It could not last — the attendee of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church sermonizing on tolerance; the practitioner of Chicago politics lecturing on civility; the most partisan voting record in the Senate as proof of a new promised bipartisanship; earlier books and speeches calling for hard-core progressivism as evidence of a no-more-red-state-blue-state conciliation. And in fact the disconnect did not last, and Barack Obama finds himself dealing with assorted chickens coming home to roost.
In the summer of 2004, Michael Moore released a crude propaganda film, Fahrenheit 9/11, full of distortions and half-truths, and yet passed off as a documentary — all designed to help swing the election to Democratic challenger John Kerry. Hollywood, the media, and the Left in general did not worry about the film’s inaccuracies or the mythology that the infomercial was a disinterested documentary. Instead, liberals deified Moore. Indeed, he was an honored guest at the Democratic Convention, and liberal luminaries paid him obeisance at various showings of the film.
The goddess Nemesis took note, and this year Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan followed Moore’s model. The result is a blockbuster “documentary,” 2016: Obama’s America, that does more to Barack Obama than Michael Moore once did to George W. Bush. The Left is perturbed, unappreciative that its own methods and objectives have been turned against itself, and in a more sophisticated and far more effective manner than Moore’s buffoonery.
The Left in the era of Barack Obama established other ends-justify-the-means precedents. In 2008, Obama surmised that no one else would ever raise the sorts of gigantic sums that he was then amassing (in toto nearly $800 million, more than twice the amount raised by John McCain), and so was the first candidate to renounce public financing of a presidential campaign in the general election since the law was passed. But, of course, Obama never imagined that four years later his approval ratings would be less than 50 percent, or that he would be running against a financier who could match his efforts dollar for dollar.
Nor did Obama think that a mesmerized Wall Street, from which he raised more cash than any prior candidate, would object all that much to his populist boilerplate against “1 percenters,” “fat-cat bankers,” and owners of “corporate jets.” So now what exactly will he do? Appeal to Romney to abide by public-financing rules? Blast Romney for raising too much money? Damn Romney for courting Wall Street?
Beneath the folksy veneer and the serial calls for “civility,” Obama proved vicious in his denunciations of George Bush, at one point calling him “unpatriotic” for adding $4 trillion to the national debt over eight years. Obama offered two general arguments: that the chief executive is solely responsible for economic hard times, and that four years is easily long enough to right the ship. Obama scoffed at the Bush defense that politically driven interventions by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae — hand in glove with congressional overseers — had distorted the real-estate market and contributed to the subprime-mortgage collapse, which destroyed an otherwise strong economy.
Obama boasted further that he would cut the deficit by half during his first term, and asserted that he would rather be a successful president than a two-term one. And he added that he should not be reelected if the economy was not restored to health. Apparently Obama assumed that after every recession (this one ended in June 2009) there is a natural recovery, the latter all the more robust when the former is severe. For all the right-wing scare talk about Obamacare, federal takeovers, more taxes, and too many regulations, Obama also took for granted that the cry-wolf private sector would bounce back — no matter how much his policies threatened it — and would almost magically continue to make so much money that an ever-growing government could redistribute ever more of it.
Yet now Romney is echoing Obama’s exact arguments: Yes, the chief executive is responsible for things like 43 months of 8 percent–plus unemployment, $5 trillion in new debt, and anemic GDP growth; and, yes, if things do not improve after four years, then it is time to change the president.
Obama established a wink-and-nod type of negative attack. As he called in sonorous tones for hope and change and a new civility, he negatively stereotyped a stunning cross-section of Americans: The white working class became “clingers,” the police “stereotype” minorities and act “stupidly,” small-business owners “didn’t build” their own businesses, doctors lop off limbs and yank out tonsils, bankers are “fat cats” — apparently on the premise that such groups would never take all this invective seriously. At various times Mitt Romney has been reduced to a dastardly financial pirate, a killer of innocent cancer victims, a veritable racist, and now a misogynist. After the class-warfare card and the race card, we await only Obama’s use of the Mormon card. Yet the polls remain roughly even, and Obama is about to be the target of a no-holds-barred assault fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars. Ethically speaking, what possible Romney sin might Obama object to? That super-PAC ads are unfair? That Romney has gone negative? That Romney stereotypes entire groups? That Romney’s inner staff are ethically compromised? This, after Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, was paid $100,000 for two speeches in Nigeria in December 2010, to a company that was eager for influence and whose affiliates did business with an embargoed Iran; Plouffe made the trip to Nigeria about a month before he joined the administration as a senior adviser. Just this month, deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on national television asserted something demonstrably false — that she did not know the facts about the woman Mitt Romney supposedly caused to die of cancer.
During the Bush administration, the Left established another caricature: the gaffe-prone, golf-playing elitist George Bush. Did they ever imagine that they were ensuring like caricature for the leftist academic Barack Obama, who quite unexpectedly would play golf four times more often in four years than Bush did in eight years? Or that for every Bushism there would be a “corpse-man”? Or that the small ranch house in Crawford, Texas, would be trumped by First Family jaunts to Martha’s Vineyard, Costa del Sol, and Aspen? I would like to think a slip like “57 states” is just a slip, or that golf is valuable presidential relaxation, but I was taught by the Left that such garbled speech is a window into a confused mind, and that presidential golf is elite recreation that betrays class privilege.
In 2008, there was a lot of sloganeering on energy policy. Obama assured us that we could “not drill” our way out of a spike in gas prices. “Millions of new green jobs” was heard at almost every rally, along with shouts about wind and solar this and that. In less guarded moments, Obama assured us that he would pass cap-and-trade legislation, “bankrupt” coal companies, and allow coal-based energy prices to “skyrocket.” These were the heady days of “peak oil” and the liberal attack against “oil men in the White House” — on the eve of the Chevy Volt and breakthrough new companies with names like Solyndra.
At the very time when well-connected crony capitalists were squandering hundreds of millions of dollars in federal wind and solar subsidies, a quiet private-sector revolution in horizontal drilling and fracking vastly expanded America’s gas and oil reserves — despite, not because of, Obama’s energy policies. The paradox finally become so absurd that Obama was reduced to bragging that the United States was producing more gas and oil under his watch than ever before, apparently on the logic that oil men were so adept that they could find vast amounts of new sources of energy on private lands without worrying about the Obama administration’s efforts to virtually cut off all new leasing on federal lands. The result is that our first green president is facing $4-a-gallon gas while he brags that what he tried to stop proved unstoppable.
Nemesis, remember, is not just karma, but payback with an absurd twist.
— 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.