Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

VDH on Obama. Welcome to Bush III

I admire Victor David Hanson. He's a historian's historian. He doesn't just reflect on it, but he also analyzes it as it's unfolding. This morning he put up a rather thought provoking post over at NRO's The Corner that takes a look at the early transition from the Bush administration to the Obama administration:

What is new about this transition, or at least relatively new—unlike the Carter-Reagan, Reagan-Bush, Bush-Clinton, and Clinton-Bush change-overs—is that an entire sector of the country has been convinced by an intellectual establishment—in the media, universities, foundations, the fringes of the Democratic Party, the arts, Hollywood, etc.—that Obama arrives to end quasi-fascistic rule and radically change U.S. foreign policy to win back over the world's good will.

But when we look at actual specifics and ignore the boilerplate mainstream liberal rhetoric about "multilateralism" and "rebuilding our alliances," and also ignore the "inside" horror stories (cf. the recent Vanity Fair Bush hit-piece) by failures and opportunists like a Scott McClellan or Matthew Dowd, we really do not see very much.

Already there is back-peddling on FISA, the Patriot Act, and renditions. Who knows what the plan is on Gitmo, other than to keep promising prompt its closing, while keeping it open as lawyers wonder whether Khalid Sheik Mohammed might in fact welcome a federal trial in D.C. or New York—in hopes that one juror could be found to be sympathetic to a radical Islamic agenda and thus nullify the evidence presented and free the ultimate murderer of 3,000 innocents?

I don't doubt that hope and change rhetoric, from a non-traditional charismatic leader, won't do some good abroad, but on key issues—Iraq, Afghanistan, probably the Middle East and Iran, NATO, missile defense, China, India, North Korea, etc.—Sec. Clinton won't be doing much differently from Sec. Rice. Sec. Gates won't be different from Sec. Gates. One can scream "neo-con" all day long, but at the end of the day getting rid of two horrific dangerous regimes, and promoting democracy in their place for 50 million people is hardly John Foster Dulles redux.

Perhaps on climate change there will be a break with the past. But recent studies suggesting the evidence on manmade planet warming is far from clear, coupled with a recession (nothing stops greenhouse gases like plant shutdowns and less driving), argue likewise that Obama, despite the soaring wind and solar rhetoric, may not rush to reintroduce Kyoto and that his policies will be closer to the last two years of Bush than to Al Gore's.

In short, Bush's supposedly diabolical neocon foreign policy was actually pretty mainstream other than the cacophony—over removing Saddam and staying on to foster democracy—in fall 2002-spring 2003. Obama's alternative world view was pretty much campaign rhetoric to position himself to the left of Hillary in the primary and sound hip to the big-donor liberal Left and is passing with the seasons.

On matters of a "new ethos" and "not doing business as usual," I think one could legitimately argue that the Obama transition ethical lapses—Richardson, the Treasury Secretary nominee's Rangelesque tax problems, the Blago tapes to come surrounding the Obama Senate seat—already dwarf the surrealistic Libby matter during the eight years of the Bush administration. And when the administration actually begins, we will have dozens of Clintonites on the loose bumping into an equal number of Daleyite Chicagoans—an interesting ethical nexus to say the least, as Rahm Emanuel may emblemize.

What are we left, then, other than a sort of campaign con? Obama will better articulate the old Bush positions. The hard Left will quiet down about the Patriot Act and Iraq,and cease the anti-American rhetoric, as upbeat diversity rhetoric trumps the old downbeat unilateralism.

Michael Moore won't be making any more documentaries about a fascistic President, and Knopf won't be publishing any novels like Checkpoint about a sitting President. I think Obama, with a few low-level appointments, an occasional pep talk at the annual ACLU meeting or an invite to the editors of the Nation for a chat in the Oval Office, can pretty much count on an inexpensive 10-cents-on-the dollar bought ride from the once vociferous Left.

The mass hysteria will subside, and historians will come to apprise the Hope and Change summer and fall of 2008 as one of the most curious episodes of mass hysteria in American history. And now let the governance begin.

Obama is already catching flak from his supporters because he's not going to move fast enough when he jumps into office. His cheerleaders in Congress are already warning him not to mess around. They're basically sending the message that they'll be calling the shots. His die-hard supporters aren't happy about the fact he brought Hillary on board, that he's retaining Gates, that there is no end for Iraq, that he's dropping more troops into Afghanistan, etc. etc.

There is no serious change coming on the horizon, so to speak. At least it won't be in the sense that some people believe. I've read a few that are convinced -- absolutely convinced -- that when these next four years are done, we'll be living in a neo-Soviet Union. We won't be. Will it be a rough road? You bet it will be, but Obama isn't going to move quickly on any of his radical ideas. To do so would cost him dearly in 2010. Remember 1994? What caused the House to switch hands? That's right. HillaryCare caused that loss of a House of Congress for the Democrats. Obama isn't going to jeopardize that. And should the Democrat leaders in Congress try to push a hard Left agenda, they can expect Obama to protect them from themselves.

But all of the psycho-supporters that were enthralled by him a year ago are going to be disappointed. Why? Because he's a politician. He will say or do what he has to to win. His campaign promises aren't the only things he's reneging on. It seems that more is coming out about his past that doesn't jive with what he said during the election. But that's not surprising because he's a politician, and politicians rarely make serious changes.

Publius II


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