I happened to be meeting with Senator Ted Cruz a few hours after President Obama’s United Nations speech Wednesday. We naturally started by discussing the president’s latest oratorical effort. Cruz’s judgment on the speech as a whole? “Unsurprising, but consistently disappointing.” On Obama on Russia and Ukraine? A nice statement by Obama, but “why isn’t he giving serious military aid to Ukraine, both nonlethal and lethal?” Obama’s paragraph on Iran? “It was so short and vague I almost missed it.” And on looking at it, Cruz said he found “striking” Obama’s refusal to reiterate the pledge that Iran will not be permitted to have nuclear weapons. About Obama’s remarks on the Islamic State, Cruz was somewhat complimentary: Obama spoke with unaccustomed “clarity” on the issue of terrorism, and “I will say his language on ISIS was some of the best he’s had.” What’s more, Cruz noted wryly, “At least he did not invoke Yemen and Somalia as models of success.”
The senator’s commentary on Obama’s speech was sound and intelligent. Cruz would have gone on analyzing it for the rest of our time together if I’d asked him to. But I had the sense that we’d said in a few minutes much of what needed to be said about Obama’s speech, and I had the sense that Cruz felt the same. The conversation would be more interesting if we abandoned Obama as our reference point, I thought, and so we did, spending the rest of the session engaged in a lively discussion of public policy and Republican politics.
One conversation does not a world-historical moment make. But this exchange did suggest to me that we’re moving beyond Obama. Obviously, we can’t ignore him. For the next six weeks Republican candidates will and should yoke their Democratic opponents to him. For the next two years, we’ll have to deal with his policies and proposals and nominations. The fact that we’re bored by him doesn’t mean we can wish him away and simply move on.
But we can begin to move on. Obama’s liberalism is so reactionary, his speeches so tedious, his policies so ineffectual, his worldview so discredited, that he’s not really useful any more even as a force to push against. One doubts conservatives can get much guidance for the future simply from reacting against him. This is hardly an unprecedented situation. Once in office, after all, Lincoln couldn’t take his bearings from just trying to do the opposite of Buchanan, nor could Churchill merely be the opposite of Chamberlain or Reagan the opposite of Carter.
The post-Obama world is new. Decline was a choice, but reversing it will be a different task from preventing it in the first place. Reestablishing American leadership isn’t the same as maintaining it. The rollback of the nanny state will require different strategies from efforts to slow its advances. To paraphrase Tocqueville: New thinking and new policies will be needed for a world altogether new.
Today’s conservative task is daunting. But it’s also exciting. The business founder Peter Thiel asks, when was the last time an American politician really envisioned, in a serious and plausible way, a future qualitatively different from the present or the immediate past? His answer? Ronald Reagan, speaking at the Berlin Wall in June 1987. Reagan envisioned a world without the Soviet Union. And then it came to pass. That was a generation ago. Reagan remains an inspiration and a model for American conservatives. But the times require not Reaganite nostalgia but a neo-Reaganite agenda.
Younger Republican candidates and bolder Republican officeholders sense this. The question of the future of the U.S. role in the U.N. is more interesting than an analysis of Obama’s U.N. speech. The question of how much to increase the defense budget next year is more important than denouncing Obama’s past irresponsible cuts. The question of how to move ahead with a replacement for Obamacare is more stimulating than a discussion of Obamacare’s failures. The challenges of a post-Obama world are more fundamental than the challenges of dealing with Obama and Obamaism. For the task is no longer to contain Obamaism. The task is to transcend Obamaism
Two emails recently showed up, one right after the other, in my inbox. The first was a mass mailing from Ron Paul (my inbox is a big tent!). Its subject line: “The IRS asked for a fight. How about a revolution?” The second was a review by Peter Berkowitz of the recently reissued book by Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism.
It's mature to be calm. Republicans are nothing if not mature. It’s chic to be cool. Republicans yearn to be chic. It’s a sign of gravitas to be collected. Republicans have gravitas. And so Republicans, from candidates to consultants to commentators, cultivate a calm, cool, and collected affect. Keep calm and carry on, they say soberly and sagely to each other.
Though raised Catholic, I was educated by Quakers, and from an early age I took my politics from the Society of Friends. They were for the United Nations and against pollution and—this being the late 1970s—terribly concerned about the bomb. We heard a lot about nuclear war at school. Our little library had an illustrated book detailing, for young readers, what it had been like for the poor souls at Hiroshima.
Jerusalem The Israeli debate over Iran’s nuclear program is, perhaps oddly, not yet heated. For now, the action is with the Americans: Israelis watch the negotiations nervously and without confidence, but there is little sense of impending doom—or impending war.
For a brief moment last week, The Scrapbook felt a twinge of compassion for President Obama. The setting was Berlin. Readers will remember the extraordinary (and extraordinarily peculiar) sight in 2008 of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking to a throng of 200,000 worshipful Berliners in the Tiergarten. No American candidate had ever before campaigned in a foreign country—especially one where spectacles of mass enthusiasm revive instructive memories.
Mention Ronald Reagan to an avowed environmentalist, and you’ll generally elicit a groan. In the conventional telling, the Gipper appointed right-wing extremists to key environmental positions and proceeded to give timber companies and energy interests a free hand to despoil nature. Had Congress not stopped him, the tale goes, all of the environmental progress of the 1970s would have been swept away in the 1980s.
No whining. No nagging. No teeth-gnashing. These are our springtime resolutions here at The Weekly Standard, at the beginning of the six-month general election campaign to select the next president of the United States.
I’m not the first president to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share. Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept. He gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who paid lower tax rates than his secretary, and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong.
Jack Kemp, the Republican congressman from Buffalo, met with Ronald Reagan at the Airport Marriott in Los Angeles in early January 1980. Kemp, an enthusiastic supporter of supply-side economics, had authored the Kemp-Roth tax cut to reduce income tax rates by 30 percent across the board. He was eager to persuade Reagan, who had expressed sympathy for the tax proposal in radio broadcasts.
My Reaganite heart leapt and skipped when I read this article, “Obama authorizes secret support for Libya rebels,” wherein we learn that “President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi...Obama signed the order, known as a presidential 'finding'....”
Covert ops! Presidential findings! What’s next? Ollie North reporting for duty?