The New Age of Falsity
Four legs good, two legs better.

President Barack Obama


Victor Davis Hanson

Whether the president is responsible for the economy depends on the circumstances. Bush did nothing to improve the economy between 2001 and September 2008. But he is responsible for the bad economy from September 2008 to January 2013. Neither house of Congress has any real responsibility for our economic fate, so between 2007 and 2011 both were irrelevant. But one house of Congress does sometimes. So starting in 2011 the House of Representatives in two years caused the mess we’re in now, in a way that the Senate and House had not in the four previous years.

Golfing used to be proof of plutocratic remoteness and idle folly, where rich guys dress up in funny clothes and putter about. Now it is a green sort of downtime for our commander-in-chief to unwind in the best tradition of Dwight Eisenhower. Thanks to Barack Obama, golf is now finally recognized as politically correct recreation. The president shoots guns “all the time”; we know that because the White House both released one picture of him with a gun and earmuffs, and ridiculed those who thought the occasion unique rather than ordinary.

When watching Al Gore plug his latest alarmist book to progressive interviewers, I can no longer remember whether he is supposed to be a selfless public intellectual who, at enormous financial risk, started a new progressive television channel to promulgate long-needed awareness about politics and the environment, or whether as a rank speculator he scrambled to push through a secretive deal to sell his $100 million inflated interest in that channel to an anti-Semitic, anti-Western news conglomerate, run by an authoritarian Middle East dictator laden with oil-cartel profits — right before new higher capital-gains taxes might lessen his take by 5 or 6 percent. There are apparently two sorts of wealthy people: those on the left who reluctantly make big money and seek hyper-profits and tax avoidance as means to a noble social end, and those on the right who eagerly seek needless profits and tax reduction to enrich themselves and not society.

The world’s premier cyclist says that he was lying about his doping for most of his career, when it was in his interest to fabricate, but that he is no longer lying now that it is even more in his interest to come clean. The hottest singer in popular culture now confesses, after a long silence, that she faked singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Inauguration — that she lip-synched not a ballad at a football game, but the National Anthem at the president’s inauguration. And she faked it for our sake, she says, out of a sense of professionalism. Both believe that once they crossed the threshold of fame, the prosaic protocols no longer applied to them.

In the tradition of heroic Notre Dame football stars, we are moved by a collegiate football standout sharing his lamentations about a dying girlfriend on the eve of his Big Game — except that the story is so contorted and fanciful that most are more confused by the truth than they were by the lie. To reinforce the prevailing narrative of race and class in America, we want to believe that Trayvon Martin — no doubt innocently walking home from the store — was gunned down by a racist redneck vigilante, and so we must invent a new term to describe his shooter, “white Hispanic,” as our media endlessly air a doctored telephone transmission to produce the desired result. If the therapeutic culture wants something to be true, then why should inconvenient things stand in the way of what should have happened?

“Impartial moderators” in the media used to go through the motions of declaring that their intertwined Washington marriages or their prior partisan employment did not affect their objectivity; now they don’t even make the effort. If in 2008 Gwen Ifill had a hagiography coming out about candidate Barack Obama, as she was pegged to moderate the vice-presidential debate, by 2012 Candy Crowley had no inhibitions about fact-checking Mitt Romney — and only Mitt Romney — in the middle of his answers, even though her interruption and editorializing were less factually accurate than the statements by the object of her scrutiny. Again, there are no rules per se; the question is who has good intentions and who is without them. The facts follow accordingly.

Even on the rare occasions when public figures are caught, doublespeak follows. “I accept full responsibility” is the new nothing sentence of contrition, rarely to be followed up by resignation or demotion in rank and pay. “We will not rest until the guilty parties are brought to justice” means even less — nothing much other than to remind us that after six months the latest terrorist killing will be mostly forgotten. “My actions were entirely inappropriate” is a banality offered as verbal penance in order to continue, rather than end, a career. Plagiarism — ask Maureen Dowd or Fareed Zakaria — is an archaic word for a little borrowing, an e-mail confusion, an overzealous research assistant, the complexities of Microsoft Word, or a right-wing gotcha game. To preach against hubris, one must practice hubris.

Why do now live in an age of so many meaningless things?

Our elites in academia and the media have some culpability. Thirty years of nihilist postmodern relativism — no absolute truth, just constructs based on race, class, and gender privilege — have finally filtered down to the popular culture. An obsession with celebrity also has meant that we increasingly worship the antics of the wealthy and famous and decreasingly worry what they had to do to obtain or maintain both.

In the new progressive age, the exalted ends of equality sometimes require that the means of achieving a place on the public stage should remained largely unexamined. If there is no consistency, no transparency, no absolute standard, then it is because the task of fairness is hard and occasionally requires extraordinary sacrifices for the greater good. And to the degree that someone is deemed cool, then cool trumps most everything else: Google executives don’t outsource. Rappers are not misogynists. Green apostles don’t have conflicts of interest. And men in camouflage with assault weapons don’t just kill less than 1 percent of those Americans lost each year to gun violence, but account for all sorts of vastly more evil things that we cannot even begin to describe.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals will appear in the spring from Bloomsbury Books.