Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Reelecting Obama

Victor Davis Hanson at NRO:

Memo to GOP: Obama will campaign against Bush (again) and play the race card. Don’t let him get away with it.

We are beginning to see the contours of the upcoming 2012 reelection campaign of Barack Obama. Whether always officially sanctioned or not, Obama’s campaign will focus on three general themes: a) the 2008 meltdown of the economy on Bush’s watch; b) conservative heartlessness in gutting cherished entitlement programs; and c) racial bias behind any criticism of Barack Obama.
By any standard, the economy has remained mostly dismal for well over two years. Deficits, joblessness, fuel prices, average GDP growth, and housing are far worse than the average during the eight years of Bush’s presidency. Unemployment during almost all of President Obama’s tenure has exceeded 9 percent, despite promises that, because of the stimulus, it would not exceed 8 percent. Gas still averages almost $4 a gallon nationwide, amid a landscape of continual administration resistance to new domestic exploration and leasing. Record numbers of Americans now draw food stamps and unemployment insurance; to suggest that these programs are plagued by abuse and fraud, or that, if they are too easily available, they can discourage initiative, is heresy. Some of the largest states — California, Illinois, New York — are nearly fiscally insolvent. We’ve borrowed $5 trillion since 2009 to “stimulate” the economy — and seen little upsurge in economic growth, but a lot of evidence of a raging inflation to come on the heels of soaring gas and food prices.
Massive debt, record new deficits, high rates of joblessness, out-of-control prices for essentials like fuel and food — a combination like that usually dooms a president’s reelection bid. Similarly weak economies in 1980 and 1992 derailed incumbents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.
However, Team Obama will make the argument that at least there has not been another Wall Street panic as during September 2008 under Bush, with the general uncertainty that followed. “Bush did it” is now too ironic a charge to evoke any more in matters of foreign policy, given that President Obama has now accepted all the Bush anti-terrorism protocols and wars — and gone well beyond them by joining a third conflict in Libya and quintupling the number of Predator-drone targeted assassinations.
But on the economic front, the “inherited mess” will have to do in the attempt to convince us that the present hard times are still George Bush’s while the signs of a weak recovery are all Barack Obama’s. Similarly, Herbert Hoover was still evoked for nearly a half-century any time FDR, Truman, or LBJ hit a rough patch. And if you did not know about the courageous economic decisions Barack Obama has made on our behalf on the domestic front, you will now, after the heroic killing of bin Laden. In the words of Joe Biden, it was “the boldest undertaking any president has undertaken on a single event in modern history” — an “undertaking” “undertaken” greater than the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, to stop North Korea from obliterating the south, to confront the Soviet Union over its missiles in Cuba, to send troops to recover Kuwait, or to conduct the surge in Iraq?
Obama’s landmark decision, in fact, explains why we can now at last appreciate his (or Joe Biden’s) genius and courage in restoring the ruined Bush economy, or so Biden further assures us: “The American people now . . . have a crystal-clear picture of how strong and decisive this president is. And that’s the last piece of the puzzle that had to be put in place for this great man. People are now beginning to take a second look at those incredibly difficult but absolutely necessary decisions the president had to make the day we walked into the West Wing.”
Then there are those cruel congressional opponents who for some reason believe that the $5 trillion in additional borrowing since January 2009 was a bit over the top. Greed, selfishness, and a lack of compassion — not an aging population, vastly expanded benefits, and soaring health-care costs — are responsible for the difficulties facing both Social Security and Medicare. Remedies abound, but none have been adopted by Team Obama. Before 2012 do not expect that the retirement age will be hiked. Benefits will not be trimmed or some entitlements privatized to encourage competition and cost-cutting — despite the real urgency for reform, since we are already running a $1.6 trillion annual budget deficit, and millions of baby-boomers are on the verge of retirement, a generation not known for either its reticence or its willingness to do without.
If reelected, President Obama will probably be forced to do something about entitlements, but that certain something will for now remain unspoken, and he instead will attack any proposals to change Social Security with the same gusto with which he once trashed the Iraq War and Guantanamo. Already, supportive commercials are airing with a Paul Ryan look-alike shoving a grandmother out of her wheelchair over a cliff. Other hit ads portray the elderly with walkers forced to mow lawns to raise money for their benefits. Ads like that will appear soft in comparison to what’s coming in the next 18 months.
Already, almost weekly one columnist or another insists that to criticize Barack Obama is to display racial bias. A reckless Donald Trump going after Obama’s birth certificate is emblematic of endemic racism; in contrast, unhinged nuts who claimed Sarah Palin never delivered her own child are perhaps a bit too zealous in a noble cause. House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D., S.C.) summarized the racialist strategy best, when he explicitly charged that opposition to Obama’s reelection hinges on racism: “The fact of the matter is, the president’s problems are in large measure because of his skin color.”
Clyburn’s demagoguery is a sort of strategic racial preemption: Prep the campaign in such a way that no one dares to talk of the president’s shortcomings for fear of being called a bigot — just as, in 2008, legitimate questions about the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his intimate connection with Barack Obama were acknowledged to be off limits by a terrified McCain campaign. Yet there is no evidence that mainstream criticism of Barack Obama is racial or has in any way exceeded that shown George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. I will concede widespread racism and irrational hatred against the president when Alfred A. Knopf publishes a sick anti-Obama screed that exceeds Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint; or when we see something comparable to the deplorable editorial that theGuardian published by Charlie Brooker, which ended with the question, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?”; or to Jonathan Chait’s crazy “Mad about You: The Case for Bush Hatred” New Republic article.
In fact, the most racially condescending assessment of the president has come from Cornel West, professor of African-American studies at Princeton, who damned Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” West went on more explicitly, couching his criticism of Obama in anti-Semitic, anti-white terms: “I think he does have a predilection much more toward upper-class white brothers and Jewish brothers and a certain distance from free black men who will tell him the truth about himself.”
The president himself — well after the beer summit, Eric Holder’s rants about “cowards” and “my people,” the racist inanities of Van Jones, the “wise Latina,” and all the rest — in ethnically divisive fashion urged Latinos to punish their conservative enemies, and joked that his opponents wanted alligators and moats to stop Mexican nationals from crossing the border.
So will this tripartite strategy work? Only if the president’s opponents allow themselves to be caricatured as greedy Wall Street profiteers who want to punish the elderly and are prejudiced against blacks. And if they can’t answer back defiantly to that nonsense, then they really do deserve to lose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


John Hinderaker at Powerline:

The inability of the Democratic Party to come up with a budget that it can even propose to the American people is the biggest news story of the day. It would be nice if somebody decided to cover it. Yesterday, the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee commented on the Democrats' paralysis:
With the statutory committee deadline having been missed by six weeks, and with 744 days gone by since the Democrat-led Senate passed a budget, it was reported that this week Senate Democrats would finally produce a budget and hold a markup.  But no budget was produced and the markup was delayed yet again. ... [Ranking member Jeff] Sessions summarized the "big problem" facing Democrat leaders during a joint interview with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan on Greta Van Susteren: "they cannot bring forth a budget their members support that the American people will support, and they understand that, they know that, and they've got a big problem." ...
Reports surfaced this week that Senate Democrats' long-awaited budget plan had not been scheduled for committee action, or shared outside of closed-door meetings with the Democrat caucus, because Chairman Conrad lacked the votes to move the budget out of his committee - particularly, it appeared, the vote of Senator Bernie Sanders.  The Hill reported that Senator Conrad shifted the Senate Democrat budget further to the left as a result, coupling every dollar of savings with a dollar in higher taxes - even as the President asserted his so-called framework would achieve three dollars in savings for every one dollar in cuts, albeit a claim that is not borne out by the numbers. ...
Following these revelations, [Congressional Quarterly] published a report indicating that the Senate Democrat Budget had even fewer savings than advertised - cutting only $1.5 trillion over the course of 10 years.
Every intelligent American knows that the federal government is facing a budget crisis that threatens our country's future, yet the Democrats apparently are incapable of coming up with a plan to dig out of the hole their profligate spending has created. What could be clearer evidence of the intellectual bankruptcy of liberalism?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thoughts on a Surreal Depression

From Victor Davis Hanson at PJM:

Here in Fresno County, in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the official unemployment rate in February to March ranged between 18.1 and 18.8 percent. I suspect it is higher in the poorer southwestern portions, especially near my hometown of Selma, about two miles from my farm.
Since 2000 we have both lost jobs and gained people, and the per capita household income is about 65% of California’s average, the average home price about half the state norm.
In some sense, all the ideas that are born on the Berkeley or Stanford campus, in the CSU and UC education, political science, and sociology departments, and among the bureaus in Sacramento are reified in places like Selma — open borders, therapeutic education curricula, massive government transfers and subsidies, big government, and intrusive regulation. Together that has created the sort of utopia that a Bay Area consultant, politico, or professor dreams of, but would never live near. Again, we in California have become the most and least free of peoples — the law-biding stifled by red tape, the non-law-biding considered exempt from accountability on the basis of simple cost-to-benefit logic. A speeder on the freeway will pay a $300 ticket for going 75mph and justifies the legions of highway patrol officers now on the road; going after an unlicensed peddler or rural dumper is a money-losing proposition for government.
The subtext, however, of most of our manifold challenges here in the other California are twofold: we have had a massive increase in population, largely driven by illegal immigration from Latin America, mostly from Oaxaca province in Mexico, and we have not created a commensurate number of jobs to facilitate the influx.
I often ask business people on the coast why there are not more industries in places like Selma other than agricultural related work that is locale specific. I would sum up their responses as something like the following: Our workforce does not have the educational and linguistic skills to justify, in global terms, the amount of wages and benefits necessary to employ them, hence jobs are mostly in service and government. Software engineering, computers, or Silicon Valley-like industry are out the question. But apparently so are large manufacturing jobs, despite an abundant workforce. As I understand employers, they seem to suggest that steel pipe, electrical wire, or radios would not be better manufactured or fabricated here, and yet still cost two to three times more than a counterpart assembled abroad.
In addition, they believe that the state government would look upon any employer of a large industry not as a partner that would alleviate unemployment and lessen county expenditures, but more or less a sort of target to regulate, advise, lecture, and chastise, both to justify the expanding government regulatory work force and to achieve a fuzzy sort of social justice. There are, of course, large plants and businesses here, but hardly enough to absorb the thousands entering the work force.
The result is about one in five adults is not working in the traditional and formal sense. A morning drive through these valley towns confirms anecdotally what statistics suggest: hundreds, no, thousands, are not employed. Construction is almost nonexistent. Agriculture is recovering, but environmentally driven water cut-offs on the West Side (250,000 acres), increasing mechanization, and past poor prices have combined to reduce by tens of thousands once plentiful farm jobs.
We live in one of the most blessed climates in the world, without major floods, earthquakes, fires, or tornadoes. The soil is unmatched. The Sierra and its rich snowpack loom immediately to the east with all its recreational, hydroelectric, and timber wealth; we are but three hours from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. And yet this is now one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, statistically in many categories of income, education, and employment well behind Appalachia.
But we are experiencing a funny sort of depression, or rather a surreal sort. I grew up with stories from my grandparents of 28 people living in my present house. My grandmother, she used to brag, had a big kettle of ham bones and beans cooking nonstop each day and fed assorted relatives as they came in from the vineyard and orchard. My grandfather made one trip to Fresno (16 miles away) every 10 days for “supplies.” The pictures I have inherited from my mother show an impoverished farm — this house unpainted and in disrepair, ancient cars and implements scattered about, a sort of farm of apparent 1910 vintage, but photographed in the 1930s — one that I could still sense traces of as a little boy here in the late 1950s.
And yet all I heard were stories of happiness, hard work, and collective sacrifice. Relatives would say that the “’30s” were the worst and best years of their lives, as they related sagas of real genius involving fruit canning and curing, ad hoc repairs to equipment, and cobbled together furniture and clothing —all without spending any money. I just looked in my grandfather’s diary; he has a happy entry in 1958 about raisin prices over $200 a ton — quite in contrast to $40 a ton he received in 1936. (A ton of raisins would fill two of those huge watermelon bins you see in the supermarket.)
In contrast, in the present depression, the out of work and poor are as numerous, but both unhappier and yet far better off than prior generations. This is not the rant of some right-wing laudator temporis acti, or the death throes of an aging old white guy, but rather empirically based and shared by most of my friends in the ascendant Mexican-American middle and upper-middle classes, many of whom are becoming quite conservative.
The cars of our poorer brethren in our major discount stores are late model and often expensive. People get into them with full carts of food and clothing. Housing here is cheap and good. How to square this circle between official poverty and misery and the veneer of a well-off general public?
I’ve been discussing these disconnects with farmers, a professor or two from CSU Fresno, and local business people. All come to the same conclusions. There is a vast and completely unreported cash economy in Central California. Tile-setters, carpenters, landscapers, tree-cutters, general handymen, cooks, housekeepers, and personal attendants are all both finding work and being paid in cash. Peddlers (no income or sales taxes) are on nearly every major rural intersection. You can buy everything from a new pressure washer to tropical fruit drinks. For this essay, I stopped at one last week and surveyed their roto-tillers, lawn mowers, and chain saws, new and good brands.
New “restaurants” are sprouting all over the highways — mobile stainless-steel encased canteens with awnings and chairs set up along the road. And yet for all the cash economy, it seems almost everyone in the food stores and doctors’ offices are on food stamps, Medi-Cal, and rent subsidies. A carload of people drove in last week, inquiring about a house nearby; the occupants assured me that they had county housing vouchers.
A third ingredient is easy credit, whether for credit cards or late model cars. The result is statistically we are impoverished with near 20% unemployment; but in reality something stranger and weirder is transpiring. Prosperity and well-being are mostly assessed in relative not absolute terms. There is little appreciation of the wonders of the iPhone, whose computerized, and GPS-driven gadgetry would have been confined to millionaires ten years ago; there is frequent lamentation that the iPhone in question is not the latest model as others enjoy. A Camry is not worshipped as a wondrous machine that can get one 200 miles in 3 hours, in air-conditioned and musical luxury, only that one has a 4, not a 6 cylinder model, without leather seats and 6-disc CD.
The combination of 2 billion Indians and Chinese in the world marketplace, exporting cheap goods, has meant fewer jobs for Americans and far more material playthings now accessible to every stratum of society. Again, easy credit, combined with little shame or penalty in defaulting on what one owes, has allowed a superficial parity with the upper-middle class. Massive government transfers and relaxed eligibility have ensured households thousands of dollars in entitlements and subsidies. We have printed $5 trillion since 2009, and borrowed $1.6 trillion just this year. And the huge influx of easy government cash shows here.
Cash wages have meant augmented entitlement money and are competitive with those who are formally employed and who pay 30% of their money in payroll, health care, and federal, state, and local income tax deductions. The result is an odd sort of poverty, in which superficially the unemployed and poor to the naked eyed are almost identical to the upper middle classes.
Indeed what distinguishes the latter — the ability to pay a child’s tuition at college, frequent travel, higher end clothes and cars, a pool, or boat — seems rather superfluous. Need-based student loans and grants are now ubiquitous, one can learn more about Florence on a cable TV in-depth tour than going there, and a Lexus or Mercedes is not much different in reliability and comfort from a Honda or Nissan. I did an experiment the other day. I priced “wicker” furniture at Kmart and Wal-Mart and then drove up to an upscale North Fresno design outdoor living boutique. In short, the local version from China was about $300 for an ensemble, the high-end version was priced at $1700. To the naked eye, they were again almost identical and explain what I mean by the “veneer” of affluence. Ditto everything from jogging clothes to watches, and one can be outfitted in Selma for 10% of the cost of the brands of those popular in Palo Alto.
Some final tesserae in this confusing mosaic: The rhetoric of poverty and oppression is far more strident than the Depression-era, spread the wealth, Huey Long sort. The sense of injustice voiced by the SEIU or public employee unions suggests wide scale Dickensian malnutrition, not an epidemic of obesity so amply chronicled by the first lady.
History’s revolutions and upheavals — whether the Nika rioting in Constantinople, the periodic uprising of the turba in Rome, the French upheavals, or the Bolshevik Revolution — are rarely fueled by the starving and despised, but by the subsidized and frustrated, who either see their umbilical cord threatened, or their comfort and subsidies static rather than expansive — or their own condition surpassed by that of an envied kulak class. Perceived relative inequality rather than absolute poverty is the engine of revolution.
These are strange and dangerous times. An insolvent federal government, an exporting China and India, and an almost complete indifference to federal immigration, tax, and regulatory laws have all combined to create a well-entitled but increasingly angry population, one “empowered” and made more, not less, bitter by the last two years of governance in Washington.


John Hinderaker at Powerline:

No doubt, very few of those who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 anticipated that the high point of his administration would be the extra-judicial killing of a terrorist leader by a team of Navy SEALs. This, as our involvement in Iraq winds down on the Bush administration's timetable, the war in Afghanistan has been stepped up, and a third conflict in Libya has been commenced. But for the Democrats, any port in a storm: they are happy to celebrate victories wherever they can find them.

Michael Ramirez questions whether such celebration is appropriate, given the other crises that beset us, most of them worsened if not created by the Obama administration's policies:
Actually, I think it was appropriate to celebrate bin Laden's death, and I did celebrate it. It was a beautifully executed mission by our armed forces that grew out of fine intelligence work in which our professionals persisted, with the support of our government and the American people, for nearly a decade. If that isn't worth celebrating, what is?

Still, one wonders whether it is appropriate for President Obama to politicize the event as much as he has. He is like a drowning man grabbing hold of a life raft. That is understandable; when a politician is down in the polls and a good break comes along, who can blame him for trying to make the most of it?

One is, nevertheless, struck by the rapturous manner in which the liberal press has applauded Obama's role in the mission. To take just a few examples: Barbara Walters, on The View--I know, but lots of women watch it, for some reason--gushed over the "courage, and the guts, and the coolness" that President Obama showed in approving the assassination of bin Laden. "It was enormously, enormously courageous," Walters assured her viewers.

MSNBC called the bin Laden mission a "game changer," and said it "makes all the other issues -- Trump, the birth certificate, even the substantive debate over the debt ceiling -- seem small by comparison..." Really? What a revelation! All this time, the Left thought that that the REAL issue that confronts us, and makes everything else insignificant by comparison, is the threat of Islamic terrorism! Who knew?

And then we have Doris Kearns Goodwin: "This professor had guts."

All of this praise is due to the fact that Obama approved, rather than nixing, the killing of bin Laden. A good decision, to be sure. But is there a single person, anywhere, who doubts that George W. Bush would have made the same call? Or John McCain, if he had won in 2008? Of course not. The Democrats' jubilation results from the fact that their guy didn't wilt under pressure, but rather lived up to the standard that George W. Bush and John McCain easily met. For this, he is called "courageous" and "gutsy."

One wonders: if killing bin Laden was a courageous, gutsy decision by Barack Obama, where were the liberals when President Bush approved the killing of Zarqawi? Do you remember any of them praising that decision as courageous and "game changing?" No, neither do I. Or how about the apprehension of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? How many congratulations did that skillfully-executed operation draw from the Left? And how about Bush's decision to topple, and then capture, Saddam Hussein, one of America's bitterest enemies, whose forces tried to shoot down American airplanes and who attempted to assassinate a former American President? Was that a courageous and gutsy decision? We all know the answer to that question.

What we are currently witnessing is the strange spectacle of liberals trying to grab, for their guy, a mantle neither he nor they ever sought: cold-blooded assassin of anti-American terrorists. This has nothing to do with their true values and priorities, and everything to do with the fact that Obama's economic policies have put him in a deep hole as he seeks re-election next year.