Rescissionist Revisionists

I subscribed again to Harper’s magazine after letting my subscription lapse a few years back. If I hadn’t paid just $5 for it, I would be mad. It is a thoroughly depressing read. The academic left which forms the constituency of this magazine has apparently chosen to simply disengage from the political world and criticize only.

This month, we are treated to an article called “The Mendacity of Hope” by Roger D. Hodge, which is simultaneously an elegy for the mythical Constitutional republic of high school history books and a J’Accuse against Obama. This is ironic because Obama’s failure to deliver on the Naderite agenda is solely and exclusively due to the Constitutional checks and balances on his power as a president by the other branches of government and the electorate. Hodge even admits that a blunt withdrawal from Afghanistan would cost Obama his reelection. If Obama were the “secret emperor” Hodge claims, he would simply waive his hand and do what he pleased.

But it’s the pining for the past that strikes me because it sounds so… conservative. In Hodge’s world, there was never an illegal war before Korea. Civil liberties were sacrosanct. Things were nice.

This is absolute poppycock. For an author who chastises Obamabots for “knowing their history” and still praising the man, Hodge’s leading arguments are either intentionally made in bad faith or exercises in hypocrisy regarding historical knowledge.

If you were to list off famous American wars before Korea, I’m sure you would find appropriate Congressional “declarations of war” for all of them (this assumes that a Congressional vote erases all moral questions about war). But if you “know your history” you know that those wars were far from the sum total of American military activity pre-Korea. Anyone who knows anything about Latin America—Haiti comes to mind this week by way of happenstance—knows that American soldiers have adventured across this hemisphere under the guise of the Monroe doctrine since at least Monroe’s time.

Furthermore, while the de jure abrogation of civil liberties in our day is disturbing and should not be apologized for, the notion that justice was fairer in the past only requires a one word rejoinder: segregation.

The idea that we should (setting aside the question of whether it is possible) rescind the past decades is the élan vitale of the modern Conservative movement. They have sought (and have been largely successful) at rescinding the New Deal. They are also making inroads on early-20th century progressivism.

Hodge’s college-campus fantasies of setting the world back to the order of things before the President “arrogated to himself” the power of the atomic bomb is simply not possible. Simply put, the atomic genie is out of the bottle. It really isn’t not at all difficult to build a bomb if you have the materials. In 2010, an atomic bomb is not a very sophisticated device. We can never blot out the know-how of making one without some kind of Luddite Taliban world government that takes us back to the dark ages.

We can’t rescind the 20th century, neither the New Deal nor the National Security Act of 1947, the good nor the bad, without unleashing a whole new set of consequences. In any event, I can’t imagine how allowing a Palin or a Pawlenty to replace Obama will make the “restoration” of Constitutionatopia closer to reality.

This kind of revolutionary change that is demanded by the right and the left makes for unending criticism, depressed cynicism, and the risk that when you actually get what you want, you might be sorry you asked for it. I don’t disagree that the government needs more respect for the law, but I simply don’t believe that a return to the bad old days of the 1940s is how to do it.

Society requires its gadflies and critics, but it also requires those who can govern without burning the place down.

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