May 26, 2010
Obama the Warrior
Our postmodern president trots around the globe bowing to our enemies, pledging to disarm, sundering our alliances, denigrating the country he heads, and humiliating the leaders of our (former) closest allies. He eviscerates our arsenal, dismantles our intelligence capabilities, and willfully ignores the most blatant threats to the United States. To speak of him as a warrior is the height of absurdity.
Yet in some sense, he actually is a warrior -- not in any military context, but rather in the classic parlance of the progressive movement. He is an aggressive, motivated, and dedicated soldier in the battle to remake America into a collectivist social welfare state. He struggles mightily to undermine the Constitution, destroy free-market capitalism, subvert traditional culture, and weaken the sovereign nature of the American republic. In this struggle, he belittles his opponents, pursues his objectives relentlessly and engages in elaborate feints and misdirection to confuse and demoralize the opposition.
Sounds like a warrior to me...except that the field of engagement is the political arena instead of a military battlefield. The weapons are words, money, favors, and the media, not guns and missiles. Physical courage does not enter the equation; it is replaced by idealistic conviction, single-minded devotion to a cause, and stubborn unwillingness to entertain the thought that one might be wrong.
The idea that the foot soldier in the progressive movement is engaged in a war is completely consistent with the mode set for the movement by its earliest proponents. This is discussed brilliantly in Jonah Goldberg's 2007 book Liberal Fascism. Goldberg argues that modern liberalism (i.e., the progressive movement) draws its inspiration from classic fascist principles.
The core value of original fascism ... was its imposition of war values on society ... The chief appeal of war to social planning isn't conquest or death but mobilization. Free societies are disorganized. People do their own thing, more or less, and that can be downright inconvenient if you're trying to plan the entire economy from a boardroom somewhere. War brings conformity and unity of purpose. The ordinary rules of behavior are mothballed. You can get things done: build roads, hospitals, houses. Domestic populations and institutions are required to "do their part."
Many progressives probably would have preferred a different organizing principle, which is why William James spoke of the moral equivalent of war. He wanted all the benefits -- Dewey's "social possibilities" of war -- without the costs. Hence, in recent times, the left has looked to everything from environmentalism and global warming to public health and "diversity" as war equivalents to cajole the public into expert-driven unity. ... "Martial virtues," James famously wrote, "must be the enduring cement" of American society: "intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command must still remain the rock upon which states are built."
Obama and his fellow progressives who are running the country have established the fields of battle in their war to remake America. Moreover, they discuss those fields in military terms, replete with all the implications for national calamity, extensive casualties, and lost opportunities that are normally associated with the winds of war. To wit:
- Global Warming. According to the progressives, the Earth is in danger, the threat is imminent, and unimpeded capitalism is the source of the crisis. They use war metaphors constantly when proposing their socialistic policies for "winning this war."
- Deficits and Debt. Progressives legitimately assert that the threat to the nation from runaway deficits is grave -- even existential -- and that enormous sacrifice will be required to win this war. What they fail to mention is that their policies caused -- and continue to exacerbate -- the threat.
- Health Care. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are satisfied with their health care, progressives seize on (and inflate) the relatively small number without adequate access as a beachhead in their war to convert the U.S. to socialized medicine. They cite health care's enormous costs without acknowledging that their programs (Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, employer-based coverage caused by FDR's wage controls, and now Obamacare) are the principal drivers of the astronomical costs.
- Welfare. LBJ declared that war 45 years ago. The poverty rate is roughly the same now as it was then, despite the progressive generals at HHS and HUD who have been prosecuting the "war against poverty" all the while.
Nevertheless, to label Obama a warrior is indeed truly ridiculous, and here is why. For more than half a century, the greatest leaders of the progressive movement were indeed warriors. I am thinking of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ. Teddy was the greatest warrior of them all. His physical courage is legendary; his exploits in the Spanish-American War bear testimony to that. Wilson might not have had the physical courage of Teddy, but he savored the idea of American participation in The Great War. Against tremendous opposition in the country, he cajoled the nation to enter the war, whereupon he converted the society to a heightened war footing and appointed generals who prosecuted the war assiduously. FDR did likewise in the Second World War.
Neither Wilson nor FDR exhibited the personal manifestations of a warrior like Teddy, but in the mold of military leaders throughout history, they led their people purposefully, forcefully, and resolutely into war. Finally, the same is true of LBJ -- up to a point. He was itching to fight the Communists in Southeast Asia and, like his heroes, he steered the country into war. But unlike his heroes, he botched its execution and presided over defeat instead of victory. In so doing, he converted the progressive movement to pacifism. Oh, progressives might drop a bomb (Serbia) or lob a missile (Sudan) here and there, but the idea of America participating in -- much less instigating -- a real war became anathema to them.
Obama is cut from that cloth. In his pacifism and reluctance to commit American troops to battle, he is no different from Carter or Clinton, Mondale or McGovern. One might argue though: What about Iraq? Afghanistan? If he could, Obama would withdraw from those conflicts instantly. However, he inherited them, and he knows that he would risk serious political capital by a precipitous withdrawal -- especially if it resulted in a military defeat. To his disgrace, he has announced to the enemy his dates for withdrawal in the near future. For him, these conflicts are distractions from the domestic "wars" that he wishes to fight. More pointedly, he refuses to engage the enemies that truly threaten America: Iran, North Korea, nations harboring Muslim terrorists, or the Chinese.
Obama prefers appeasement to confrontation. He prefers despots like Chávez or Castro to democrats like Netanyahu. Unwilling to project strength, Obama believes that obsequiousness and understanding will reverse the intent of America's enemies. Some warrior!
To Obama, America is a failed state that has no moral right to fight other states -- no matter how evil or how much they might threaten American interests. Besides, it is very difficult to strike a military pose when one is constantly bowing.