A Remarkably Superficial Mind

From Bret Stephens:

Seven score and 10 years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered his sacred speech on the meaning of free government. Edward Everett, a former secretary of state and the principal speaker for the consecration of the Gettysburg cemetery, instantly recognized the power of the president’s 272 words.

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself,” Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day, “that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Barack Obama is not scheduled to be present at Gettysburg on Tuesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the address. Maybe he figured that the world would little note, nor long remember, what he said there. Maybe he thought the comparisons with the original were bound to be invidious, and rightly so.

If that’s the case, it would be the beginning of wisdom for this presidency. Better late than never.

Mr. Obama’s political career has always and naturally inspired thoughts about the 16th president: the lawyer from Illinois, blazing a sudden trail from obscurity to eminence; the first black president, redeeming the deep promise of the new birth of freedom. The associations create a reservoir of pride in the 44th president even among his political opponents.

But, then, has there ever been a president who so completely over-salted his own brand as Barack Obama? “I never compare myself to Lincoln,” the president told NBC’s David Gregory last year. Except that he announced his presidential candidacy from the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Ill. And that he traveled by train to Washington from Philadelphia for his first inauguration along the same route Lincoln took in the spring of 1861. And that he twice swore his oaths of office on the Lincoln Bible. “Lincoln—they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me,” he said in Iowa in 2011.

No, this has not been a president who has ever shied away from grandiose historical comparisons. If George W. Bush reveled in being misunderestimated, Mr. Obama aims to be selfhyperadulated. “I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president—with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln,” the president told “60 Minutes” in 2011. Note the word possible.

But now that has started to change. The president has been humbled; he’s pleading incompetence against charges of dishonesty; the media, mainstream as well as alternative, smell blood in the water.

And his problems on that score are just beginning: ObamaCare is really a political self-punching machine, slugging itself with every botched rollout, missed deadline, postponed mandate, higher deductible, canceled insurance policy and jury-rigged administrative fix. John Roberts, we hardly knew you: Your ObamaCare swing vote last year may yet turn out to be best gift Republicans have had in a decade.

All this will force even liberals to reappraise the Obama presidency. Lincoln’s political reputation went from being “the original gorilla” (as Edwin Stanton, his future secretary of war, once called him) to being celebrated, in the words of Ulysses Grant, as “incontestably the greatest man I have ever known.” Obama’s political trajectory, and reputation, are headed in the opposite direction: from Candidate Cool to President Callow.

That reappraisal is going to take many forms, not least in the international goodwill Mr. Obama’s presidency was supposed to have brought us. But since the occasion of this column is the Gettysburg sesquicentennial, it’s worth turning to the question of the president’s once-celebrated prose.

Abraham Lincoln spoke greatly because he read wisely and thought deeply. He turned to Shakespeare, he once said, “perhaps as frequently as any unprofessional reader.” “It matters not to me whether Shakespeare be well or ill acted,” he added. “With him the thought suffices.”

Maybe Mr. Obama has similar literary tastes. It doesn’t show. “An economy built to last,” the refrain from his 2012 State of the Union, borrows from an ad slogan once used to sell the Ford Edsel. “Nation-building at home,” another favorite presidential trope, was born in a Tom Friedman column. “We are the ones we have been waiting for” is the title of a volume of essays by Alice Walker. “The audacity of hope” is adapted from a Jeremiah Wright sermon. “Yes We Can!” is the anthem from “Bob the Builder,” a TV cartoon aimed at 3-year-olds.

There is a common view that good policy and good rhetoric have little intrinsic connection. Not so. President Obama’s stupendously shallow rhetoric betrays a remarkably superficial mind. Superficial minds designed ObamaCare. Superficial minds are now astounded by its elementary failures, and will continue to be astounded by the failures to come.

Is there a remedy? Probably not. Then again, the president’s no-show at Gettysburg suggests he might be trying to follow Old Abe’s counsel in a fruitful way: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool,” the Great Emancipator is reported to have said, “than to speak and to remove all doubt.”


Leftism Unbridled

Ever increasingly “fair” Venezuela displays again the totalitarian nature of Leftism and gives us a window onto what our hope and change leftists would do here if given the chance.

From USA Today:

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro intensified his perceived fight Monday against “bourgeois parasites” he accuses of an economic war against the socialist country by threatening to force more stores to sell their merchandise at cut-rate prices.

National guardsmen, some of whom had assault rifles, were positioned around outlets of an electronics chain that Maduro has ordered to lower prices or face prosecution. Thousands of people lined up at the Daka stores hoping for a bargain after the government forced the companies to charge “fair” prices.

“I want a Sony plasma television for the house,” said Amanda Lisboa, 34, a business administrator who waited seven hours outside a Caracas Daka store, similar to Best Buy. “It’s going to be so cheap!”

Five managers of electronic retailers including Daka are being threatened with prosecution for unjustifiable price hikes, the Venezuela government said. More stores may be at risk, as well. Government inspectors were dispatched to check prices at an array of other businesses.

“This is for the good of the nation,” Maduro said, referring to the military’s occupation of Daka. “Leave nothing on the shelves, nothing in the warehouses … Let nothing remain in stock!”

Maduro said his seizures are the “tip of the iceberg” and that other stores would be next if they did not comply with his orders. Maduro is expected to win decree powers in Congress in the coming days that he says will be used to take over more businesses.

More "Fairness" in Venezuela

More “Fairness” in Venezuela


Ten Characteristics of Obama and his Policies

From VDH:

As all the still underappreciated contours of Obamacare become known, and as those who hold employer-provided plans will soon discover their existing “scams” also do not pass ACA muster, the public will begin to understand that Obamacare is another redistributive zero-sum plan to transfer wealth from one segment of the less-deserving population to another more deserving.

Like most other Obama policies, there are the usual footprints and assumptions that accompany the too-clever-by-half redistribution.

One is the idea of fairness, or rather everyone’s indebtedness to the state: those who budgeted for health care, either through individual plans, or obtained at work, got some sort of silent automatic benefit from the state, an advantage usually without much credit due to themselves. In contrast, those without insurance are all assumed to be victims of the system, who either were long ago dropped, or could not afford formal coverage, and were both without recourse to health care (such as walk-in clinics, emergency rooms, federal and state clinics), and were in that position due to someone else or nefarious forces beyond their control. Whiners who complain that their premiums go up are really the selfish who do not wish to pay “a little more” for their less fortunate brethren.

Two, all wise and moral Washington technocrats must rightly step in, divide up the victims from the victors, make the necessary adjustments, and even everything out with a standard plan that fits all on the back end. Government minds know what is best for private employers and the self-employed, despite never working for anyone other than government and never being self-employed.

Three, exemptions from Obamacare are assumed for the noble architects who drew up the plan; given their exalted labors, they deserve to be excused from the ramifications of their own ideology. In some cases, the progressive and sympathetic, in the otherwise dubious private sector, may also have to be given a few exemptions as well.

Four, the now-accustomed tawdry, postmodern presidential lying is the usual necessary means that is always justified by the assumed noble ends. So lies become somewhat untrue or unfortunately not quite completely true in all cases, or true in spirit if not quite 100 percent true in mundane expression.

Five, the opposition is demonized as callous and cruel; skeptics really wanted Obamacare to fail rather than being worried about its effects on fellow Americans. Skepticism of Obamacare is always driven by “racism,” “anger,” “privilege,” “tea-party frustration”—anything other than principled opposition to an incompetent program that will absorb one-sixth of the U.S. economy and retard economic recovery.

Six, note the now-normal Orwellian use of language. This time around it goes well beyond the aptly named “affordable” health-care act. Thus existing but to be cancelled plans are linguistically reduced to “scams” and “substandard” and “rip-offs” and therefore deserve to be ended by a federal government far wiser than the rubes who were taken in. Before the ACA there were not really insurance plans at all, only simulacra. So how can virtual plans be cancelled?

Seven, legislative deception is again omnipresent. Before the election, the goodies that were “free” were front-loaded into the system (e.g., stay on your parents plan until 26, no one gets turned down from preexisting conditions, etc.), either deemed “free,” or properly to be paid by “them” (e.g., the usual suspects: the 1 percent, the greedy, and the didn’t-build-it crowd). Only after the election, and after the acrimony of the bill’s passage, Americans learn that offering more products to more people is usually more expensive. The American public, like the proverbial fish, was seen by Obama as hungry, skeptical, and a bit unaware, and thus had to be first hooked with trinkets and power bait, before being reeled in.

Eight, as usual with Obama, the middle class takes the hit. The noble poor get subsidized care, the rich have the money or clout to navigate around Obamacare, while the non-romantic young and middle class, especially the grasping self-employed, will end up with higher deductibles and premiums for things they rarely use and may not, albeit in their ignorance, want.

Nine, we see the usual Obama techie cool. Kayak, Amazon, etc. are the accustomed hip referents, as if the wired postmodern Obama assures us pre–Silicon Valley dinosaurs that there is always an online solution to pesky old problems like human nature. Thus the cool one-step website . . .

Ten, of course, is the usual Obama disingenuous doubling down. It was not enough to swear that plans were not going to be dropped or prices to rise or doctors to be changed, Obama had to add the emphatic “Period!” after each false promise given ad nauseam at campaign stops. To originally sell the plan there were the frauds to buy votes through legislative purchases, kickbacks, and exemptions, with no desire for bipartisan compromise. Now comes the usual Benghazi-video-like campaigning assuring us, in Lois Lerner fashion, that nothing much is wrong other than a “glitch” or two. Perhaps we will soon here that the six Americans who obtained first-day plans just love what they purchased.

About five years ago, it became too much to ask of Obama that he just outline his particular plan, explain its advantages and shortcomings, invite input from skeptics, pass the bill with some bipartisan support, enact both the costs and benefits at the same time, warn in advance those who might suffer, and then confess mistakes and quit demonizing critics. Instead Obamacare follows the method of Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the AP and IRS scandals, Syria, and the NSA: fibs and full lies, counter-accusations, the non-stop campaigning, and Nixonian charges of some terrible -ism or -ology that drives the criticism of the day.

What was once bothersome is now just boring . . .