Politics & Policy

Don’t Mess with Messiahs

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Whenever things go wrong, it’s the fault of those obstructionists in Congress.

In Obama’s most recent — and embarrassing — public whine, he lashed out at the once-obsequious press. In his now customary first-person I/me/my/mine lament (e.g., “They don’t do anything, except block me and call me names. . . . If they were more interested in growing the economy for you and the issues that you are talking about instead of trying to mess with me, we would be doing a lot better. . . . The critics, the cynics in Washington, they’ve written me off more times than I can count.”), he lambasted the partisan culture of Washington. He lashed out at the Tea Party, the House Republicans, his opponents in general, and all those who would unreasonably oppose his blanket amnesties, his climate-change taxes and regulations, the shutdown of the Keystone-pipeline project, Obamacare, and $9 trillion in new debt.

Apparently someone other than Obama is in charge when the IRS goes rogue, the VA implodes, the Justice Department goes after Associated Press reporters, the consulate in Benghazi is overrun, the NSA taps the phones of allied leaders, Iraq is torn apart, the Middle East melts down, or we trade five terrorist kingpins for an American deserter. Obama’s impromptu adolescent moaning was bizarre and reminds us again why he would be wiser to stay close to his teleprompter.

Obama also seems oddly to forget that when he promised to use his pen and phone to run things by his lonesome, nearly everyone took him at his word. And so he tried just that. What Obama is now angry about is not partisanship per se, but that his own partisanship and subversion of settled law have been repudiated consistently by both the Supreme Court and the American public. Were Obama’s poll ratings at 60 percent, and were the Supreme Court upholding his pen-and-phone governance, and were the Democrats on the verge of winning back their long-lost supermajority in the Senate and taking back the House, then Obama would hardly be decrying partisanship, the media, the Tea Party, or Republicans in general. “Messing” with Obama means not being convinced that his record has helped America.

So there is an increasingly desperate strain to the Obama Left, the more so in that the scandals pile up and any idea of a legacy vanishes into Carteresque caricature. One unfortunate result of the end of the “hope and change” and “fundamental transformation” agenda is a sour-grapes nihilism — a sort of “the scandals are your problem, not mine” attitude. In each case, those worried about the mounting chaos are flippantly dismissed with the assumption that they themselves are at fault for worrying about it.

A rogue IRS? Obama smiles that there is not a “smidgen” of corruption as the new IRS commissioner says the agency owes the American people no apologies.

The VA scandal? Too many wars have meant too many veterans needing treatment.

The swap of a probable deserter for five key terrorists? Bergdahl served honorably — end of story.

Monitoring Associated Press journalists? Some of Obama’s supporters are not too worried, because did not the administration at least go after Fox News?

Benghazi? The administration now concedes that the lie about the video is no longer operative, so what’s the big deal?

Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of Afghanistan as the good war and Iraq as the bad one. Indeed, as a presidential candidate in late 2007 he rashly called — in the middle of the successful surge — for the departure of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of March 2008. He later pronounced the surge a failure. He concluded that it would even make matters in Iraq worse. Then he hushed up as the surge, in fact, bequeathed to him a mostly quiet Iraq.

As president, Obama seemed content for most of 2009–2011 to keep trashing George W. Bush for the Iraq War, while simultaneously claiming the calm as his own doing (cf. Joe Biden’s assessment of Iraq as likely to prove the administration’s “greatest achievement” and Obama’s own characterization of the post-surge Iraq as “stable” and “self-reliant”).

With a little inspired diplomacy Obama could have easily left some residual U.S. troops to ensure that Iraq in fact remained for America what Obama himself called “an extraordinary achievement.” But then again, the 2012 reelection campaign loomed, and the sloganeering of “ending one war and winding down another” apparently made such peacekeeping electorally impossible.

Obama was reelected. Iraq descended into Somalia-like chaos. And the administration’s indifferent attitude for most of 2013, as it watched the growing ISIS threat from Syria spill into Iraq, was something like either “Stuff happens” or “Bush did it.”

What we have been watching unfold in the last six months is the veritable destruction of the Middle East, at least as it had existed for 70 years. National borders are disappearing. The idea of a nation state itself is vanishing. Arabs are institutionalizing their ancient creed that tribal affinities always trump national allegiances. The slur against utopian neo-cons was that they naïvely thought they could remove a tyranny in the Middle East and foster democracy at a reasonable cost; the writ against the dystopian neo-progressives will be that they alternately ignored, appeased, threatened, and bombed a nation to ensure chaos.

There is now no middle ground in the region. The conflict is largely descending into radical Sunni fundamentalism versus radical Shiite fundamentalism. At a time when the U.S. should be trying to ensure the safety of the few remaining Sunni-dominated states of the Middle East, and reassuring smaller and moderate pro-American nations or provinces (e.g., Jordan, Israel, and Kurdistan), the Obama administration is either decidedly indifferent or toying with the apparently neat idea of allying ourselves with Iran. That theocracy through its terrorist appendages is probably responsible for killing more Americans over the last 30 years than any other nation state.

The administration’s Middle East message could best be summed up along the following lines: “Barack Obama, with his singular sympathies for Islam, came into the world to save the Middle East from George W. Bush’s Texan rambunctiousness, but the Middle East did not accept salvation at his hands — so goodbye to them all, and they probably will get what they deserve” (a message, by the way, that the hyper-political Obama administration knows resonates with lots of Americans, left and right).

Before his reelection, Obama lectured Hispanic pressure groups that he was no tyrant and could not impose amnesty by fiat. Instead, he advised them to “punish our enemies” at the polls. They did. Now a lame-duck Obama, no longer needing to worry over reelection, is sending the nation the message that he can indeed be a tyrant, and he thus has all but ended federal immigration law. For the first time in our nation’s history, thousands of foreign nationals are approaching the Border Patrol requesting, not fearing, arrest, on the apparently correct belief that their illegal entry into the U.S. and all the problems that surround it are a sort of payback to conservatives for opposing Obama’s notion of comprehensive immigration reform. Again, the nihilistic message is something like, “Since you did not want my immigration agenda, then deal with tens of thousands of children on your border.”

The latest GDP figures show that after $9 trillion in borrowed money, various stimuli and tax hikes, and zero interest rates, the economy is shrinking. Any empiricist would conclude that whatever the Obama administration has been doing the last six years – for two of which there were large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress — it is not working. Yet the administration’s reaction seems to be more deficit spending, more zero interest rates, more regulations, more restrictions on new energy development, and more class-warfare rhetoric.

Again, the message seems to be something like, “One way or another we are going to grow government, broaden the progressive base, increase the number of Americans on entitlements, raise taxes, cheapen the value of money, run up deficits, pile up regulations — and let you nitpickers worry about the high unemployment, sinking GDP, and declining household income.” The point is not to find the best way to help ordinary Americans, but to find a way to ram through a progressive economic agenda without much concern over whether it works or makes things worse.

The next two years will be scary. Any time a self-appointed messiah is rejected by his flock, his anger at the ungrateful nonbelievers grows. We have messed with our savior — so woe unto us!

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.



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