June 12, 2009, 4:00 a.m.
Just Make Stuff Up
President Obama’s war on the truth.
By Victor Davis Hanson
In the first six months of the Obama administration, we have witnessed an assault on the truth of a magnitude not seen since the Nixon Watergate years. The prevarication is ironic given the Obama campaign’s accusations that the Bush years were not transparent and that Hillary Clinton, like her husband, was a chronic fabricator. Remember Obama’s own assertions that he was a “student of history” and that “words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”
Yet Obama’s war against veracity is multifaceted.
Trotskyization. Sometimes the past is simply airbrushed away. Barack Obama has a disturbing habit of contradicting his past declarations as if spoken words did not mean much at all. The problem is not just that once-memorable statements about everything from NAFTA to public campaign financing were contradicted by his subsequent actions. Rather, these pronouncements simply were ignored to the point of making it seem they were never really uttered at all.
What is stunning about Obama’s hostile demagoguery about Bush’s War on Terror is not that he has now contradicted himself on one or two particulars. Instead, he has reversed himself on every major issue — renditions, military tribunals, intercepts, wiretaps, Predator drone attacks, the release of interrogation photos, Iraq (and, I think, soon Guantanamo Bay) — and yet never acknowledged these reversals.
Are we supposed to think that Obama was never against these protocols at all? Or that he still remains opposed to them even as he keeps them in place? Meanwhile, his attorney general, Eric Holder, is as voluble on the excesses of the Bush War on Terror as he is silent about his own earlier declarations that detainees in this war were not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention.
Politicians often go back on earlier promises, and they often exaggerate (remember Obama’s “10,000” who died in a Kansas tornado [12 perished], or his belief that properly inflating tires saves as much energy as offshore drilling can produce?). But the extent of Obama’s distortions suggests that he has complete confidence that observers in the media do not care — or at least do not care enough to inform the public.
The “Big Lie.” Team Obama says that Judge Sotomayor misspoke when she asserted that Latinas were inherently better judges than white males. Yet the people around Obama knew before Sotomayor was nominated that she has reiterated such racialist sentiments repeatedly over many years.
Obama complained that his deficits were largely inherited — even though his newly projected annual deficit and aggregate increase in the national debt may well, if they are not circumvented, equal all the deficit spending compiled by all previous administrations combined.
The president lectures Congress on its financial excesses. He advocates “pay as you go” budgeting. But he remains silent about the unfunded liabilities involved in his own proposals for cap-and-trade, universal health care, and education reform, which will in aggregate require well over a trillion dollars in new spending on top of existing deficits — but without any “pay as you go” proposals to fund them.
By the same token, his promise that 95 percent of Americans will receive an Obama “tax cut” is impossible. Remember, almost 40 percent of households currently pay no income taxes at all — and the $1.7-trillion annual deficit will necessitate a broad array of taxes well beyond those assessed on incomes above $250,000.
Obama talks about cutting federal outlays by eliminating $17 billion in expenditures — one-half of one percent of a $3.4-trillion budget. Here the gap between rhetoric and reality is already so wide that it simply makes no difference whether one goes completely beyond the limits of belief. Why would a liberal “budget hawk” go through the trouble of trying to cut 10 or 20 percent of the budget when he might as well celebrate a 0.5 percent cut and receive the same amount of credit or disdain? If one is going to distort, one might as well distort whole-hog.
Outright historical dissimulation. On matters of history, we now know that much of what President Obama says is either not factual or at least misleading. He predictably errs on the side of political correctness. During the campaign, there was his inaccurate account of his great-uncle’s role in liberating Auschwitz. In Berlin, he asserted that the world — rather than the American and British air forces — came together to pull off the Berlin Airlift.
In the Cairo speech, nearly every historical allusion was nonfactual or inexact: the fraudulent claims that Muslims were responsible for European, Chinese, and Hindu discoveries; the notion that a Christian Córdoba was an example of Islamic tolerance during the Inquisition; the politically correct canard that the Renaissance and Enlightenment were fueled by Arab learning; the idea that abolition and civil rights in the United States were accomplished without violence — as if 600,000 did not die in the Civil War, or entire swaths of Detroit, Gary, Newark, and Los Angeles did not go up in flames in the 1960s.
Here we see the omnipotent influence of Obama’s multicultural creed: Western civilization is unexceptional in comparison with other cultures, and history must be the story of an ecumenical, global shared brotherhood.
The half-, and less-than-half, truth. At other times, Obama throws out historical references that are deliberately incomplete. To placate critical hosts, he evokes the American dropping of the bomb. But he is silent about the impossible choices for the Allies — after Japanese atrocities in Manchuria, Korea, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa — facing the necessity of stopping a Japanese imperial killing machine, determined to fight to the death.
He lectures about equivalent culpability between Muslims and Americans without mentioning American largess to Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians. He mostly ignores American military efforts to save Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Somalia — and American criticism of Russia’s and China’s treatment of their own persecuted Muslim minorities.
When Obama contextualizes the United States’ treatment of Muslims, does he do so in comparison to the Chinese treatment of the Uighurs, the Russians in Chechnya and Afghanistan, or the European colonial experience in North Africa?
When he cites European colonialism’s pernicious role in the Middle East, does he mention nearly 400 years of Ottoman Muslim colonial rule in the Arab-speaking world? Or the Muslim world’s own role in sending several million sub-Saharan Africans to the Middle East as slaves? By no stretch of the imagination is purported Western bias against Islam commensurate with the Islamic threats that have been issued to Danish cartoonists, British novelists, the pope, or German opera producers.
Obama surely knows that a mosque is acceptable in America and Europe in a way that a church is not in most of the Gulf States, or that Muslims freely voice their beliefs in Rotterdam and Dearborn in a way Westerners dare not in Tehran, Damascus, or Riyadh.
Here we see the classic notion of the “noble lie,” or the assumption that facts are to be cited or ignored in accordance with the intended aim: Interfaith reconciliation means downplaying Muslim excesses, or treating Islamic felonies as equivalent with Western misdemeanors.
Why has President Obama developed a general disregard for the truth, in a manner far beyond typical politicians who run one way and govern another, or hide failures and broadcast successes?
First, he has confidence that the media will not be censorious and will simply accept his fiction as fact. A satirist, after all, could not make up anything to match the obsequious journalists who bow to their president, proclaim him a god, and receive sexual-like tingles up their appendages.
Second, Obama is a postmodernist. He believes that all truth is relative, and that assertions gain or lose credibility depending on the race, class, and gender of the speaker. In Obama’s case, his misleading narrative is intended for higher purposes. Thus it is truthful in a way that accurate facts offered by someone of a different, more privileged class and race might not be.
Third, Obama talks more than almost any prior president, weighing in on issues from Stephen Colbert’s haircut, to Sean Hannity’s hostility, to the need to wash our hands. In Obama’s way of thinking, his receptive youthful audiences are proof of his righteousness and wisdom — and empower him to pontificate on matters he knows nothing about.
Finally, our president is a product of a multicultural education: Facts either cannot be ascertained or do not matter, given that the overriding concern is to promote an equality of result among various contending groups. That is best done by inflating the aspirations of those without power, and deflating the “dominant narratives” of those with it.
The problem in the next four years will be not just that the president of the United States serially does not tell the truth. Instead, the real crisis in our brave new relativist world will be that those who demonstrate that he is untruthful will themselves be accused of lying.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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