Over at Pajamas Media, Stanford fellow Victor Davis Hanson has an article examining the legacy of Obama since he took office almost three years ago.
Before launching into an impassioned rebuke of Hanson’s analysis, let me start by saying that I do agree with a few of his points. Obama has shown less than spectacular political savvy since assuming the world’s largest political thrown. But the Solyndra affair seems to be besides the point. I actually applaud his government on this. They may have wasted half a billion dollars, and they clearly didn’t vet the project at all; but at least they took a chance investing in the kind of energy project that will likely become necessary sometime in the not-too-distant future. (Either that, or putting your cards with Job is the correct move.)
I also agree with Hanson’s point regarding Obama’s ambivalence towards elites. By simultaneously shunning and courting them he tends to give off the kind of mixed signals more rightly reserved for a middle school corridor.
Now on to the problems with Hanson’s thinking. Much of it has to do with him seemingly falling into the same tired and cliched traps from which many pundits on the right sadly seem unable to extricate themselves.
To begin with, Obama has not become more partisan – and alleging that he has only reinforces the ridiculous ‘Obama is a socialist’ argument. I mean, Hanson couldn’t even get an Obama quote to prove his point, he had to go with one by Rep. Linda Sanchez. And this Obamian centrism seems to explain a lot of the current caterwauling coming from the left right now. If Obama actually had gone all-in on the agenda he campaigned on, then maybe things would be different now.
To take a few economic examples, maybe the Bush tax-cuts would have been allowed to expire; maybe the Volker rule would have been passed; maybe this whole carried-interest thing would have been maturely confronted, etc. (All lefty ideas, I admit, but that’s the point.) The notion that the Obama stimulus led by the Geithners and Summeri was some kind of grand experiment in socialism is just really confusing. Either those that argue it are idiots, or they’re simply being disingenuous.
The point that Roubini, Krugman and other leftish economists have been making this whole time is exactly that Obama wasn’t partisan enough, i.e., was too conservative, with his stimulus. And thus the stimulus has had a similarly conservative impact on getting us out of this recession. I am no economist but the argument revolves around Keynesian multiplier effects and what not.
In addition to these economic issues (and here could be added many more ‘additions’), there is the clearly non-liberal nature of Obama’s continued use of drones – i.e., his complete disregard for international norms, if not international laws. (See here for an excellent description of how Obama has converted his administration from one that justifies torture to one that justifies targeted killing.)
Obviously international law is a nascent field with a lot of brow-knitting surrounding it. Exactly what constitutes a norm or law is often hazily defined. But the attacks that Obama has been carrying out in Pakistan position him squarely in the middle of the same forest that US foreign policy has been macheting out for decades. He has not tacked toward partisanship w/r/t foreign policy. Instead, he has acted predictably in violating the good for the supposed security of the polis. The world is still a collection of self-interested states attempting to make rational decisions in an globalized economy. Realism and neo-liberalism collide into the mantra: I am only my brother’s keeper insofar as our trade agreement outlines.
Hanson also wants to have his cake and eat it too w/r/t Libya and America’s other on-going wars. He seems to fault Obama for the fact that the US is still in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then in the same breath Hanson admonishes him for “leading from behind” in Libya. Apparently, Obama is too passive while at the same time, still such a big dick. Or to use slightly more diplomatic argot, he is both dove and hawk.
I will end with one final lament. And it has to do with Hanson’s take on US-China relations. Regrettably, he goes ahead and adds himself to the class of humans that thinks China is anti-American. Not only does this betray him as another sloppy adherent to the ‘America knows best’ theory; but too I’m not sure what he’s referring to with this remark. He only remarks, he does not elaborate. But if he did, he would likely rehash something about trade wars and China’s alleged propensity to manipulate its currency.
The problem with this theory, even though it probably is the case that China fingers its currency (but then how to describe US quantitative-easing?), is that there is a far simpler and less antagonist explanation for its behavior. China is merely acting in its own interest and trying to deal with a very precarious domestic situation including, but not limited to, rapid urbanization and the desire on the part of Chinese elites to maintain a strong export-based economy. Whether or not this is the best response to China’s current issues (and it probably isn’t) is not really the point. The point is China is not purposely provoking America; it has much larger fish to fry. And to segue into another issue too large to be examined here, this is likely why China isn’t stepping in and bailing out Europe right now.