My readers know I don’t generally re-run earlier columns because there are so many new developments going on all the time. I’m making an exception in this case because I realized that my original column (“Obama: Apologia and Critique”, 15 October 2008) contained analysis apropos to the present moment. For consistency, I reproduce the column exactly as it ran then, unedited except for a few typo-corrections. My readers will judge whether we hit the nail on the head about Mr. Obama, even before he took office.
15 October 2008. I received the following from an acquaintance. I think it demonstrates very well why Mr. Obama's campaign has been so successful. The bolded items in the excerpt are those on which I furnish some following commentary.
I support Obama for many reasons.
First, I believe that the United States needs change. Truly, I do not think that either candidate will be able to change things as much as either of them says. With the way we have the balance of power between the different houses, I sometimes wonder if anything really can change. But I do believe that the best shot we have is with someone with new ideas, which is what Obama has. He sees the United States with younger, more optimistic eyes. I really believe that McCain does not see things different enough from Bush to be able to say he is anything about change.
Secondly, I cannot support a candidate that does not want us to get out of Iraq. I felt like we did not have reason to be there when we initially went. I am all for finding and exterminating Bin Laden and his followers, but Iraq was not about that. I think that our current economy cannot continue to support the war financially and it will be to the detriment of the American people to continue to be there and not turn over this issue to the Iraqis themselves.
Regarding issues that are more pinpointed and local, I support Obama because of his plan for energy independence. I do not think that the way Americans can achieve this is by drilling. We use too much and don't actually have very much. We need to heavily invest in alternative fuel sources. Regardless, the oil will someday run out. We have no idea how soon that will be, so the sooner we can learn to live with less, the better we will all be.
I believe that every child in the US has the right to equal health care. I do not know if I am sold on total socialized health care, because I do think that as adults we must take care of ourselves, but a child has no say or ability to do anything. Every child should be given the same health care. No child should die or be denied healthcare because of the misfortune or squandering of the parents. I also think that health care costs will go down with either of these because to keep things down, alternatives to traditional medicine will be explored. Instead of expensive back surgery off the bat, a patient will have the choice to seek treatment from a chiropractor, costing the system much less.
On the subject of kids, I think the No Child Left Behind needs to be completely scrapped. It is a joke and we all know it. Obama believes in teachers teaching kids to LEARN not to just pass a test at the end of the year. He wants to revamp NCLB and come up with new standards for measuring progress other than just a standardized test.
I think Obama thinks about everyday Americans. He wants equal pay for equal work. He is thinking about small business and how to give back himself. He understands that right now there are too many BIG issues that need to be addressed at one time and thinks that we need to prioritize these issues. McCain thinks that we can tackle everything at once, “because we are Americans” and although I wish we were that resourceful, I think the current economy has shown us that we cannot spread ourselves any thinner.
Senator Daniel P. Moynihan liked to say, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. He is not entitled to his own facts.” I thought of that wisdom when I read the passage above. That's the essence of my commentary on it. Here are some observations.
(1) Change. Bill Clinton successfully ran on undefined “change” in 1992. Mr. Obama is showing that we can be fooled twice with the same scam, within the same generation. Of course, every president brings change with his administration – a new persona, new policies, different ways of doing things. If he is a candidate of integrity, he spells out the change he advocates so voters will know what they will be getting if they elect him. Mr. Clinton didn't do much of that, and Mr. Obama has done even less. If voters can be dissuaded from requesting too many inconvenient details, the strategy of running on undefined change can obviously be very powerful. Every voter will fill in the blanks with the change he imagines the candidate will bring. If the wall of silence holds on what the change will be, he can hardly lose. In “normal” times, a vigorous media would be all over the “change,” wanting to know what it will be, but those old media rules have been either suspended or abandoned in 2008.
(2) New Ideas. Here's where you don't get to have your own facts. Mr. Obama's ideas might seem new and exciting to younger voters. In fact, they are old and shopworn. They have failed repeatedly and were thoroughly discredited by the 1990s. Mr. Obama doesn't want to take us boldly ahead. He wants to take us boldly back – to the New Deal, the Great Society and socialism's Golden Age. He distrusts business, believes more government is the answer (to every problem), and wants to punish success by taxing it more. (He calls this “fairness”; his running mate calls it “patriotism.”) He actually seems to believe that government can “build” a robust economy by collecting higher taxes and redistributing the money to people who have been “losers in the lottery of life” (as Democrats like to call them). These are not new ideas; they are old ideas. They have never worked, and they won't work now, even if a silver-tongued candidate calls them “change.” Truth be told, Mr. Obama probably realizes this, himself, which has led him to flip-flop on numerous “new ideas” – including trade protectionism, raising taxes, unconditional negotiation with enemies, and immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The list is long. (Google on “Obama flip-flops.”)
(3) Iraq. Hitler's propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels, said a lie will be believed by many if it's big enough and is repeated often enough and loudly enough. The idea that Iraq was “the wrong war in the wrong place, at the wrong time” has now reached the status of holy writ. But it's a lie. Cabdrivers and housewives who wouldn't know a strategic objective from a plate of spaghetti are repeating it as though it came from the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is nonsense. A violent, ruthless despot – armed with a large armed force, expressing an intention to obtain weapons of mass destruction (whether realized or not), and retaining connections to terrorists – could not be allowed to remain as a hub of worldwide Islamic terror. Leaving him untouched in a war zone was clearly impossible, militarily. We have representative government because complex military issues like this cannot be left to popular referendum.
(4) Bin Laden. The idea that catching Osama Bin Laden is the true objective in our war on terror is equally silly – both because it could never win that war and because the task is impossible. Could Germany have been defeated in World War II by the Allies' capture of Hitler? The idea is beyond absurd. Germany had a wealth of other capable leaders in the wings. Losing Hitler would have been no more serious than losing Franklin Roosevelt was for us. Moreover, Hitler could never have been caught except by the destruction of Germany's armed forces – as ultimately happened. We might look for Bin Laden for twenty years and not find him, unless he is handed over by the government of a country in which he is hiding. A basic tactic of the anti-war left is to pose an impossible but worthless task, then pronounce the war “failed” if the task is not achieved. This is what the “capture of Bin Laden” is. Those who advocate it leave delicately unmentioned the fact that Bill Clinton twice declined Sudan's offer to hand over Osama Bin Laden in the 1990s.
(5) Plan for Energy Independence; little oil of our own. If Mr. Obama has a real plan for energy independence, beyond letting gas prices rise into the stratosphere and building windmills, I have yet to hear of it. When gas prices were heading for $5 a gallon, in the early summer, Mr. Obama was the Great Silent One. He obviously had no problem with those prices, and what he did say was just vapid Democratic talking points about greedy big oil causing the high prices, our need for bio-fuels, and the importance of “alternative energy technology” (i.e., wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric). He said (and says) nothing about exploiting our known petroleum reserves, including oil shale that could contain as much as 2 trillion barrels of oil. We also are the Saudi Arabia of coal: we have hundreds of years' supply, plus the technology to convert coal to oil (a technology developed nearly 100 years ago during World War I). We do not have “little” of this critical resource. We have scads of it, but it is stuck in the ground because ignorant politicians (like Mr. Obama, I grieve to say) think we can achieve energy independence by depending on foreign countries for our energy. (This is so absurd I almost think Democrats have posed it as an “intelligence test” for voters.) By depending on potential adversaries for our energy needs, we make energy into an issue of national security. No responsible scientist or engineer thinks “alternative sources” can meet more than 10% of our energy needs by mid-century. People who (like our writer, above) speak blithely of making do with less oil are invariably the most outraged when they can't get gas for their cars and their home-heating bills soar. Oil and plentiful electricity are critical to our economy, as it is now constructed. Any serious interruption of the supply of either would have dire consequences – felt from the salons of San Francisco to the penthouses of New York. People who think we can simply “cut back” are living in a serious delusion.
(6) Every child has the “right” to equal health care. This is another of those ideas that sounds great, but has no basis in reality. It also confuses “health care” with health care insurance. The two are not interchangeable. Millions of people lack insurance, but they do not lack health care. If a single child had died last year because of lack of health care, the American Public would know his name. Indigents, street people and illegal immigrants all get the best health care available without paying for it. (Generally, the law enjoins hospitals from denying treatment to any person lacking the means to pay for it.) As to “equal” health care for all children – this is possible, but it might not mean what the writer expects. She is probably thinking of every child getting the kind of health care a congressman gets. Instead, every child might get access to crowded, understaffed clinics with long lines and lick-and-a-promise treatment. It's like “equal education” – we're getting it, but we don't like the quality.
(7) No Child Left Behind a “joke.” The writer has been listening to too many teachers bitching about NCLB in the faculty lounge. The controversial law does not mandate teaching kids to “pass a test” at the end of the year. It lays down federal reading-level standards for all children, so none will be left behind by the customary legerdemain of academic bookkeeping. As for “teaching kids to learn” – reading is the fundamental learning-tool for every student. If you can't read, you're toast; if you can, everything is possible. Schools were “graduating” functionally illiterate children, and nothing was being done to correct that situation. The NCLB act probably isn't perfect – what federal law is? – but reports are now showing increases in student reading levels, as the Act is being applied. The “joke” is on communities like Washington, DC, where schools have produced generations of ignorant “graduates” who haven't a prayer of participating in a modern technological society, while better educated immigrants flood into the country to take high-paying jobs. Mr. Obama's education bona fides are extremely suspect, as Thomas Sowell (columnist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institute) notes in his recent article, “The Real Obama, Part III.” (http://townhall.com/columnists/ThomasSowell/2008/10/09/the_real_obama_part_iii ) Dr. Sowell points out that Mr. Obama speaks gravely and convincingly about schools and “quality of education,” but he consistently votes in lockstep with teachers' unions – for the status quo and against any real reform. “Obama talks a great game,” says Dr. Sowell, calling him a clever politician who demands change, but who always votes against it. (Somehow, I don't think this is the kind of “change” our earnest writer wants and expects.)
(8) Prioritize, don't tackle everything at once. As the kids like to say, Duhhh! Actually, I think it's important to read the subtext in Mr. McCain's call to move ahead on all fronts, and Mr. Obama's uncharacteristically cautious statement about prioritizing. Mr. McCain is saying, yes, there are a lot of problems, but we're going to get started on as many as possible. We're not going to sit around waiting. But Mr. Obama is telling all his believers in Change that their particular issue might have to wait in the queue for a while, until he can bring the full power of his blessing to bear on it and solve it. (Evidently, he can bless only one issue at a time.) I don't mean to be snide here, but isn't “waiting” what Mr. Obama has been boldly attacking in his standard stump speeches? “We can't wait any longer...” is a line I have heard from him many times this year. Now he seems to be flip-flopping on this, too – hedging his bets because so many people have filled in the blanks on change and will expect immediate action, if he is elected. With all those expectations crowding in on him, he knows there is no way to make good on all of them.
(9) Spreading ourselves too thin. Our writer makes a strong point here – although possibly not as she intended. She says we can't tackle too many “big problems” because we have limited resources and we have our limits. In other words, Mr. McCain's vision is too grand – an interesting perspective from a follower of a candidate whose soaring vision seems to have no bounds. She's right that the American Horn of Plenty is limited, but she still believes government should solve problems that in past eras Americans took upon themselves. Someone once observed that Americans reached a national watershed when they stopped thinking of government as “us” and started thinking of it as “them.” After that, government became the “giver” of good things instead of the guardian of our liberties from incursions by foreign enemies. Liberals today believe the former is what government is really about. But without the latter, none of the former has any meaning. This is what is known as returning to “first principles.” However young and hopeful and optimistic Mr. Obama is – and I find him personally attractive, too – he clearly has no interest in first principles. Considering the gang he's been hanging out with, I'm not even sure he knows what they are.
Americans have less than three weeks to decide if they will choose Mr. Obama's fill-in-the-blanks vision of undefined change or Mr. McCain's vision of a self-reliant America that can never be defeated by any problem or foreign enemy. The choice will have profound implications for our future. I urge every reader to consider it carefully.