The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Barack Obama Urges Democrats to Try to Sound More Like Him in 2018

Former President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, February 12, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Former president Barack Obama offers some self-serving advice to his fellow Democrats; why the headline “Mexico election results promise sweeping change” sounds so familiar; and a reminder that William F. Buckley’s old sparring partner, Gore Vidal, got really cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs as the years passed.

Isn’t Obama the Wrong Guy to Denounce Politics as Entertainment?

Michael Scherer of the Washington Post warns that Democrats had a bad week last week, and focuses upon a comment from former President Barack Obama:

Obama urged Democrats at a fundraiser in Beverly Hills on Thursday to aim their energies squarely on the ballot box in November, saying that “it is entirely within our power” to solve the political problems of the moment.

“All these people are out here kvetching and wringing their hands and stressed and anxious and, you know, constantly watching cable TV and howling at the moon, ‘What are we going to do?’ Their hair is falling out,” said Obama, arguing for a reasoned response. “The good news is that if you act, if we act, then the majority of the American people prefer a story of hope.”

In my friend Kurt Schlichter’s forthcoming book, Militant Normals, he describes life from the perspective of a veteran in the small city of Fontana, in San Bernardino County, Calif., and writes,

You would see on Channel 7 News every couple of weeks that the president had flown into Los Angeles (and gridlocked traffic for his fans on the Westside) to do a Beverly Hills fundraising dinner with David Geffen, whoever that was. But he never seemed to find time to make it out the sixty-eight miles to Fontana to see how normal Americans were doing.

“Stop being so stressed and anxious” is an easy message to sell at a Democratic fundraising party in Beverly Hills, probably the least-stressful and anxious environment imaginable. As CNN apparently wrote with either a straight face or with some really dry, subtle snark: “The former President even suggested to the roughly 200 donors in attendance, who also enjoyed a performance from Christina Aguilera, that Democrats can’t get fixated on the glitz and personality of politics.”

Yeah, why don’t you sit this one out, champ. Barack Obama telling you to not “expect (politics) to be entertaining all the time” is like LeBron James telling you to try to stay in one place for your whole career.

Americans may want a hopeful message, but hope is just happy talk unless it is tied to a concrete plan to tackle the country’s problems. There are a lot of American voters who loathe Donald Trump — more than 65 million people voted against him — and a significant chunk of Republicans who find his persona anywhere from cringe-inducing to barely tolerable. But the Democratic agenda is largely repeal the tax cuts, enact “Medicare for All” (which would require $32 trillion (!) in new taxes — that comes out to $24,000 per American household), and “abolish ICE,” which means either come up with a completely new federal agency to handle immigration enforcement . . . or, as The Nation put it, “the goal of abolishing the agency is to abolish the function.” This isn’t a policy agenda, it’s a list of wishes for a genie.

I suppose you could say that is indeed a “hopeful” approach — as in, Democrats hope that none of those who entered the country illegally intend to harm others, either through crime or terrorism.

Are We Witnessing a ‘Profound Change’ or a Familiar Cycle Down in Mexico?

South of the border, we’re hearing promises of a “profound change” from the newly elected left-wing presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Back in 2000, Vicente Fox of the National Action Party was touted as “the winds of change” after seven decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In 2006, Fox’s successor, Felipe Calderón, was of the same party but focused upon a crusade against corruption and the drug cartels. He led a campaign against them that generated a lot of violence and not-terribly-inspiring results. Foreign Policy magazine concluded, “Calderón accomplished notably little in the way of needed reforms during his six years in office. Yet if these problems are not addressed, progress in all other areas will be futile. The fate of much of the president’s legislative agenda, which has been stalled, blocked or diluted beyond recognition, is a stark reminder of this.”

In 2012, the Mexican electorate turned back to PRI. Enrique Peña Nieto was elected with similar headlines: “Will Mexico’s new president bring change?” Peña Nieto promised a dramatic new era, declaring, “there is no return to the past.”

I know this is going to stun you, but after six years, many Mexicans don’t believe enough has changed regarding corruption, economic growth and opportunity, and crime and security.

This is the fourth straight election where the international media has covered a Mexican election with a sense that dramatic change is around the corner. Who knows, perhaps this time will be different; López Obrador is significantly further to the left than his predecessors. But he’s likely to face the same institutional obstacles, inertia, and bureaucracy that impeded his predecessors.

For better or worse, President Trump and the United States were not major topics in the campaign debates: “It’s fascinating that the Mexican election campaign hardly focused on Donald Trump or the United States at all,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Washington-based Migration Institute. “That’s probably a sign of what’s to come. López Obrador will likely be far less focused on the United States than all of his predecessors in recent memory. That means he may not react to every statement by President Trump about Mexico, but he may also do less to salvage areas of cooperation with the U.S. government around security, migration, and trade.”

Every six years, a Mexican politician appears, announcing he will succeed where his predecessors failed in fighting corruption, ending the endemic crime and brutality of the cartels, creating more jobs and economic opportunity, and mitigating the chasm separating the haves and the have-nots. And six years later, the Mexican people collectively shrug in disappointment and look for other options.

Let’s Not Be So Quick to Give Gore Vidal a Pass on Some of This . . .

On NRO, Paul Ingrassia writes about the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal and concludes, “The significance of the Buckley–Vidal debates in 2018 is not that they drew battle lines for the modern culture wars but rather that they were the swansong of the final American generation to have a shared and mutual reverence for their country’s founding principles — a reverence that is, perhaps, never to be seen again.”

Whatever Gore Vidal was at the beginning and middle of his literary career, towards the end he was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. And “the end” started early — it was in 1986 that he was calling for a U.S.–Soviet alliance because “the white race is the minority race and if the two great powers of the Northern Hemisphere don’t band together, we are going to end up as farmers — or, worse, mere entertainment — for more than one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.” Even aside from the appalling and explicit racism in that perspective, if you spend a lot of time forecasting a grand alliance between the Chinese and the Japanese, you deserve ritualistic cashiering of your reputation as a historian.

One of the nice things about joining a longstanding debate late in the game is that we’re not swayed by many years of encountering Vidal being praised for being so sophisticated and literary and debonair — so that by 2001, when he’s declaring of Timothy McVeigh, “I am sure he didn’t do it,” and writing long, rambling essays about the Oklahoma City bombing declaring, “the stoic serenity of McVeigh’s last days certainly qualified him as a Henley-style hero” . . . we can conclude, oh . . . Gore Vidal is a nut case with a soft spot for some of the worst of humanity.

(I’m almost done reading Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles’ Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed — and Why It Still Matters, and that lays out a really unnerving and compelling array of evidence that McVeigh and Nichols probably had additional co-conspirators who never saw the inside of a courtroom; at the very least, it seems that a lot of people in militia circles knew “something” was going to happen on the two-year anniversary of Waco. But none of the authors’ exhaustive research provides any evidence that McVeigh didn’t have a central role in the terrorist plot.)

Vidal completely bought McVeigh’s implausible claim that he didn’t know there was a day-care center in the Murrah federal building; the former director of the day-care center said McVeigh visited the center in December 1994, claiming he had two young children but asking questions only about layout and security arrangements. In other words, McVeigh knew damn well there were kids in that building, and 19 children paid the ultimate price for his monstrous action. Vidal contended the FBI let the Oklahoma City bombing happen to get legislation passed, and became a 9/11 Truther as well.

Buckley entered the history books destined to be remembered as a titan, while Vidal turned into the guy in the subway station ranting about conspiracies to passersby — only in nicer clothes and with a fancier vocabulary.

ADDENDA: Following up last week’s article about how the border fence/wall is gradually being enhanced, Shelly Henderson of the Orange County Breeze points out that a significant portion of the illegal immigrants in California overstay visas — and that the cries of “build the wall!” should probably be replaced with “require E-Verify!”

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