Historians will look back at the 2008 campaign in the light of the 2010 midterm elections. Almost everything the president has done in the last two years is simply a continuance of that now strangely distant summer.
The only disconnects are (1) that the media are now embarrassed by Obama’s rapid decline in the polls and so suddenly, in catch-up fashion, have chosen to highlight his inexperience and hypocrisy in a way they did not in 2008. And (2) that governance requires concrete action in a way campaign rhetoric does not, and thus the American public can evaluate the consequences of deeds rather than the implications of mellifluent hope-and-change rhetoric.
Remember the 2008 claims of bipartisanship and an end to the old style of politics? Yet there was nothing in Obama’s prior career to substantiate those idealistic claims. In his first race, for the Illinois state senate in 1996, he sued to remove opponents from the ballot, and in his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, the divorce records of both his primary- and general-election opponents were mysteriously leaked. Subsequently, Obama compiled the most partisan record in the entire Senate, proving that he was the least willing senator to veer from a doctrinaire ideology. So if we are surprised that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Fox News, John Roberts, the tea parties, John Boehner, the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove, and Ed Gillespie have later become bogeymen of the week, we must remember that this is merely the logical continuance of Obama’s earlier hardball modus operandi.
Remember Obama’s praise for public campaign financing, with its attendant restrictions? Yet Obama was the first candidate in the history of publicly financed presidential campaigns to renounce such funding (after promising that he would accept it). His renunciation of the Carter-era program has probably wrecked the idea that presidential candidates will ever again be bound by public-financing protocols. In fact, Obama raised the largest pile of campaign cash in history, much of it from Wall Street, some of it from unnamed donors. So if we are surprised that he is now ritually attacking Wall Street financiers and alleging that his opponents are raising funds from unnamed sources, it is simply because he knows such landscapes firsthand only too well.
Remember the serial attacks on the Bush anti-terrorism protocols — questioning intercepts, wiretaps, and the Patriot Act, and decrying predator attacks in Afghanistan/Pakistan — and the promises to exit Iraq, close down Guantanamo, and end renditions and tribunals? Other than introducing some creative euphemisms (e.g., “man-made disasters,” “overseas contingency operations”), Obama either kept or vastly expanded the Bush protocols, apparently on the assumptions that (a) they were always needed and his prior opposition was simply acceptable campaign demagoguery, and (b) the Left’s opposition to the anti-terrorism efforts was always disingenuous and aimed only at sullying Bush, and therefore it would dissipate once Obama took them over intact.
Remember the condescending Pennsylvania clingers speech, and the psychoanalysis of his own grandmother’s purported “typical white person” sort of racism? Such professorial tsk-tsking has simply now been channeled into deprecations of a new cast of yokels, whose denseness and emotionalism ensured that they also could not appreciate all that Obama had done for them.
Indeed, the supposedly limbic-brained voters of Pennsylvania would easily recognize some of Obama’s later analyses: “So I’ve been a little amused over the last couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes. You would think they would be saying thank you.” And, “At a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface — suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.” And, “Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now and facts and science and argument does [sic] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hardwired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.” And (of his own disenchanted supporters), “If people now want to take their ball and go home that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place. If you’re serious, now’s exactly the time that people have to step up.”
Remember all the right-wing furor over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, Father Pfleger, Rashid Khalidi, and a host of other Obama associates that suggested in 2008 he was well out of the American mainstream? In that context, the appointment of a Van Jones or an Anita Dunn made perfect sense. Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina,” Eric Holder’s “cowards, ” and Van Jones’s white students engaging in mass murder and “white polluters . . . steering poison into the people of color’s communities”; the president’s own putdowns of the police, the Arizona law, and the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque; the apology tour, the bowing abroad, the snubbing of the British, and on and on were only elaborations of the same Chicago/Ivy League view of America as a largely racist, unfair, and deeply flawed society.
One could continue with numerous other examples from the summer of 2008 that have been reified during the first 21 months of Obama’s governance, but the picture is clear enough. Almost all the current style and substance of President Obama were clear enough in the 2008 campaign. But in that long-ago, dreamy summer of mass hypnosis, the excitement about our first African-American president, a biased media, Bush/Iraq, the September 15 meltdown, the lackluster McCain candidacy, and an orphaned election with no incumbent running all conspired to convince voters that what they heard and saw was not so disturbing — or at least that it would end once Obama became president.
So the 2008 campaign, as brilliantly as it was waged in Machiavellian fashion by Obama, will be reinterpreted in the context of the 2010 setback.
The voters are rebelling because they believe they have been had. They now think that they were deceived in 2008 into voting for someone who never had any intention of governing in the bipartisan manner on which he had campaigned.
Conservative and moderate pundits and elite commentators who went for Obama then are rebelling now because they foolishly assured the country that the assumed intellectualism of the charismatic Obama — so in contrast to the twangy, evangelical Bush — far outweighed any Neanderthal right-wing worries that Obama had a long record of hard-Left associations and dubious proclamations.
The media are rebelling because they have wakened up to the current polls and concluded that Obama in 2008 had charmed them into sacrificing their reputations for disinterested reportage. Then once elected, he cynically counted on their continued subservience to destroy any shred of credibility that they had left.
The Democratic establishment is rebelling because it fell for the hard-left agenda of a charming pied piper who promised them that he could disguise and package extremism to ensure years of Democratic majorities and an FDR-like omnipresence — only to destroy thousands of their careers at the local, state, and national levels.
The left wing is rebelling because a postracial, postnational Obama deceived them into thinking that his non-traditional heritage, his glibness, and his own godhead would carry through their ultra-liberal agenda that historically the American people did not want — only to discover that it was impossible, and that he would now sermonize to them that it was in fact impossible.
Yet they were all warned — in that strange summer of 2008.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.