"News is the first draft of history", or so we're told. In truth, the "news" reported by mass media seldom reflects the crucial events of the moment. News reports of the summer of 1914 treated the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a trivial Balkan matter, of little interest to anyone in the more civilized areas of Europe. Similarly, you'd look long and hard in the late spring of 1950 for any mention of a place called "Korea" in U.S. papers. "News", as the major media describes it, is almost without exception trivia.
Nothing has changed. In the summer of 2009 we're overwhelmed with stories about the death of the most notable trainee since Elagabalus, followed in short order by solemn meditations on the demise of a criminal politician, along with a few sidebars devoted to the imperial vacation at Martha's Vineyard. And oh yeah -- Michelle's shorts. How could I have overlooked them? But none of that, needless to say, will go into the books. The real story this summer, the one that the scholars will be pondering for decades to come, concerns the absolute collapse of the American messiah.
It looks as if Rush can rest easy -- the Big O has failed, and failed completely. You couldn't say the same about an ordinary president at this stage of his first term. At eight months after inauguration, the run-of-the-mill chief exec is still gearing up, getting a feel for things, beginning to put his plans into motion. But Obama, as we have been told time and again, is in no way ordinary. He is a man spoken of in religious terms -- the One, the Messiah, the Lightbringer. On the stage of history, we do not create our roles. We fill them as they have been previously established through repeated human activity across the millennia. Obama's role is one familiar to anyone versed in the history of the ancient world: he is the god-emperor. Obama was elected to do more than was possible for any ordinary president, and to do it more quickly than is possible for the merely human. His apotheosis was to be like nothing else in history, a redemption of promises so deeply pledged as to have become axiomatic. The age of Obama was to be a time of sweeping, an epoch of transformation. When he strode across our horizon, nothing would remain unchanged.
Now, unless I've been paying too much attention the New York Dolls reunion to notice, nothing of the sort has occurred. It's been a dull summer on the messiah front. In fact, Obama's performance so far has been dramatically below average even for the sorry run of mortal presidents. We have, in the past few months, witnessed one of the great anticlimaxes of political history. The god-emperor has failed, and no one can deny it.
Obama's template was the New Deal. The country was in a similar state of crisis, enduring the worst economic slump since the 30s (or the 70s, or the medieval depression, depending on who you talked to). Desperate voters were willing to accept measures that they would have found intolerable at any other time. As in 1933, there existed a brief window for dramatic transformation, one that might not reappear for generations.
The New Deal was intended, if not by FDR himself, then by the Brain Trust, specifically Adolf Berle and Rexford G. Tugwell, as a means of reworking American society from the ground up. Both men believed they could recast the U.S. in the mold of fascist Italy and the Soviet Union, but without such unappealing features as concentration camps, massacres, artificial famines, and the like.
Nothing actually came of this. Both major aspects of the New Deal, the National Recovery Act (NRA) and the Agricultural Assistance Administration (AAA), were already failing when they were shut down by the Supreme Court in 1935 and 1936 respectively (possibly the most effective exercise of separation of powers in American history). The New Deal continued as a kind of national workfare program, with various "alphabet agencies" such as the WPA and PWA providing make-work jobs for millions across the country. Even that failed in 1937 with the second market crash -- the one usually left out of casual histories of the Depression due to the fact that it can be blamed on no one other than Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Despite its failures, the New Deal remains liberalism's peak, one that they have been trying to retrieve for 75 years and more -- that golden moment in 1933 when they had the world in a vise and all things seemed possible. That's what Camelot was actually all about, and the Great Society as well. Every single Democratic president (with the exception of Harry Truman, too practical and cynical to buy into any such "horse manure") was held up as the great hope who would bring the dream to pass. Obama is simply the latest in a long line.
Obama was supposed to redeem the promises of the New Deal and then some. He could make it work. He had the mojo. He was the One. A god-emperor for the new millennium, the Yankee Augustus who would set down the new pattern for American society for centuries to come.
Well... maybe not this millennium. There's a list floating around the Net, comprised of Obama's achievements thus far, all the "major legislation" overseen by the messiah. It's intended to demonstrate that the new age is too coming to pass, that the Great Work is unfolding right on schedule. This list looks like this:
- Cash for Clunkers Extension
- Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
- Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009
- Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act
- Helping Families Save Their Homes Act
- Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act
- Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act
- Omnibus Public Lands Management Act
- Small Business Act Temporary Extension
- American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
- DTV Delay Act
- Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization Act
- Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
Now, the first thought that comes to mind is the word "boilerplate". Tobacco control? Public lands management? What other word is there? Throw in the standard Democratic "fair pay" effort, the customary spank-the-Pentagon bill, the "Serve America" bill (not, considering the name attached to it, one devoted to Washington, D.C. waitresses), and we're almost halfway through the list. Adding the "DTV Delay Act", which reset the date for introducing digital TV signals -- it took me a minute, too -- and the credit card act and we're there. This is the lamest, dumbest, most useless list of "major legislation" since the heyday of Warren G. Harding. World-changing political revolution, it is not.
The only two acts of any interest are Cash for Clunkers and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, AKA the "stimulus." Cash for Clunkers has been widely hailed as a success, with auto sales rising across the board (except, interestingly enough, for Obama trophies GM and Chrysler, which slid 20% and 15% respectively). But falling auto sales over the past week have revealed that the program merely "pulled ahead" sales that would have occurred later in the fall in any case. Clunkers will simply go on record as a novel application of that ancient Democratic doctrine of robbing Peter to pay Paul. As for the stimulus... the revelation that it's going to cost somebody another 2 trillion ten years from now has smoothly dovetailed with news that national unemployment is edging the 10% mark, the very outcome the stimulus was supposed to prevent. As a payoff to Democratic supporters the stimulus is a grand success. As a national rescue effort, it is worse than useless, with the rescuees themselves being the ones left holding the bag. In this case, Peter is being robbed to pay Peter. Nicely done.
But where are all the blockbusters, the bills that were going to send the evil GOP, polluters, reactionaries, and AT writers running for high ground? Where is FOCA? The climate-change bill? Nationalization of health care?
We know where they are -- they're in limbo.
Obama's revolution was divided into three major parts -- government takeover of large industrial sectors, the imposition of a Green ideology to justify government intervention on any scale, and federal takeover of the health-care industry. Once these steps were taken, the result would be state control of American society on an unprecedented scale, along with a state-approved ideological superstructure (environmentalism) to act as the framework for the new system. All this was supposed to be carried out with military swiftness, within weeks or months of Obama's inauguration, before any questions could be asked or opposition mounted.
Thanks to the recession, the takeover of the auto and financial industries went relatively smoothly. The problem lay in the follow-through. GM, the jewel in the government's crown, has staked its fortunes on an economy model car that, since it is powered by battery, happens to cost $40,000, twice as much as any other economy car (it also requires a total battery replacement halfway through its operating lifespan amounting to at least another $16,000. So let's round it off to $60,000 -- three times what any other economy car costs.) Since the Volt can be marketed only to the extremely wealthy clinically insane -- not an enormous market -- it's obvious that GM can be kept afloat only by subsidies, which will end at the same time that Democratic hegemony does. (We'll skip over as irrelevant GM's $4,000 minicar that cannot be sold in the U.S. -- India has been marketing such a car for even less.)
As for the financial industry, much as Treasury Department officials have amused themselves with the fantasy that they are "in control", the bankers have proceeded to do exactly what they please, including paying each other extravagant bonuses, refusing to release funds for the loan markets, and soaking up government subsidies to pay off past losses. Stalin would have had them shot, an alternative currently not open to the Obamiate. I think we can write off industrial centralization.
Cap & Trade, AKA the Waxman-Markey Act, was to be the Trojan horse for Green ideology, an attempt to make environmentalism the basis of most domestic government activity. It was considered an easy sell, with "global warming" having become as key an element of liberalism as gun control and abortion. But when the provisions of Waxman-Markey became known, particularly those implying the shutdown of most American industry to leave the populace living in holes dug in hillsides and chewing bark off trees, the bloom was suddenly off the Green rose. Rising in their mighty fury, the Blue Dogs forced the bill to be set aside. It'll be passed eventually though. Next year, maybe. Or after the glaciers recede. We'll see.
Scratch the new American ideology.
We now turn to health care. The Mary Jo Kopechne Health Care Reform Act of 2009 would have made Obama into a benevolent god-emperor on the most titanic scale. The bill appeared to be evolving into an Obama version of the NRA, with federal control extended into new areas on all levels of society and every Americans subject to some measure of bureaucratic interference from womb to tomb. It would be the closest that a third-millennial American leader could come to the absolute life-and-death rule of the pre-modern ruler, the act that would turn Barack Obama into an American Caesar. (Would all presidents coming after him have to add "Barack" to their names following their inauguration? Just wondering...)
Then came the town halls, and Sarah Palin's revelation that the bill as written would open the door to euthanasia, and the death of Ms. Kopechne's chauffeur, which together served to send the entire effort crashing. The other week none other than Russ Feingold, who yearns for such a bill the way that Gilgamesh yearned for immortality, announced to his constituents that it will not come up for a vote until the end of the year, if then. Delays involving such efforts usually mean that they're finished, at least as they stand. There may be a health-care bill passed somewhere down the line, but it won't be Obama's bill, and it will lack most of the provisions that a Caesar demands -- the euthanasia counseling provisions, the "public option", control of insurance rates, and so on. The Imperator will have to find another means of attaining demigodhood. I suggest an expedition to conquer the Picts.
(But what's this "FOCA", you ask? Well you may. FOCA, or the "Freedom of Choice Act" is a bill that would enshrine abortion as a basic civil right with even greater protection than those given the rights of free speech, worship, or assembly, while also overturning every previous court decision and law dealing with the subject. Obama enjoyed waving it around as a senator, and promised that signing it would be his "first act" in the oval office. That is, until the Catholic bishops threatened him with stern consequences, beginning with the closure of the Catholic hospital network, fully a third of the U.S. health-care system. So FOCA went by the board, along with the promise to overturn the "conscience clause" protecting medical personnel who refuse to assist in abortions. Obama intended to put an end to that by March. It's been a long time since then.)
To cap the redeemer's woes, we have a world-class case of buyer's remorse on the part of the voters, with presidential approval ratings dropping to 50% across the board. Rasmussen has Obama at 46%, a drop of some 30% in little more than six months. Zogby, among the most dependable of pollsters, reveals that Obama is losing support even among his core constituency. So there it is -- a political agenda in ruins. Massive ruins, awe-inspiring ruins, ruins unprecedented in their size and majesty. For an epitaph we can turn to Shelley:
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away
So what does he do now? Deliverers cannot simply fail. Jesus cannot shrug and become a Jerusalem rabbi. Moses cannot return to Egypt and open a travel agency for Sinai tours. A fallen messiah does not become half a messiah or a third of a messiah, his original power and influence shrinking to match. He becomes a joke.
Obama will not tolerate becoming a joke. Not with his personality, smug, self-involved, and egotistical as it is. Particularly after being exposed to adulation given to no man since the heyday of Rome (not even Louis XIVth, the Sun King, who embodied the divine right of monarchy, was ever hailed as a "god"). So what are his alternatives?
(And let's hear no more nonsense about "internment camps" or ACORN goofs being issued brown shirts and truncheons such as I've seen from people who really ought to know better. Obama simply doesn't have that in him -- neither the daring and dynamism of the tyrant, nor the brutality and cruelty. Like most Democrats, Obama will take advantage of violence; he will not instigate violence himself.
And besides, have you ever seen any ACORN twits?)
Obama could, and probably will, attempt to sneak aspects of his agenda through riders to unrelated bills and unfunded mandates. But this won't be enough. It would be politically unsatisfying, and would fail to match his bold image of himself. Obama is a man who needs a mission, who must believe he has been touched by fire, reaching for goals beyond those open to ordinary men. The squalid day in/day out of politics so appealing to an FDR or a Lyndon B. Johnson means little to him. So he will search for other possibilities, spectacular, historic tasks that match his self-image.
More Green involvement would be an obvious choice. Al Gore has clearly demonstrated what a salve it can be to the wounded political ego. What better way of offsetting a ruined agenda than by taking up the pose of world savior and servant of Gaia? It's also relatively risk-free. Of the hundreds -- if not thousands -- of public figures who have lied and manipulated on behalf of environmentalism, not a single one -- not Carson, not Ruckelshaus, not Ehrlich, not Streep -- have ever paid a price for it. On the contrary, most have done very well for themselves. Obama could do worse than to continue pushing the warming button -- or whatever may replace it after another couple of bad winters.
He could instead choose to push the race button. Elected as a conciliator, Obama has since demonstrated himself to be anything but. The questions aroused by his twenty-year adherence to Jeremiah Wright have been answered by the appointment of the compulsive Eric Holder and the thuggish Van Jones, now departed. Obama's inept handling of the Gates incident suggests that as a man born in Hawaii and raised in large part overseas, he lacks a truly visceral understanding of American racial matters, instead relying on the kind of empty-headed clichés often seen in European media stories regarding American race relations. Whatever the case, any president who manipulates race for political purposes is putting far more than his reputation on the line. As a liberal, Obama lacks the power to benefit American society. But he can do much to damage it.
No more so than as involves the failure not yet mentioned, that of national security. Here Obama appears to be serving two constituencies: foreign governments and his leftist base. The foreign states wanted a return to an America that doesn't bother them, and that's what they've got. The Move On/DU crowd wants a defeated and chastened country. The decision by Witchfinder General Eric Holder to investigate and prosecute CIA officers, the court-ordered release of terrorist Muhammed Jawad, and the administration's near-silence in response to Scotland's release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi are events that will create their own response. Nothing is easier to foresee, and nothing more need be said. In his willingness, if not eagerness, to acquiesce to the see-no-evil security policy of the Clinton administration, Obama is sliding inexorably toward the greatest presidential failure of all: the failure to protect the American people. Such a failure will be viewed as the act of pure negligence that it is.
Obama could easily prevail by setting aside his status as god-emperor, dropping the effort to leave his imprint on the age and ignoring the cries of his more fanatical followers. In other words, by acting as a president. But this is unlikely on any number of cultural, political, and personal grounds. He is on the descending escalator, and is doomed to take it all the way to the bottom. It is our business to see that he doesn't drag the country down with him. Fortunately, his failures have a flip side. The past few months have shown us that Obama is extremely vulnerable to public pressure, as clearly shown by the town halls. We will have plenty of opportunity to put those tactics into effect in the months and years to come. When would-be imperators appear, the people have to step in. But that's why they call it democracy.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.