We are now well into the season generally known as the summer doldrums, made more profound and dispiriting this year by the prolonged ineffectiveness of the political system, other than as an agent of sluggishly induced deterioration in public confidence and in the economic strength and international prestige of America. As a constructive thing only, let us focus on two aspects of this — first, the continued addiction of the president to distracting the country with perceptions that are mistaken, probably mendacious, and disserve such interest as there might otherwise be in bootstrapping the United States out of its profound torpor; and second, the failure of anyone I am aware of to recognize the need for a serious reorientation of the economy of the West in a way that only the operation of the free market, though not completely unfettered, can produce.
President Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008 from Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that Senator Clinton won the primaries, because he rounded up the superdelegates (appointed, rather than elected, delegates), and then the entire country, with the argument that he was the first plausible leader of the African-American community since Martin Luther King Jr. (though General Colin L. Powell could have occupied that role had he wished it), that the time for a non-white president had come, and, more subtly, that conscientious American whites who felt embarrassment, or even guilt or shame, at the past treatment of the African Americans — what Abraham Lincoln called “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil,” followed by a century of segregation and what Lyndon Johnson called the era of “Nigra, nigra, nigra” — could alleviate their discomfort and expiate their guilt by the simple expedient of electing Barack Obama president. It was an idea that developed an unstoppable momentum before Hillary Clinton or her husband realized what they were facing.
There is no reason to believe that John McCain ever figured it out, as he tried to pick up the torch from a president whose response to an economic crisis to which his own lassitude had importantly contributed (though President Clinton stoked it up with mandated trillions of dollars of non-commercial mortgages) was the stirring tocsin “The sucker could go down.” Senator McCain first declared, in the immortal words of Herbert Hoover, that the economy “is fundamentally sound”; then denounced corporate greed and locked arms with the rest of the political class to pretend that the incompetence and venality of the country’s leaders had nothing to do with it; then demanded that poor old Christopher Cox be handed a pink slip at the SEC to be replaced with, of all unsuitable choices, Andrew Cuomo; and then suspended his campaign (in itself a potentially vote-winning move) and returned to Washington to join in the bipartisan strategy session President Bush convened. He did not say a word at it, and then shared in the failure to pass the emergency stimulus bill (which was a ridiculous bill that looked good only when compared with the Democrats’ subsequent, infamously “shovel-ready” replacement). Given the times, the incumbent, and the Republican campaign, it is a wonder that the sly Obama message, ably and eloquently delivered by him, did not elicit a much greater victory than it did.
The first Obama term achieved very little apart from the killing of bin Laden. Certainly the incoming regime was handed a nasty mess, economically and in the Middle East, but it is not now clear that the president achieved anything by not simply pulling out at once from Iraq and Afghanistan. It does not appear likely that there will be any useful after-effect of the trillions spent and many thousands of killed and wounded Americans and allies there. It all has an Ozymandian air, with no surviving physical monument to inspire poets of the distant future.
On health care, Obamacare has made things worse: Seventy percent of the population has splendid health care that someone else pays for (their employers deduct it as a tax expense, so the taxpayers pick up the tab, since the benefits are not taxable to the health-care recipients). And 30 percent of the people, 100 million Americans, receive inferior care for a rich country and are apt to go short of attention and run out of money if a crisis occurs. Only a bipartisan approach that laid the burden equitably on the lawyers, doctors, private hospital companies, paramedical unions, and pharmaceutical companies would be a useful reform and it was not even attempted.