Victor Davis Hanson: Obama is More Like Clement Attlee than Harry Truman





NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.

Since 2009, the example of the economic boom following World War II has been used by Keynesians to justify their record “peacetime” levels of borrowing intended to lift the U.S. out of the doldrums. Indeed, the more the contemporary borrowing fails, the more the vast indebtedness of the war years is invoked to reassure us. On occasion a wry lament follows that if only a spaceship full of dangerous aliens were to appear, we might have the requisite excuse to follow our grandfathers into a new collective frenzy of economic stimulus and public debt.

Citing the benefits that accrued from World War II, of course, is ironic for lots of reasons — aside from the horror of 50 million dead. Modern liberalism has argued that defense spending, in all its manifestations, is ipso facto an uneconomical use of national resources. Money spent building an artillery gun and training a youth to fire it supposedly could be better spent subsidizing higher education or producing a hybrid car — as if the modern college turns out better disciplined, more motivated, and better educated young people than does the Marine Corps or Air Force; as if deterring aggression is more costly than meeting it on the battlefield at a disadvantage; as if the habitual exactness and lasting skills acquired in building a huge fleet carrier are comparable to those required for building a Chevy Volt....

[And] the world abroad in 1946 was hardly similar to the world in 2011. Review the prior status of our present global competitors: India was a backward colony and in civil turmoil. War-torn China was about to embark on the most self-destructive social experiment in human history. Two-thirds of a centrally planned Soviet Union was in shambles. Western Europe was near starving after years of bombing and Nazi strangulation. The future export powerhouses of Japan and Germany were in ruins. Brazil was pre-modern. The miracles of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea were still imaginary. A victorious Britain was full of self-doubt and exhausted, busy dismantling its colonial empire and nationalizing its steel, transportation, health, and energy industries....

But if we must go back to the post–World War II era for an example to enlighten us about what the current Obama policies presage, then the similarities to the present are not to be found in 1940s America. A better guide is Clement Attlee’s 1946 United Kingdom, which, like Obama’s 2011 America, sought to retrench from the world scene, lead from behind, and establish a much-vaunted high-tax, big-government, cradle-to-grave redistributive welfare state — one whose legacy we have just witnessed in London’s streets.



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