The Corner

Credibility on the Decline

Jimmy Hoffa, in his introduction to Barack Obama, managed to violate almost every liberal commandment on “civility”:

They’ve got a war, they got a war with us and there’s only going to be one winner. It’s going to be the workers of Michigan, and America. We’re going to win that war . . . President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march. Let’s take these son of bitches out and give America back to an America where we belong.

1) The use of martial imagery: After the Giffords shooting, we were lectured that metaphors like “crosshairs” were inflammatory; but war seems pretty overt.

2) Coded threats: We were lectured that talk radio often uses language tantamount to calling for near insurrection; but by that logic “war,” “army,” and “march” are, again, not an implied but in some sense an overt call to action of some sort (e.g., what does Hoffa mean by his army marching to war?).

3) Profanity: Even talk radio cannot get away with “these son of bitches”; we are back to Reverend Wright’s “God damn America” both in language and in the apparent compliant silence of the hearer Barack Obama.

4) “Take out”: For many Americans, “take out” is popular jargon for assassinate; it was used a lot in the Cold War in the sense of killing some foreign despot. That message probably was not lost on the audience.

5) “Give America back”: A common liberal complaint is that conservative phrases like “take back America” are a sort of charge of treason, as if the liberals in power were not genuinely American. But Hoffa was even more overt. He thinks un-Americans now have America and it has to be forcibly retrieved from these counterfeits by his and Obama’s real Americans.

A growing problem for Barack Obama is Barack Obama. Because he chose to be a sermonizing president, he is bound to practice what he so commonly preaches — otherwise he risks the fate of an Elmer Gantry, or sanctimonious Jimmy Carter. But on a number of topics, he has simply lost all credibility. How can Obama ever again lecture Americans on “civil discourse” and the need for common standards of polite public speech after following Hoffa’s mean-spirited rant and offering him praise? How, after these first family elite vacations to Martha’s Vineyard, Costa del Sol, Vail, etc., can Obama ever again credibly lecture on the dangers of indulgent “millionaires and billionaires,” “corporate jet owners,” “spread the wealth,” and “fat cats” whose lives are so very different from our own? And how — after confessing that his “shovel-ready” $800 billion “stimulus” targeted at “investments” and “infrastructure” in fact “was not as shovel ready as we expected” — can he request to borrow hundreds of additional billions for shovel-ready investments in infrastructure? What has now changed to ensure the next near trillion will be “shovel-ready”?

All this is becoming worrisome beyond partisan politics. We are only in our third year of this administration, and already it is beginning to implode. The White House is in danger not just of becoming far more polarizing than even Bush in his latter years, but of descending into such incompetence and petty spitefulness that it inhibits economic recovery at home and the very sense of American confidence abroad.

One result of all this has been the radical reappraisal of the Bush and Clinton presidencies. A lot of liberals are wondering whether their harsh rhetoric of 2003–7 might be equally applicable to Obama, and conservatives are starting to see, that in comparison with Obama, the protean second-term Clinton was not all that bad. Relative to serial 9-plus percent unemployment, Monicagate seems much less important.

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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