Entry from August 29, 2008

My friend Ramesh Ponnuru called Senator Obama’s address to the greater Democratic convention at Invesco Field last night a “dishonest” speech, and I think I see what he means. But to me it goes way beyond dishonesty. Dishonesty is sort of honest, when you think about it. At least, in affirming the truth of a falsehood, it has to recognize the difference between truth and falsehood. Its action is dishonest but its frame of reference is honest: truth and falsity exist; it just mistakes the one for the other. But the Obama phenomenon, like other sorts of post-modern politics, is detached from traditional ideas of truth and falsity. It affirms only what is both unverifiable and unfalsifiable and therefore has no tether to reality.

Dan Balz of The Washington Post was closer to the mark in noting that this was “the Message That the Party Wanted to Hear.” Boy! Was it ever! About his endless vaporous platitudes, even Democrats had started saying: why don’t you be a little more specific, Barack? So he was!

So — so let me — let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am president. Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it. . . I”ll eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and start-ups that will create the high- wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow. I will — listen now — I will cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95 percent of all working families, because, in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class. And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as president: in 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East. We will do this.

But wait, folks, there’s more!

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support. And in exchange, I”ll ask for higher standards and more accountability.

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot:

Now — now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care — if you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. . .

Not only will you get better, cheaper health care, you’ll get more time off and somebody else — he’s not saying who, but it’s not you, so relax — will have to pay for it.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or an ailing parent. Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses, and the time to protect Social Security for future generations. And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have the exact same opportunities as your sons.

See? What’s not to like? There’s no downside. And they said he wasn’t specific! But hold on a second. Aren’t we already struggling with massive budget deficits? Aren’t all these wonderful things going to make it bigger. Maybe even a lot bigger? No worries!

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime: by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less, because we cannot meet 21st-century challenges with a 20th– century bureaucracy.

From anyone else, except maybe Bill Clinton, this would be an insult to voters’ intelligence. But the Obama phenomenon has an answer for that too. They’ll provide their own intelligence. They’re the smart people’s party, after all. We know that not only because President Obama is going to track down all the waste, fraud and abuse that eluded his less intellectually gifted predecessors but also because Senator McCain “doesn’t get it.”

I don’t get it either by the way. Anyone who isn’t cheering about all the good stuff that President Obama is going to give us and booing at all the bad stuff that President Bush has created presumably doesn’t get it. But if Senator McCain and a few die-hard Republicans don’t get it, he, Barack Obama does: “I get it,” he said. “I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don”t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven”t spent my career in the halls of Washington.” If he’s figured that out, it’s no wonder he’s leading the smart people’s party. And if you’re worried that you might not get it, all you have to do is vote for him and you will! You’ll be intelligent by definition. No matter if you’re some half-witted celebrity or drugged out college kid: vote for him and show how smart you are!

Not only is he generous with public money, he’s generous of spirit as well. What he will not do, he says, “is suggest that the senator” — that’s Senator McCain, the one who doesn’t get it — “takes his positions for political purposes, because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other”s character and each other”s patriotism.” That’s mighty big of him, you’ve got to admit, not challenging Senator McCain’s patriotism. But isn’t it just a little like saying he’s not going to challenge Michael Phelps’s swimming ability? Who would believe him anyway if he did? And since when did his differences with his senatorial colleague become a question of disagreement? I thought Senator McCain didn’t get it? That’s not disagreement, that’s stupidity. Challenging patriotism may be out, but challenging intelligence certainly isn’t, is it?

To anyone who votes for Senator Obama hoping for the promised tax cut, there’s a bridge in New York that you’ll soon be able to buy with the proceeds. Yet I kind of doubt that there are very many such people. Senator Obama didn’t promise a tax cut because he expected people to believe he would deliver a tax cut. He promised a tax cut because promising tax cuts — only “middle-class” tax cuts, of course — is what New Democrats, Clinton-style Democrats, winning Democrats do. Not actually enacting them, mind you. Just promising. And this reminds us that it is Bill Clinton’s style, as our first, fully post-modern president, that Obama is copying. Remember when he said, in February of 1993, about a month after taking office, that “I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life” to produce the middle-class tax-cut he had promised during the previous autumn’s campaign? Wouldn’t you know it? The mess left by the first Bush administration was so much worse than even he had thought that he was going to have to raise our taxes instead.

Is anyone going to be surprised or disillusioned to get a similar speech from President Obama about six months from now? I don’t think so. That’s why those, like Gerard Baker of The Times of London, who say that “the gap between Senator Obama’s promises and the reality of politics in America may be getting too wide” seem to me to be missing the point. Like John McCain, they don’t “get it.” It is precisely that gap that Senator Obama’s supporters, the ones who “get it”, are voting for. He may be the candidate of the smart party, but he is also the candidate of the anti-reality party. And, whatever Senator Obama’s fortunes on November 4th, I’m not seeing anybody at this point who doesn’t think that anti-reality is going to have a big day.


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