By Jonah Goldberg
6:00 AM EST, December 12, 2011
In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama insisted that the coming presidential primary and general election campaigns "shouldn't be about making each other look bad, they should be about figuring out how we can all do some good for this precious country of ours. That's our mission."
"And in this mission," he continued, "our rivals won't be one another, and I would assert it won't even be the other party. It's going to be cynicism that we're fighting against."
I guess I missed the moment when President Obama hung his "Mission Accomplished" banner. Because from where I'm sitting, it looks more like the president not only lost his battle against cynicism, he defected to the other side.
In his remarks this week in Osawatomie, Kan. -- the site of Theodore Roosevelt's famous 1910 "new nationalism" speech -- Mr. Obama laid out the themes for his re-election campaign.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denies it was an "election speech," but Mr. Obama's own campaign manager, Jim Messina, touted it as one in a fundraising email.
But such is the way of this White House. Facts are dependent variables, history the president's Pool of Narcissus, reflecting his own glory. Hence, President Obama cherry-picks TR's "new nationalism" as a justification for his own agenda and proof that today's Republicans are extreme.
After all, was not TR a "Republican son of a wealthy family," as Mr. Obama put it?
Well, yes, he was. And then, he wasn't. TR left the Republican Party to promote his new nationalism philosophy and run as a Progressive -- a "super socialist," in the words of The New York Times in 1913.
As a Republican president, Roosevelt had been a "trust buster." As Progressive gadfly, Roosevelt believed in making the trusts bigger, stronger and more entwined with the federal government, orchestrated by an all-powerful "Federal Bureau of Corporations."
"Concentration, co-operation and control," he explained in his acceptance speech at the 1912 Progressive convention, "are the key words for a scientific solution of the mighty industrial problem which now confronts this nation."
It's no surprise Mr. Obama would find the progressive Teddy so reasonable. Nor is it shocking that President Obama would fail to explain to today's generation the true intentions of that "Republican son of a wealthy family."
And no wonder Mr. Obama thinks that low tax rates in the 1920s were a significant cause of the Great Depression. Or that he sees income inequality as the chief problem during the 1930s -- and today.
"Now, this kind of inequality -- a level that we haven't seen since the Great Depression -- hurts us all," he declared. "When middle-class families can no longer afford to buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, when people are slipping out of the middle class, it drags down the entire economy from top to bottom."
Except inequality isn't the cause of these problems, stagnating wages and unemployment are. But Mr. Obama wants to talk about inequality because it puts him on the convenient side of populist anger.
Sounding as if he's still running against George W. Bush, Mr. Obama laid the blame for our problems on the "most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history." Of course, he leaves out that those tax cuts also went to the middle class.
He also forgets his own favorite metric of jobs "created or saved." It's a bogus, unprovable gimmick, used to defend his failed stimulus, but who is he to say President Bush's tax cuts didn't save millions of jobs after 9/11?
Mr. Obama describes the Bush years as a libertarian dystopia of "'you're on your own' economics," when we ignored vital spending on things like education and poverty programs. This is Mr. Obama's favorite straw man, and he's a kung fu master when it comes to defeating it.
He leaves out that Europe already has his preferred policies and is about to go under.
More significantly, Mr. Obama leaves out that under "compassionate conservatism," President Bush was the first president to spend more than 3 percent of GDP on anti-poverty programs. Under Mr. Bush, federal spending on education grew 58 percent faster than inflation. Mr. Obama forgets that Mr. Bush fought for the biggest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society (Medicare Part D). He airbrushes away Sarbanes-Oxley, a new Cabinet agency, faith-based initiatives, etc.
"Some billionaires have a tax rate as low as 1 percent," President Obama barked. "That is the height of unfairness." Except, when the Washington Post asked the White House for evidence to support the claim, an official confessed they "had no actual data to back up the president's assertion."
That's OK. Who cares about the facts when you're fighting to make America safe for cynicism again?
Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His email is JonahsColumn@aol.com. Twitter: @JonahNRO.
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