Barack Obama will end his tenure with the ruin of Hope and Change. The implosion was brought about not by the marginalization of Hope and Change, but by the power of the U.S. government to reify the slogan in a way we have not seen since the 1930s.
Survey the wreckage.
The hope-and-change therapeutic approach to foreign relations ended logically with historic cuts in defense, lectures about American culpability, pink lines and the end of Syria, farcical Iranian talks, in Libya the short trip from “leading from behind” to Benghazi, the self-induced suicide of Iraq, the empowerment of Putin, a pivot to Asia that invited ridicule, and the charade of a war against ISIS.
There were only two saving graces to Obama’s misadventures abroad. One, as was also true of the alphabet stew of domestic scandals, each ensuing disaster seemed to divert attention from the prior calamity. Two, Obama was not able to halt new energy exploration on private lands as he had done with federal leasing. So followed a gas and oil renaissance that he opposed but can now claim as a great boon to American global leverage. Otherwise, what Barack Obama has accomplished, in the fashion of British prime minister Stanley Baldwin in the Twenties and Thirties, will be to avoid minor confrontations on his watch — if he is lucky — while ensuring catastrophic ones for his successors.
Obama’s immigration legacy will be the juxtaposition of his serial insistence that he was not a king or an emperor, and could not contravene the Constitution by granting a blanket amnesty, with his efforts to do just that when it was no longer politically inexpedient. I don’t think a president has ever quite so habitually warned the country of the dangers that would soon emanate from himself.
Illegal immigration is praised only by those who benefit directly from it, whether in the familial sense of inexpensive nannies, cooks, or gardeners; or in the corporate interest of cheap labor in the hospitality industries, agriculture, and construction; or in the political sense of new liberal constituents; or in the tribal sense of expanding the so-called La Raza base. But the vast majority of Americans accept that when federal law is ignored, chaos ensues.
The burdens of the attempt to grant federal exemption to millions of foreign nationals who have never followed U.S. immigration law inevitably fall on the middle-class taxpayer and the entry-level worker. We will also soon learn that over 11 million illegal aliens are not all Dream Actors. Rather, there is a huge minority of millions of illegal residents who have broken all sorts of U.S. laws, have not worked and are on public assistance, and have no record of sustained residence in the United States. When a guest chooses to break the laws of his host by entering his home illegally, that is usually the beginning, not the end, of illegality — a mindset and pattern of behavior that in many cases is not ended by simply erasing federal immigration law. The demand for immediate action for those who would qualify for Obama’s amnesties begs the question of whether there would be commensurately quick deportations of those who do not.
Take also global warming — for Secretary of State John Kerry, the world’s greatest challenge. Once the planet did not heat up in the last 18 years, and once the ice of the polar caps did not melt away, global warming begat climate change. The new nomenclature was a clever effort to link all occasional weather extremities to some underlying and fundamental climate disruption. Brilliant though the strategy was — the opposites of cold/hot, drought/deluges, and calm/storms could now all be used as proof of permanent climate change — global warming finally was hoist on its own petard: If it caused everything, then it caused nothing.
So, in the end, what was global warming? It seems to have grown up largely as a late-20th-century critique of global-market capitalism by elites who had done so well by it that they had won the luxury of caricaturing the very source of their privilege. Global warming proved a near secular religion that filled a deep psychological longing for some sort of transcendent meaning among mostly secular Western grandees. In reality, the global-warming creed had scant effect on the lifestyles of the high priests who promulgated it. Al Gore did not cut back on his jet-fueled and lucrative proselytizing. Obama did not become the first president who, on principle, traveled with a reduced and green entourage. Solyndra did not run a model transparent company as proof of the nobility of the cause. As in the case of illegal immigration, the losers from the global-warming fad are the working and middle classes, who do not have the capital to be unharmed by the restrictions on cheap, carbon-based fuels.
The natural outcome of the reactionary approach to race relations — identity politics, the salad bowl in lieu of the melting pot, the effusions of trillions of dollars over the last half-century into Great Society dependencies — is Ferguson. We are left with the movement’s slogan, “Hands up; don’t shoot!” which now joins a growing historical corpus of racial mythography — “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” and “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Ferguson illustrated many of the problems of postmodern liberalism: the anti-empirical insistence that the facts of the shooting of Michael Brown did not matter much; critical legal theory, which ignored the time-honored role of a disinterested grand jury; the tolerance of illegality as some sort of acceptable protest against the system; and the liberal media’s hyping a crisis on the understanding that the ramifications of the violence were safely distant from their own schools, neighborhoods, and restaurants.
The bitter truth is that Barack Obama himself is a figure who has always trafficked — albeit far more brilliantly and subtly than the buffoonish Sharpton and Jackson — in racial divisiveness, from his candid admissions in his memoir and his acknowledged dutiful discipleship at the feet of the racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright to “typical white person,” the clingers speech, “punish our enemies,” and the racially charged spin on the ongoing Skip Gates, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown cases. A sign of his brilliant racial contortionism is the current canard that losing 6 percent of the black vote is proof of diversity while winning only 40 percent of the white vote is an ominous sign of a new racism.
The more the liberal media outlets of shrinking audiences warned of “increasing racial tensions” as they sought to spike animosities, the more they were oddly deaf to the real story of Ferguson: a growing majority of Americans that has grown tired of racial demagoguery and profiteering. Last month’s election illustrated that the drumbeat of a supposedly old, shrinking, white, and selfish electorate juxtaposed to a new dynamic, idealistic, electorate of color only served to lose Democrats the former voters while not winning enough of the latter voters to make up the difference. After the disastrous Obama tenure, the U.S. will either return to the melting pot and the idea that race and tribe are incidental, not essential, to our characters, or it will eventually go the way of all dysfunctional societies for which that was not true — Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Iraq.
Obamacare was, in the end, little more than a clumsy effort to take over the health-care system by redistributing resources from the supposedly too-well-off to the more noble less-well-off, with billions of dollars siphoned off to expand government bureaucracies and enrich crony capitalists. The architects of the Affordable Care Act were not affected by the ramifications of their own advocacy, which largely fell on the middle class in terms of higher deductibles, premiums, and taxes.
The point of the program was not to provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans — that could have been done far more cheaply through existing programs — but to create a vast new federal bureaucracy to redistribute health-care resources. The legacy of the ACA will not be the diversion of the indigent from the emergency rooms and state and federal public clinics (which, after all, are largely still free in the sense of no premiums or deductibles), but the spiking of health-care costs through bureaucratic bloat and the rising deductible. The latter should be redefined as a premium, given that middle-class families will now be assessed, in addition to their premiums, hundreds of dollars in health-care costs each month until their much higher yearly deductibles are met.
Finally, and most important, Obamism did not even deliver on its extravagant promises of a new ethos of ending crony capitalism, the revolving door, lobbyists in government, and government corruption. Indeed, Obama will go down in history as presiding over the most corrupt administration of the last half-century, when historians finally collate the IRS, VA, GSA, and Secret Service scandals; the erosion of constitutional jurisprudence; the serial untruths about Benghazi, amnesty, and Obamacare; the harassment of journalists; the record shakedown of Wall Street lucre in 2008 and 2012; and the flood of lobbyists into and out of the Obama administration. Eric Holder – with his jet-setting to sporting events on the public dime, spouting inflammatory racialist rhetoric, politicizing the Justice Department, selectively enforcing settled law, and being held in contempt of Congress for withholding subpoenaed documents — managed what one might have thought impossible: He has made Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell seem a minor rogue in comparison.
Six years after the summer of hope and change, no one in the Democratic party is showcasing American foreign policy, pushing for cap-and-trade legislation, singing the praises of Obamacare, bragging about the way amnesty was handled, or pointing to a new cleaner and more transparent federal bureaucracy. What started out with “hope and change” and “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” ended up with a president who habitually misleads his countrymen, a baffling array of scandals, the discrediting of the obsequious media, and policies that not only did not work but by any historical model could never really have worked.
As proof, watch as Democrats regroup for 2016. Their unspoken commandment will be that most of what Obama did, they must either ignore or deny.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.