Scott Horton interviews Roger D. Hodge regarding his book The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism for Harper’s:
1. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recently derided liberal critics of the Obama Administration as the “professional left.” Was he talking about you? What do you make of this line of attack?
I’m not sure Gibbs has a coherent idea of what he means by the “left,” but if opposition to permanent war, extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, boundless state secrecy, and unlimited corporate bailouts constitutes “leftism,” then so be it. True to their Clintonian principles, President Obama and his advisors have spurned the Democratic Party’s liberal base and have sought to govern by appropriating the policies of the Republican right. Just as Bill Clinton enacted NAFTA and destroyed welfare, Barack Obama has pushed through a health-care program that was inspired by the Heritage Foundation and largely written by the insurance lobby—and he shows every sign of being willing to vandalize Social Security in the name of deficit reduction even though the program has nothing to do with the federal budget deficit. Obama has embraced the Bushite war on terror and has refused to roll back the unconstitutional executive usurpations that so outraged his supporters. And yet Democrats expect liberals to toe the line and shut the hell up lest the Republicans take advantage of their dissent. In fact, for the most part, the “professional left” of policy intellectuals, public interest advocates, and opinion journalists have done just that.
What’s fascinating about the Democrats is how consistently they have squandered enormous political advantages. The party’s leaders have apparently internalized Republican propaganda to the point that they feel they do not deserve to rule; consequently, when Democrats come to power, they always negotiate with themselves prior to meeting their opponents, make the tough-minded decision to betray their most loyal supporters, and profess shock and anger when the GOP—which never makes the mistake of publicly spurning its base—refuses to accept the purported bipartisan compromise. What results, of course, is that the Democratic Party, over and over again, enacts some version of the Republican agenda.
David Horowitz wrote about “Obama Derangement Syndrome” for Salon back in 2009:
Conservatives, please. Let’s not duplicate the manias of the left as we figure out how to deal with Mr. Obama. He is not exactly the antichrist, although a disturbing number of people on the right are convinced he is.I have recently received commentaries that claim that “Obama’s speeches are unlike any political speech we have heard in American history” and “never has a politician in this land had such a quasi-religious impact on so many people” and “Obama is a narcissist,” which leads the author to then compare Obama to David Koresh, Charles Manson, Stalin and Saddam Hussein. Excuse me while I blow my nose.
This fellow has failed to notice that all politicians are narcissists – and that a recent American president was a world-class exponent of the imperial me. So what? Political egos are one of the reasons the Founders put checks and balances on executive power. As for serial lying, is there a politician that cannot be accused of that? And once, the same recent president set a pretty high bar in this category, and we survived it. As for Obama’s speeches, they are hardly in the Huey Long, Louis Farrakhan, Fidel Castro vein. They are in fact eloquently and cleverly centrist and sober.
Centrist and sober from David Horowitz’s point of view, that is. Back to Harper’s, where Horton asks Hodge about Palin and Gingrich:
5. One of the key dilemmas in American politics today, you write, is the disappearance of conservatives and the emergence in their place of “pseudo-cons.” What is it about Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich that can’t be squared with the traditional definition of conservative?
Alas, jingoistic demagogues like Palin and Gingrich are nothing new in American politics. What’s interesting is the obsessive insistence of such right-wing agitators that they are conservatives when, in fact, almost nothing about them is conservative in any traditional sense. They are extremists who display no sense of affection for the past; no humility or skepticism about their revolutionary proposals; no sign of the compromising and practical spirit that is so characteristic of classical conservatives; no awareness that capitalism itself is the most powerful force for change in the history of humanity. By today’s incoherent standards, even Edmund Burke himself would be derided as a bleeding heart, welfare-state socialist. As political writers as disparate as Theodore Adorno and Richard Hofstadter have observed, the funny thing about pseudo-conservatives is that they champion the very forces that are destroying what remains of traditional American ways of life. What’s ironic, given their rhetoric, is that pseudo-cons like Gingrich and Palin have no use for core American values such as the rule of law, freedom of religion and association, or for the idea that the Constitution follows the flag. They champion torture, extrajudicial assassination, unconstrained domestic surveillance, and a thoroughly monarchistic vision of the presidency; they happily encourage wars of aggression, demand that native-born children be stripped of their citizenship, demonize a religious minority, and then have the audacity to accuse their opponents of being anti-American.
The Republican Party’s opposition to the Obama Administration has nothing really to do with conservatism or liberalism. The Republicans simply wish to seize power again, and they will apparently say anything toward that end. Obama’s political incompetence has given his partisan opponents the opportunity to motivate a large number of relatively ill-informed voters with outlandish and incoherent claims about his purported socialism when he is in fact the best friend Wall Street could hope for. Public opinion is largely an artifact of political struggle, and the most successful politicians are those who are able to define the terms of debate; astonishingly, Obama’s Democrats have proved themselves to be the weaker party even as they controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. The absence of authentic conservatives in our politics serves to ensure that our national debates are largely carried out in the realm of fiction; pseudo-conservatives take on pseudo-liberals in symbolic battle over cultural ephemera when what is really at stake is which of the two corrupt parties will win the privilege of representing the interests of the superrich.
Horowitz again, in an earlier piece on “Obama Derangement Syndrome” at National Review Online, from 2008:
What difference does it make to the future of this country whether Obama was born on U.S. soil? Advocates of this destructive campaign will argue that the constitutional principle regarding the qualifications for president trumps all others. But how viable will our Constitution be if five Supreme Court justices should decide to void 64 million ballots?
Conservatives are supposed to respect the organic nature of human societies. Ours has been riven by profound disagreements that have been deepening over many years. We are divided not only about political facts and social values, but also about what the Constitution itself means. The crusaders on this issue choose to ignore these problems and are proposing to deny the will of 64 million voters by appealing to five Supreme Court Justices (since no one is delusional enough to think that the four liberal justices are going to take the presidency away from Obama). What kind of conservatism is this?
It is not conservatism; it is sore loserism and quite radical in its intent. Respect for election results is one of the most durable bulwarks of our unity as a nation. Conservatives need to accept the fact that we lost the election, and get over it; and get on with the important business of reviving our country’s economy and defending its citizens, and — by the way — its Constitution.
So is our choice in November between plutocracy and plutarchy?
Read more of Horton’s Six Questions for Roger D. Hodge here.
Read more of Horowitz’s Obama Derangement Syndrome here.
Read more of Horowitz’s Get over your Obama Derangement Syndrome here.