore, and in Alaska, as well as stopping the Canadian pipeline, the more the American private sector kept finding oil and gas despite rather than because of the U.S. government. How further ironic that the one area that Obama felt was unnecessary for, or indeed antithetical to, America’s economic recovery — vast new gas and oil finds — will soon turn out to be America’s greatest boon in the last 20 years. While Obama and Energy Secretary Chu still insist on subsidizing money-losing wind and solar concerns, we are in the midst of a revolution that, within 20 years, will reduce or even end the trade deficit, help pay off the national debt, create millions of new jobs, and turn the Western Hemisphere into the new Persian Gulf. The American petroleum revolution can be delayed by Obama, but it cannot be stopped.
One lesson, however, has not fully sunk in and awaits final elucidation in the 2012 election: that of the Chicago style of Barack Obama’s politicking. In 2008 few of the true believers accepted that, in his first political race, in 1996, Barack Obama sued successfully to remove his opponents from the ballot. Or that in his race for the U.S. Senate eight years later, sealed divorced records for both his primary- and general-election opponents were mysteriously leaked by unnamed Chicagoans, leading to the implosions of both candidates’ campaigns. Or that Obama was the first presidential candidate in the history of public campaign financing to reject it, or that he was also the largest recipient of cash from Wall Street in general, and from BP and Goldman Sachs in particular. Or that Obama was the first presidential candidate in recent memory not to disclose either undergraduate records or even partial medical. Or that remarks like “typical white person,” the clingers speech, and the spread-the-wealth quip would soon prove to be characteristic rather than anomalous.
Few American presidents have dashed so many popular, deeply embedded illusions as has Barack Obama. And for that, we owe him a strange sort of thanks.
— 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.