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Victor Davis Hanson on the Ego of Obama and California on the Cliff

Friday, October 29, 2010

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HH: I begin today with Victor Davis Hanson, classicist, historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the author most recently of The Father Of Us All: War And History, Ancient-Modern. Victor, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk to you.

VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.

HH: I thought of you and the conversation we had after the President was elected, before he was sworn in, when you said his nemesis was out there, and that it would simply be his pride. How do you think that is working out this election cycle?

VDH: I think pretty much to script. This is a person who sort of went through Occidental, Columbia, Harvard Law Review, Chicago Law School, got, nobody ever asked him anything, to produce results. There was never any scrutiny, never any audit. And he had convinced himself that strange alignment of the planets in 2008, whether it was a poor McCain, or the novelty of the first African-American candidate, or the September 15, 2008 meltdown, there’s a lot of factors. He was convinced that it was his own godhead, his own charisma, his own genius that had gotten him into the White House. Now he looks like a deer in the headlights. This isn’t part of the script. This isn’t supposed to be happening.

HH: Now Victor Hanson, you’ve written a lot about leadership. And I remember especially your chapter on George Patton, and some other things you’ve written about. How do you judge a leader like them against a guy who goes on the Comedy Central show?

VDH: Well, he’s diminishing the authority of the president, and the stature of the president. And when Jon Stewart is reduced to calling him a dude, and then when you say things like they’re talking about me like a dog, or you suggest that Mexican-Americans go out and punish their enemies, or you suggest that Republicans get in the back of the car, this is Chicago organizing parlance. This isn’t the diction and the cadence and the bearing of a president of the United States. It’s not what you would expect.

HH: You spent a lot of time in the Oval Office with President Bush during the war years of President Bush. And yesterday…and as did some radio talk show hosts, of whom I was a number, would go in and the President would talk to us, and so I’ve got nothing against President Obama having the lefty bloggers come in yesterday. But when I read the transcript, it was about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, it was about single payer, there was nothing about the war, Victor. It was really shocking to me.

VDH: Yeah it is, because he didn’t sign up for that, Hugh. He signed up to end the bad war in Iraq, and the good war, he thought, was already over when he was going to be president. So he was just going to prance into office and say you know, Bush’s war, we have to get out, and my good NATO-EU approved war is over, and I won it. And the bad war turned good, and the good war turned bad. He wasn’t up for it. He didn’t talk to General McChrystal for four months. Then, he set these artificial deadlines. He doesn’t want to be there, and the Taliban sense that. So I don’t think he signed up for all this. He signed up to explain the United States to the world in terms of what we’ve done wrong, not how great we are.

HH: I talked to a prominent Democrat this week, who will remain nameless, about the President getting into the trouble with the Democratic nominee in Rhode Island. And this Democrat said to me I’m increasingly convinced he does not want to be president for a second term. What do you think, Victor Davis Hanson?

VDH: I think there’s moments of that, but I also think he’s starting to see that there’s trillions of dollars of capital who don’t trust him on the sidelines right now, and they do not want to hire, they do not want to buy new equipment, because they don’t know the cost of health care or the tax code. They think he doesn’t like business and the private sector. So they’re waiting. But if the Republicans get 60-some seats, and shut down this neo-European socialist agenda, they’ll come back in, and the economy will pick up. And I think Obama’s starting to sense that. And meanwhile, the Republicans are going to have the responsibility to cut this excessive spending. And he might not have to triangulate at all. He might just say you know what, the economy is better now than when I came into office, and we’re cutting spending, and it’s the Republicans who are cutting the needy. I don’t really want to do it, but that’s what they’re doing. So I’m not sure. There’s a long history of midterm corrections where presidents have recovered from it, as you know better than I.

HH: Now Stanley Kurtz has this new book, Radical-In-Chief. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it yet.

VDH: I just finished the entire book. It’s funny you ask.

HH: Well, I had him on yesterday for an hour. It’s a revelation. What did you think about it?

VDH: Well, it’s not like the other books, the Dinesh D’Souza book and others, because it’s scholarly, and it’s not, it’s disinterested. It’s just trying to explain that this man, Stanley’s not saying commie commie, socialist socialist. He’s just saying this was a hard core socialist. He was. He’s unapologetic about it. The record was there. And we didn’t even understand this. We never were told this. We didn’t, the media didn’t…we know all about Sharron Angle, we know all about Miller in Alaska, we all know about Christine O’Donnell. But we don’t know anything about the president of the United States.

HH: A side question as a very distinguished historian, what is your assessment of how long Stanley’s contribution in Radical-In-Chief is going to last?

VDH: I think it’s different than the other books, because it is disinterested, and it’s scholarly and it’s well documented. And he doesn’t have an axe to grind. He’s just really interested, it’s an intellectual curiosity as how does a socialist become the president of the United States when we had this aggressive attack dog media. And it’s fascinating to read that there’s this paper trail where Barack Obama believes in the equality of result, a redistributed change. That’s fair, there’s a lot of people who do believe in that, and he happens to be one.

HH: Yeah, what’s amazing to me, though, is having read it, like you, sit down and absorb it all, I don’t think he can retriangulate, Victor Davis Hanson.

VDH: I don’t, either. I don’t think he’s going…I mean, I think he’s going to just sit there and hope the economy gets better and the Republicans take the heat for cutting. But I do not think he’s going to be like Bill Clinton at all. I agree. He’s a dye in the wool European socialist.

HH: I agree with that. And the evidence is there, and it’s not intended to be one of these crazy books that goes after the President. It’s intended to make a case of the intellectual milieu out of which he emerged, and how it’s going to govern.

VDH: That’s absolutely right. He’s absolutely right.

HH: Now given that, let’s switch over to the Republican side. You were a farmer before you were a historian. And I’ve got to ask you, from the perspective of a farmer in California’s tortured Central Valley, can you imagine Jerry Brown as governor again?

VDH: No, I can’t, because the genesis of a lot of the things that we see now, public unions and cutting the water off, and small is beautiful by not investing in infrastructure, and enormous social services programs, that all started under Jerry Brown. It really did. It was an antithesis to what his father had done, who had invested in infrastructure and kept taxes low. So there was a time when California had an income tax rate of 4%, and we’ve got 10.1% that falls on people at $65,000. We’ve got 10% sales tax. We’ve got the highest gas taxes, and yet we have the highest deficits and the lowest reading scores. And why would anybody want to vote somebody in that was sort of shepherded that redistributive state in? I don’t understand that. Meg Whitman has not run a good campaign, though.

HH: I don’t believe these polls, and I just don’t, given that Andy Vidak’s ahead up in the Central Valley, and…

VDH: Yeah, he is.

HH: And Harmer’s ahead up in San Francisco, and Van Tran’s ahead down here in Orange County. So I just don’t believe these polls. But the consequences, Victor Hanson, of California going left, were those polls correct, with a hard left legislature and a left wing governor, looking at a Republican Congress, that Congress would simply say collapse.

VDH: Absolutely. That’s what I’m scared about. I think they’re going to say if you guys like high taxes and big deficits, and the lowest reading scores, 49th in the nation, then go ahead. Do what you want. We’re not going to bail you out. We’re not going to help you. And I’m worried about that.

HH: They won’t even give the authority to modify the contracts. Honestly, I think as a Californian, you and I probably have the same perspective. We’re on the cliff here.

VDH: Yeah.

HH: And if those polls are right, and I don’t believe they’re right, we’re going over.

VDH: I’m really worried about another factor, and that is Jerry Brown brought the idea that you do not utilize resources. We’ve got a billion barrels of oil offshore in Kern County. We’ve got the richest farmland in the world with a million acres idled. We’ve got timber, we’ve got all these wonderful resources, natural and manmade, that we’re not drawing on. We’re just sort of taking a finite pie and re-slicing the pieces. And boy, 3,500 people a week, almost 200,000 a year leaving with incomes estimated over $70,000? It’s scary, because I’m here at ground zero south of Fresno, and with a 17% unemployment rate. And it reminds me of the third world. It really does. We’re going backwards. It’s like 1945. All the things that I grew up with that we were battling, getting dogs licensed, getting mosquito abatement working, getting the roads in good shape, having crossing at railroads. All of that’s just starting to dry up.

HH: Last minute we’ve got, Victor Hanson, before the election. I want to bring us back to the war in which we find ourselves. France is on high alert, and just scary right now. But it does not seem that anyone is focused on where the war is right now. What comes after this election? Specifically, do you see Israel striking at Iran?

VDH: I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I think there’s going to be a point where, this is nothing new, that they understand the United States will not strike, and it will not beef up the embargoes or sanctions, and they’ll have to make that decision. And I think it’ll probably be sometime in the next eighteen months. And I think ironically, that people in Washington and the European capitols want it to happen for two reasons. It gets rid of the Iranian problem for a while, and it gives us a real reason to put more distance between ourselves and Israel.

HH: On that very sober note, Victor Davis Hanson, thank you so much for joining us. www.victorhanson.com for all of his recent articles, links to his books.

End of interview.

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