Politics & Policy

A Moral Primer

(White House via Flickr)
Obama’s legacy: government-induced chaos at home, moral equivalence abroad

The last but long gasp of the Obama administration is characterized not so much by deceit and incompetence as by growing chaos. Everything appears to be coming apart. The chariot of state now veers up and down with a terrified Phaethon clueless at the reins. Whether it is ISIS, Ebola, Putin, or Obamacare, the common strain is not simple incompetence, but a maladroitness born of intolerant ideological fundamentalism.

Have our government agencies ever seemed more corrupt or useless or both, staffed by political cronies and leftist zealots? What ever happened to the old IRS, GSA, VA, Secret Service, NSA, NASA, EPA, or Justice Department? All seem now mere appendages to a larger agenda of fundamentally transforming America.

We are mired in the slowest recovery in modern times, alleviated only by recently falling oil prices, which came despite, not because of, the president’s efforts. Fiscal sobriety is now redefined as a $600 billion annual deficit rather than the usual $1 trillion, again brought about by efforts other than Obama’s own. Yet the president has an unfortunate habit of taking credit for the good that he opposed and fobbing off on others responsibility for the bad that he embraced. There is interest in watching Obama’s press conferences, but mostly in appreciating how ingeniously he serially blames others for his own blunders.

Our foreign policy is such a wreck that it makes the mess of the Carter administration seem inspired in comparison. Europe is pouting because it finally, after a half century, found what it wanted in Obama, and yet it rues the fact that he is turning the United States into Europe — without a United States left to protect either. By Putin’s sheer force of malice and Obama’s paralysis, Russia is now sowing havoc from its borders to the Mediterranean. China is hesitant only to the degree that it cannot quite fathom whether such presidential ineptness could be real, or whether it is instead some intricate American feint designed to entice a cocky Beijing into overstepping its bounds.

Failed Marxism characterizes a Latin America that not long ago looked northward for help in making the transition to free-market democracy. There is little left to be said about a Middle East that now bears no resemblance to what it was prior to 2009 — an estranged Israel, a duplicitous Turkey, all labor for naught in Iraq, Iran smiling its way to a bomb, Syria as a desert, Libya from “lead from behind” to Benghazi, and on and on.

Obama’s chief legacy seems likely to be not the fiasco of Obamacare, but growing racial animosity — both racial chauvinism and the growing backlash to it. Rather than calm the waters, Attorney General Holder trashed his nation as one of “cowards,” while the president editorialized in the ongoing Trayvon Martin case in a way that could only accentuate tensions, completing the circle from his “typical white person” riff during the 2008 campaign. On amnesty, the president promises to override popular will, his own past stated caution, and the Congress in granting amnesty by fiat. Oddly, he blames the Republican House for the need for his extra-legal machinations — this from a president who had both Houses of Congress firmly under Democratic control, but froze in deadly fear that the people might punish him in the next election.

Buffoonery now characterizes the party of Harry Truman and JFK, emblemized by Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, whose spoutings are not just polarizing but incoherent. In these chaotic times, where can we find any moral guidance? How do we navigate through the fog? I suggest there are a few common areas that help us to make sense out of the present nonsense.

For every Jonathan Gruber who gouges the taxpayers he disdains, for every Eric Holder who jets at government expense to a horse race, and for every man-of-the-people Barack Obama with his vast entourages at Martha’s Vineyard, there are public figures who offer an alternative example. Senator Jeff Sessions warns of amnesty in terms of the wreckage from illegal immigration that falls upon the entry-level American worker and the spiraling costs of social services that harm the American poor; Sessions is the populist flipside to the elite apartheidist Mark Zuckerberg. Retired general James Mattis spends his energies worrying about his former troops and the future of his country rather than cashing in on Wall Street. We need to reexamine whom we admire and why, and we need to expect reality to match rhetoric. I don’t trust the man who won’t drive his own car, the politician suffused with Botox, or the leftist jetting in the Gulfstream — at least not much in these troubled times.

#page#Fifty years after the civil-rights movement, can we not become a society where race, tribe, ethnic background, and gender remain incidental, not essential, to our characters? Perhaps 40 years ago, hyphenated-Americanism, the self-conscious trilling of the r’s on the evening news, the Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus, the Asian Caucus, the quarter this, the half that, and La Raza (the embarrassing derivative from Mussolini’s and Franco’s emulation of the Volk) were understandable, but not in a multiracial United States of some 320 million people desperately in need of a common bond, a universal culture, language, or shared history that might prevent our rendezvous with the fate of Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Rwanda.

I more or less divide the world into two camps: those who transcend their group identity, and those who cling to it as a redoubt. I do not feel any more intrinsic empathy with a Swedish-American in Minnesota by virtue of a shared ethnic heritage than I do with my Mexican-American neighbors and childhood friends. So why grant any such exemption to others, especially at this late date in the American experiment? This last election was about a cohort of new-generation women and minorities who won office without much reference to their tribe or gender, versus ossified activists who tried to gin up various pseudo-wars on women and minorities to disguise their own absence of an idea. The latter lost badly. When the U.S. is in extremis, the last thing we need is more silly talk about high cheekbones, a “wise Latina,” or “my people” from our elites, who project their own careerist strategies upon a fragile body politic. Racial ecumenism versus racial separatism should not be a hard call. So the next time a public figure starts droning on about “my people” or blaming his own inadequacies on race, gender, or tribe, we need to tune him out and turn the channel. That Al Sharpton went from a buffoon to a presidential adviser is a mirror of the age.

Benjamin Netanyahu may be many things but he is certainly neither a coward nor a chickens**t. Such smears are the final sad epitaphs to this administration’s failed relations with the Jewish state. It takes neither a genius nor a moralist to distinguish a liberal state that phones to warn apartment dwellers about the targeted areas of its attack, and the terrorist clique that shoots its own who try to follow such warnings and save themselves. Only a moral adolescent could fail to distinguish a tiny beleaguered democratic atoll from the surrounding violent seas of tribalism, misogyny, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, economic Neanderthalism, autocracy, and terrorism. It is not difficult to appreciate that the liberal society in question has led the way to global breakthroughs in everything from neurosurgery to drip irrigation, while the illiberal model surrounding it leads only in discovering ingenious variations on how to blow civilians up. Hating Israel, saying it is morally no better than its enemies, and damning its democracy as demonic proves also a good guide to what is insane in the present age.

A final litmus test: Distinguish between those who blacken their country’s reputation abroad and those who do not. The sickness of Barack Obama’s apology tour was not just in his moral equivalence, or in his ignorance of history that treats the sins of mankind as if they were the supposedly unique failings of the United States, but also that Obama has a propensity to speak ill of the country that gave him everything when he is among those who bear that country such ill will. Do we remember how he sat mute when Daniel Ortega damned the United States at the Summit of the Americas in 2009? Has he ever heard of Churchill’s dictum (offered to the House of Commons in 1947) that “When I am abroad I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the Government of my country. I make up for lost time when I am at home.” How about the deplorable habit of elite Americans traipsing down to Mexico — whose immigration policies are medieval compared to our own — only to loudly trash the immigration laws of their own country? If Americans abroad express no confidence in their country, then why should our enemies fear us or our friends support us? On America’s worst day it is far preferable to any alternative abroad. Unfortunately, those who are most able to travel overseas are often from the very class that finds it fashionable to caricature their homeland. But it is a major character failing nonetheless.

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

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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