By Conrad Black
National Post May 02, 2009.
It must be said that Barack Obama tosses out apparently feckless suggestions about important matters rather flippantly. He wants to share the wealth; told a pre-election questioner that he would raise capital gains taxes even if it reduced government revenues, out of “fairness”; and has transformed the foreign visit into an itinerant, vicarious, confessional, where he seeks expiation for his country and his own predecessors, interspersed with the exchange of unlikely gifts — an iPod to the British and Commonwealth monarch of 57 years, and the “Idiot’s Bible” of Latin American socialism from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
We will have to wait for his specific medical-care and energy proposals to be sure of what he intends, but as of now he is still proposing health care “competition,” which is a euphemism for the federal government eliminating private plans, and a movement to renewable energy sources that will be unsustainably expensive. He is still describing his proposed cash handouts to low income people as “refundable tax credits” and “tax cuts” (to people who do not pay taxes). It’s in the same category of Newspeak as that favoured by the late mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, who called his city’s public lottery a “voluntary tax.”
In his foreign tours, Obama utters and endures abuse of his country, sometimes, as in an addicts’ meeting, leading the expression of opprobrium against past U.S. policy. In particular, he implicitly states that his predecessor was nasty and unreasonable.
Admittedly, few will deny that George W. Bush was a public relations disaster. It is as difficult to imagine Roosevelt or Reagan with their mouths full of food greeting Churchill or Thatcher, as Bush did Tony Blair, “Yo Blair!,” as it is to imagine anyone throwing shoes at Eisenhower, Kennedy or Nixon. But Obama could safely allow the contrast with his predecessor to be appreciated spontaneously.
President Obama’s comparative suavity and fluency are assets for his country, and deploying them is useful. But disapproving of the use of the atomic bomb by one of his party’s most admired presidents, Harry S Truman, was an astonishing (and unjust) open goal to offer to America’s enemies.
It is not clear what possessed him to refer to America’s economic performance, which carried much of the world on its back for the last 25 years, with apology if not shame on his visit to Europe last month, while praising Europe for its social democracy. Europe’s economic torpor is one of the chief ingredients of current economic problems. Economic growth and job creation are not subjects for embarrassment, and if he conducts the United States to a replication of Europe’s sluggish to stagnant growth figures, his will be a failed presidency.
It is difficult to discern what he was doing at the Americas conference in Trinidad two weeks ago. Apart from referring to political prisoners in Cuba, he sat as mute as a suet pudding while Venezuela’s Chavez, Bolivia’s Morales, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, (stuck as if in aspic in Ronald Reagan’s description of him as “the little colonel in the green fatigues” 25 years ago), flayed the United States as the source of all Latin America’s problems.
This was long the specialty of the continent’s absurdly bemedalled, Ruritanian junta-leaders as they pillaged their countries, and of the left-wing demagogues they regularly overthrew. But good government, both from the centre-left (Brazil and Chile) and the centre-right (Colombia and Mexico), is in vogue and the practice of blaming everything on the United States is now confined to the far left. Moderate Latin American regimes have been rather cowardly about attacking the human rights records of Castro, Chavez and others. This meeting was Obama’s chance to hold their feet to the fire and shake the branches for Latin American democrats, but he let the opportunity pass.
For all America’s excesses and presumptions, there are limits to how much abuse the United States has to accept from left-wing South American regimes. Washington assisted the Latin American countries in gaining and retaining their independence, liberated Cuba from Spanish oppression, gave it the best government it has had and then gave it independence. It would have been better for everyone if it had taken Cuba in as a U.S. state a hundred years ago. The day when U.S. Latin American policy was unduly influenced by exploitative corporations ended decades ago.
Obama’s relaxation of travel and some financial restrictions is a reasonable first step in reforming America’s Cuban policy. Cuba and the other leftist states in the hemisphere are no particular threat or nuisance to the United States now. They can’t export revolution, are no longer agents for intercontinental mischief as Cuba and Nicaragua were in the piping days of the Soviet Union and Cuba is desperately short of cash. When Raul Castro replied to Obama’s conciliatory gestures by saying that everything was “on the table,” he was batted down in an Internet posting by big brother Fidel. The palsied Castro despotism has been reduced to this charade of governance. It can’t fester and infect Cuba much longer, but appears to be trying to cash in on Obama’s born-again, open-pocketed notions of good neighbourliness. There is no reason, unilaterally, to end the embargo of Cuba, though a relaxation of it, in exchange for almost anything, could be justified.
So far, while in Europe, President Obama has indicted his country and his predecessors for arrogance, dismissiveness, genocide, torture and insufficient respect for the Muslim world. Does the poor old USA really deserve this, and deserve the message to be delivered by its leader in the continent that gave the world totalitarian Communism, Nazism, Robespierre’s Reign of Terror and all the pogroms and massacres of Russia, Armenia and Bulgaria? All of these have occurred in the time that the United States has been continuously constitutionally governed by 43 elected presidents and 110 elected congresses.
Obama even disparaged the era when it was “just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy” deciding the fate of nations. They were the world’s greatest statesmen, at least since Lincoln, and they saved civilization from the Nazis and Japanese imperialists while Europe was governed by Hitler and Stalin, Japan by militarist gangsters and Latin America by implausibly uniformed crooks.
Many wonder where these mad discursions will end, and what their purpose is. If Obama is confusing America’s enemies and tuning up the atmospherics as only a non-white president could do, flying trial balloons and reconnoitring, it is eccentric, but not necessarily bad, statesmanship.
If what we see and hear is what we are going to get — unilateral disarmament, preemptive concessions, socialized medicine, tax increases, windmills and solar panels from sea to sea, the auto industry run by the UAW and the wholesale prosecution of Republicans on torture charges, it is indeed time for the tea parties of protest that are taking place all over America, and for the prayerful singing of patriotic anthems, in the encircling gloom, to remind Americans of what their country once was.