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OPINION

The Factory of Selective Moral Outrage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Democrats in Congress recently went all out to try to pass the Dream Act, an amnesty for illegal-alien students willing to enroll -- and stay -- in college. Most who opposed it were derided as heartless at best, racist at worse. An insolvent California -- still struggling with its $15 billion budget shortfall -- is trying to advance its own version of the bill that would contravene federal immigration law and cost millions of dollars.
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At about the same time, the state has announced plans to release about 40,000 prison inmates due to a shortage of funds needed to address overcrowding. Highly taxed Californians can borrow money to send illegal aliens to school, but not to keep felons in prison.

Americans still seethe about the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. But the "fat-cat bankers," in fact, were players in a far larger fraud made possible by liberal executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Bill Clinton's appointees and insider friends like Franklin Raines, Jim Johnson, Jamie Gorelick, and Robert Rubin made millions while agencies and banks they oversaw lost billions.

It was just disclosed that Rep. Barney Frank helped land a job at Fannie Mae for his then-live-in boyfriend Herb Moses -- despite at the time sitting on a House oversight committee that monitored the federally regulated agency. Fannie Mae went belly up. Moses made a lot of money. And Frank kept assuring the public in hearings that the nearly insolvent agency was in no financial danger.

When news surfaced about Frank's conflict of interest, he scoffed, "There is no rule against it at all," and predicted the story would die. He was right, it will. But substitute scary names like Dick Cheney or Halliburton and it would not have.

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Last week, President Obama quietly signed a renewal of the once-hated Patriot Act -- rather nonchalantly from the United Kingdom via mechanical autopen. There was no media outrage, there were no hyperbolic campus protests, no juvenile outbursts from a Hollywood celebrity about shredding the Constitution. Most even forgot that senatorial candidate Barack Obama had once promised to help repeal the Patriot Act.

But then such moral outrage belongs to the now fossilized age of George W. Bush's presidency, when the exalted goal of stopping a conservative Texan justified any means of opposition necessary. We may continue almost all of his antiterrorism protocols, but they can no longer earn elite outrage.

The same holds true of the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq that somehow reverted to back-page news. Moveon.org could care less about the new involvement in Libya, and the media now could care less about Moveon.org -- in the same manner that Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore are now no more than extinct dinosaurs of a forgotten Jurassic age. After all, Iraq magically went from the "worst" mistake in U.S. foreign policy history to one of the Obama administration's "greatest achievements."

Social Security and Medicare are nearing implosion. The aging baby boomers are about ready to retire in mass. They have no reputation for either stoic acceptance or self-sacrifice. The people are overtaxed, and the government is running a $1.6 trillion annual deficit. So either the retirement age must be upped, benefits cut, high payroll taxes further increased, or portions of the entitlements privatized to spur competition and efficiency.

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And the progressive response to proposed remedies? Instead of a detailed plan of salvation, we see ads portraying a Rep. Paul Ryan look-alike, who is not just throwing an elderly woman out of her wheelchair, but sending her over a cliff as well.

There is a vast machinery of selective liberal outrage, fueled and lubricated by the media, universities and celebrity entertainment. When the redistributive welfare state starts to run out of money, the gears and pulleys are flipped on and shrill charges of greed, cruelty, nativism and racism spew out of the production line. The machine sputters and shuts down when an aggrieved liberal suddenly either must make cuts or adapt the very policies that he used to damn.

Understand the mechanics of selective outrage, and our upside-down politics become comprehensible: A state suing to enforce immigration law is tantamount to a racist intrusion on federal jurisdiction, but a state openly flouting federal statutes for the Dream Act is acting in enlightened humanitarian fashion.

Greedy Wall Street insiders at the center of the 2008 meltdown could not possibly include progressive bureaucrats and their liberal enablers in Congress, who are interested in people first, profits last. Everything in 2006 that we were told was near fascistic about national security suddenly evolved into what is wonderful and necessary.

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Heck, General "Betray-Us" is now Obama's pick to run the CIA!

(Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of "The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern" You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com.)

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