The chief tenet of postmodernism is that truth and facts are arbitrary constructs, set up by the privileged to manipulate others less fortunate. In the case of our first postmodernist president, Barack Obama, there cannot be facts, past or present, only a set of shifting assertions that gain credence to the degree that they prove transitorily useful for progressive causes. A sympathetic biographer, David Maraniss, noted that almost all the touchstone events in Barack Obama’s mythographic memoir were fabricated. Of course, Obama would object to such a value-laden term and instead call them composites, impressions stitched together and presented as truth to serve the higher moral narrative: a young biracial idealist searching for his identity in a mostly racist and oppressive America. To the degree that Dreams from My Father enhanced that narrative, then all of what was in it was “true” — even the literary agent’s bio attesting that the exotic author was born in faraway Kenya.
For the fabulist Obama, the past is a vague mess with shifting narratives that can serve noble contemporary causes. Take World War II — the old war that supposedly proves that victory is now an obsolete term, since, as Obama explained, Japanese Emperor Hirohito capitulated to General MacArthur, apparently on the deck of the Missouri, in a rare act never to happen again. Obama’s own grandfather was in the forefront of stopping Nazism, and the more dramatic the circumstances the better — so who cares whether the Russians, and not an American unit, liberated Auschwitz and Treblinka?
Indeed, the war is a sort of a vague haze where Nazi death camps become “Polish” and Pearl Harbor was hit with “the bomb.” If it is useful while speaking in Cairo to pretend that the Islamic world helped to prompt the European Renaissance (which benefitted enormously from the flight of Greek scholars as Constantinople was threatened by the Ottoman Turks) and Enlightenment (which ignited a Romantic interest in freeing Greece from Islam), then so be it. If Córdoba had few, if any, Muslims during the Spanish Inquisition, who cares, if we wish to hold up the Muslims there as beacons of tolerance in comparison to murderous Catholics?
No American has any idea whether recess appointments, executive privilege, executive orders, or filibusters are to be considered good, bad, or indifferent, since Senator/President Obama has damned and embraced them all. I vaguely remember that at one time Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, and preventive detention were either of no value or unconstitutional, and trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court and prosecuting CIA agents for supposedly too harsh interrogations were good. But that was all more than three years in the past, and hundreds of “Make no mistake about it”s and “Let me be perfectly clear”s ago.
I recall that there were once admonitions that President Obama could not by fiat enact amnesty or special programs for African-Americans based on race, and that he could not come out unequivocally for gay marriage. But who knows, since someone did enact amnesty, set up a special bureau for African-American education, and use support for gay marriage as a wedge issue in the 2012 campaign.
It is demagogic to suggest that anyone in the Obama administration deliberately leaked national-security secrets to favored New York and Washington reporters, so leaks about Predator-drone targeting, cyber war against Iran, double agents in Yemen, and the details of the Osama bin Laden mission were not really leaks at all, or, if they were, they came from non-administration sources.
The Obama health-care plan was once different from Hillary Clinton’s in that it never included an individual mandate, but then it did have a mandate, then it had a tax instead, and it ended up with a penalty. The only constant is that names change as circumstances dictate. Barack Obama does not take money from oil companies, hire lobbyists, approve of earmarks, or raise money from Wall Street, but somebody with that name did. The new civility is “punish our enemies.” Voter intimidation is asking for an ID at the polls — it is not trying to make it more difficult for those in the military to vote. Developing domestic energy means canceling the Keystone pipeline and putting vast areas of federal lands off limits to gas and oil production. If the private sector goes ahead, despite federal regulations and discouragement, with new fracking and horizontal drilling, then the Obama administration achieved record levels of domestic oil and gas production.
Someone said something about cutting the deficit in half within four years and, through borrowing, forcing unemployment under 6 percent, but I am not sure any more who it was — given that that was 42 months of 8 percent–plus unemployment and $5 trillion in borrowed money ago.
No one knows what “reset” with Russia was, or is, or will be; it didn’t so much fail as simply got erased. Nor can anyone figure out whether the dissidents in the streets of Tehran in 2009 were noble or to be ignored, or why exactly we belatedly supported the ouster of Mubarak, or what exactly turned Qaddafi from a monstrous oil exporter who had to be appeased to a really monstrous oil exporter who had to be removed, or why we had to reopen our embassy in Damascus as a gesture to the “reformer” Assad, who is now a murderous non-reformer who must go.
I am sure Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush flip-flopped and did things that they had said they would not, but there was always the clear sense that their hypocrisies were adjudicated by some sort of standard. With President Obama there is neither a reality nor a standard, just words that so often have no connection to the real world, past or present.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.