‘The way I think about it,” Barack Obama told a TV station in Orlando, “is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft.”
He has a point. This is a great, great country that got so soft that 53 percent of electors voted for a ludicrously unqualified chief executive who would be regarded as a joke candidate in any serious nation. One should not begrudge a man who seizes his opportunity. But one should certainly hold in contempt those who allow him to seize it on the basis of such flaccid generalities as “hope” and “change”: That’s more than “a little” soft. “He’s probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” declared presidential historian Michael Beschloss the day after the 2008 election. But you don’t have to be that smart to put one over on all the smart guys. “I’m a sap, a specific kind of sap. I’m an Obama Sap,” admits David Brooks, the softest touch at the New York Times. Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek, now says of the president: “He wasn’t ready, it turns out, really.”
If you’re a tenured columnist at the New York Times, you can just about afford the consequences of your sappiness. But out there among the hundreds of thousands of your readers who didn’t know you were a sap until you told them three years later, soft choices have hard consequences. If you’re one of Obama’s core constituencies, the ones who looked so photogenic at all the hopeychangey rallies, things are really hard: “Young Becoming ‘Lost Generation’ Amid Recession” (CBS News). Tough luck, rubes. You got a bumper sticker; he got to make things worse.
But don’t worry, it’s not much better at the other end of the spectrum: “Obama’s Wall Street Donors Look Elsewhere” (UPI). Gee, aren’t you the fellows who, when you buy a company, do something called “due diligence”? But you sunk everything into stock in Obamania Inc. on the basis of his “perfectly creased pant leg” or whatever David Brooks was drooling about that day? You handed a multi-trillion-dollar economy to a community organizer and you’re surprised that it led to more taxes, more bureaucracy, more regulation, more barnacles on an already rusting hulk?
Hard statism is usually murmured in soft, soothing, beguiling terms: Regulation is about cleaner air, healthier restaurants, safer children’s toys. Sounds so nice. But federal regulation alone sucks up 10 percent of GDP. That’s to say, Americans take the equivalent of the Canadian economy and toss it down the toilet just in complying with federal paperwork. Obama and the great toxic alphabet soup of federal regulation — EPA, OSHA, SEC, DHSS — want to take that 10 percent and crank it up to 12, 14, 15 percent.
Who could have foreseen that? The most dismal thing about that David Brooks column conceding that “yes, I’m a sap . . . remember, I’m a sap . . . as you know, I’m a sap” was the headline his New York Times editors chose to append to it: “Obama Rejects Obamaism.”
In other words, even in a column remorselessly cataloguing how one of its smartest smart guys had been repeatedly suckered by Obama on jobs, on Medicare, on deficits, on tax reform, etc., the New York Times chose to insist that there is still something called “Obamaism” — prudent, centrist, responsible — that for some perverse reason the man for whom this political philosophy is named insists on betraying, 24/7, week in, month out, spring, summer, autumn, tax season. You can set your clock by Obama’s rejection of “Obamaism.”
That’s because there’s no such thing. There never was. “Obamaism” was the Emperor’s new centrism: To a fool such as your average talk-radio host, His Majesty appears to be a man of minimal accomplishments other than self-promotion marinated in a radical faculty-lounge view of the world and the role of government. But, to a wise man such as your average presidential historian or New York Times columnist, he is the smartest guy ever to become president.
In part, this is a natural extension of an ever more conformist and unrepresentative establishment’s view of where “the center” is. On issues from abortion to climate change, a Times man or Hollywood activist or media professor’s notion of “centrism” is well to the left of where American opinion is. That’s one reason why a supposedly “center-right” nation has wound up regulated into sclerosis, drowning in debt, and embarking on its last decade as the world’s leading economy. But in the case of Obama the chasm between soft, seductive, politico-media “centrism” and hard, grim reality is too big to bridge, and getting wider all the time.
You would think this might prompt some sober reflection from an American mainstream press dying in part because of its dreary ideological conformity. After all, a key reason why 53 percent voted for a man who was not, in Tina Brown’s word, “ready” is that Tina and all her pals assured us he was. Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law, a little light community organizing, a couple of years timeserving in a state legislature: That’s what America’s elites regard as an impressive resume rather than a bleak indictment of contemporary notions of “accomplishment.” Obama would not have withstood scrutiny in any society with a healthy, skeptical press. Yet, like the high-rolling Wall Street moneybags, they failed to do due diligence.
Three years on, nothing has changed. Obama is proposing to raise taxes because of some cockamamie yarn Warren Buffett has been peddling about his allegedly overtaxed secretary. Yet the court eunuchs of the media persist in taking Buffett seriously as an archetypal exemplar of the “American business community” rather than as an especially well-connected crony. Sometimes, Obama cronyism is merely fiscally wasteful, as in the still-underreported Solyndra “green jobs” scandal. One sympathizes with reporters assigned to the story: It’s hard to get all the public monies and Solyndra-exec White House visit logs lined up in digestible form for the casual reader. But sometimes Obama cronyism is murderous: Eric Holder, a man unfit to be attorney general of the United States, continues to stonewall the “Fast and Furious” investigation into taxpayer-funded government gun-running to Mexican drug cartels. It is alleged that the administration chose to facilitate the sale of American weapons to crime kingpins south of the border in order to support a case for gun control north of the border. Evidence keeps piling up: The other day, a letter emerged from ATF supervisor David Voth authorizing Special Agent John Dodson to buy Draco pistols to sell directly to known criminals. Over 200 Mexicans are believed to have been killed by “Fast and Furious” weapons — that’s to say, they were killed by a U.S.-government program.
Doesn’t the New York Times care about dead Mexicans? Doesn’t Newsweek or CBS News? Isn’t Obamaism with a body count sufficiently eye-catching even for the U.S. press? Or, three years in, are the enablers of Obama still so cynical that they accept it as a necessary price to pay for “change you can believe in”? You can’t make a hopenchange omelette without breaking a couple hundred Mexican eggs?
Obama says America has “gotten a little soft.” But there’s nothing soft about a dead-parrot economy, a flatline jobs market, regulatory sclerosis, “green jobs” multi-billion-dollar squandering — and a mountain of dead Mexicans. In a soft nation, “centrist” government is hard and cruel. Only the media coverage is soft-focus.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn