I tried to explore this continuity between 43 and 44 last week, when writing on the Churchill bust that President Obama recently returned to the British, an act that symbolically disavows a lion of the West. Understanding the symbolism is somewhat complicated, I wrote, because of the fact that even as George W. Bush may have retained the Churchill bust and other knickknacks of Western civilization, the 43rd president did more to break with such legacies than perhaps any previous president.
Yes, upon attack by Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush ordered our armed forces to fight the undefined "war on terror" and "extremism." But Bush was first and always an internationalist, a globalist, with no patriotic calling, for example, to stem the massive illegal Hispanic influx that has transformed large swaths of the United States into a Third World, Spanish-speaking culture. In countless ways, President Obama is merely extending and expanding policies initiated by his predecessor. From securing the border, which neither man has considered a priority, to securing a Palestinian state, which both men have considered a priority, to a shared belief in bailout packages that are nationalizing the economy, a neutered lexicon with which to address Islam, and the legalization of millions of illegal aliens, there is in both leaders a transformational impulse, intensified and recognized as radicalism only in Obama's case.
President Obama, meanwhile, is trying to camouflage himself in the confusion. Last week, following an interview with the New York Times aboard Air Force One, President Obama telephoned the reporter at his office to elaborate on the president's answer to what was apparently a shocking question: Was he, Obama, a "socialist"?
"It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question," Mr. Obama told the reporter, who wrote: "He then dismissed the criticism, saying the large-scale government intervention in the markets and the expansion of social welfare programs had begun under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. 'It wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks," Mr. Obama said. 'And it wasn't on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement, the prescription drug plan, without a source of funding.'"
So true. But drawing on the mantle of George W. Bush should be no shield against charges of socialism. Having massively expanded the government and massively intervened in the economy, Bush checked his capitalist credentials long ago. For Obama, this really is smoke and mirrors time. Going for the grandest illusion of all, he then told the New York Times: "We've actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles."
Excuse me while I pick my jaw off the ground. Everyone knows -- or should know -- that putting more and more of the government in charge of more and more of the economy is entirely inconsistent with free-market principles. This means that the president's statement to the contrary is what is known as a big lie. Repeat it enough, and people believe it. President Obama, of course, only has to say it once: George W. Bush, the Republicans, they started this whole thing; since they represent "conservatism," that must make him Mr. Free Market.
Confusing? Only so long as George W. Bush retains conservatism's stamp of approval, thus stun-gunning conservatism. The resulting paralysis is what keeps a lot of the Obama hocus pocus going -- even when the ruse is so obvious. Not to mainstream media reporters, of course; they're hopeless. But conservatives, I'm afraid, are in denial.