The Way Ahead
What Brought Us Here?
One wonders how the United States has come to the brink of nominating and probably electing someone with almost no experience as either an executive or national legislator, replete with ratings and rankings that suggest he will be about the most liberal Presidential candidate since George McGovern.
1.Spending. The Republicans spent a fortune between 2001-5, at rates far above inflation to fund new federal programs at a time of war. No vetoes, no remorse. The ensuing deficits then discredited the wonderful effect of the tax cuts that brought in more revenue, but today are somehow blamed for the shortfall.
2.The Half-measure. Conservatives did not articulate what we sought in Iraq. They did not give the public some historical perspectives about the cost versus the benefits of a stable constitutional Iraq. The looting, the pullback from Fallujah, the escape of Sadr, etc. were half-measures when double measures were needed, while no counter-narratives to "Bush Lied, Thousands Died" were offered. So now we are in the situation where a supposedly "failed" and "worst" something will be looked back within ten years as a heroic feat of arms in fostering a constitutional government in the heart of the ancient caliphate, after removing Saddam and defeating al Qaeda, and at a cumulative cost that in past wars might have been exceeded by single campaigns.
3. Scandal. The Republican Congress—Mark Foley, Tom DeLay, Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, and the Abramoff reciepients—was as messy as it was hypocritical.
4. Open Boders. There was no humane argument advanced to end illegal immigration as a phenomenon that aided a corrupt Mexican government at the expense of its own dispossessed. What is so liberal about tile-setters, cooks, and pruners scrimping on their $15 an hour wages to send back $5 to Mexico to support their families whom Mexico City ignores—all the while expecting a liberal U.S. government to make up their ensuing shortfall with health, food, housing, education, and legal subsidies? Yet somehow Republicans could not find a way of identifying the real insensitive culprits and so were either demonized as racists and nativists or reduced to impotent complicity in keeping the borders open.
The Obama Message
I've now listened to almost every Democratic debate, watched at least three long Obama speeches on C-Span, and read his website. There are two messages I distill from all that.
One, he is an extremely good speaker, quick and humorous, perhaps the best natural orator and politician we've seen since Ronald Reagan and JFK—far better than Bill Clinton, inasmuch he rarely loses his temper or pouts on camera. So far, in Clinton fashion, he has not started shaking his finger.
I note in passing he almost never receives hostile questions. His debates have been limited to those with like-thinking liberal Democrats,. His political races were against other liberals or a weak conservative. And in general the press has bent over backwards to be considerate. Bottom line: we have no idea how he will react when crossed, although Hillary's dig about his plagiarism in the Texas debate made him squeamish and moan.
Two, is the message. Early last year, Obama started out as the post-racial candidate, a sort of liberal version of Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell. His handlers even worried whether he would solidify his African-American base ("not black enough?") given Hillary's liberal credentials, apparently sure-thing candidacy, and Bill's honorific title as the first "black" President.
But sometime by December, the Obama candidacy had transmogrified, as his wife and Oprah, in style and substance, vouched for his African-American fides—and suddenly 90% of the black vote was unexpectedly won in many primaries. If his worry in the cauldron of Chicago politics was that he was too "white", suddenly those fears were assuaged in the current election.
Second, at about the same time the hope and change message began to morph as well into a prophetic, near messianic sermon along the self-righteous lines of something like, "You, America, have a final chance to show that you are still good, after all, by voting for a brilliant African-American charismatic leader. If you don't, then you are captive to race, and we were right all along about your America."
The Racial Paradox
Racial solidarity or perhaps racial atonement is the subtext of Michelle Obama's controversial speech, and the lame meae culpae that followed. So now we are in this Orwellian paradox of seeing Obama's base turn out in record numbers on the basis apparently of race, but on the other hand the implied warning that if anyone else were likewise to consider that fact, then he would be racialist.
So is he an identity-politics candidate or a post racialist unifier? Or both? It all reminds me of the perennial complaints of the National Council of La Raza (the race) lecturing insensitive others about their unfair consideration of race in matters of illegal immigration. This is very disappointing, because lost in Obamania is the complete repudiation of his original promise precisely not to become a racial candidate.
Instead, in brilliant fashion, he has not only done so to secure his base, and out trump the identity politics of the possible first female nominee, but added a narcissistic and minatory twist that only by voting for someone who denies he is running on race do others have a chance to prove that they are beyond race. The country is soon to be in a position, thanks to the Obamas, that voting for a national hero, with three decades of governmental experience, and prior national campaign savvy over a half-term U.S. Senator is proof of being illiberal.
There are two general themes to his message that he has begun, to be fair, to articulate in more detailed fashion. At home, there will be an increase in taxes—income, estate, payroll—to fund more government health care, education, and general entitlement programs. The old Reaganesque notion that government subsidies can make one more dependent, angrier, and envious is forgotten, along with the notion that lower taxes stimulate economic growth and encourage risk-taking, innovation, and independence. I worry especially about the lifting of income caps (how far?) on social security taxes inasmuch as they were part of the original covenant justifying the caps on benefits paid out.
NAFTA and other free trade agreements would be repealed; illegal immigration would either not be an issue, or more a problem of finding the right way, with borders still open, to grant amnesties. Appointments would hinge on a belief in bigger government and the theme that the individual is currently suffering due to reactionaries in government and corporations, barely housed, fed, or educated, and deserves more federal dollars appropriated from others who either don't need all their income or didn't deserve the compensation they were given.
Abroad, there is a general argument that things are going terribly. Forget that the Taliban and Saddam are gone. Forget that we have not suffered another 9/11 attack. Forget that there is far more democratic promise in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Lebanon than was true in 2001. Forget that the Merkel and Sarkozy governments, along with Eastern European leaders, are more pro-American than their predecessors in 2001.
Instead, we are disliked by everyone, and for good reasons. The fact that Iranian mullahs, the House of Saud cousins, Hugo Chavez's communists, European mullahs, and the Arab street don't approve of America says more about us than it does them. The solution is to follow more the dictates of European Union and United Nations, where sophisticated internationalists can guide us through the maze of global power, instructing mostly ignorant Americans how and why we tend to cause so many of the world's problems. Misunderstanding and our own obtuseness explain global tension, not the agendas of enemies who know exactly what they want and how to get it.Our military is not so much an offensive force, designed to defeat and kill our enemies, that needs support and constant honing; better to see it as a large social organization that we must look at in terms only of proper rotations, health care, and benefits. We are to support the troops not in the sense of doing everything we can to ensure they win, and gain the proper recognition for their courage and sacrifice, but rather in consideration of their victimhood, offering proper sympathy and remediation for the defeat in Iraq, the unwise use of their skills, and the needless loss of their lives.