Obama as Carter

by Victor Davis Hanson

I don’t think Clinton is quite the model for Obama’s evolution. The president is more like Jimmy Carter circa 1980, when suddenly he was scrambling abroad and at home to address the implosion he had caused in 1977–9, as he empowered the Right and caused dissension among the Left. Obama no doubt sees political dividends in the latest tax compromises, but in some sense there were no more arrows in his once-large liberal quiver — after stimuli, make-work grants, mega-deficit spending, vast new entitlements, “millions of new green jobs,” union promotion, take-overs, bailouts, extended unemployment benefits, and spread-the-wealth/you’ve made-enough-money talk all failed to revive the economy and lower unemployment.

Now he’s embracing tax cuts and pro-business rhetoric as a de facto concession that his own EU-like agenda has not worked and will not work, and might well destroy the Democratic party if continued. Abroad, we are starting to see late 1979–80 redux, as bad actors begin cashing in their chips: North Korea is on an “I dare you” binge, bolstered by Chinese assurances of tacit support; Turkey didn’t quite get the “Bush did it” outreach; the Middle East is more, not less tense for all the loud distancing from Israel; Islamic would-be terrorists here at home apparently did not listen to the Cairo speech and the Ground Zero mosque outreach; Venezuela now believes it can be the nuclear-tipped Iran of Latin America; Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria are more belligerent; Russia is a partner only to the degree it is offered unilateral concessions; China is in snub mode; and the European governing elite is ruing that it got the America it always dreamed about. 

The loudest of Obama’s campaign-promised reset initiatives — trying KSM in civilian court, closing Guantanamo, pulling out of Iraq, ending renditions and tribunals, stopping the Patriot Act intercepts and wiretapping, and privileging the U.N. — have all been dropped or become precursors to vast expansions (the Predator hit program and escalation in Afghanistan). From WikiLeaks, we have learned that the administration that demonized its predecessor as unilateral and nontransparent ended up trying to spy on U.N. diplomats. Eric Holder has done for Alberto Gonzales what Obama did for Bush.

Politically, the Left is where it was in 1980, furious that its once-prophetic president has feet of clay and did not deliver a 50-year liberal regnum; they have no clue that too much liberalism, rather than not enough, is the problem. And thanks to Obama, the Right is soaring Phoenix-like from the ashes of 2006–8. We can even see in Jimmy Carter a preview of the 40-year post-presidency to come: petulance that an uninformed electorate did not appreciate the benefactions bestowed by an unappreciated messiah.

However, conservatives should take no joy in this meltdown, inasmuch as there are 26 months left of it, and the fiscal, economic, and security damage to a great and wonderful country will be substantial — again, as under Carter.

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