July 30, 2009
Over the past couple of weeks, it has become apparent even to politicians and the media that the Demented Spree Act of 2009, better known perhaps as the "Obama Stimulus", has not worked, and shows no sign of ever working.
Unemployment -- the professed reason for the stimulus in the first place -- is now at 9.5% and will break 10% within the next few months. Credit remains tight and industry is still fumbling. It is clear that there are no shortcuts back to a steady prosperity, that this recession will be overcome in the exact way such disasters always have been -- by working our way out of it. The $787 billion ("real money", as Everett Dirksen would have put it), already spent, being spent, and to be spent, can be considered as so much waste paper.
The interesting thing about this is the reaction of our media and political elites -- or rather, the lack of reaction. They're behaving as if flushing away three-quarters of a trillion dollars is trivial. The failure of the greatest act of financial pump-priming in history has elicited no more than a collective shrug. Cognitive dissonance doesn't come more obtuse than this. Our great opinion leaders have stumbled over a huge pile of facts having serious bearing on O's future prospects and rather than pausing to take a look have instead gotten to their feet, brushed themselves off, and hurried away exactly as if nothing happened. The pretense appears to be that the fate of the stimulus has nothing at all to do with the rest of Obamus Maximus's policies.
Of course it does. The collapse of the stimulus can be taken as representative of Obama's policies, past, present, and future. The stimulus shares one major element with every other program this administration has come up with: they have all been tried before, and they have all failed.
First up is health care. We're constantly reminded that the U.S. is the only industrialized nation lacking a national health-care system, without anyone going on to add how lucky we are. Health care systems of the exact type promised by Daddy Obama are omnipresent all across the world, their records open for our edification and enlightenment. A close look at only the Mother Country will suffice.
Here's what a search on "UK NHS" a few weeks ago came up with: a maggot infestation at the Royal Children's Hospital (the staff assured parents there was nothing to worry about). A sick woman who grew so tired of lying in filth that she got up out of her hospital bed and cleaned the room herself, dragging her IV behind her (The nurses, she reported, "let her get on with it.") The two emergency medical techs arrested for letting a patient die while they stood around and cracked jokes. The fact that the UK has once again achieved the highest levels of superbug infestations in the industrialized world (over 32,000 hospital patients die of MRSA alone each year). The so-called "Mental Capacity Act", under the terms of which a patient unable to communicate is to be considered "due to die", and denied food and water, the same treatment meted out to Terry Schaivo. Across the UK, families have been rescuing aged relatives declared surplus under the terms of the act.
And last but not least, we encounter Prof. Trevor Sheldon, one of the UK's leading authorities on health-care policy. In 2007, Professor Sheldon published a study on mortality in British hospitals. According to that study, the NHS kills up to 91,030 patients each year through "avoidable" mishaps. The professor went on to assure readers that these numbers are matched in many other countries, but that's not quite the case. To equal the UK number, the U.S., with six times the population, would have to suffer 450,000 unnecessary deaths annually.
All in all, this sounds like a system that, if put in place by an occupying enemy power, would be considered a war crime. But it's the system Obama is wishing on us. Needless to say, none of this has been mentioned in the mass media, for fear of confusing and alarming the public, although it's finding its way into the debate anyway. My prediction is that nothing like ObamaCare will be passed anytime soon. ObamaCare has already been "delayed" past its original launch date, which in Washington terms usually means it's dead-on-arrival.
Our next item from the Obama piñata concerns industrial policy, namely the administration's enthusiastic takeover of industry for the benefit of all. This is one instance where the imputation of fascism is perfectly accurate. This policy, known as "corporatism", comprised the economic system of fascist Italy. Corporatism was developed at the behest of Mussolini as an answer to the manifest failure of Soviet-style expropriation. It divided Italian industry into easily-run sectors with the state acting as upper management, exactly as the administration is doing for GM, Chrysler, and a large chunk of the financial sector.
And how did this work for Il Duce's Italy? During the Depression, Italy coped worse than any other nation in Europe. Real wages fell 20%, as did investment, while international trade was cut nearly in half. Per capita private consumption remained below the 1929 level straight into WW II. Corporatism also had a clear impact on the war itself. Italy had one of the largest fleets in the world, with battleships equal to anything on the seas. But they weren't equipped with either radar or modern fire-control systems -- there was no corporative sector for electronics, you see. So the British, using the primitive gun-laying radar of the period, managed to ambush the Italians twice and put much of their fearsome navy at the bottom of the Mediterranean.
The Nazi example is even more entertaining. In the 30s, German aircraft development was nationalized and handed over to Ernst Udet, WW I ace, expert pilot, and complete wacko. Udet became obsessed with dive bombers after seeing a U.S. Navy demonstration team and decreed that all German bombers must be able to dive. This was obeyed with Nazi alacrity and German efficiency. From then on, all bombers were modified according to decree, up to and including a heavy bomber, the He-177 Greif, truly one of the weirdest designs ever -- a plane the size of a 757 fitted with dive brakes. The end result was that Germany fought the Battle of Britain with no usable strategic bombers, and failed to defeat the British. Knowing that this meant the war was lost, and aware of his personal responsibility, Udet shot himself in 1941.
Compare this to what occurred in the U.S. at the same time. Henry J. Kaiser, a steel magnate who had scarcely ever set foot on a ship in his life, had the brainstorm of building ships the same way they did cars, using prefab parts on what amounted to an assembly line. The result was the Liberty Ship, a squat, ugly little devil of a freighter that became a legend for shipping every kind of cargo there was to every last corner of the earth. Down in New Orleans, Andrew Higgins offered to build a landing craft for the Marines after a government department screwed the project up. Working from a drawing, Higgins had a prototype ready for tests in less than a month. The LCVP -- the "Higgins boat", became an emblem of victory, the troops racing over its dropped ramp one of the memorable images of the war.
These ideas would never have occurred to any "central planner" and could not have been rammed through the bureaucracy if they had. They were products of the creative chaos that prevails under true capitalism and is its chief, often overlooked virtue. (This, by the way, gives the lie to people John Kenneth Galbraith who contend that "planning" won WW II.) So let's all wave goodbye to GM while we still have the chance.
Third on the list is the ever-popular topic of liberal foreign policy. Now, anybody who does not understand the shortcomings of appeasement really deserves his own umbrella with "Neville Chamberlain" engraved on the handle. The problem is that I'm not sure that Obama needs a dozen umbrellas. The sole innovation he has made in hail-fellow-well-met foreign policy is that he's appeasing everybody. And even there, Jimmy Carter may well have surpassed him.
Carter came into office with a lot of appeasing to catch up with, but he managed to bring it off. Within four short years, he saw that the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua, assured that the Shah was overthrown and replaced by elements out of the 12th century, undermined a legitimate democratic election to put Robert Mugabe in control of Zimbabwe, and enabled Russian tanks to find their way to Kabul with no unnecessary holdups or delays. And somewhere in there, he found time to see that no assistance was given to the Vietnamese boat people, so that thousands of them drowned or were murdered by pirates.
Clearly, Obama has quite a challenge ahead of him to match this record. But he's off to a good start. Today, less than eight months into office, he has Kim shooting off missiles with the intensity of a meth addict, the Iranian mullahs all but publicly marking targets in Israel, and Chavez grunting insults on Venezuelan TV while Danny Ortega (one of Jimmy's little friends), threatens to intervene in an internal political crisis in Honduras. If he keeps this up, Obama may very well take the appeasement cup from Jimmy, leaving himself plenty of time to give Indonesia back to the Hobbits.
So what does this tell us about Obama? For the AT readership, it speaks above all to the phenomenon of conservative despair. Since last November conservatives have been in a complete funk over Obama and his intentions for the country. It's as if they believed in Obama's messiahhood to an even greater extent than the followers who believed Obama was the One, the Alpha and the Omega. Problems simply solve themselves in his presence. The oceans stop rising. Cracked glasses are made whole again. Henry Louis Gates overcomes writer's block. Obama could not fail -- Obamacare, the Obama Recovery, the Obama Century were in the bag. America as we knew it was doomed.
Among our Northeast Exquisites, this attitude has led to direct collaboration. In the heartland, it has given rise to desperation and feverish hunts for will-of-the-wisp "solutions" such as the birth certificate. (As an aside, amid all the uproar I can't help but notice that nobody has produced a birth certificate from Nairobi.)
That there is now no justification for this goes without saying. But as the record shows clearly enough, there has never been any justification for it. Obama cannot make it work. Here is a man whose entire basis of belief and action was that he was living outside of history, not subject to its lessons or limitations. He is now, as my old granddad used to say, getting a rude awakening, learning what truly capable presidents ranging from Lincoln to Truman to, yes, even the despised George W. Bush, knew at the beginning: that the limitations entwining a president are not less than those of the man in the street, they are greater. Very few things are possible to a president, and even those few must be handled with infinite care and attention to detail. Even if Obama learns this lesson, he is learning it very late. So there will be no social revolution, no left-wing Rapture, no Promised Land. The Red Sea has been bid to part, and the waters have stayed right where they were. Obama is no Moses; he is simply another example of liberalism's long, miserable decline.
About a year ago I wrote on this site that Obama's chief characteristic was his flakiness, and that come what may, that would eventually be clearly seen. Well, behold his flakehood made manifest, and a superhuman and preternatural flakiness it is too. Obama may yet prove to be one of the most remarkable presidents of the emerging millennium. Despite himself, he may well be the president who discredits the liberal brand for good and all.