Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He’s also an author, military historian, columnist, and a farmer, growing raisin grapes on a family farm near Fresno, California. You’ll find the repository for his work at Victor Davis Hanson’s Private Papers. Below is one of the finest summations of our national mindset that you are likely to ever encounter. High octane writing like this has to be savored, studied, and then conveyed to as many as have eyes to read.
The First Symptoms of Hatred—2004 to 2008
For about seven years the nation lost its collective mind—and was only partially coming-to in November 2010.
During the years of insanity, Al Gore won both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award for his propaganda film An Inconvenient Truth—before the disclosures of ClimateGate, new data on everything from the Himalayan glaciers to polar bear populations, realization that temperatures had not risen in the last 12 years, and the rather blatant and various money-making schemes of Gore, Inc. (that parlayed green advocacy into a billion-dollar, medieval exemption/carbon offset empire, several homes, and a propensity for carbon spewing private jet travel). Give Gore credit: he understood brilliantly that anger over Iraq and Katrina, his own popular vote victory in 2000 but subsequent lost presidency, his vein-bulging “he lied” screeds, and puppy dog pouts had combined, in perfect storm fashion, to locate Gorism at the nexus of anti-war, anti-Bush madness.
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In these years of insanity, I used to be asked on-campus questions, but delivered as lectures, along the lines of “Bush’s polluting pals are ruining the planet when we know Al Gore’s cap and trade would save us. Now it’s too late!” Of course, in 2006 gasoline was relatively cheap, unemployment low, and there was growth in the economy. College students had the luxury of declaiming how George Bush had wiped out the polar bears as they waited for several good job offers.
Do you remember the hysteria over the supposed trampling of the Constitution? Those were the days of anger when Harold Koh, instead of writing briefs defending the Obama’s administration’s targeted killing by Predators and bypassing the War Powers Act in Libya, had been suing various Bush-Clinton-Bush administrations over the unfortunate at Guantanamo. At one time or another, a Sean Penn, a Hollywood producer (Rendition, Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, etc.), a Whoopi Goldberg, a David Letterman, and legions more were all claiming that we had lost our freedoms to the satanic George Bush. These were the glory days of Dick Durbin comparing U.S. servicemen to mass killers, as John Kerry claimed they were quasi terrorists, in Harry Reid’s “lost” war, committing John Murtha’s war crimes—to the chorus of Michael Moore (guest of honor at the 2004 Democratic Convention) cheering on their killers as “minutemen.” Until January 2009, almost nightly on the news, a liberal grandee would swear that Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventative detention, Predators, wiretaps, intercepts, Iraq, etc. had ruined America in these days of “General Betray Us” ads and “suspension of disbelief” putdowns. Then in a matter of hours the verbiage suddenly stopped, abruptly so in January, 2009—and has never returned to this day.
(I remember remarking to a former CSU colleague in those dark hours that the Congress had approved Iraq, with stirring speeches in support by Kerry, Reid, Clinton, and other liberal giants, that the public voiced a 75% approval when the 3-week war ended, and that Andrew Sullivan, as a tiny example, had mentioned Bush as Nobel laureate material and the need to use nukes against Saddam if he were behind the anthrax scare. Funny days, those, when Fareed Zacharia and Francis Fukuyama were writing serious, sober, and judicious briefs for preventative regime change in Iraq. The professor said to me, “That’s a lie. They all always opposed his amoral war and the Bush criminality.”)
In those days of “civility”, Bush hatred soon became a liberal creed. “Nuclar” (I don’t find such a tongue-twisted pronunciation as grievous as “corps-man,” which reflects phonetic ignorance rather than clumsiness) was the stuff of NPR vignettes. Books came out about killing Bush; comics joked about his death. The Guardian ran an op-ed in which the writer longed for the return of John Wilkes Booth. Bush and Cheney as the Nazis or brownshirts or fascists was evoked by everyone from Al Gore and John Glenn to Garrison Keillor and George Soros. The British were told to write Ohioans to stop the Bush coup in the 2004 election. Moving to Canada should Kerry lose (promises, promises) was a Hollywood boast. In these days before the BP spill, and assorted later disasters, Katrina was a mad Bush plot to disenfranchise people of color. Barney Frank was pontificating about the vendetta against Fannie and Freddie, as Maxine Waters et al. blasted scrutiny of the brilliant Franklin Raines, even as he prepared to walk away with tens of millions in “bonuses” after helping to wreck the American mortgage industry.
We forget now that the Bush administration (under which nearly 50% of the population was exempted from income tax and under which home ownership reached new highs) was pegged as some rightwing monstrosity that nonetheless caved and gave us No Child Left Behind, Prescription Drug, and had allowed the liberal Congressional cadre to turn mortgages into entitlements. Finally Bush was reduced to enlisting Bono to prove that he really did give billions in relief to Africa—even as the latter trashed him to the Left as the philanthropist schemed to avoid paying taxes to his soon-to-be-broke Irish homeland. Quite mysteriously, radical Islamists trying to kill us become victims of Bush’s police state, and poor dying Oriana Fallaci was a lone voice in the desert warning us of our madness.
Stage Two of Worship, 2008-10
Then the mad hatred turned to the mad worship. Do we remember the great campaign of 2008? The madness now metamorphosized, as an obscure, heretofore unremarkable rookie senator became the Great Savior who would deliver us from Bush. Newsweek declared him a god; almost nightly we heard of leg tingles and speeches comparable to the Gettysburg Address. To doubt was racist, to really doubt was un-American. But now there was no shrieking, shrill Hillary Clinton to scream that such dissent was not really un-American.(She would soon charge that doubt about Libya was a sort of un-American support for Gaddafi.) Denial was part of the madness. Bill Ayers and Rev. Wright were right-wing slurs. “No more disown Rev. Wright than…”, “typical white person”, “cling to their guns…” either never were uttered or were irrelevant. Soon the Pied Piper had everyone leaving Hamelin into the Weser. I rode a bike in the Palo Alto suburbs and watched as Obama signs on lawns were replaced each month by larger ones, until this ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ reached billboard proportions—the more and larger they sprouted, the more the Stanford-affiliated community felt less guilty about never venturing into nearby downtown Redwood City or East Palo Alto.
The liberal press warned darkly of the dangerous months to come between November and January, the scary 80 days in which the discredited lame duck Bush might do terrible things (Start another war somewhere like Libya? Make some dreadful Van Jones appointment?), until the savior came at last down from the mountain top. So we waited in terror until the danger passed and the salvation arrived in January. “Cool”, “competent” “assured” were the media epithets; “reset” became the national motto. In this second-stage madness, suddenly mediocrities like Timothy Geithner were deemed messiahs, tax-cheating or not. Tax-delinquents Hilda Solis and Tom Daschle were not quite tax delinquents. Geniuses like Peter Orszag, Larry Summers, Christina Romer, and Austin Goolsbee, (as either formal or informal advisors) were going to apply Paul Krugman-like Keynesian borrowing (“stimulus”) to save us from the Bush ‘he did it’ meltdown. Money was a construct and need not be paid back—whether at the Federal Reserve or at your own credit card, home mortgage, or tax problem level.
Relief was finally here. You see borrowing was not really printing money but a new sort of math in which the “people” would be saved from Wall Street chicanery by brilliant new stimulatory theories. Borrowing money “created” more money; spending “money” was stimulus that made even more money. Most of the debate centered around the pitifully small size of the new deficits: a three-year plan to print $5 trillion dollars was deemed conservative or too timid by many of the Obama geniuses. Joe Biden, given his sterling credentials and vast knowledge (re: his call for Bush to rally the people—as FDR supposedly did as president “in 1929″ and “on television” no less) would oversee the trillion-dollar borrowing to ensure it was “shovel-ready”.
Amid all this, the Pied-piper began to bother a few on the hard left with a new tune: Guantanamo did not close “within the year”. Renditions and tribunals were embraced. Predators, under Harold Koh’s brilliant legal defenses killed five times more than Bush had dared, including U.S. citizens. The Patriot Act was now A-OK. Troops should not have left Iraq by March 2008, but according to the Bush-Petraeus plan. Escalation was the new plan in Afghanistan. And, of course, bombing started up against Libya and on the sly in Yemen. But now there were no Harper’s mad op-eds, no anguished exegeses in the New Yorker, no Dark Ages have returned glum to be found in the New York Times.
Diagnosis, Treatment, Prognosis
What caused the American madness from 2004 to 2009? Fury arose over Iraq in part. In part, the profile of George Bush as Texan, Christian, strutting, twangy ‘dead or alive’ stereotype was an easy target. The long years of liberal wilderness, out of power, had turned into a shrillness. The expanding economy had made life good and gave one the leisure to listen to the unhinged like Code Pink, Cindy Sheehan, or Michael Moore. Obama was right out of upper-middle-class, liberal white guilt, central casting: charismatic, young, half-African, an exotic name, hard-left credentials to the left of the hackish Hillary and Bill, full of platitudinous mush about ‘hope and change’ and ‘millions of green jobs,’ all directly imported from the faculty lounge, where gassing the car or changing light bulbs become complex endeavors. And so we got an inexperienced, hard-left, messianic president whose job apparently was to enjoy life, politick, play golf, hang out at Martha’s Vineyard, pick up prizes and awards, and turn the economy and foreign policy over to the Ivy League professoriate.
As I said, the madness abated in November 2010, and once again money is real and has to be paid back, debts are not stimulus, and the world abroad is not hopey-changy mush, but back again as a scary place.
I’ll end with an anecdote about these years of madness. Out of the blue, an irate reader called me at my office this past Tuesday, feigning that he wished to talk about a strategic problem, but using the occasion to rant. After 20 seconds, I interrupted him and said the following:
“Wait, wait, I have changed and now see how wrong I was in opposing your Obama. You see, he proved to us why Guantanamo was needed. That third war in Libya was necessary and I hope he goes into Yemen and the Sudan. Finally we got rid of the War Powers Act and the dreadful public campaign financing of presidential elections. Who else could have gotten gas up to $4 a gallon where it should be? Next he’ll get rid of those awful coal plants as we evolve to an 8-hour power day, saving us from global warming. Then look how well the economy recovered from Bush’s. We finally have a president who accepted the sophisticated European model so we can enjoy life as it should be lived, as in Athens or Rome. The new $5 trillion in borrowing will make those fat cats pay higher taxes and that will mean more jobs for everyone. Airbus is better than Boeing anyway so why build planes in union-hating South Carolina? We can all buy Chryslers and GM now to support the workers and shun those awful Volvos and Mercedeses. And without any more oil or gas leasing we will soon have to use solar and wind. Most people don’t need power anyway but waste it watching Oprah or grinding designer coffee beans.”
I went on with:
“Let us just hope Obama gets reelected. We could get food stamp usage from 50 up to 80 million where it belongs, expand home defaults and allow people just to “live” in “their” homes without foreclosures from the “greedy” banks. We all need time anyway to “be creative” and “leave your work”. Thirty million more could be given the chance to emigrate from Mexico without worry over a Gestapo-like border patrol. We could have ten Rose Bowl crowds booing an awful U.S. per week.”
I thought he was still on the line, so I ended with, “And I didn’t even mention Obamacare with its 400,000 new jobs and lower health care costs for all of us! Who could be against Obama after that?”
But he had hung up and thought I was crazy.