Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And what they teach is what they can’t do any more, because either the body or spirit or both have lost their singleness of purpose; because they have seen too much and suppressed too much and compromised too much, and in the end tasted too little. So they take to rekindling their old dreams in new minds, and warming themselves against the fires of the young.
— The Secret Pilgrim, John le Carré
It has been a long time since a teacher has become President in this country. Professor Woodrow Wilson of Princeton came to the post with ideals too lofty for prime time, and arguably did some real damage. Indeed Winston Churchill implied that Wilson’s approach unwittingly laid the groundwork for World War II. Sunday School teacher Jimmy Carter came with a crabby disposition, a cranky rhetorical style and a creepy disdain for other opinions. His tenure brought the Republic to its knees, on the verge of losing its status as a great power.
Now we have University of Chicago Professor of Constitutional Law Barack Obama. Part of his appeal on Election Day was his vibe as the cool professor, the one guy who didn’t put you totally to sleep and who could make impractical ideas sound romantic. So we give him the highest pulpit in the land, and stand ready to hear soaring flights of noble aspiration. Our ears our perked to hear the call to our better angels.
And what do we get instead? Sour grapes, poor-mouthing, downers, doomsaying, negativism, and bile. Yeah, the hope and change may show up, but way on down the road.
Frankly, I think the President’s statements, his general tone, have been nothing less than vile. We can prove this by imagining the alternative. Honestly, now, even if like me you are no fan of Obama, you could have been won over, at least in the short term, if he used the Reagan playbook. Say he stood up on January 20 and issued a broad appeal to the nation to come together in a commitment to a shared optimism. Yesterday’s finances, yesterday’s troubles, we yesterday, today can be different. This is the point — we thought so, anyway — of The Audacity of Hope. He could have asked people to have faith and buy the new home, the new car, though staying within reasonable budgets. He could have asked businesses to suspend their planned layoffs for six months, to give new policies and a new spirit a chance to lift their sagging fortunes.
Now a hardheaded accountant type may argue that businesses would do what they needed to do and not respond favorably to such a request. In actuality, the business cycle is hostage to national mood, which is why consumer confidence is seen as the key indicator of an economy. The front you put up is a big part of salesmanship. There is no doubt that many businesses would have stepped up and held off their downsizing. Some would announce the decision, hoping to benefit from the publicity, and others would get on board more quietly. Believe it or not, that kind of direct call to the nation would itself have put a trillion new dollars into the economy, maybe more. Such is the power of the Presidency and such is the power of the good will that was directed toward incoming President Obama.
In place of this we get short-term despair and long-term sorta maybe optimism, contingent on giving his administration a trillion dollars to reward old friends and buy new ones. We must sign on to his whole agenda, and we must prostrate ourselves before his throne. On top of all that, this teacher has many preachy lessons for us backward types. We must stop our partisan bickering and narrow self-interest and parochial jingoism and patriotic chauvinism and ethnocentrism and irresponsible financial behavior. This professor ain’t cool, he’s cold… and a scold.
How about some talk about our national virtues, or don’t we have any? Apparently, Obama says, he must “remake America.” I never thought I would be looking back on Jimmy Carter’s rhetoric with nostalgia.
I hear a lot of audacity in Barack Obama but very little real hope.
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