It’s summer reading season. Bookstore shelves and electronic book catalogs are full of samples lamenting the sorry state of affairs in the age of Obama. Four that I have read are: The Tyranny of Clichés by Jonah Goldberg, The Road to Freedom by Arthur Brooks, No, They Can’t by John Stossel and The Amateur by Edward Klein. For those who, like the writer, rue the day that the American electorate took leave of its senses and installed into the Oval Office the least qualified, most inexperienced and furthest left candidate in the history of the nation, these books are preaching to the converted. One hopes that at least some of those who perpetrated the dastardly electoral deed are drinking from the ‘I told you so’ wisdom in those pages.
All four books are severely critical of Barack Obama and the ultra-liberal philosophy that motivates his thoughts and actions. Four years ago, when he ran on a nebulous ‘hope and change’ platform, shielded by an adoring media, and unburdened by any meaningful record that could conclusively tag him for the ultra-leftist that he is, it was easy for the electorate to ignore the few – but, in retrospect, completely clear – signs of his statist political persuasion. That is no longer the case. Three and a half years of damning evidence cannot be ignored. Although he obfuscates regularly, anyone with half a brain recognizes Obama’s:
- solution to every national problem involves expanded government, less individual freedom and an imaginary, egalitarian nirvana;
- preference for collectivist, Euro-style socialism over bedrock American founding principles;
- un-American, class-conscious demonization of entrepreneurial success accompanied by redistribution of wealth and the promotion of an entitlement mentality;
- Keynesian economics, despite the fact that everywhere it has been tried, it has failed – every time.
- shameful castigation of America as the cause of certain of the planet’s geopolitical and environmental ills; non recognition of the salutary role that America played in the defeat of totalitarianism; failure to acknowledge anything special about America’s role in world history; and his purposeful diminution of America’s capability to influence world events;
- lack of respect for forces and institutions that are responsible for America’s astounding success in the last quarter millennium – e.g., Christianity, entrepreneurial businessmen, military preparedness, rule of law, civil society, traditional family values, the Constitution and Western Civilization. Instead he wishes to replace them with: a powerful central government, secular humanism, crony capitalism, multiculturalism, globalism and environmentalism.
Indictments such as the above are rife in the pages of the four cited books. Here are a few examples:
Klein: [Describing Obama’s assessment early in his presidency of what he expected to achieve] It was, by any measure, a breathtaking display of narcissistic grandiosity from a man whose entire political curriculum vitae consisted of seven undistinguished years in the Illinois Senate, two mostly absent years in the United States Senate, and five months and ten days in the White House. Unintentionally, Obama revealed the characteristics that made him totally unsuited for the presidency and that would doom him to failure: his extreme haughtiness and excessive pride; his ideological bent as a far-left corporatist; and his astounding amateurism.
Goldberg: [Commenting on social justice, another term for the far-left statism/collectivism/corporatism practiced by our benighted president] Meanwhile, what does social justice bring with it? On virtually every front where social justice claims the high ground, it does so by appealing to the authority of a mirage and grounding its arguments in nothing firmer than an ill-defined sentiment. Intellectually, it has no more weight than a gesture, no more substance than a wish. Yet those who fight for it do not care; indeed, they like it that way, because it prepares the battlefield for them. They promise to deliver a better world, but haven’t the foggiest idea how to provide it. The Romans knew how to build roads and toilets; all the centurions of social justice know how to provide is someone else’s money. It’s imperialism fueled by guilt and sustained by smugness. But it is successful. These centurions and citizens of social justice run our schools, our charities, our newspapers, and, if they have their way, our world.
Stossel: It is unfortunate that the United States, a nation founded on more libertarian principles than most other countries, now seems incapable of admitting that government has gotten too big. One ‘problem’ is that we’ve had things so good for so long that most of us simply don’t believe, in our guts, that government control can strangle the golden goose…I can go to a foreign country, stick a piece of plastic in the wall, and cash will come out. I can give that same piece of plastic to a stranger who doesn’t even speak my language – and he’ll rent me a car for a week. When I get home, Visa or MasterCard will send me the accounting – correct to the penny. That’s capitalism! I just take it for granted. Government, by contrast, can’t even count votes accurately.
Brooks: Politicians who pretend that we do not have to choose between these two ideas of America are mistaken or less than honest. They want us to think that statism and free enterprise are ultimately compatible; that bureaucracy is not antagonistic to self-government; that we can remain exceptional when our system is indistinguishable from collectivist systems around the world. But this is deceit. Not choosing is effectively just the choice for big government. Unless we actively choose free enterprise and make the tough choices to limit the government, we will slip down the road toward European-style social democracy. We know this to be true because it has been happening for nearly a century. To be honest, big government is an easier choice than free enterprise. In the short run, it allows us to avoid sacrifice. Politicians who ask for sacrifice face a tough battle with voters, so they tend not to. But this laziness – on our part and on the part of the governing class – endangers all of us in the long run. It will mean the end of our Founders’ vision for our country. It will end any hope of limited government. And it will saddle our children and grandchildren with crushing debt.
Klein: Obama’s supporters claim that he has been falsely charged with being a leftwing ideologue. But based on my reporting, I concluded that Obama is actually in revolt against the values of the society he was elected to lead. Which is why he has refused to embrace American exceptionalism – the idea that Americans are a special people with a special destiny – and why he has railed at the capitalist system, demonized the wealthy, and embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Despite the similarities, there are some significant differences among the four books. Brooks’ and Goldberg’s works are quite scholarly in nature. Brooks’ main emphasis is on what he sees as the moral case for free market capitalism as the best economic structure for the United States. He explains why, to his thinking, this choice not only maximizes the chances of the most people prospering, but in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, it is the proper choice over collectivism. Goldberg’s book is built around various sayings, slogans and ‘truisms’ that we have come to accept as legitimate or even factual; but which in fact merely represent liberal dogma that upon close examination is exposed as wrong, immoral, incoherent and often utterly vapid.
Goldberg writes with great wit, Brooks with great clarity. The other two books, while well-written, are less serious – more aimed at being a best seller than having a profound impact on the country’s great philosophical debate. Stossel’s reads like the script of one of his TV programs. And Klein has the breathless, gotcha, yet undocumented flavor of an exposé – which is exactly what it purports to be.
But there is a missing ingredient in all four – a sense of extreme urgency, unchecked passion or great fervor. If these authors – like so many of the other Obama-bashers – are correct, America is in mortal danger and if we don’t reverse course quickly, we are headed for disaster. If that is the case, where is their call to the barricades?
To be fair, some of this summer’s reading material exhibits that passion. Three that come to mind are: Ameritopia by Mark Levin, Still the Best Hope by Dennis Prager and America-Lite by David Gelertner. I have dwelt on the first two here and here, and I hope to address Gelertner on another occasion. Let me just say here that the following malady is aloft in the land. Tremendous numbers of people – mostly, but not exclusively, on the right – believe that the country is at – and conceivably past – the tipping point. The century-long progressive remake of American society has proceeded so successfully that there is little, if any, time left in which to change course. Moreover, it would take drastic, likely revolutionary action to accomplish this. But the trumpet has not sounded. Few authors are channeling Tom Paine: ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ Why is that?
Conservative critics often say that the US looks increasingly like France or the Netherlands, or Greece or Spain: once glorious nations that are mired hopelessly in statism, secularism, socialism and stagnation. In fact, I think that the country whose trajectory we most clearly mirror is our progenitor – Great Britain. England was the most powerful nation on Earth for three centuries. When the progressive virus was born (in the late 1800s), it took hold in England as well as in the US. Both countries elected multiple progressive heads of state in the early twentieth century (David Lloyd George and Ramsay MacDonald in England, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow and Wilson in the US). But while America has resisted the virus to some extent (Coolidge, Reagan), England succumbed. Churchill provided the last few moments of glory, but the English people showed their true feelings in the election of 1945. By the time Thatcher arrived, it was already game over. There was no longer any will to resist. Alas, the lack of a clear clarion call in the US to combat the alien, progressive disease might signal that we too no longer have the ability to resist.