Liberal Nihilism in a Nutshell


Written by Victor Davis Hanson

Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with overwhelming popular goodwill and solid majorities in both houses of Congress. He chose not to translate that political heft into passing “comprehensive immigration reform” (i.e., open borders and amnesties) or more gun control.

He opposed gay marriage. He warned that he could not use presidential fiats to grant amnesty, close down Guantanamo, or remake the EPA in his own image. He borrowed as never before, in vain hopes of kick-starting a natural recovery that he would soon abort through his own anti-business jawboning, more regulations, growth in government, and tax increases.

So far Obama’s legacy is a sudden crash in energy prices and an unforeseen huge expansion in U.S. oil and gas production that came despite — not because of — his efforts.

Indeed, Obama scarcely succeeded in ramming through Obamacare — and only through untruths that it would lower costs and premiums, expand coverage, and ensure continuance of existing plans and patient doctors — and then wisely quit trying to strong-arm other legislation that could have cost him the 2012 election.

Lies about a renegade video maker causing the deaths in Benghazi, an Al Qaeda “on the run,” and “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant” Iraq after the U.S. pullout, as well as calcified “Bush did it” smears, relieved just enough voters of their unease over a growing mess abroad.

In other words, Obama and his party wanted to keep winning elections, and therefore apparently felt that they would not if they openly pushed a liberal agenda that was unpopular with the American people.

Obama had been elected in 2008 not on what he stood for or wished to accomplish — indeed voters had no idea of what “hope and change” actually meant — but largely for his iconic status as the first mixed-race president, and because of a perfect storm of events that favored his nontraditional Perot-like candidacy: the September 14, 2008, financial meltdown that at last saw him take a permanent lead in the polls, unhappiness over the Iraq war, the absence of an incumbent vice president or president in the race (the first time since 1952), and John McCain’s lackluster campaign whose central premise was to avoid any negative campaigning that might be libeled as racially driven. The result was that voters did what they had never done in the last half-century: elected a liberal from north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Obama’s dilemma was the same one facing the new nihilistic Democratic Party. Its agenda, once equal opportunity was achieved, became an equality of result, engineered and coerced by the federal government — an ideology opposed by a majority of Americans. The natural expressions of that nihilism were symbolically expressed in the strange careers of “Mattress Girl,” Sandra Fluke, Ahmed the clockmaker, Eric Holder, the National Council of La Raza, and Jonathan Butler, the multimillionaire’s son who went on a hunger strike in Missouri. Its iconographies were the Pajama Boy ads, the “Life of Julia” video, and the hockey-stick climate graph.

The ideological success of Obama-ism, to the degree that it exists, rests largely in using sympathetic media, universities, foundations, the entertainment industry, and billionaire progressive activists — in the other words, the small but highly wealthy, influential and powerful coastal populations — to convince Americans that it is hip and cool to support agendas that they otherwise suspect, and to scare them that the alternative is a racist, sexist, homophobic America run by wealthy, cruel white male Christians.

The goal of mass migration, open borders, and an expansion of the welfare state was to create new voters, who would be both dependent on those who administered and promised greater government largess and yet enraged at those privileged enough to pay for it. The message was embedded within the non-ending administration disparagement (“spread the wealth,” “you didn’t build that,” “no time to profit,” “punish our enemies,” “nation of cowards,” “my people”) and presidential incitement in the Ferguson and Travyon Martin cases.

Otherwise, there is no Democratic agenda per se that is workable. Progressivism has become as nihilistic as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the cry-bully movement on campuses—all liberal children that devoured their parents while winning zero support among the populace.

Note how Hillary has no real blueprint and will end up trimming Obama-ism. What might she advocate?

  • More deficit priming to go beyond the $20 trillion debt?
  • Years more of zero interest rates?
  • An expansion of Obamacare?
  • Mandatory cap-and-trade?
  • More open borders and sanctuary cities?
  • Greater withdrawal from the world abroad? Another reset? Much needed reductions in the defense budget?
  • More of the same from the GSA, EPA, Justice Department, IRS, NSA, Secret Service or VA?

Obama-ism accepts that intrusive government, fueled by equality-of-result ideology and pop multiculturalism, has few answers to today’s existential crises. Will we really stop terrorism by banning semi-automatic weapons (as well as box cutters, pipe bombs, and remote-driven toys?), on the theory that taking away guns from those who follow existing gun laws will make us safer from thugs and terrorists who don’t?

Since the government could do nothing about enforcing the ban on the transference (illegal without re-registration) from friend to friend of weapons used by terrorists, or the illegal modification of weapons, in the San Bernardino shootings, can it at least achieve psychological penance by outlawing some other models used by law-abiding citizens who might comply?

Perhaps the liberal solution to ending the threat of jihadism is to further expand government indoctrination about the dangers of Islamophobia?

Or let in more refugees from the war-torn Middle East to expose them to the benefits of pluralistic democracy and multicultural tolerance and thus to mitigate radical Islam by hearts-and-minds outreach?

Or eliminate coal burning to stop global-warming-induced Middle East terrorism?

Or do we need still more presidential speeches damning the Crusades and high-horse Christianity, while apologizing for slavery, racism, genocide, climate change, and inequality — to convince radical Islam that their furor has a “rationale” and “legitimate” basis and thus we understand why we are their enemy?

Or change more vocabulary to mask reality, to build upon terrorism as workplace violence, jihad as a personal odyssey and the Muslim Brotherhood as largely secular? On the theory that gravity did not exist until the post-Newtonian world found a name for it, so too Islamic terrorism will perish if we banish its nomenclature. Is that why President Obama called the San Bernardino violence the result of generic “extremist ideologies”?

At last Obama has no more elections to worry about and can begin “to fundamentally transform” America in a way his electoral worries restrained him on four prior occasions. His dilemma is that he has lost all legislative and popular support for his agenda, and now relies either on executive orders or public petulance to demonize, slander, or otherwise reduce his critics and opponents to caricature. The president gets away with it due to the media stereotype that a) Obama was a constitutional law “professor” (once upon a time part-time lecturers claiming that they were full professors was a pedantic campus sin) who would correct past Bush legal overreach, and b) Obama was once a healer and so would never do what he now precisely does.

So we are left with liberal nihilism for the next 13 months. A self-described constitutional law professor will seek to unravel the Constitution in ever more ingenious ways, and as a “hope and change” healer he will tear the country apart through as many fault lines that he can leverage as possible.

What is the alternative to such nihilism? A new liberal agenda that will win over the American people, jumpstart the economy, pay down the debt and restore solvency, keep us secure here and abroad, and unite the people?

It does not exist, because it could not exist.