The Corner

The Many Paradoxes of Barack Obama

When President Obama called for a new civility, I was somewhat confused. In 2004–7, the uncivil demagoguery of the Left damaged Bush; immediately after Obama’s call for civility, someone wrote an “I hate Joe Lieberman” column; now, Governor Walker–Nazi signs have appeared in Madison. Given that the country polls center-right, the hysterical style is something that the modern Left uses to counteract public opinion; Obama has condemned a methodology that is predominately embraced by his own hard-core base. (Indeed, swarming someone’s private home, or using terms like “enemy” and “punish,” are not unknown to either the younger or older Obama.) The result is the hypocrisy of condemning the incivility that will only become more useful to the Left as the election nears

In the Middle East, Obama seems not to grasp the central paradox, analogous to Jeane Kirkpatrick’s in the Cold War: The relatively pro-American authoritarians (in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and the Gulf) are more vulnerable than the anti-American and far more savage totalitarian regimes (Iran, Syria, Libya, etc.), at least for now, because the latter are more willing to blockade the international media and to use brutal force to crack down on popular protests. Not only has the administration not appreciated how this paradox may change the strategic map of the Middle East to the detriment of U.S. interests, but it almost seems to consider the more anti-American regimes more sustainable, untouchable, and authentic, and their protesters tainted with Westernization. I don’t know how else to explain the administration’s otherwise inexplicable failure to support Iranian dissidents in 2009, or its harsh attitude toward Mubarak versus its mild treatment of Ahmadinejad, or its efforts to reach out to a rogue Syria while pulling back from a democratic Israel. 

At some point, Obama will have to see what Gov. Jerry Brown here in California has already realized: Out-of-whack public-employee compensation and pensions drain the treasury and preclude grandiose green projects and other dubious liberal programs. To put it rather crassly, the liberal calculus often works out as mostly older white guys wanting their unsustainable pension and benefit payouts while the “other” and the more needy are shorted from receiving proper public attention. Since the states cannot print money and often lose population to other states when they raise taxes, the reality is that the well-off are enjoying perks that younger and private-sector workers lack while social services and the green visions of an Al Gore or a 2008 Obama are defunded.

Finally, what distinguishes Obama’s homespun platitudes about public-sector jobs from state governors’ more honest worries is just that ability to print cash — together with the fact that Americans cannot migrate to a kindred but lower-tax nation, in the fashion overtaxed Californians flee to Texas or Utah. But pass a law that the U.S. must balance its books like the states must, or have something like a workable, low-tax Singapore off our shores, and Obama would start sounding like a Governor Brown, Christie, or Walker.

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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