HH: I believe that there’s an enormous amount of self-correction built into the American system, that the republic has always managed to balance itself out when it’s swept by huge convulsions. And one of those is underway right now, but whether or not I’m an optimist or a pessimist doesn’t matter. Let’s ask Victor Davis Hanson, classicist, historian, tremendous author. All of his material available at www.victorhanson.com. Professor Hanson, welcome back, always a pleasure.
VDH: Thank you for having me, Hugh.
HH: What about my theory that self-correction occurs in the American system, and I think we’re beginning to see some of it with President Obama’s lurch to the left.
VDH: Yeah, I think so. I think that there’s a self-correction in every sense of the word. When he’s going hard left, people are going to react against that, because the natural tendency of the electorate is sort of a moderate right. And economically, we’re already seeing that while he’s talking about all this massive spending, there’s market corrections. We’re getting about three-quarters of a trillion dollars in discounts from the crash at $148 dollars a barrel in July, down to around $40 now. Nobody talks about that. And we’re floating U.S. Treasury notes to the Chinese and other creditors at about a half of 1% interest, which doesn’t even cover the rate of inflation. So there is infusions of billions of dollars of cash that are going into the U.S. system from reduced energy import costs, and it affects everything from food to fertilizer to your thermostat. And we’re getting money that’s going into our banking system and our economy from foreign sources that we’re not paying, really, any interest on. So yeah, I think that it’s going to correct on its own. I’m just afraid that we panic, and we do something we don’t need to do.
HH: Well, I also think even among Democrats, like Evan Bayh and Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, there’s a growing awareness that the brakes have to be put on President Obama’s ambitions, because they’re simply not in step, as you wrote a column, “Now Obama Tells Us,” had he campaigned on what he has promised to do in the first fifty days, if he’d campaigned over the last five months this way, he wouldn’t be president.
VDH: No, he wouldn’t.
HH: I don’t think that’s sustainable.
VDH: No, you don’t say to the American people that George Bush ran up a $500 billion dollar deficit, and I’m going to correct that by running up a $1.7 trillion dollar deficit. You just don’t do it. And then when you add in the other things, you don’t say that FISA, Patriot Act, Guantanamo shredded the Constitution, but I’m for FISA, Patriot Act, keeping Guantanamo open, just changing the name from enemy combatants to detainees. So I think you know what? He’s used the media, and he’s used his powers of rhetoric to get him through these Orwellianisms, I call them, where he just doesn’t, he’s not telling the truth when he talks about earmarks, or he’s talking about the highest ethical standards on his appointees, or he’s talking about signing statements when a bill is passed. All of these just belie his rhetoric, and I think that he thinks I’m just going to go out on the campaign trail, hope and change, Newsweek, Time, NPR is going to do what they have to do to get the message out, and I’m okay. And I think people are reacting to that.
HH: In terms of the most important constituency, it is the moderate Democrats. The Republicans, with the exception of one here or there, and I think they got suckered in on the Stimulus package, and not even the Maine sisters and Arlen Specter will be easily suckerable the second time, but do you see moderate Democrats as I do, I named some Senators, waking up to the peril their party is in if they pursue this path?
VDH: Yes, because Obama’s starting to draw some of the more extreme elements on the left out, culturally, politically, economically, who are ever saying oh, this is just the beginning. We have another stimulus coming, we have more debt coming, this 70% income tax rate’s nothing, we used to have 90% in the 50s and 60s. And a lot of these moderate Democrats have to run on that ticket, that message, that policy in two, four years, and a lot of them are thinking you know what? He is giving these soundbytes to my potential opposition in a way that I want to triangulate and go back to the middle. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for them to defect. And the more that they see that he’s not a moderate Clintonite, if that’s the right term for Clinton…you see with Clinton, you got the tax cuts…you got tax hikes, but you got a balanced budget. With Bush, you got the tax cuts, but you got deficit. With Obama, you get the worst of both worlds. You get tax hikes, and then you get a deficit that goes out of bounds.
HH: That’s right, and I don’t believe they signed up for that.
VDH: No, they didn’t.
HH: They signed up for a tax hike that would control deficit spending and maybe fix that.
VDH: You know, I talk to so many conservatives who said you know what? I’m facing the firing squad anyway, I don’t mind it if they want to raise the taxes, I’m going to, they’re angry about it, but they say at least it would get down the deficit. When Clinton did it, I fought tooth and nail, but when they had those spending caps in the ’97 budget, ’98, ’99, 2000, they were balanced. But with this guy, they’re going to tax me, but I don’t even get the balanced budget. I get a bigger deficit, and more importantly, Clinton never in his right mind ever thought about taking out the FICA payroll tax caps.
VDH: So when he says I’m going back to the Clinton policy, he’s not. He’s going back to Clinton tax rates, but also payroll tax increases.
HH: Now there’s also some deception built into that. When you say you’re going to go to the Clinton tax rates, but you also limit deductibility of charity and deductibility of mortgage interest deduction…
HH: You’re not really, you’re going to 43, 44%. Do you think the American people know that? And do you think they resent it?
VDH: I think they do resent it, because I think he has a coalition of people who are very poor, and the upper, upper middle class. These are the orthodontists, the college law professors, some of the people on Wall Street. And a lot of those households make over $250,000. And they have lost 30-50% of their 401K’s, 30% of it since he’s been in, and they’ve lost the equity in their home, and now they’re saying you know what? I’m 50 years old, I don’t have that much time to make that stuff up, but now I’m looking at, if I live in a state like California, I’m looking at 10% income tax, I’m looking at 40% federal income tax, I’m looking at 15.3% on some of my, a lot of my income for Social Security and Medicare. And they’re saying you know, that’s almost 70%.
VDH: I don’t have time to make all that what I’ve lost up, and that’s what he’s got to be careful about, because if that constituency starts to defect, he’ll be in big trouble.
HH: There’s also the recognition that perhaps if you want economic growth, you want a Democrat president and a Republican Congress. That’s what tamed Bill Clinton.
VDH: What saved him was the spending caps the Gingrich Congress imposed on him.
HH: Right, right. So that’s going to be a powerful dynamic taking over. Before we run out of time, Victor Davis Hanson, I want to talk to you about the ABC News poll that came out about Iraq.
VDH: I saw that.
HH: …where there’s this enormous surge in optimism and security in the country, very underreported. What do you make of this?
VDH: You know, I have two reactions – one, it’s the same old, same old. Everybody’s sort of, George Bush is gone, George Bush is demonizes, Bush lied, thousands died, and here we are, that only after Bush is out of office do we get polls and big headlines that democracy’s working in Iraq. And then of course, the age old ingratitude, because in that poll, as you remember, people did not credit Bush with delivering them from Saddam. So Bush gets sort of no credit at all. Now America sort of liberated…Obama sort of liberated Iraq. It sort of worked. Where were all these people that said like Joe Biden, we had to trisect the country, Barack Obama had said the surge had failed, Harry Reid said it failed, said it wouldn’t work. We don’t even pay any attention that the one guy who took on the joint chiefs, many or all of the Democratic Congress, fought for the American people, he’s old George Bush that everybody dumps on, and he gets no credit for it. So it’s kind of tragic. It’s like a Greek tragedy.
HH: But I think that will be, that will fade, just like with Truman.
VDH: I hope so.
HH: What about Afghanistan, Victor Davis Hanson?
VDH: Well, that was a good war, wasn’t it? That was a war that was sanctioned by the U.N. and NATO, and Barack Obama was like the proverbial cartoon character where somebody puts his hand on his forehead while he swings, and he can’t hit anything. He kept saying let me at them, let me at them. This was, we took the eye off the ball, I want to go into Pakistan thinking that Iraq was going to blow up, and Afghanistan was pretty quiet. He said that all during 2006, ’07, ’08. So suddenly, he gets in as president, and they’re saying you know what? Iraq had ports, it had a literate population, it had oil revenue, it had defensible terrain. I mean, it wasn’t this mountainous mess, didn’t have a nuclear Pakistan quite harboring people. We won in Iraq, but now you know, Mr. Obama hears Afghanistan, here’s the good word, go to it. And now I think he’s going to find out that Afghanistan has a high degree of illiteracy, it has no industry, it has no revenue, it’s got an opium problem, it’s got no ports, it’s landlocked, it’s got a bunch of terrible neighbors. It’s always been the more difficult war. And we’ll see if he’s up to it, because according to the Democratic rhetoric, this was the good war that they wanted to fight, and George Bush didn’t let them fight because he took their eye off the ball and went into Iraq, which was hopeless and a quagmire. So it’s an irony there that Iraq was the one that did work, Bush won that war, and now they have a chance to win Afghanistan the way he did in Iraq. Let’s see if they’re up to it.
HH: Last question, Victor Davis Hanson, we have an obvious change of government in Israel upon us this week or so. Is this going to be, with a conservative government led by Netanyahu, good for world stability or destabilizing?
VDH: You know, I’m worried. I think that he would be good for Israel, but I’m very worried because I think that we’re looking at the most insidiously constant estrangement between Israel and the United States we’ve seen in our lifetime. When you start to see the Samantha Power appointment, the would-be Charles Freeman appointment, the $1 billion dollar rebuilding program for Hamas-controlled Gaza, the efforts to speak with the Iranians and the Syrians without preconditions, sort of some rhetoric, I just think that Netanyahu is going to give the Obamaites the reason they need to distance ourselves from Israel. I really believe that.
HH: Well, that will be more realignment then in 2010. Victor Davis Hanson, always a pleasure. The Private Papers of Victor Hanson are available at www.victorhanson.com.
End of interview.