Politics & Policy

Obama, the Virtual Challenger

Campaigning in bomber jacket, November 1, 2012
Making no attempt to defend his record, he talks of what he “would” do in a second term.

In these last days of the race, Obama counts on the news of Sandy turning attention away from Romney’s October momentum, to photo-ops of himself in a monogrammed bomber jacket trying to look presidential. The more Benghazi creeps into the news, the stranger the silence from the Obama administration. But the real story is that almost all of the hope of 2008 has ended in the fear and loathing of 2012.

Obama has made no real attempt to defend much of what he has done in the last four years. It is as if his first term never existed — no 70 percent approval rating, no Democratic House, no Democratic Senate. Instead we are back to the future as a young Lincolnesque senator, with a clean slate, has come to save us from George W. Bush’s recession, which, we now learn, was caused by plutocrat Mitt Romney all along. Obama is the perpetual challenger, once more running against Bobby Rush, Alan Keyes, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain on all the wonderful things he would do if only he were elected.

On energy, suddenly the president has dropped all mention of “wind, solar, and 5 million new green jobs.” Under the radar, he may be pursuing cap-and-trade and shutting down coal plants by executive orders, but officially Obama is bragging that the oil and gas industry ignored him, drilled like crazy on private lands, and — in spite of him, not because of him — have vastly upped U.S. fossil-fuel production. And suddenly that is a good thing. His new energy message seems to have been reduced to something like, “Vote for me, because I failed to stop private energy companies, and so we are much better off.” It is as if cap-and-trade, the Chevy Volt, and Solyndra never existed.

#ad#There is the same disconnect on the economy. The recent dismal jobs report fell on deaf ears. The media do not care that the unemployment rate is worse now — after over $5 trillion borrowed and wasted — than when Obama took office four years ago. Old Democratic slogans like “It’s the economy, stupid,” and “jobless recovery” apply only when the GDP growth rate is over 3 percent, not hovering closer to 1 percent, and when unemployment is well below 6 percent, not nearly 8 percent. There is not much defense of Obamacare, or the stimulus — whose expenditures to this day cannot be defined, much less defended. Van Jones and “green jobs” are ancient history. Food-stamp statistics, new disability filings, and plunging per capita income are irrelevant and supposedly just right-wing talking points.

Instead, Obama is running as the challenger, using the hypothetical “I would” or the future-tense “I will” — as if it is Romney who has a record of failed presidential leadership. In short, Obama’s economic message is that we can reduce our defense budget — given sudden world tranquillity — and, at last, nation-build in America through radically new ideas of spending trillions of dollars in borrowed money.

The Obama notion on race, promulgated always by surrogates, is that a pro-Obama good 2008 vote proved that America in theory might not be racist, but a bad 2012 vote would confirm that it still is. No mention was ever made that Obama received more white votes than had any Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter. So the Reverend Joseph Lowery — who, with the exit of the president’s old pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, gave the benediction at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 with soaring platitudes of racial healing and in turn received the Medal of Freedom from him — just announced, “I don’t know what kind of a n—– wouldn’t vote with a black man running.” He then went on to declare that he once again believed, as he had insisted as a youth, that white people were “going to Hell.” When criticized, the Medal of Freedom winner said this was meant as a joke, but one may question how appropriate such a joke is in this new age of racial healing.

Jesse Jackson has likewise dropped all the pretense of his rainbow coalition. This last week he branded tea-partiers as racists of a “Fort Sumter Tea Party” who wished to “overthrow our government, engage in secession, sedition, segregation, and slavery.” This is reminiscent of Joe Biden’s “put y’all back in chains.” These are the logical wages of four years of Skip Gates editorializing, “punish our enemies,” the son who would have looked like Trayvon Martin, a nation of “cowards,” and “my people.”

As far as foreign affairs go, there are no longer any boasts about the Middle East and the Arab Spring, no longer any leaks about a possible Syrian “humanitarian” intervention. We hear nothing of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran — other than a desperate eleventh-hour Iranian attempt to affect the election by false promises to reduce enrichment, a measure that the theocracy scoffed at for four years. The world’s rogues — Putin, Chávez, Castro — have weighed in on the election, in the manner that school bullies each day smile at the freshman with pockets full of change.

U.S. foreign policy has been reduced to one boast, “I killed Osama bin Laden, and that is all ye need to know.” As in the case of Watergate, Benghazi and the murder of an ambassador and three other Americans will be in the news after the election, given that even the Obama White House and a toadyish media cannot suppress a lie of this magnitude. But for now Obama makes no effort to defend his reset foreign policy; it just exists as a sort of nothingness.

The same is true of the new civility. If Obama should win, he will, after the election, return to his sermons about negative advertising and promulgate his fables on bipartisanship. But for now, the crudity continues: Romney is a bullsh**ter. Take “revenge” by voting against Romney — reminding us that “get in their face” and “bring a gun to a knife fight” were characteristic, not aberrant. A gross ad is aired, comparing a vote for Obama with one’s first attempt at sexual intercourse. Child choruses sing of Romney the villain, the polluter, the monster. David Axelrod says that for the middle class, Paul Ryan’s proposed budget is “like a choice between a punch to the nose and a knee to the groin.” In an ad produced by Michael Moore, nursing-home dwellers talk of burning down America and punching Mitt Romney in the groin, replete with the usual four-letter words. Obama is supposedly oblivious to all this, as he counts on its stirring up his base. Indeed, no doubt he has already written his victory speech for November 7 — “It’s time to stop this negative infighting. There is no red, no blue America.” Blah, blah, blah . . .

What then is Obama’s strategy in this campaign — other than retention of the perks and power of office — given that he runs on hypotheticals as a virtual challenger? In fact, there are just two implicit themes: First, America is a different country now, and “they” (fill in the blanks — backward white people, privileged males, wealthy people, business people, misogynists, racists, xenophobes, homophobes, etc.) will put you into figurative chains without Obama to stop them. So we have Washington Post columnist Colbert King warning that Mitt Romney is the new Andrew Johnson, who, following a Christ-like Lincoln-Obama figure, would once again turn over the country to the states-rights racists. Of course, Mr. King keeps mum on the recent Joseph Lowery racist diatribes and Jesse Jackson invective. We are living in the age of a new brooding, petulant Nixon, who seeks power by talking of unity while constantly creating fissures of disunity.

Second, all the vast increases in disability insurance, unemployment insurance, and food stamps, the “free” health care, the government takeovers of money-losing companies, and the borrowed stimulus for state pensions and benefits — all that is preferable to a jobs-creating, free-market prosperous economy that enriches too few and empowers too many. In contrast, the new dependency can continue and expand only under Obama, who has the courage to make “them” (see above) pay their fair share for it.

Those messages are the gist of the Obama campaign — as if $5 trillion in new debt, Benghazi, permanently high unemployment, and an EU economy in America simply never existed.

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.

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