What is new about this transition, or at least relatively new — unlike the Carter-Reagan, Reagan-Bush, Bush-Clinton, and Clinton-Bush change-overs — is that an entire sector of the country has been convinced by an intellectual establishment — in the media, universities, foundations, the fringes of the Democratic Party, the arts, Hollywood, etc. — that Obama arrives to end quasi-fascistic rule and radically change U.S. foreign policy to win back over the world’s good will.
But when we look at actual specifics and ignore the boilerplate mainstream liberal rhetoric about “multilateralism” and “rebuilding our alliances,” and also ignore the “inside” horror stories (cf. the recent Vanity Fair Bush hit-piece) by failures and opportunists like a Scott McClellan or Matthew Dowd, we really do not see very much.
Already there is back-peddling on FISA, the Patriot Act, and renditions. Who knows what the plan is on Gitmo, other than to keep promising prompt its closing, while keeping it open as lawyers wonder whether Khalid Sheik Mohammed might in fact welcome a federal trial in D.C. or New York — in hopes that one juror could be found to be sympathetic to a radical Islamic agenda and thus nullify the evidence presented and free the ultimate murderer of 3,000 innocents?
I don’t doubt that hope and change rhetoric, from a non-traditional charismatic leader, won’t do some good abroad, but on key issues — Iraq, Afghanistan, probably the Middle East and Iran, NATO, missile defense, China, India, North Korea, etc. — Sec. Clinton won’t be doing much differently from Sec. Rice. Sec. Gates won’t be different from Sec. Gates. One can scream “neo-con” all day long, but at the end of the day getting rid of two horrific dangerous regimes, and promoting democracy in their place for 50 million people is hardly John Foster Dulles redux.
Perhaps on climate change there will be a break with the past. But recent studies suggesting the evidence on manmade planet warming is far from clear, coupled with a recession (nothing stops greenhouse gases like plant shutdowns and less driving), argue likewise that Obama, despite the soaring wind and solar rhetoric, may not rush to reintroduce Kyoto and that his policies will be closer to the last two years of Bush than to Al Gore’s.
In short, Bush’s supposedly diabolical neocon foreign policy was actually pretty mainstream other than the cacophony — over removing Saddam and staying on to foster democracy — in fall 2002-spring 2003. Obama’s alternative world view was pretty much campaign rhetoric to position himself to the left of Hillary in the primary and sound hip to the big-donor liberal Left and is passing with the seasons.
On matters of a “new ethos” and “not doing business as usual,” I think one could legitimately argue that the Obama transition ethical lapses — Richardson, the Treasury Secretary nominee’s Rangelesque tax problems, the Blago tapes to come surrounding the Obama Senate seat — already dwarf the surrealistic Libby matter during the eight years of the Bush administration. And when the administration actually begins, we will have dozens of Clintonites on the loose bumping into an equal number of Daleyite Chicagoans — an interesting ethical nexus to say the least, as Rahm Emanuel may emblemize.
What are we left, then, other than a sort of campaign con? Obama will better articulate the old Bush positions. The hard Left will quiet down about the Patriot Act and Iraq, and cease the anti-American rhetoric, as upbeat diversity rhetoric trumps the old downbeat unilateralism. Michael Moore won’t be making any more documentaries about a fascistic President, and Knopf won’t be publishing any novels like Checkpoint about a sitting President. I think Obama, with a few low-level appointments, an occasional pep talk at the annual ACLU meeting, or an invite to the editors of the Nation for a chat in the Oval Office, can pretty much count on an inexpensive 10-cents-on-the dollar bought ride from the once vociferous Left.
The mass hysteria will subside, and historians will come to apprise the Hope and Change summer and fall of 2008 as one of the most curious episodes of mass hysteria in American history. And now let the governance begin.