With poor education, a budget deficit, and crumbling infrastructure, Californians shouldn’t be focused on idealistic social programs.
Corporate profits at California-based transnational corporations such as Apple, Facebook, and Google are hitting record highs.
California housing prices from La Jolla to Berkeley along the Pacific Coast can top $1,000 a square foot.
It seems as if all of China is willing to pay premium prices to get their children degreed at Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, or USC.
Yet California — after raising its top income tax rate to 13.3 percent and receiving record revenues — is still facing a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. There is a much more foreboding state crisis of unfunded liabilities and pension obligations of nearly $1 trillion.
Soon, new gas tax hikes, on top of green mandates, might make California gas the most expensive in the nation, despite the state’s huge reserves of untapped oil.
Where does the money go, given that the state’s schools and infrastructure rank among America’s worst in national surveys?
Illegal immigration over the last 30 years, the exodus of millions of middle-class Californians, and huge wealth concentrated in the L.A. basin and Silicon Valley have turned the state into a medieval manor of knights and peasants, with ever fewer in between.
The strapped middle class continues to flee bad schools, high taxes, rampant crime, and poor state services. About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients reside in California. Approximately one-fifth of the state lives below the poverty line. More than a quarter of Californians were not born in the United States.
Many of the state’s wealthiest residents support high taxes, no-growth green policies, and subsidies for the poor. They do so because they reside in apartheid neighborhoods and have the material and political wherewithal to become exempt from the consequences of their own utopian bromides.
Blue California has no two-party politics anymore. Its campuses, from Berkeley to Claremont, have proven among the most hostile to free speech in the nation.
A few things keep California going. Its natural bounty, beauty, and weather draw in people eager to play California roulette. The state is naturally rich in minerals, oil and natural gas, timber, and farmland. The world pays dearly for whatever techies based in California’s universities can dream up.
That said, the status quo is failing.
The skeletons of half-built bridges and overpasses for a $100 billion high-speed-rail dinosaur remind residents of the ongoing boondoggle. Meantime, outdated roads and highways — mostly unchanged from the 1960s — make driving for 40 million both slow and dangerous. Each mile of track for high-speed rail represents millions of dollars that were not spent on repairing and expanding stretches of the state’s decrepit freeways — and hundreds of lives needlessly lost each year.
The future of state transportation is not updated versions of 19th-century ideas of railways and locomotives, but instead will include electric-powered and automatically piloted cars — all impossible without good roads.
Less than 40 percent of California residents identify themselves as conservative. But red-county California represents some 75 percent of California’s geographical area. It’s as if large, rural Mississippi and tiny urban Massachusetts were one combined state — all ruled by liberal Boston.
Now, a third of the state thinks it can pull off a “Calexit” and leave the United States. Calexit’s unhinged proponents have no idea that they are mimicking the right-wing arguments of the Confederate states that prompted the Civil War. Like South Carolina residents in 1861, Calexit advocates seem to assume that federal law should apply everywhere else except in California. Many of these California residents also believe that the federal Environmental Protection Agency should always override local ordinances, but not so with another federal bureau, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
South Carolina started the Civil War by shelling and capturing federal property at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay. Calexit wannabe secessionists similarly assume that thousands of square miles of federal property — from California federal courtrooms and post offices to national parks such as Yosemite to huge military bases such as Camp Pendleton — belong to the state and could simply be confiscated from the federal government.
Calexit proponents assume California can leave the union without an authorizing amendment to the Constitution, ratified by three-fourths of all the states. And they fail to see that should California ever secede, it would immediately split in two. The coastal strip would go the way of secessionist Virginia. The other three-quarters of the state’s geography would remain loyal to the union and become a new version of loyalist West Virginia.
Buying a home on the California coast is nearly impossible. The state budget can only be balanced through constant tax hikes. Finding a good, safe public school is difficult. Building a single new dam during the California drought to capture record runoff water in subsequent wet years proved politically impossible.
No matter. Many Californians consider those existential problems to be a premodern drag, while they dream of postmodern trains, the legalization of pot-growing — and seceding from the United States of America.
“We’re watching a slow-motion coup.”
— Victor Davis Hanson on the Left’s despicable attempt to ruin Donald Trump’s presidency.
Why would Ms. Tashfeen Malik, who was born in Pakistan but lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia, want to come to the United States?
She obviously hated the United States and its values, at least enough to help stockpile an arsenal and to kill 14 people and wound another 21 in San Bernardino.
Or for that matter, why did her husband and co-mass-murderer Syed Rizwan Farook, if he was unhappy with his native America, not return to his parents’ Pakistan, where he might, in greater peace, have practiced Sharia law, memorizing his Koranic verses without the temptations of crass and uncouth American culture?
Or why did not family members or friends notice the couple’s assembling of a veritable arsenal of assault in their townhouse? And if they did notice, why did they not help to protect their adopted country?
And why did a spokesman for the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hussam Ayloush, as if suffering from a politically correct tic, almost immediately tie terrorism in the U.S. with American foreign policy? “Let’s not forget that some of our own foreign policy, as Americans, as the West, has fueled that extremism,” he said. “ . . . We are partly responsible. Terrorism is a global problem, not a Muslim problem.” Was that pop exegesis designed to show Americans how CAIR abhors Islamic-inspired terrorism inside the U.S.?
As part of the “Other,” the San Bernardino terrorist tandem did not seem to direct their furies against the so-called dominant white culture or white privilege, given that their innocent victims were of all races and both sexes and representative of multiracial America, a country both far more diverse and far more tolerant of diversity than, say, Pakistan.
Surely the Tsarnaev brothers were unhappy in Boston — despite (or was it because of?) generous public assistance and attention. Could not Major Nidal Hasan have returned to his parents’ native Palestine to better practice jihad than murdering 13 and wounding more than 30 of his fellow Fort Hood soldiers? Why stay in the U.S. instead of heading to the West Bank?
What exactly about UC Merced’s oppressive atmosphere set off Faisal Mohammad’s stabbing of four fellow students? If, in his youthful angst, he wished to romanticize about ISIS and his own identity, could he too not have left the hated United States and found a more congenial environment in the Islamic world, where there are no supposed losers deserving of death like those at UC Merced?
Surely there was no need for more than two dozen Somalis to immigrate to Minnesota, only to return home to sign up for jihad with al-Shabab? Was Minnesota colder than they had unexpected, too stingy in its public assistance, or known for its endemic racism?
For that matter, what exactly has driven Muslim immigrants or their children to attack non-Muslims in America in nearly 50 instances since 9/11? Islamic spokespeople talk of hate crimes, but not of the fact that Muslims as a group commit more hate crimes than they suffer, or that the greatest target of hate crimes in America is the Jewish, not the Muslim, community. How many Muslims by virtue of being Muslims have been killed by non-Muslims since 9/11 in the United States? And how many Muslims have killed non-Muslims by virtue of their being non-Muslims? Is there such a word as unIslamophobia?
Who is in more danger in the West: a Western native who draws a cartoon caricaturing all three major religions, thus including Islam, or an immigrant who threatens him?
One can argue statistically that the number of Islamist attackers is small compared with the pool of Muslim immigrants. It is, of course, also true that mass shooters come in all races and religions, from the cases of Columbine and Sandy Hook to those at the Oregon community college, Virginia Tech, and Miami.
But no other common tie — no particular religion, no political identification, no singular subset of mental illness — binds so many mass shooters as do professions of Islamist radicalism, both among first-generation arrivals and among their offspring.
Ostensibly, people leave the Middle East for the West, in particular Europe and the United States, because it is an oasis, not the hellhole many of them came from. We take for granted clean water, uncontaminated food, competent medical treatment, religious tolerance, economic opportunity, meritocratic hiring, political freedom, and respect for the individual regardless of birth, class, and status. But that bundle is non-existent even in the elite Gulf enclaves. Those Western characteristics are apparently universal human wants, and they drive even Middle Eastern Muslims to seek out otherwise entirely foreign landscapes of quite different cultures and attitudes.
For many Muslims, to have strep throat treated promptly, to be accorded equality and respect while in a government office, and to be free to say whatever one wishes are all worth putting up with watching men kiss in public or women wear braless tank tops on planes, or seeing Christian crosses everywhere, or watching commercials for Viagra and Tampax in the middle of the evening news, or seeing so many apparently happy, content, and satisfied people of so many races who do not have Islam in their lives.
Why, then, is radical Islamism, so antithetical to Western values, still preached in American and European mosques? Do radical Muslims in the U.S. and Europe realize that if they had had their way, they would not have wished to emigrate to the U.S., given that it would resemble the homelands they abandoned? The worldview of Tashfeen Malik, if enacted, would eventually have turned San Bernardino into Islamabad; would Ms. Malik then have left it for Portland?
Why is ISIS apparently attractive to hundreds, if not thousands, of Western Muslim youth? Why is the FBI supposedly busy tracking down radical Muslims residing in America, who presumably came here of their own free will? Is it because the FBI is Islamophobic?
One obvious reason for these anomalies is a sort of paradox. The more a Muslim youth enjoys casual sexual hook-ups, easy access to liquor and drugs, and unapologetic secular indulgence, all the more the voluptuary feels he has betrayed his culture, religion, and very identity — and the more his eventual return to Islamic purity is likely to become extreme. No one forced Mohamed Atta and his band of killers to become Western sybarites. What made them slaves to their appetites was their very Islamic Puritanism, which turned what was commonly available into forbidden obsessions: the more taboo, all the more to be indulged in, and all the more to be regretted post facto and the indulgence blamed on others when passions are drained and probity returns.
Second, in many cases, the immigrant immediately asks upon arrival, “Why do they have so much here, while we have so little back home?” Do not expect him to cite everything from religious tolerance to consensual government to freedom and market capitalism — not when there is an accessible American dictionary of victimization, ranging from colonialism and imperialism to oil and Israel. The new arrival from the Middle East need not turn on Al Jazeera to be spoon-fed grievances, when he can listen to President Obama’s apology tours or Cairo speech or breakfast sermons about high-horse Christians and their millennium-old Crusades.
Third, we in America ask almost nothing of immigrants any more. We do not care whether they come legally and will obey the law once they’re here. We have no concern whether they can support themselves, or whether they will become wards of the state. One need only review the careers of Obama’s own immigrant aunt and uncle. We have no worries about whether they learn English. They can hate or love America, as is their wont. If an immigrant commits a crime against his hosts, we feel that we would commit a greater crime by sending our ungracious guest home. Is that why ICE released 36,000 alien lawbreakers in 2013 alone, preempting their deportation hearings, or why 347,000 criminal aliens are believed to be at large in the United States?
Citizenship as a cherished privilege has utterly vanished. So has any idea of gratitude. A hallowed notion of legality, of being more law-abiding even than native-born Americans, has disappeared among immigrants. Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez — the five-times-deported illegal alien and seven times repeat felon who shot Kate Steinle to death in San Francisco — was only the most extreme example of what is possible under current immigration law and practice.
At no time did Lopez-Sanchez thank the United States for offering him a better chance than Mexico had — at least if repeatedly committing felonies can be see as a form of not offering thanks. We deduce that he believed things were better here than in Mexico or he would not have reentered the country illegally so many times. Lopez-Sanchez, like the Tsarnaevs, knew that the U.S. leaves immigrants alone, or perhaps, better yet, romanticizes their difference, and provides, if not a legal amnesty for their crimes, a psychosocial one.
Fourth, immigrants sense an identity-obsessed culture, where diversity, not unity, brings career dividends. A teen can cross illegally from the oppression of Oaxaca and almost instantly qualify for victim status and affirmative action on the bizarre theory that American oppressions have earned him compensation and reparations, as if he were psychologically damaged by America while he was in Oaxaca or will be in America if he was not in Oaxaca.
Hyphenation, not conformity, is preferred — and wisely so. Poor George Zimmerman’s “white Hispanic” troubles arose from his Americanizing his mixed-race identity rather than emphasizing a constructed otherness by calling himself the more authentic-sounding Jorge Mesa. A fight between Trayvon Martin and Jorge Mesa does not reach the White House, because it furthers no particular agenda; it’s analogous to the weekend toll in Chicago rather than a Ferguson teachable moment. Apparently, Zimmerman did not learn the lesson that an upper-middle-class prep-schooler named Barry Dunham, whose conniving African father had abandoned him, would have been a mere statistic. But as Barack Hussein Obama he became a unique example of diversity, with all its resonance.
At best, if a Muslim immigrant fully assimilates, to the point where, as is true of most Americans, he cannot easily be identified by his religion, or if his religion becomes incidental rather than essential to his public persona, then he is rendered just an ordinary American. Perhaps he even is in some danger of joining the unattractive majority not subject to special dispensation. At worst, he can become a sellout in the eyes of his local mosque and immigrant enclave. Emphasizing identity to its logical extreme wins rewards in today’s America. We saw to what insane lengths this has gone in the cases of the fabulists Rachel Dolezal, Elizabeth Warren, Shaun King, and Ward Churchill.
Finally, the Muslim shooter understands that so many of his hosts are naïve, ashamed of their own culture, unsure of their heritage, and prone to apologize rather than criticize. They would likely not call the authorities even if they spied preparations for terrorist activities — believing that being called a racist is worse than possibly allowing violence to ensue against the innocent. Note that Ms. Malik never thought that she might have to tone down her suspicious activities, because her neighbors quite magnanimously did not call the police.
Appeasement is a psychological disorder that affects both the appeaser and the appeased. The more exemptions are granted the offender, the more the grantor feels good about himself, and the more the offender loses respect for someone seen as weak rather than magnanimous.
The United States government is too often seen as wavering, concerned with political correctness, unsure of its values, easily swayed by supposed victimization and refugee status, and terrified of charges of racism and xenophobia. For the immigrant, there is everything to gain by clinging to a foreign identity, showing disdain for the culture of his adopted country, and romanticizing his abandoned homeland, and nothing of immediate advantage in integrating, showing gratitude, and being critical of what drove him out.
Add up all the above, and it is a miracle that we do not have even angrier young immigrants and children of immigrants from the Middle East.
San Bernardino is not the last we will see of the strange nexus between radical Muslim immigrants hating the Middle East enough to abandon it and then romanticizing it from a safe distance enough to kill their generous hosts.
Hillary Clinton in recent months has done the following:
She charged UCLA somewhere around $300,000 for reciting some platitudes. That works out to over $165 a second for her 30 minutes on stage — meaning that she made more in one minute than a student barista does in a year.
Ms. Clinton acknowledges that, while secretary of state, she solicited donations from wealthy foreign nationals for her family foundation, whose funds she and her husband have frequently tapped for exclusive travel and other expenses.
Everything Ms. Clinton has said recently seems to be demonstrably untrue: Only one of her grandparents, not all four, was an immigrant. One does not need to have two smartphones to have two e-mail accounts. She did not regularly e-mail her husband. One does not secure a server by having a guard on the premises. A cabinet officer does not communicate exclusively on a private e-mail account via a private unsecured server. High government officials do not themselves adjudicate which e-mails are private and which public — and then wipe clean their accounts to avoid an audit of such decision-making.
The multimillionaire Ms. Clinton, fresh from jabs against hedge funds and inordinate CEO pay, also just bought lunch at a fast-food restaurant and left no tip in the jar, before parking her car in a handicapped zone at another stop. How is all this connected?
Ms. Clinton’s private ethics are, as usual, a mess, both in the sense of failing to follow legal protocols and tell the truth, and in the less formal sense of price-gouging cash-strapped universities, failing to show some tiny generosity to the working classes, and abusing accommodations intended to help the disabled.
But Ms. Clinton’s public ethics are loud and clear: She damns the effects of private money in polluting politics; she is furious about Wall Street profit-making; she is worried about the compensation of the struggling middle class. Indeed, so concerned is Hillary Clinton about the pernicious role of big money and the easy ability of our elites to make huge profits without traditional sweat and toil that she might well have to lecture her own son-in-law, who manages a multimillion-dollar hedge fund. Or better yet, Ms. Clinton’s advisers might warn her that in order to stop the pernicious role of big money in politics, she may be forced to top Barack Obama’s record fund-raising and rake in an anticipated $2.5 billion for the 2016 election.
Is there a pattern here? The more Hillary Clinton sounds cosmically egalitarian and caring, the more she acts privately like a stingy 1 percenter who does not consider that the laws and protocols that apply to other people must apply to herself. This is probably no accident, given that the quest for cosmic justice usually empowers private injustice.
The provost of Stanford University recently wrote a letter to campus faculty and staff to address a perceived epidemic of student cheating. One report had suggested that 20 percent of the students in a large introductory course were suspected of exam misconduct. At about the same time as this new alarm, Stanford students had one of their customarily raucous meetings, in which student-body officials voted to urge the university to divest from many companies doing business with Israel. Does democratic Israel pose a greater moral challenge to Stanford students than their own propensity to lie and cheat in order to promote their careers? Are there more courses taught at Stanford on Aristotle’s Ethics or on race/class/gender -isms and -ologies?
I just received another of the periodic reminders from the university that all faculty and staff who have assistants must complete sexual-harassment training. Indeed, walk across the Stanford plaza or peruse the catalogue of courses, and it is clear that Stanford students are inundated with therapeutic instruction on how to think properly about race, class, gender, and global warming — on how to think correctly about everything in the abstract, but not on how to think about how to take a test honestly. How can such sophisticated moralists be prone to such unsophisticated sins as cheating? In such a postmodern landscape, how can there be vestiges of pre-modern wrongdoing? Anyone who regularly parks a bicycle on the Stanford campus — renowned for its efforts to encourage green energy — with a modest bike cable, rather a heavy steel security system, in due time will have it stolen. Is that called postmodern theft?
As a professor in the California State University system for 21 years, I noted two developments. Therapeutic-studies courses increased at a rapid clip, but even more so did cheating — especially with the advent of new technology. Nothing is more surreal than reading a student’s boilerplate critiques of traditional American culture — and with a brief Google search finding his sentences lifted word for word from the Internet.
I am not suggesting that there is a direct connection between the new political correctness and an epidemic of personal dishonesty — only that at best the former has done nothing to discourage the latter, and at worst PC seems to delude students into thinking that if they are morally correct on universal issues, then they deserve some pass on what they consider minor fudging in their own particular lives. How can one effectively fight racism or global warming if one does not use the tools at one’s disposal to get an influential job upon graduation?
Of course, everyone can be hypocritical at times. But this new epidemic of progressive personal asymmetry is a bit different from what we were accustomed to not so long ago. Bill Clinton can hang with a man convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution, and fly on his private plane, which is customarily stocked with bought pleasure girls — but only if he reassures us that he is a committed feminist. Harvard faculty can lecture us on our ethical shortcomings, while they outsource classes to grad students and adjuncts who are making a fraction of their own compensation per course. They are loud supporters of unionization everywhere but among graduate students and part-timers at Harvard.
Frequent White House guest Al Sharpton is a tax cheat, a homophobe, and an inciter of riot and mayhem, with a long history of racial disparagement. But he knows that all that private sin is contextualized by his loud sermonizing on the supposed racism of white America. Eric Holder can fly his daughters and their boyfriends to the Belmont Stakes on a government jet — but only because he is Eric Holder, who periodically blasts America’s supposed ethical reactionaries. Is progressivism among our elites now mostly a careerist con game? Ask departed cabinet officers like Lisa Jackson or Hilda Solis whether their own ethical lapses were overshadowed by their politically correct politics.
According to the laws of feminism, women should not latch onto ambitious alpha males to enhance their own professional trajectories; certainly they do not put up with chronically two-timing husbands either for the continuance of financial security or because of worries about the viability of their own careers. Yet Hillary seems to think that her loud feminist credentials are a sort of insurance policy, preventing anyone from daring to accuse her of accepting the gender roles of the 1950s.
The danger of the new hard-left progressivism is that the old sins of greed, connivance, and malfeasance are now offset by assertions of cosmic morality. The ostentatiously green Solyndra could hardly be thought of as shaking down operators in the Obama administration to provide a sweetheart loan for the crony-capitalist architects of a money-losing mess. Al Gore is so worried about how corporate culture promotes damage to the planet that he was forced to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars for his own green corporations to warn us about other such cynics. He is so shocked about CO2 emissions and the global petroleum culture that he unloaded his underperforming and overpriced cable channel to a carbon-exporting, anti-Jewish autocratic sheikhdom that paid him handsomely with its petrodollars.
Michelle and Barack Obama are so concerned about global warming that not long ago they left two huge carbon footprints, when simultaneously they took separate government jumbo jets to fly out to Los Angeles to appear on separate talk shows. This was worthy of Leonardo DiCaprio, who on his private jet flew to conferences on the carbon excesses of hoi polloi. Elizabeth Warren is so committed to a fair and just society where egalitarianism is the shared goal, and where we assume that no one creates anything without the government, that she and her husband often augmented the generous incomes from their Harvard law professorships with lucrative corporate consulting to achieve 1 percenter status, with nearly $1 million in annual income.
The avatars of modern progressivism are not distinguishable in the lives that they live from the targets of their attack. Those on campus who talk the most loudly of the bane of white privilege at Harvard or Stanford do not live like poor whites in Tulare or El Paso, who have no privilege, racial or financial. The pajama-boy progressives of Cambridge or Menlo Park can enjoy their white privilege freely — but only by damning it in others. (Do such young campus auditors ever drive down to a Bakersfield brake shop to explain to its grease-smeared mechanics in the pit that, being white, they enjoy too much racial advantage?) The Obamas and the progressive black elite have to decry stereotyping, profiling, and the prejudices of low expectations; only by such preemptive doublespeak can they jet to horse races with impunity or put their children in Sidwell Friends rather than in the Washington, D.C., public schools.
The Left created a culture of pajama-boy elites, one that sought cosmic absolution for its own privilege by attacking the less privileged — and then they called this ethical desert progressivism.
It was tragically comical that the commander in chief in just a few weeks could go from referring to ISIS as “jayvee” and a manageable problem to declaring it an existential threat, in the same manner he upgraded the Free Syrian Army from amateurs and a fantasy to our ground linchpin in the new air war. All that tragic comedy was a continuance of his previous untruths, such as the assurance that existing health plans and doctors would not change under the Affordable Care Act or that there was not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS.
But lately the Obama confusion has descended into the territory not of tragedy or even tragic comedy, but rather of outright farce.
Last week we learned from the Washington Post that an investigator looking into the Secret Service prostitution scandal was ordered by the inspector general “to withhold and alter certain information in the report of investigation because it was potentially embarrassing to the administration.” The “embarrassing” information was the allegation that a member of the White House staff advance team had solicited a prostitute while prepping Obama’s Colombia visit — a fact denied by then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in April 2012, when he assured the press that no one from the White House was involved in the scandal that brought down lots of Secret Service and military personnel.
But here is where the farcical kicks in. The squelched investigation was focused on White House staffer Jonathan Dach. And who is Dach? He was at the time a young Yale law student and White House staffer, and is now a State Department activist working on — what else? — “Global Women’s Issues.”
And how did young Jonathan Dach at the ripe age of 25 years land such a prestigious job as a presidential advance man? His father, Leslie Dach, was a lobbyist who gave the Obama campaign $23,900 and was later hired on to work with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. And, of course, Leslie Dach now has left his job lobbying for Wal-Mart. And where does he work now? For the Obama administration. Promoting what? Obamacare.
Here is the essence of the Obama administration’s abyss between word and deed: in the age of the war on women and the end to lobbyists in government, the feminist young aide is alleged to have solicited a prostitute; the most transparent administration in memory covered that fact up during the reelection campaign; the president who promised to end the revolving door and ban lobbyists from government hired not just a one-percenter lobbyist and donor, but his randy son as well.
Can it get much richer than that? Unfortunately, it can — literally, as we’ll explore on the next page.
Recently, Barack Obama offered yet another fundraiser to his small circle of billionaires at the 20-acre gated estate of — again, this is no joke — Rich Richman. Some of Richy Rich’s bundled donors paid over $32,000 to see and touch Obama, who lectured the assembled Connecticut one percent of the one percent. And what did he lecture them on? Of course on “billionaires” and their mean war on the middle class.
Not long ago President Obama flew into Fresno, Ground Zero of the California drought. Did he offer federal help for more dam, canal, and reservoir construction? Hardly. Did he offer to help build coastal desalination plants? Nope.
Instead, he gave a brief lecture about global warming and offered $160 million in aid to ameliorate its effects, although almost all California climatologists associate the state’s unusual three-year drought with oceanic and atmospheric conditions unrelated to climate change, especially given the fact that the planet at large has not heated up in the last 18 years.
After briefly stopping in Fresno for a few hours, where did Barack Obama go next to emphasize the global-warming roots of our drought, and the irrelevancy of building more storage space to mitigate the atypical absence of snow and rain?
Naturally, he jetted in to see Jordan’s king at one of the most artificial environments in the world — verdant Rancho Mirage in the scorching Palm Springs area desert, an artificial landscape entirely irrigated through vast manmade water transfers via canals from the Colorado River. And why did Obama detour to such a landscape incongruous with the drought-stricken state? To play more golf, reminding us that while new reservoirs are not needed, and while burning carbon fuels is the culprit, golf courses in the middle of deserts are perfectly natural destinations for climate-change believers who arrive on huge jets to putt on irrigated greens for a few hours. Rumors then flew that Obama so liked Rancho Mirage’s drought-proof, irrigated attractions that he pondered retiring at a gated estate there.
Why such farce? We have forgotten two truths about the Obama administration. No president in recent memory has so hectored the American people on the dangers of elites, and no president in the last half-century has so enjoyed the perks and culture of the elite. Unfortunately, this is not just mindless hypocrisy, but rather calibrated medieval exemption: the more Barack Obama berates the high life of others, the more he feels he deserves it for himself.
We can usefully view the Obama administration’s chronic untruthfulness as a sort of multifaceted corporation of untruth, with all sorts of subsidiaries.
THE BALD LIES OF POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY
Remember the al-Qaeda-is-on-the-run 2012-election talking point? It was mostly a lie. The administration deliberately released to sympathetic journalists only those documents from the so-called Osama bin Laden trove that revealed worry and dissension among the terrorists. Then it nourished essays by pet journalists trumpeting the decline of al-Qaeda. Disturbing memos that confounded that narrative, as Weekly Standard journalist Steven F. Hayes recently noted, were kept back. “On the run” was dropped after the 2012 election, when events on the ground made such an assertion absurd.
Recent disclosures by some of the combatants about the night of the Benghazi attack remind us that almost everything Jay Carney, Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and President Obama swore in the aftermath of the debacle was knowingly false. A video did not cause the attack. The rioting was not spontaneous. A video-maker, an American resident, was soon jailed, while one of the suspected killers was giving taped interviews at a coffee house in Benghazi. There were ways of securing the consulate and the annex that were not explored, both before and during the assault. Talking points were altered. Again, the catalyst for untruth was reelection worries by an administration that believes its exalted ends of social justice allow any means necessary for reaching them.
Has anything the administration said about pulling our troops out of Iraq proven true? Was it really the Iraqis’ fault or George Bush’s? Was our leaving proof that Iraq might be one of the administration’s “great achievements”? Was the Iraq that we left without any peacekeepers really “stable”? On more than ten occasions the president bragged on the campaign trail that he alone had ended American involvement in Iraq. When Iraq predictably blew up after our departure, he snarled to reporters that he was angry that anyone would dare accuse him alone of being responsible for our precipitate departure.
Was there any element of “reset” with Russia that was accurate? Obama came into office lambasting the prior administration for alienating Russia — when all it had done was adopt some rather moderate measures to punish Russia for invading Georgia. Reset, in truth, was a remission of punishments — from missile defense with the Czechs and Poles to cut-offs of some high-level negotiations — and thus served as a signal to Putin and his subordinates that Obama believed America had been wrong to react to Georgia. And we know what followed from that.
LIES TO HIDE WHAT WE DON’T LIKE
On issues where the public is at odds with the administration, the Obama team too often makes things up to hide its isolation. Little the administration has stated about the IRS scandal has proven true. It was not a slip-up in one local office; nor were liberal groups equally targeted. There was quite a bit more than a “smidgen” of corruption. The administration’s strategy was to make so many things up that the public got confused and the matter went away. The corruption worked to defang the Tea Party in 2012, and the cover-up — except for fall woman Lois Lerner, who took the Fifth Amendment — worked even better.
Have any of the statements the administration has presented about our southern border proven true? Do we know how many people have recently crossed into the United States illegally, what exactly U.S. immigration policy is, or where exactly foreign nationals are and what are their statuses? The public polls strongly against lax borders and blanket amnesties, so the administration apparently must deceive to permit both — and in a politically disingenuous fashion of postponing the requisite executive orders until after the 2014 midterm elections, while blaming the delay on the crisis on the border that it caused.
Did much of anything prove accurate about the Affordable Care Act? Costs, keeping our doctors and existing plans, the effect on the deficit, the website? Had the president in 2008 outlined honestly the ACA’s provisions, he would never have gotten elected, or had he by 2012 fully implemented them, he would never have gotten reelected. Lying about Obamacare and demonizing any who objected were smart politics, but the president will never regain the trust of those whose premiums spiked, who lost their coverage and their doctors, and who still do not understand what exactly Obamacare is.
Most of the assertions uttered in the 2009 Cairo speech were untrue, from false claims about Islamic achievement to supposed Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition in Córdoba — at a time when there were no Muslims in Córdoba. Emperor Hirohito no more surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur than George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR were in office when their respective wars ended and they supposedly agreed to prisoner exchanges — or than Barack Obama’s grandfather helped to free Auschwitz. Obama sees history in the same postmodernist fashion in which he looks upon his own past — details are constructed by everyone, and thus truth is a relative concept that should not be adjudicated by those with privilege against those who are using narratives to advance social justice. The result is that almost any time the president makes reference to the past, ours or his, we can assume two things: His facts are wrong, and they are wrong in a way that is meant to highlight his own godhead.
There are lots of things that Obama says that he knows will simply fade into oblivion. Did we ever believe that Joe Biden was going to bird-dog abuses in spending for the stimulus to ensure shovel-ready jobs? Did we really believe that Obama would halve the deficit by the end of his first term — or that he would close Guantanamo Bay? Did he really obtain congressional approval for bombing Libya, as he once promised for such operations? Did anyone believe that the Obama administration would not hire former lobbyists or that it would end the revolving door, any more than we believed Obama’s assurances that those who made less than $250,000 would not have any of their taxes go up? What exactly is an Obama step-over line, red line, or deadline? Obama’s serial rhetorical emphatics — Let me be perfectly clear, Make no mistake about it, In point of fact, You can take that to the bank, I’m not kidding, I’m not making this up — are the usual verbal tics that warn the audience that a complete untruth is to follow.
Then there is another sort of untruth summed up best as blame-gaming — “They did it, not me!” The president confessed to having no strategy to deal with the Islamic State. But that was the fault of the Pentagon for not yet formulating any. The Islamic State had crept up on us — and that was the fault of the intelligence services. The world is in chaos? The new social networking — the much-bragged-about hip keystone of Obama’s two election campaigns — is to blame for making the gullible believe the world is falling apart. The president had to remove every last soldier from Iraq — but he didn’t really do that; it was either Bush or Maliki. The president ignored his own red lines in Syria? But they weren’t his own: The U.N., not he, made them. The president dubbed the Islamic State the jayvees? No, he actually meant an array of groups.
Such blame-gaming is simply the current foreign-policy manifestation of a long-established Obama-administration trait of blaming dismal news on something other than its own policies: ATMs were responsible for high joblessness; the stimulus failed, but House obstructionism was to blame. The Republican House also blocked immigration reform — which Obama easily could have passed when the Democrats controlled the Congress in 2009–10. Tsunamis and earthquakes, including a mild tremor in D.C. itself, rattled the economy and contributed to the discouraging economic statistics. Bad GDP news? The American people had gotten a bit “soft” and lost “their competitive edge.”
Sometimes there are lies by omission. The administration is simply incapable of uttering the phrases “radical Islam” or “Islamic terrorism,” and that fact requires all sorts of lying by omission about who exactly is killing Americans and why. So we are serially told that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular, that workplace violence caused Fort Hood, that jihad is largely a personal journey, that the idea of terrorists creating a caliphate is absurd, and all the other euphemisms necessary to hide the apparently unpleasant truth of killing by radical Islamists.
As far as the VA, AP, IRS, NSA, and other scandals go, do not count on any confession, investigation, lawsuit, or special prosecutor to reveal the truth in the next two years. The Obama administration will lose documents, redact critical information, find e-mails only years later, and lie about evidence until most of its members are safely out of office and working for Citigroup, one of the major TV networks, or Goldman Sachs.
Obama’s prevaricating has lost him any thought of a legacy, all the more so because for years as a candidate and as president he pontificated about his new transparency and the need for executive candor — itself an untruth at best, and at worst a cynical ploy to provide cover for a deliberate effort to enact policies that could not be honestly presented to the American people.
The two fuels that run Untruth, Inc., are, first, a realization that most of the president’s policies, whether deliberately or as a result of indifference and laziness, run counter to what most Americans support, and, second, a media establishment so invested in his agenda that it will not call the administration to account. So the engine of lying keeps humming. On any given day the president of the United States can step up to the teleprompter amid the latest disaster and swear that he did not do what he just did, or insist that someone else, not he, did the dastardly deed, or simply skip over recent history and make things up. The press at first quibbles, then nods in agreement, and Obama is empowered to do it again and again. We have not seen such a disingenuous president since Richard Nixon — but he, at least, was countered rather than enabled by the media.
“Perhaps [Barack Obama’s] greatest achievement has been running as a candidate with an image wholly incompatible with what he has actually been doing for decades. This man, who is now supposedly going to “unite” us, has for years worked hand in glove, and contributed both his own money and the taxpayers’ money, to people who have sought to divide us in the most crude, demagogic ways.”
— Thomas Sowell, 2008
America, we told you so:
America is suddenly angry at the laxity, incompetence, and polarizing politics of the Obama administration, the bad optics of the president putting about in his bright golf clothes while the world burns. Certainly, no recent president has failed on so many fronts — honesty, transparency, truthfulness, the economy, foreign policy, the duties of the commander-in-chief, executive responsibilities, and spiritual leadership.
For those who are “shocked” at the present meltdown, of a magnitude not seen since the annus horribilis of 1979, in their defense: Obama certainly did not campaign on a new health-care plan that would force Americans to give up the doctors they liked and their existing coverage, while raising premiums and deductibles, while giving exemptions for insiders and cronies, and while raising the deficit.
Nor did we hear on the campaign trail that Obama would push gay marriage, open borders, near-permanent zero interest rates, six consecutive $1 trillion deficits, and record food-stamp and Social Security disability payouts. He criticized Bush for relatively minor executive orders, suggesting that he would never rule by fiat — as he since has done in matters of Obamacare, immigration law, and environmental regulations. Remember the promise of ending the revolving door and stopping aides from cashing in — and then follow the post-administration careers of Obama’s closest advisers.
Obama promised to halve the deficit — not run up more red ink than almost all prior presidents combined. Indeed, he once as a senator voted against raising the debt limit and blasted Bush for borrowing from China. He once sermonized to us that the presidency is serious stuff, that it entails inordinate personal sacrifice and even a virtual absence of downtime and vacation — and then he became just the sort of president he was critiquing. But those deceptions were simply politics as usual, and it was logical for the hard leftist Barack Obama to try to appear to be a moderate, given that no Northern liberal had won the presidency in the half-century since John F. Kennedy.
The antidote to the great madness of 2008 would have been, instead of focusing on what Obama claimed or hedged, simply to recall what he had done before he ran for president and to notice what he did during the campaign. Had America done that, there would never have been a President Obama to surprise us now.
The racial animosity characterized by Obama’s editorializing about Skip Gates, Trayvon Martin, and, now, the Ferguson, Mo., hysteria, or his call to Latinos to “punish our enemies,” or the tenure of Eric Holder is simply a continuation of 2008’s “typical white person,” the clingers speech, Michelle Obama’s America as “just downright mean,” “They raise the bar,” and “For the first time . . . I’m really proud of my country” commentaries, and of Obama’s earlier boast that he never missed services at the Trinity Church of the hate-mongering and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright. If Obama had not proved to be a racial divider, we should have been surprised — given what we learned of his past in 2008. After all, it’s from Jeremiah Wright that Barack Obama got the title for his campaign brief, “The Audacity of Hope.”
We are now shocked at the current spate of alphabetic scandals — IRS, AP, NSA, VA. But why are we surprised, given that Obama never told the truth about his relationships with the old terrorist Bill Ayers and former PLO ad hoc spokesman Rashid Khalidi, or about the creepy land deal with the crook Tony Rezko? If the Obama White House demonized the Tea Party as tea-baggers, or compared the Republican House opposition to terrorists and arsonists, why should we be astonished, given how he was elected to the U.S. Senate? Quite mysteriously, his primary opponent, Blair Hull, and his general-election opponent, Jack Ryan, both of whom were favored to win, had their confidential divorce records leaked. Their campaigns subsequently imploded.
Obama has played fast and loose with ethical rules, from promoting crony capitalists to attending near-constant fundraisers among the pay-to-play 0.0001 percent. Again, why should we be surprised, given that he was the first presidential candidate who refused in a general election to accept federal campaign financing, with its accompanying rules curbing mega-fundraising? Obama was the largest recipient of Goldman Sachs donations in the company’s history, and raised more cash in 2008 and 2012 than any other presidential candidate in history.
We are terrified of the chaos that is spreading across the world: Egypt, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Putin’s Russia, and the Chinese–Japanese tensions. But was there any evidence in 2008 that rookie senator Obama had any foreign-policy experience or even knowledge of the world beyond Chicago, other than as a boy in Indonesia or a teen on a jaunt with buddies to Pakistan? We knew in 2008 that his opportunistic trashing of Guantánamo, renditions, tribunals, drones, and preventive detention was permitted only by the fact that the Bush–Cheney protocols he was criticizing had prevented another 9/11-like attack — and thus gave him the leeway of easy second-guessing. If we are now worried about Obama’s equivocation, there was plenty of evidence, as Hillary Clinton pointed out in 2008, that Obama as a state legislator had voted “Present” as a matter of habit.
Polarization? Partisanship? The National Journal warned us in 2008 that Obama was the most partisan of the 100 U.S. senators. Did we assume that he would revert to something that he never had been?
Critics are angry that Obama seems disengaged, or that as a man of the people he is inordinately obsessed with golf, a sport that the Left used to despise as a fixation of the rich in their lime-green pants and bright pink polo shirts. But again, can we point to any landmark legislation that Obama accomplished as a state legislator or U.S. senator? Was not Obama golfing during the 2008 campaign?
Then there is the matter of the presidential untruths. The problem is not just that Barack Obama says things that are untrue but that he lies about what Barack Obama has said. He brags that he set red lines, but then he says it was the U.N. had set red lines. He boasts of pulling out every U.S. soldier from Iraq but then alleges that President Bush, the Iraqis, or Maliki did that. He claims that ISIS are Jayvees but then claims they are serious. But his prevarication too is habitual and was known in 2008 when it was discovered that he had simply misled the nation about his relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. He had no desire, in the transparent manner of John Kerry, Al Gore, John McCain, or George W. Bush, to release his medical records or college transcripts. If Americans find their president ill-informed, there was no record that he was informed in 2008. His gaffes were far more frequent than those of Sarah Palin, who knew there were 50 states.
Historians will look back at 2008 as a time when the country became more or less collectively unhinged. There was an accompanying perfect storm of sorts: He was the first serious African-American candidate, whom condescending liberals like Harry Reid and Joe Biden heralded for being clean, light-skinned, and without a black patois; he was running in an orphaned election without an incumbent vice president or president on the other side’s ticket, a situation not seen since 1952; we had an unpopular lame-duck president and the Iraq war; the sudden financial meltdown in September 2008 caused a then-behind Obama to immediately surge ahead; the McCain campaign was lackluster; and the media became an advocate of the Obama effort.
Pundits vied for superlatives. On little evidence, Christopher Buckley assured us that Obama possessed “a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect.” For some, proof of Obama’s godhead became almost physical — a “perfectly creased pant” for David Brooks, a tingling leg for Chris Matthews. For Evan Thomas he was a “sort of God”; for one blue-chip historian he was the smartest man with the highest IQ ever running for the presidency. And on and on, as huge crowds acted as if they were watching Paul McCartney on tour in 1966. After the election, there was real apprehension that the country might not make it for the two and a half months until an elected Obama could take power.
Given that there was no evidence from Obama’s legislative career to justify such superlatives, we can only assume that our intellectual elites got caught up in the faux Greek columns, the Obama tutorials for fainting crowds about proper first aid, the teleprompted emphatics of “Let me be perfectly clear” and “Make no mistake about it,” the Latinate motto “Vero possumus” on the faux presidential seal on his campaign podiums, the boast that Obama & Co. were “the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the messianic promise to cool the planet and lower the seas, the Lincoln self-comparisons, and the other embarrassing childish banalities.
Obama, it is true, ran a brilliant campaign in 2008, hinting to the Other that as a non-white he shared both their racial bona fides and their frustrations, hinting to white elites that his own unique heritage would end racial hostilities and thus allow them to square the circle of living largely separate elite lives and not having to feel guilty about it. He dropped his g’s and went into Southern cadences among African Americans, and then back again into wonkish academese to mainstream whites. It was well known that in impromptu talks he stuttered and stumbled with uh’s in deer-in-the-headlights fashion, and used the pronouns I, me, my, and mine ad nauseam, but such unease was ignored given his teleprompted eloquence and the considerable elite investment in his symbolism.
In sum, in 2008 Obama gave America more than enough evidence to doubt that he was ready for the presidency, but when a nation becomes unhinged by trivialities like “hope and change,” there is not much one can do — until the patient wakes up from his trance and in embarrassment asks, “What exactly was all that nuttiness in 2008 about?”
We will be fathoming that strange madness of 2008 for decades to come.
There is a pastime among liberal pundits — the latest is Nicholas Kristof — to quote a new center left global ranking (with unbiased titles such as “The Social Progress Imperative”) and then to decry that the United States is behind its major industrial competitors in things like “Internet Access” and “Ecosystem sustainability.” The subtext of these rants is that an illiberal, reactionary U.S. does not spend enough on government entitlements to promote parity, equality and social justice among its citizenry. These pessimistic rankings increase the angst about the American condition when viewed from scowling perches in Washington or New York.
Not surprisingly, the winners in these periodic gloomy assessments are usually smaller or intermediate quasi-socialist nations, with mostly homogeneous ethnic and religious populations (e.g., Switzerland, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark, etc.). And the result is that Americans are scolded to tone down their pride at being exceptional and to begin to emulate such supposedly more livable societies.
Yet I suppose that if you were to assess, say, the mostly 5.6 million homogenously well off Californians, who lived within 10 miles of the coast, from San Diego to Berkeley, they would compare quite nicely with Denmark. Or for that matter, should the Danish system be applied to 300 million in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, I also think that they would sink a bit in terms of social progress.
The criteria by which America is to be judged are often both biased and historically ignorant. Why not rank the United States in comparison with other similarly huge countries that span three time zones, and include in their enormous populations radically different ethnic and religious groups?
How about comparing America to countries that, like the U.S., have vast territories and diverse populations over 200 million — China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil? How would such nations stack up to the U.S, in terms of corruption, health care, pollution, freedom of the individual, treatment of women and gays, religious tolerance, or other criteria of “social progress?” Is there a global assessment of coups and revolutions per nation, or contrarily the longest sustained democracy?
Most such rankings rely on statistics that rarely weigh in factors that non-elites take for granted as part of the good life. How about the number of cars a family household on average owns, the relative percentage of the household budget spent on food, the price of gas that allows them mobility, the average square footage of living space, or the number of electronic appurtenances that make life easier and enjoyable, such as microwaves or televisions? In all such categories, the United States ranks at or among the top nations in the world. I suppose those in Manhattan or at Harvard would not interpret the fact that a poor Mexican illegal immigrant can buy a used Yukon relatively cheaply and fuel it with $3.50 gallon gasoline as progress. But in terms of global assessment, he still has a safer, roomier, and cheaper automobile experience than the French or Italian driver of a tiny European Fiat that requires $9 a gallon fuel.
Nor do such pessimistic assessments consider intangibles such as global politics. Globalization itself is a product of U.S. innovation and technology and the U.S. military. The latter not only subsidizes the safety of the European Union and many of China’s immediate neighbors, but also generally has kept the Western world safe and the global sea-lanes and methods of commerce and communication free from disruption. That was not cheap, which is why the European Union, for all its advocacy, does not attempt it. If Russia goes into Estonia, it will not be the Dutch or Danish army that is called upon to ask Putin to leave.
The U.S. not only created the landscape that allowed, for example, a South Korea, Japan, or Germany to thrive over the last 70 years without substantial military investments, but presently allows such countries — among them also Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and much of Europe itself — not to worry about developing a nuclear deterrent and the costly and risky politics which that entails. Should we retreat from the world stage, in the next twenty years, then we might appreciate differences in the “social progress index” of a Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan, or for that matter a Germany or Iceland that will have to vastly increase defense expenditures to survive.
Homogenous South Korean eighth graders may test higher in math than do Americans, but then again Americans are not looking up to the skies to see whether a North Korean artillery shell or gas-laden missile is on its way down. Is there a global “security anxiety” index? Nor are there thousands of South Koreans posted on our shores to protect us from belligerent neighbors.
Speaking of social progress, the United States lets in the largest number of legal and illegal immigrants in the world. Currently 45 million or more residents were not born in the U.S. — a number four times larger than any other nation. Ethnic, religious, and cultural homogeneity promotes some of the values (such as Internet access) that social progress indices usually value.
Yet in my hometown, which has been overwhelmed by illegal immigration over the last two decades, I can see why recent arrivals from Oaxaca have some difficulty in getting online free at the local Starbucks. The problem is not that they do not have cell phones with Internet service or that Starbucks and other franchises don’t offer free Internet services, but that the language, past experience, and culture of central Mexico are not quite the same as those in the United States. Speaking Mixtecan languages and not being able to read Spanish in an English-speaking country makes it hard to surf the net.
One reason why the U.S. is volatile, influential, dynamic, and by far the most culturally influential society in the world are the number and variety of its legal immigrants. No one wants to move to Russia. Switzerland does not want any new immigrants. France and Germany don’t quite know what to do with those already residing in their countries. China and Japan could never consider an African, Swedish, or Mexican immigrant fully Chinese or Japanese. The Arab World would not let in Jews and in many places is driving out Christians. Building a large new Church anywhere in the Islamic world is for all practical purposes now impossible.
In short, people vote with their feet, and by huge margins prefer the greater freedom, economic opportunity, and security of the U.S., not to mention its meritocracy that assesses talent far less than elsewhere on class, racial, tribal, or religious criteria. Because the U.S., also unlike other countries, strangely does not value that much education, capital, or skills in assessing potential immigrants (family ties and the fact of reaching U.S. soil being the more influential criteria), and because it hosts somewhere between 11 and 20 million illegal immigrants, it naturally has ongoing challenges to provide near instant parity to millions who arrive here poor, uneducated, and without money.
To suggest that we are at fault because our healthcare or primary education system is somehow not up to Danish or Icelandic standard is laughable, when 13% of the present population is foreign born — and probably far more had we accurate numbers of illegal aliens currently residing in the American southwest. The source of immigration makes assimilation also more difficult. Switzerland became culturally and psychologically incapable of accepting more immigrants, despite the fact that they are largely from elsewhere in Europe. In contrast, most of the current immigrants to the U.S. arrive from an impoverished Mexico and Latin America, not Canada, and thus come with far greater disparities than other North American citizens.
Assessments can be rigged anyway that one wishes — if the point is to advance preconceived and ideological aims. The relative price of food, fuel, and cars, or the number of air conditioners per capita, or the global rankings of universities, or comparative population growth, or the rate of and age at marriage, the ability to defend one’s nation without alliances and outside subsidies, or religious observance, or rubrics about assimilation, integration, and intermarriage of newcomers could all be massaged to make Europe look quite pathological in terms of aristocratic bias, class impediments, ossified attitudes from defense to entrepreneurship, atheism, and the loss of freedom resulting from massive regulations and high taxes.
In short, if you want to prove that the U.S. is not number one, you can — usually to reflect the particular agenda you wish to advance.
VDH with a powerful piece on a way of life that is fast disappearing, at least in California:
Hard physical work is still a requisite for a sound outlook on an ever more crazy world. I ride a bike; but such exercise is not quite the same, given that the achievement of doing 35 miles is therapeutic for the body and mind, but does not lead to a sense of accomplishment in the material sense — a 30-foot dead tree cut up, a shed rebuilt, a barn repainted. I never quite understood why all these joggers in Silicon Valley have immigrants from Latin America doing their landscaping. Would not seven hours a week spent raking and pruning be as healthy as jogging in spandex — aside from the idea of autonomy that one receives by taking care of one’s own spread?
On the topic of keeping attuned with the physical world: if it does not rain (and the “rainy” season is about half over with nothing yet to show for it), the Bay Area and Los Angeles will see some strange things that even Apple, Google, and the new transgendered rest room law cannot fix. We have had two-year droughts, but never in my lifetime three years of no rain or much snow — much less in a California now of 39 million people. I doubt we will hear much for a while about the past wisdom of emptying our reservoirs and letting the great rivers year-round flow to the Bay to restore mythical 19th-century salmon runs and to save the Delta three-inch bait fish. As long as it was a question of shutting down 250,000 irrigated acres in distant and dusty Mendota or Firebaugh, dumping fresh water in the sea was a good thing. When it now comes down to putting grey water or worse on the bougainvilleas in Menlo Park, or cutting back on that evening shower, I think even those of Silicon Valley will wonder, “What in the hell were we thinking?”
I do all the yard work on my three-acre home site and putter around the surrounding 40-acre vineyard. Mowing, chain-sawing, pruning, and hammering clear the head, and remind us that, even in the age of the knockout “game” and nightly TV ads for Trojan sex devices, we still live in a natural world. In the rural landscape, you are responsible for your own water. So you must know about what level resides the water table, and how deeply exactly your pump draws from, and the minutia of well depth, casing size, and type of pump. You know roughly how much sewage you’ve deposited in your cesspool and septic tank, and whether your propane tanks is half or a quarter full. There is no “they” who take care of such things, no department of this, or GS9 that to do it for you. Those who help you keep independent — the well drillers, pump mechanics, cesspool pumpers, asphalt layers, and assorted independent contractors — remind you that muscles and experience, not always degrees and techie know-how, are still important in extremis.
There are no neighbors across the backyard fence. At night there is no one out here, except the dogs that engage in howling wars with the coyotes. Nature abounds, both good and bad: squirrels that undermine the slab under your barn (I have shot them, gassed them, poisoned them for 40 years, and their burrows are larger than ever), and coyotes lingering out of range in the shadows by dusk. But also a red-tailed hawk in your redwood tree stands guard, and a great horned owl skimming across the vineyard that is strangely unafraid of humans. When I ride out in the Michigan countryside, I often stop and stare at octogenarians puttering around huge old clapboard farmhouses, determined in their final days to mow their lawns or paint their porches as if they were newlyweds — “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Still, let us not be romantic. Rural Fresno County has reverted to circa 1870, when my great-great grandparents first arrived. It is sort of anything goes after dark. I’ve had the following people show up at my house after hours: a group of caballeros in full festive regalia (with wonderful embroidered sombreros) asking to pasture their show horses on my lawn, given they still had 12 miles to go to Raisin City and feared being run over riding down the road in the dark; two young girls stopped in front, cell-phoning gang bangers that the coast was clear (it wasn’t) to go after copper wire; some lost Dutch bicyclists for some reason trying to cross the valley to get to L.A. from Big Sur, hopelessly confused and hopelessly scared (they stayed overnight intramuros on a summer night); five inebriated punks throwing rocks at the upstairs windows; and an exasperated Iranian national salesman who pulled in the driveway, two weeks after 9/11, in a pouring rainstorm, lost, and in need of direction (everything he claimed about his sad unlikely plight that brought him to the house at 11 p.. turned out to be true).
When the sun goes down, you are on your own, and in some sense are better for the challenge. At six I can remember sitting (in the very place I am sitting now) as my grandfather at 70 jumped up to “investigate” a couple of yahoos drinking by the barn. The difference in those days, aside from the absence of armed gang-bangers, was that there was some deference shown the owner, or perhaps he earned it in a way I have not. He was known as “Mr. Davis,” me nothing much at all. So he returned with a laconic, “I asked those trouble-makers to leave, and they did.” Not now necessarily.
Again, all is not so depressing. The other night I drove into the yard and a man was sitting on my driveway claiming the police had pulled his truck over for no lights and now he was stranded. Some story — and absolutely true as he showed me his fix-it ticket. He spoke no English; my Spanish is rusty. But he proved a good soul, and stayed here some hours while we phoned around looking for a relative (about ten years ago I quit driving the stranded to their homes, given that in one instance I was a bit outnumbered).
My 43 acres — what has not been sold off of the ancestral larger farm — still produce 85 tons of raisins (a nutritious, healthy food) for the nation. Mt. View Avenue lines up with Mt. Whitney and on some mornings you can make out its profile by the sunrise. The acreage is well kept, as is the 145-year-old house that I put most of my life savings into — why exactly I don’t really know, other than “I was supposed to.” Perhaps the house is in better shape than when it was first built. Rural life reminds us that we are mere custodians who don’t really own anything, given that the land endures as we turn to dust.
I like the people who reside in these environs — the 85-year-old woman who lives alone with her shotgun; my closest friend around the corner, Bus Barzagus of Fields Without Dreams, going strong at 73. None want to go to L.A. or San Francisco. Another neighbor who is a mechanical genius, and so on. One guy told me the other day, “What am I going to do, put my 150 acres on my back and pack it over to Nevada?”
Otherwise, all the farm families I grew up with but one are gone. There are no 40-acre or 100-acre autonomous farms left. Everything is rented out, small tesserae of much larger corporate mosaics. Looking out the window reminds me it didn’t have to end this way, but how and why not is well beyond my intelligence. (Count up the cost of tractors, implements, labor, chemicals, liability insurance, taxes, etc. — and anything less than 150 acres does not pencil out.)
The old farmhouses are all rented out to foremen, 100% of them first-generation immigrants from Mexico. The Punjabi farming class has become a sort of new aristocracy, if their huge three-story mansions that pop up every couple of miles are any indication.
I worry though not about the way we look or talk, but rather about the use of the land. It no longer grows people, or produces for the nation a 5% minority of self-reliant, cranky and autonomous citizens, who do not worry much about things like tanning booths, plastic surgery, Botox, male jewelry, tattoos, rap music, waxed-off body hair, or social media. I think our impoverished society reflects that fact of agrarian loss, in the sense that never have so many had so much and complained that they had so little while being so dependent on government — and yet they are so whiney and angry over their lack of independence. The entitlement state is the flame, the recipients the moths. The latter zero in on the glow and then, transfixed by the buzz, are consumed by acquiring what they were hypnotized by.
Out here is the antithesis of where I work in Silicon Valley. Each week I leave at sunbreak, and slowly enter a world of Pajama boys in BMWs and Lexuses, with $500 shades and rolling stops at intersections as they frown and speed off to the next deal. Somehow these techies assume voting for Barack Obama means that they are liberal. They are not. By proclaiming that they are progressive, they feel good about themselves and do not have to worry about why their janitorial staffs are not unionized, or why no one but they can buy a house, or why they oppose affordable housing construction along the 280 corridor, or why they fear the public schools as if they were the bubonic plague. Their businesses don’t create many jobs in the area; they don’t live among the Other; they seek to get out of paying income tax as they praise higher taxes; and they use money to ensure their own apartheid. And so they are “liberal.”
No wonder millionaires like Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer represent such a culture. How odd that the power, the water, the food, the lumber, and the minerals that fuel Silicon Valley all come from distant invisible people, the uncool who are overregulated, overtaxed, and over-blamed by those they never see.
Every six months or so I crawl under the house to check the wiring, plumbing, foundation, and assorted repair work. I did it last week. In the dirt is the weird detritus of 140 years: some square nails, a strange, ancient rusted pipe wrench, 1930s newspaper stuffed into some sort of mouse hole, penciled-in runes of weird numbers and notes scrawled on the redwood beams by some unknown carpenter, a fossilized carcass of a long dead cat, a few rat skulls and ribs. It is also sort of like archaeology, trying to sort out the layers of improvements per good farming years: the foundation raised on redwood beams after the boom of World War I, the metal conduit wiring installed in the 1940s when raisins were again high, the heating ducts put in during the brief boom of the early 1980s, and so on.
Is there a future to any of this?
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on the meaning of future. None of my children will farm; even if they wanted to, the remnant 40 acres of the original 140 are too few to be viable. The local schools are poor, at least in statistical rankings. There are no pre-Stanford preschools out here. My great-grandparents and their parents got here before the schools; my grandfather graduated here in 1908, my mother in 1939, me in 1971, my children in the 1980s — after that comes the end, I think, of the continuity.
Most of the area’s youth under 30 have long fled to L.A. or the Bay Area. They are sort of the bookends to illegal immigrants who left Oaxaca for places like Selma that they see as heaven in comparison with Mexico. The youth left Selma for tiny apartments in Westwood or Mountain View that they see as heaven compared with what they left.
The land left behind has soared in value, not because it is a necessarily desirable place to raise a family, but due to the fact that in a California of 39 million, in a third year of abject drought, and with the world in need of our state’s fruit, nuts, and fiber, there are not too many places left with such good loam soils, a long growing season, and a water table still about 50 feet.
What keeps a person sane when writing about the Chris Christie road show; the Benghazi, AP, NSA, and IRS scandals; the vast expansion in the government and its never-ending deficits; the insanity on campus; and the world of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton?
The refuge of the rural world, and the remembrances of a wonderful world gone and now beneath our feet.
Yet I can hear them still.