Everybody is outraged and disgusted by our divisive politics, from Jewish bubbies in Florida to AT’s own Rick Moran. The rest of us just think that President Obama is incompetent. “Obama doesn’t have the experience, character, or personality to be president. To put it flatly: he’s in over his head.” That’s Barry Rubin.
And if he’s not incompetent he is polarizing, writes Peter Wehner. And that from the candidate whose “core claim”
wasn’t simply that he would heal the planet; he would also heal the nation’s political breach. He would elevate the national debate. Reason would prevail over emotion… Obama would “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger.
Sorry to disagree, but I am not disgusted. I don’t believe that the president is incompetent. And I don’t believe he has reneged on his promise of bringing us together. To me, everything about President Obama makes sense.
First of all, the division. Our national politics is in a space very like the 1850s just before the showdown over slavery. You remember the history. For 60 years, ever since the ratification of the Constitution, the South had refused to discuss slavery, and would stage a tantrum if anyone raised the subject. Eventually the North got fed up and organized an explicitly anti-slavery party. It was called the Republican Party.
But why was the South so intransigent when “everybody knew” that slavery was immoral? The simple answer is that business was too good. Slavery was profitable, very profitable for the South.
The same thing applies to today’s America. “Everybody knows” that the welfare state is finished, but the peculiar institution is profitable, very profitable — for liberals. Look at usgovernmentspending.com. Liberals get to spend $4 trillion a year on their favorite programs. Conservatives get $1 trillion a year for defense. Why would liberals give up on a deal like that without a fight?
Nor is the president incompetent. He is doing exactly what his liberal base wants him to do. He is doing Keynesian stimulus, taking care that most of it goes to Democrats. He is doing clean energy, regulating the environment, canceling pipelines, carrying water for unions, cutting defense. He has held off Republicans that want to cut and slash spending. He is a liberal dream.
Polarizing? Look, if you are a liberal, the problem is Republicans. We would have sweetness and light if only those bigoted, mean-spirited, racist Republicans weren’t opposing the president at every turn. What this nation, this anti-intellectual nation, needs is a national conversation on civility, led by its educated class.
In this 1850s rerun, the Republican Party is reinventing itself as the anti-liberal party. That means division, because liberals are the ruling class that has run America as a very profitable plantation for the last 70 years, and they are not going without a fight. What’s ahead for America, in consequence, is a classic Clausewitzean “decisive battle.”
President Obama’s State of the Union speech last week was about battlefield preparation. He is taking his party back to the old Progressive totem of the “moral equivalent of war.” Jonah Goldberg: “Ever since William James coined the phrase ‘the moral equivalent of war,’ liberalism has been obsessed with finding ways to mobilize civilian life with the efficiency and conformity of military life.” George Will chimes in as well: “Onward civilian soldiers, marching as to war.”
Likewise the president’s fairness argument. “Fairness” is how liberals talk to the American people. To each other, they talk about “inequality.” There is another word they like: “exploitation.” They use that one on the masses. But the words all mean the same thing. Liberals don’t like the economic results of 200 years of capitalism in which the daily income went from $3 per head per day to over $100 per day, and they don’t like the results of the 20th century which began with the rich fatter than the poor and ended with the poor fatter than the rich. Invisible hand? It’s a myth, say liberals. What we have here is exploitation:
In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, [capitalism] has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
There’s a harsh logic to this. Ever since Karl Marx, liberals have rebelled against the fat, sloppy way of voluntary cooperation that leaves no room for political power and civilian soldiers. So voluntary cooperation must go. Forget about humans as social animals. Think soldier ants.
The great achievement of President Obama is to present his vision so clearly: America as a progressive ant-hill.
Here’s an alternative vision. How about America as a city on a hill, a beacon, a magnet for all those who must have freedom?