Victor Davis Hanson is tired of all our national policy decisions being made by a coastal elite resident in urban bubbles of like-mindedness, far removed from the lives of ordinary Americans.
The problem is not just that the coasts determine how everyone else is to lead their lives, but that those living in our elite corridors have no idea about how life is lived just a short distance away in the interior—much less about the sometimes tragic consequences of their own therapeutic ideology on the distant, less influential majority.
In a fantasy world, I would move Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri. That transfer would not only make the capital more accessible to the American people and equalize travel requirements for our legislators, but also expose an out-of-touch government to a reality outside its Beltway.
I would transfer the United Nations to Salt Lake City, where foreign diplomats would live in a different sort of cocoon.
I would ask billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the Koch Brothers to endow with their riches a few Midwestern or Southern universities. Perhaps we could create a new Ivy League in the nation’s center.
I would suggest to Facebook and Apple that they relocate operations to North Dakota to expose their geeky entrepreneurs to those who drive trucks and plow snow. Who knows—they might be able to afford a house, get married before 35, and have three rather than zero kids.
America is said to be divided by red and blue states, rich and poor, white and non-white, Christian and non-Christian, old and new.
I think the real divide is between those who make our decisions on the coasts and the anonymous others who live with the consequences somewhere else.
Native Californian Victor Davis Hanson takes a look at the bizarre lifestyle (big money, crappy housing) and even stranger politics of his own state’s technological elite.
Strip away the veneer of Silicon Valley, and it is mostly a paradox. Almost nothing is what it is professed to be. Ostensibly, communities like Menlo Park and Palo Alto are elite enclaves, where power couples can easily make $300,000 to $700,000 a year as mid-level dot.com managers.
But often these 1 percenter communities are façades of sorts. Beneath veneers of high-end living, there are lives of quiet 1-percent desperation. With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income. And hip California 1 percenters do not enjoy superb roads and schools or a low-crime state in exchange for forking over half their income.
Housing gobbles much of the rest of their pay. A 1,300-square-foot cottage in Mountain View or Atherton can easily sell for $1.5 million, leaving the owners paying $5,000 to $6,000 on their mortgage and another $1,500 to $2,000 in property taxes each month. Add in the de rigueur Mercedes, BMW, or Lexus and the private-school tuition, and the apparently affluent turn out to have not all that much disposable income. A visitor from Mars might look at their relatively tiny houses, frenzied go-getter lifestyle, and leased BMWs, and deem them no better off materially than middle-class state employees three hours away in supposedly dismal Merced, who earn 20 percent as much, but live in a home twice as large, with only 10 percent of the monthly mortgage and tax costs.
Given exorbitant taxes and housing prices, obviously it is not just the high salaries that draw so many to the San Francisco Bay Area. The “ambiance” of year-round temperate weather, the collective confidence rippling out from new technology, the spinoff from great universities like UC Berkeley and Stanford, and the hip culture of fine eating and entertainment all tend to convince Silicon Valley denizens that they are enviable even though they must work long hours to pay high taxes and to buy tiny and often old homes.
Silicon Valley liberal politics are equally paradoxical, reflect this quiet desperation, and mask hyper-self-interest, old-fashioned rat-race competition, and 21st-century suburban versions of keeping up with the Joneses. The latter may be green, support gay marriage, and oppose restrictions on abortion, but they still are the Joneses of old who define their success by showing off to neighbors what they have, whether high-performance cars or hyper-achieving kids.
In the South Bay counties, Democratic registration outnumbers Republican often 2 to 1. If liberals like Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi did not represent the Bay Area, others like them would have to be invented. Yet, most Northern California liberal politics are abstractions that apparently provide some sort of psychological compensation for otherwise living lives that are illiberal to the core.
Victor Davis Hanson takes on America’s most influential (and intellectually fraudulent) subculture, hinting (with some natural bitterness) that Mitt Romney could have carried America’s fashionable urban enclaves [if he had] “only reminded us of his family’s Mexican ancestry and ran as Zarpa Romneo, and against Barry Dunham.”
America has always been a country of self-invention. Yet there used to be some correlation between the life that one lived and the life that one professed. It was hard to be a phony in the grimy reality of the coal mine, the steel mill, the south 40 acres, or atop a girder over Manhattan.
No longer in our post-modern, post-industrial, metrosexual fantasyland. The nexus of big government, big money, and globalization has created a new creed of squaring the circle of being both liberal and yet elitist, egalitarian-talking but rich-acting, talking like a 99 percenter and living like a 1 percenter. And the rub is not that the two poles are contradictory, but that they are, in fact, necessary for each other: talking about the people means it is OK to live unlike the people.
In short, we can all be just what we profess to be. The key in our world of blue-jeaned billionaires is being hip — or rather at least professing to be hip.
Victor Davis Hanson, in characteristic fashion, draws upon Classical metaphors to editorialize upon Barack Obama and Benghazi.
The Libyan plot is Sophoclean to the core: the heroism of outnumbered Americans who chose to confront a deadly enemy, and were killed and wounded in the defense of their endangered comrades — while the world’s greatest military hesitated to use its power against a ragtag militia to save them. Bureaucrats ignored not only pleas for beefed-up security before the attack, but also more requests that followed during the assault for reinforcement. A concocted story about a culpable obscure video gave opportunity for the administration to brag about their cosmopolitan multiculturalism as they damned the unhinged filmmaker and, in doing so, systemically lied about the real terrorist culprits of the killings.
The strange thing about Libya is not so much who lied, but rather the question of whether anyone has yet told the whole truth. When American diplomatic personnel are murdered abroad, an administration usually is vehement in blaming likely suspects; I cannot remember a single incident, however, when our government ignored those most likely responsible to focus on others least likely to be culpable. Once the election is over, and reporters no longer feel any remorse about hurting the reelection chances of Barack Obama, perhaps some of their usual incentives to crack open a cover-up will reassert themselves.
In Sophoclean terms, hubris (arrogance) — often due to a character flaw (amartia) — leads to atê (excess and self-destructive recklessness) that in turn earns nemesis (divine retribution). In that tragic sense, an overweening Obama must have known that — despite the Drone killings — al-Qaeda was far from impotent. And it was not wise, as Obama once himself warned, to high-five the bin Laden raid and leak to the world the details — knowing as he did that bin Laden’s death was not his trophy alone (or indeed a trophy at all) — but better left an unspoken collective effort of military bravery and the dividend of the often derided Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols that Obama had both damned and then embraced. Ironically (another good Greek word), it was probably not so much an obscure video, but the constant chest-thumping about the grisly end of Osama that infuriated the al-Qaeda affiliates. Nothing, after all, is quite so dangerous as talking loudly while carrying a small stick.
Excuse me if I disagree with the learned Professor Hanson on this one.
The heroic death of former Navy SEALs, Glenn Doherty and Tyrone Woods, fighting to the last against overwhelming odds, possibly in defiance of instructions to the contrary by higher authorities, which then declined to come to their aid, did strike an echo from the classics, but it reminded us of Greek history, of Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae, of Xenophon’s Greek soldiers who volunteered for “forlorn hope” assignments to make possible the march of the rest of the 10,000 up country and out of enemy territory to the sea, or (as in Macauley’s poem) Horatius Cocles:
Then out spoke brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?”
But Obama is not Sophoclean in the least, and the Obama Administration’s mishandling of the situation in Benghazi and their subsequent misstatements, evasions, and attempts at a cover-up, in my eyes at least, fail to rise to the moral level of the Greek tragedies.
Obama is not Oedipus, a mythic hero doomed to disaster from a point even before his birth by prophetic fate. Obama is no figure out of Sophoclean tragedy. What he really is is a stereotype figure familiar from Roman comedy: Obama is actually Plautus’s clever (and totally immoral) slave Pseudolus (familiar to most readers from Stephen Sondheim’s 1962 musical adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).
Like Pseudolus, Obama is a trickster-hero who easily bamboozles the pompous and self-important with an innate cunning superior to their own and a glorious gift of gab, and who makes a success of posing in the role of a person of far superior station to his own.
In the Roman theater, or on the Broadway stage, the tricky slave getting above himself and (for a time, at least) pulling off the role makes for excellent humor and entertainment, but when serious decisions are required and lives are at stake, the unprincipled trickster-hero is not the ideal personality type to have in charge.
Barack Obama appears to have been principally concerned, during the seven hours of unequal combat in Benghazi, with avoiding an international incident featuring the US violation of Libyan sovereignty, possibly also provoking more Islamic wrath, and spoiling his own triumphant narrative of successfully leading a series of “Arab Spring” democratic revolutions from behind. Besides, he needed to run off to a campaign fund-raiser in Las Vegas.
When events concluded worse and in a far more dramatic fashion than he had hoped, President Pseudolus reverted to type, doing everything he could to talk his way out of the mess.
The tragic hero will be killed, or at least blinded and exiled in atonement. The comic rascal, on the other hand, will merely dazzle the audience with ever greater shifts, lies, and inventions.
Obama, of course, has one major advantage that the clever slave of Antique Comedy lacked, the chorus (in our case, the mainstream media) is thoroughly on his side, and will do everything possible to help him get away with everything.
Over lunch with Peter Robinson, Victor Davis Hanson remarked reflectively:
When you think about it, Obama has kept the detention camp at Guantanamo. He’s going ahead with military tribunals. And where Bush only waterboarded three terrorists, Obama has used drones to execute about 2,600.
Postmortem tributes to the late flamboyant journalist Christopher Hitchens became so prolific and fulsome that they actually provoked satirical parody from Neal Pollack in Salon.
Hitchens spoke out against war, and also for war. In a span of five years, he bore witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the explosion of the Eiffel Tower, and the construction of the new holographic Eiffel Tower. He had acid in his pocket, acid in his pen and acid in his veins. Then Darkness fell, on Sept. 11, 2001. We’d all moved to America and gotten totally rich.
Hitchens changed that day. For months, he’d wander the streets at night, looking to drunkenly berate someone who disagreed with him about the evils of Islamofascism. Occasionally he’d attempt to strangle young journalists, who admired him unquestioningly, with their own neckties. But he was right. He was always right. Even when he was wrong.
The night they killed Osama bin Laden, he showed up at my apartment, drunk but lucid, quoting T.S. Eliot, Longfellow and, of course, himself. We stayed up watching CNN, which was actually pretty boring. In the morning, over a breakfast of corn flakes and whiskey, I said, “Well, I guess that’s the end of Islamofascism. Good job!”
Hitchens went into my kitchen, took a cutting board off the counter, and threw it into my forehead, drawing blood.
“Don’t be an imbecile,” he said. “The struggle never ends. Also, you must remember that there is no God.”
I needed four stitches that day. Hitch put them in himself, with his teeth. What a friend he was.
I thought that the funereal commemorations, at that point, had gone about as far as they could go, but, no, life was still able to top art.
Along came an essay from (of all people) paleocon classicist Victor Davis Hanson (the California Cato) informing us that he, too, had been a friend of Hitch. Did anyone who writes in Britain or America not drink with Hitchens (—or worse)?
Provoking the question: which is the wilder and funnier story, the fictional parody above or the actual testimony of a live eyewitness?
Christopher once asked me whether the classics community, my readers, and my Democratic family had become disgusted with me in the same way that the far greater global literary and left-wing world had with him over Iraq. I could only answer, “Well, yes, of course, but it is a matter of degree, since I am not sure how much they knew or cared.” He smiled, “Well, if they did, at least, that’s good news, Victor. We are judged better by our enemies than our friends.” I disagreed about that.
Like many Englishmen, Christopher had a great reverence for classics; he made it a point once to have me over to dine with the great Sophoclean scholar Bernard Knox, and on another occasion a Latin-quoting Jerry Brown (who remembered that I had written him a note in classical Greek in 1976). Christopher’s daughter was a gifted Latin student, and he often peppered me with academic questions about Thucydides and Aristophanes. He oddly seemed interested in the scholarly minutiae that others considered the equivalent, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, of a dog walking on two legs (impressive, but for what purpose?): Could the average Greek have followed Pericles’ Funeral Oration as it is “transcribed” by Thucydides? How did the parabases actually work on stage in Aristophanes’ plays? For a radical, Mr. Hitchens had great reverence for traditional education, especially its emphasis on rote, grammar, and syntax.
I was more surprised about Christopher’s interest in agriculture, but then, in my experience, the English — and Christopher seemed to me as English as anyone born in Britain — seem to treat farming with the same special reverence they extend to dogs and Greek. He once asked to visit me for a weekend on our farm, and was fascinated about raisin production, tree fruit, tractors, and the economy of rural central California. I kidded him that out here driving a Massey Ferguson with a tandem disk was seen as far more impressive than reciting a stanza of Kipling, and he flared up and answered, “But why, man, one at the expense of the other?” But often of course they are.
When he arrived in rural Selma, out of drink and angry that he had exhausted his usual favorites, I warned him there was no way I could buy all his accouterments out here, and I was not going to drive all the way up to Fresno to find them. He rattled off a number of carbonated-mineral-water brands that he apparently knew well from Mexico, and announced, “Victor, there is a global brotherhood of quality drinkers that reaches even here that you are apparently not aware of.” He then insisted that we drive into the local barrio and find a “good” liquor store. Finally at one of the most run-down places imaginable we found two dusty bottles of exactly what he was looking for. “Why the surprise?” he scoffed.
Victor David Hanson explains that liberal social benevolence is a very old game which has led to ruin for many states before ours.
[S]tatism is not a desired outcome, but rather more a strategy for obtaining power or winning acclaim as one of the caring, by offering the narcotic of promising millions something free at the expense of others who must be seen as culpable and obligated to fund it — entitlements fueled by someone else’s money that enfeebled the state, but in the process extended power, influence, and money to a technocratic class of overseers who are exempt from the very system that they have advocated.
So what is socialism? It is a sort of modern version of Louis XV’s “Après moi, le déluge” – an unsustainable Ponzi scheme in which elite overseers, for the duration of their own lives, enjoy power, influence, and gratuities by implementing a system that destroys the sort of wealth for others that they depend upon for themselves. ...
Who are socialists?
There are none. Only technocratic overseers who wish to give someone else’s money to others as a means of winning capitalist-style lifestyles and power for themselves — in a penultimate cycle of unsustainable spending. When this latest attempt at statism is over, Barack Obama will enjoy a sort of Clintonism, a globe-trotting post officium lifestyle of multimillion dollar honoraria to fund a lifestyle analogous to “two Americas” John Edwards, “earth in the balance” Al Gore, a tax-exempt yachting John Kerry, a revolving-door Citibank grandee like Peter Orszag, or a socialist Strauss-Kahn in $20,000 suits doling out billions to the “poor.”
That is just the way it has been and will always be.
We should not listen to journalists, politicians, or academics who lecture about overpopulation, looming environmental catastrophe, or general unsustainability — if they live in a house over 2,500 square feet and fly more than once a month. Unfortunately that covers most of our alarmists. Otherwise these megaphones simply are medieval grandees seeking indulgences and penances through loud lectures against what they enjoy in the flesh. ...
It is wise to navigate through the news and elite wisdom through two landmarks: anything that Barack Obama says will be airbrushed, improved, or modified to fit facts post facto; anything Sarah Palin says or does will be contextualized in Neanderthal terms. Teams of Post and Times volunteers now sort through Sarah Palin’s email; not a reporter in the world is curious about what Barack Obama once said about Rashid Khalidi or the Columbia University GPA that won him entrance to Harvard Law School. Accept that asymmetry and almost everything not only makes sense about these two cultural guideposts, but can, by extension, explain the 1860-like division in American itself. ...
Go to Europe and see the left-wing desired future for America: dense urban apartment living by design rather than by necessity; one smart car; no backyard or third bedroom; dependence on mass transit; political graffiti everywhere demanding more union benefits or social entitlements; entourages of horn-blaring, police-escorted technocrats racing through the streets on the hour; gated inherited homes of an aristocratic technocracy on the Mediterranean coast, Rhine, Danube, etc., exempt from much socialist and environmental law; $10 a gallon gas; sky-high power bills; racial segregation coupled with elite praise of illegal immigration and diversity; and unexamined groupthink on green issues, entitlements, and the culpability of the U.S. Drink it all in and you have the liberal agenda for an America to be.
Victor Davis Hanson notices with alarm all the changes a year under the current regime as produced in America. It’s like waking up in an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers movie for him. Part of the strangeness is a new bipolar concept of racial tolerance, entirely different for Republicans and democrats.
There is a new racial tension not present a year ago, one having nothing to do with the election of the nation’s first President of partial African ancestry. Instead, never in my experience have officials of the federal government, both in the campaign leading up to their governance and once in office, so deliberately chosen to polarize the country along racial lines.
In retrospect, it seems a sort of nightmare these now serial outbursts of our officials — “typical white person,” “clingers,” “cowards,” police who “stereotype” and act “stupidly,” “wise Latina,” “white polluters,” framed by the President’s pastor and once spiritual Audacity-of-Hope mentor screaming “God D— America,” bookended by hyper-racial comments of a Harry Reid or Joe Biden about Negro accents and cleanliness.
And, of course, soon followed the slurs and smears of those in the media accusing almost every opponent at sometime of being a “racist,” a word that now has as much currency as a German Mark around 1929.
Opposition to health care, cap and trade, illegal immigration, everything I think soon, is being reformulated as antipathy to some sort of Civil Rights issues akin to the legislation of the 1960s. Almost daily now a major media columnist writes an essay alleging someone is racist, or there are subtle racist thoughts behind a type of opposition or protest. “Racist” is a 1950s sort of allegation, an instantaneous judge/jury/executioner/no-appeal condemnation. How Orwellian that the most racist members of American society, who built entire careers of fabricating evidence and defaming opponents — an Al Sharpton, for example — have become go-to national referees of suspected bias. How weirder that one just pledges allegiance to the new agenda, and suddenly one is both more likely to say something racist in Reid- or Biden-fashion, and yet it is not racist at all.
Victor Davis Hanson admires the liberal double-standards by which Sarah Palin is a bumptious uneducated rube and John Edwards is a poor boy who made good, the war in Iraq was formerly a catastrophe and a failure and is now an major Obama Administration achievement, and locking up illegal combatants at Guantanamo was a crime against humanity, but increasing use of predator droneas in the role of judge-jury-and-executioner is perfectly fine. And he thinks he can explain.
So what explains the treatment of an Edwards versus Palin, or a war as lost versus one as necessary and well conducted, or Guantanamo for confessed terrorists as gulag but execution for suspected terrorists as legitimate, or Obama as principled hyper-partisan suddenly principled bipartisan?
The Usual Suspects
1) Egalitarianism and equality trump all—whether freedom, individualism, or personal liberty. Usually a great deal of education, or capital tends to convince us that in a perfect world, people like us who have money or have wisdom, could make others like us, rather than allow them to continue to suffer in poverty and ignorance.
This drive transcends the desire to contribute to charity, or to befriend the poorer neighbor or relative, but is cosmic in nature, overarching, all powerful, all-wise, and so by needs remote, So note here—and this is critical—the anointed utopian usually lives in a world—a better world— not subject to his own strictures. (Have Sarah Palin support abortion, call for cap and trade, or talk about the need for socialized medicine, and we would see inspirational stories of her fishing in waders to feed her below-the-poverty-line noble brood, not that she makes lots of money speaking).
Tax avoidance, ample square footage, ample energy use, networking, insider influence, prep schools for one’s progeny? All these are no more common or rare among crusading egalitarians than among elfish elitist conservatives. That raises the question—is utopianism naïve, or is it a psychological mechanism that serves not just to alleviate guilt, but perhaps even to contextualize one’s own privilege? E.g., “my riches are really used to help others and only incidentally provide me with an ample lifestyle, that of course, allows me to be an even more effective advocate.” Angels need ample wings.
The anointed ends always justifies contradictory means.
2) Power. The administration of mercy and compassion requires a properly gifted technocracy, often one well paid and quite influential. If hundreds of millions are to receive entitlements, millions must disperse them, and thousands must administer the millions, and hundreds must oversee the thousands—and that usually means a lot of money and power accrue to a very few. You object that those good billets only pay $150-200,000. Well, maybe, in theory, but there are perks, all sorts of tenure, and inside contacts that come with them—and none of the grief of running the furniture store or putting on braces all day. Big government can house all sorts of needy philanthropists.
The progressive impulse is often tied to career advancement.
3) Words matter, deeds don’t. The talking heads, the lawyers, the professors, the actors, the politicians the journalists, like the background of the president and most of his cabinet, mostly all work with words. If they sound smart, presto, they must be. Take a brilliant tongue-tied engineer and he is an ignoramus compared to an idiotic smooth talker. Much of the apparent hypocrisy derives from the best and brightest being smart because they advance that impression so well. John Edwards and Barack Obama are cases in point; they exude ignorance so smoothly. And that, in this often zero-sum game, beats real intelligence and experience that are so often hidden.
Abstract utopianism is best advanced is theory by those who worry less about implementation.
4) The tragic view is, well, tragic and hard to endure and does not excite. The notion that humans don’t surprise us in their selfish appetites is nothing to become excited about. The Enlightenment notion that we are all good and prove ourselves so with education and capital is something to sing, even yell, slander, and slur for. In contrast, accepting the need for military preparedness and deterrence, or removing the incentives for humans to become idle, is not something to write enthusiastically about. What teen-ager wants to hear from his dour father that you can’t print money, and that he must pay back his maxed out credit card?
It is fun and nice to be therapeutic, unpleasant and mean to accept tragedy.
Add all this up, hypocrisy vanishes, and revolutionary pigs walk on two legs in the farmhouse—an Edwards is mellifluous, puts his energy on behalf of those in the “other nation”, and is devoted to promoting a society where we are all about as wealthy as John Edwards, who uses his wealth for proper contemplation and preparation for further good deeds, and thus needs a castle of compassion. Given that, who cares that he is a congenial liar, lives one way, lectures another, helped destroy the practice of obstetrics in his home state, and took a great deal of money for doing very little? The former considerations alone count, the later are mere right wing talking points.
Obama reminds me a little of myself–at 26. I had left the farm for 9 years to get a BA in classics, PhD in classical philology, and live in Athens for two years of archaeological study-all on scholarships, TAships, research-ships and part-time summer and school jobs tucked under the aegis of the academic, no-consequences world. By the end of endless seminars, papers, theses, debates, discussions, academic get-togethers, I had forgotten much of the culture of the farm where I spent years 1-18.
Then after the requisite degrees I left academia, and returned to farm 180 acres with my brother and cousin-and sadly was quickly disabused of the world of the faculty lounge.
Oh yes, I came back to Selma thinking, “I am not going to be the grouch my grandfather was, yelling at neighbors, worried all the time, nervous, seeing the world as rather hostile, hoarding a tiny stash of savings, worried as if bugs, the government, hired men, weather, and markets were out to destroy him. I’ll farm with my Bay Area manners and sort of think, “I will reset the farm, and things will at last work as they should” (not thinking that my grandfather raised three daughters, sent them to college while mortgaging the farm in the Depression, and spent on himself last, and was a saint compared to my pampered existence in the university).”
One small example of my late coming of age. A rather brutal neighbor (now dead and not to be mentioned by name (de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est)), an immigrant from an impoverished country, a self-made man, veteran of infamous fights and various bullying, shared a communal ditch. We talked and exchanged pleasantries–at first–at the standpipe gate. He lamented how rude my late grandfather had been to him, and even had made unfounded accusations that he was less than honest (he was also sort of playing the race card, remarking about the prejudicial nature of California agrarian culture).
I was shocked to hear that, and assured him that there would be no such incitements on my part on the new age of the Davis farm. No more ‘me first’, no more disdain for newcomers and upstarts. And then after about 3 months of sizing me up (at 26, I confess looking back I was not 1/8th the man my grandfather was at 86) he began stealing water in insidious ways: taking an extra day on his turn, cutting in a day early on mine, siphoning off water at night, destroying my pressure settings, watering his vineyards on days that were on my allotment. Stealing no less! And in 1980!
Here’s how I rushed into action. First, I gave a great Obama speech on communal sharing and why the ditch would not work if everyone did what he did. Farmers simply would perish if they did not come together, and see their common shared interests. He nodded and smiled-and stole more the next week.
Then I appealed to his minority status, and remarked how wonderful it was that he came from dire poverty abroad and now farmed over 500 acres. He growled-and stole even more.
I took the UN route and warned that that I would be forced to go get the ditch tender (a crusty, old hombre who enjoyed watching fights like these for blood sport); he pointed out that the tender was, in fact, on the alleyway across the street watching us, and meeting him for coffee in an hour.
I went to the irrigation district and filed a formal complaint. Nice people with smiles and monogrammed hats promised they’d look into it, but pointed out the season was half over anyway, and I should “get used to it” and start anew next year. Meanwhile, I noticed by July my vineyard was starting to be stressed, and his was lush. He watered so much that he began to flood the entire vineyard middle, the water lapping out the furrows and reaching berm to berm.
For a while I went the Clement Attlee mode and rationalized, “Hmmm, maybe all that watering is going to give his vines more mildew, while my dusty dry vines will aerate more. Do I really need my water? Did I offend him in some way? Do I really want to lower myself to his troglodyte methods?” A few meetings went well with his, “OK, it’s a misunderstanding.” I heard “No problem” about a zillion times the next two weeks.
Then by July 15, after three months of such aggrandizement I tried the empathetic route with the neighbor, “If you don’t stop this, I’ll have to turn on my pumps and spend hundreds of dollars to supply the water I’m supposed to get by virtue of my irrigation taxes. You know that’s not fair!” He laughed at the use of “by virtue of”.
I felt sorry for him, really did, that he had reduced a dispute over something as mundane as “water” into some sort of existential issue of regional peace. What did he wish me to do-descend down to his level, to become exactly like him, to settle differences on the basis of primate strength?
I thought about this for yet another seven days, compulsively so as I looked out at the parched vines. Couldn’t I just pay the power bill, pump for 10 days, and feel as his moral better that I had not descended to his cave-dwelling status? Oddly, I began to hear a once familiar voice in my head whisper, “He’ll take your crew next right when you need it. He’ll take over your alleyway. He’ll drive on your place like he owns it. He’ll…”).
Then in a trance-like fashion, I went out to restore deterrence. I got a massive chain and lock, and simply shut down his communal lateral. Locked the gate so tight, he couldn’t even get a quarter-turn. He’d be lucky if he got a 100 gallons in a week. Then I got a veritable arsenal of protective weaponry, got in my pickup, drove back over to the gate, and waited with ammo, clubs, shovels, etc.
In an hour he drove up in a dust cloud. He was going to smash me, get his football playing son to strangle me, sue me, bankrupt me, hunt me down, etc. He swore and yelled-I was a disgrace to my family, a racist, a psycho, worse than my grandfather. He was going to lock my gates, steal all my water, and indeed he leveled all sorts of threats (remember the scene in Unforgiven when Eastwood walks out and screams threats to the terrified town?-that was my neighbor). I got out with large vine stake and said something to the effect (forgive me if I don’t have the verbatim transcript-it has been 29 years since then), “It’s locked until you follow the rules. Anytime you don’t, it’s locked again. Do it one more time and I weld it shut. Not a drop. So sue me.”
He got up, screeched his tires, blew a dust cloud in my face, and raced down the alleyway-honking even as he left.
For the next ten years until his death, he was the model neighbor. He would stop me with, “Victor, I shut off tomorrow, half-a day early-why not take my half day to jump start your turn?” And indeed we finally began to have philosophical discussions (he was widely read) about Sun-Maid, Carter, Reagan, the US, literature, etc.
Here was his final compliment, one that apparently connected my once elite disdain for his grubby world of the muscular classes with my inevitable failure and bankruptcy to come. It went something like this, though after three decades I have forgotten his exact phraseology: “Victor, I used to drive by your grandfather’s house, and see you up there on the scaffold, scraping off the old paint. I’d say to my friends-look at that young fool, he’s painting my house. You see, I knew you’d go broke, and I’d buy your place. Always wanted it, and knew you were getting it ready for me. Why not let you finish before I took it?” (I didn’t tell him, that in fact he used to say that not just to friends, but to me as I was chipping away.)
He died about a month later. I still miss him, and grew to, if not trust him, in a strange way like him.
Obama will come to his senses with his ‘Bush did it’, reset button, moral equivalency, soaring hope and change, with these apologies to Europeans, his Arab world Sermons on the Mount to Al Arabiya, in Turkey, in Cairo, etc., his touchy-feely videos to Iran, his “we are all victims of racism” sops to Ortega, Chavez, and Morales. It is only a matter of when, under what conditions, how high the price we must pay, and whether we lose the farm before he gains wisdom about the tragic universe in which we live.
A sojourn at an elite university, you see, can sometimes become a very dangerous thing indeed.
Victor Davis Hanson observes that, only two weeks into the new Obama Administration, the trainwreck is already well underway.
Some of us have been warning that it was not healthy for the U.S. media to have deified rather than questioned Obama, especially given that they tore apart Bush, ridiculed Palin, and caricatured Hillary. And now we can see the results of their two years of advocacy rather than scrutiny.
We are quite literally after two weeks teetering on an Obama implosion—and with no Dick Morris to bail him out—brought on by messianic delusions of grandeur, hubris, and a strange naivete that soaring rhetoric and a multiracial profile can add requisite cover to good old-fashioned Chicago politicking.
First, there were the sermons on ethics, belied by the appointments of tax dodgers, crass lobbyists, and wheeler-dealers like Richardson—with the relish of the Blago tapes still to come. (And why does Richardson/Daschle go, but not Geithner?).
Second, was the “stimulus” (the euphemism for “borrow/print money”) that was simply a way to go into debt for a generation to shower Democratic constinuencies with cash.
Then third, there were the inflated lectures on historic foreign policy to be made by the clumsy political novice who trashed his own country and his predecessor in the most ungracious manner overseas to a censured Saudi-run press organ. ...
At home, Obama is becoming laughable and laying the groundwork for the greatest conservative populist reaction since the Reagan Revolution.
Abroad, some really creepy people are lining up to test Obama’s world view of “Bush did it/but I am the world”: The North Koreans are readying their missiles; the Iranians are calling us passive, bragging on nukes and satellites; Russia is declaring missile defense is over and the Euros in real need of iffy Russian gas; Pakistanis say no more drone attacks (and then our friends the Indians say “shut up” about Kashmir and the Euros order no more ‘buy American”).
This is quite serious. I can’t recall a similarly disastrous start in a half-century.
A number of commentators on the Right (mostly chicks) responded to Obama’s speech with adulation.
But curmudgeonly old Victor Davis Hanson does not get misty quite so easily. In fact, he is enough of a spoilsport to undermine all those rapturous cries of admiration from the establishment punditocracy by remarking, sotto voce, that the Emperor Obama’s rhetorical wardrobe of political change amounts to no clothes at all.
The latest polls reflecting Obama’s near-collapse should serve as a morality tale of John Edwards’s two Americas — the political obtuseness of the intellectual elite juxtaposed to the common sense of the working classes.
For some bizarre reason, Obama aimed his speech at winning praise from National Public Radio, the New York Times, and Harvard, and solidifying an already 90-percent solid African-American base — while apparently insulting the intelligence of everyone else.
Indeed, the more op-eds and pundits praised the courage of Barack Obama, the more the polls showed that there was a growing distrust that the eloquent and inspirational candidate has used his great gifts, in the end, to excuse the inexcusable.
The speech and Obama’s subsequent interviews neither explained his disastrous association with Wright, nor dared open up a true discussion of race — which by needs would have to include, in addition to white racism, taboo subjects ranging from disproportionate illegitimacy and drug usage to higher-than-average criminality to disturbing values espoused in rap music and unaddressed anti-Semitism. We learn now that Obama is the last person who wants to end the establishment notion that a few elite African Americans negotiate with liberal white America over the terms of grievance and entitlement — without which all of us really would be transracial persons, in which happiness and gloom hinge, and are seen to do so, on one’s own individual success or failure.
Instead there were the tired platitudes, evasions, and politicking. The intelligentsia is well aware of how postmodern cultural equivalence, black liberation theory, and moral relativism seeped into Obama’s speech, and thus was not offended by an “everybody does it” and “who’s to judge?/eye of the beholder” defense. But to most others the effect was Clintonian. Somehow Obama could not just say,
There is nothing to be offered for Rev. Wright except my deepest apologies for not speaking out against his venom far earlier. We in the African-American community know better than anyone the deleterious effects of racist speech, and so it is time for Rev. Wright and myself to part company, since we have profoundly different views of both present- and future-day America.
The more the pundits gushed about the speech, the more the average Americans thought, “Wait a minute — did he just say what I thought he said?” It’s not lost on Joe Q. Public that Obama justified Wright’s racism by offering us a “landmark” speech on race that:
(1) Compared Wright’s felony to the misdemeanors of his grandmother, Geraldine Ferraro, the Reagan Coalition, corporate culture, and the kitchen sink.
(2) Established the precedent that context excuses everything, in the sense that what good a Wright did (or an Imus did) in the past outweighs any racist outburst of the present.
(3) Claimed that the voice of the oppressed is not to be judged by the same rules of censure as the dominant majority that has no similar claim on victim status.
What is happening, ever so slowly, is that the public is beginning to realize that it knows even less after the speech than it did before about what exactly Obama knew (and when) about Wright’s racism and hatred.
Even elites will wake up to the fact that they’ve been had, in a sense, once they deconstruct the speech carefully and fathom that their utopian candidate just may have managed to destroy what was once a near-certain Democratic sweep in the fall.