This quote from Santayana seems to sum up the first four years of Obama’s reign:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
We’ve endured four years of government action designed to stimulate and save a failing economy. Four years where the average American saw an economy in shambles, friends and neighbors in trouble. Four years of sweeping changes to laws that affect the economy. Four years of a president taking undeserved credit for any signs of progress while avoiding all blame. Despite all that, the American people came out yesterday and said we want four more years of this.
Taking a cold, dispassionate look at the results, voting for four more years of Obama is ludicrous. He is, by all metrics, an abysmal failure. Obviously, the electorate failed to learn from the past, right?
Not so fast. The years in our history that parallel our current situation are ones where our collective memory, such as it is, recalls history as written by the victor: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Every statement above is equally as applicable to FDR in 1932-36, but history remembers him as a hero, not a goat. To a certain degree, FDR got lucky. A world war and a vice president kind enough to quietly reverse his economic course after his death certainly saved his reputation.
However, it should not be underestimated the role that certain historians played in shaping our memory of FDR. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Age of Roosevelt trilogy was the definitive work on FDR for several decades. It was strongly pro-Roosevelt and set up the narrative that Roosevelt saved the nation from the Great Depression.
In the years since, other interpretations of Roosevelt’s impact on the nation and the economy have been put forward. To my mind, the interpretations that rest upon sound economics and data from the period are much more credible than Schlesinger’s take. (See, for one, Milton Friedman’s work on the subject.) But the narrative was set and the damage was done. The vast majority of the populace believes FDR saved the nation from the Great Depression with the same sort of policies favored by Obama.
Today, history is written very differently. Rather than taking place over decades, it often crystallizes days and weeks after events occur. As the last decade has shown, this narrative can be formed or changed by ordinary people with good insights and ideas. Where 76 years ago, the people had to rely on newspapers and radio for information, today we have a platform that allows everyone a voice. In this dark hour, that is a beacon of hope.
As we deal with four more years of Obama, we the people need to stand up for the truth. No one else will do it for us. Write what you see, what you hear. If the narrative put forth by the mainstream media is suspect, question it. If a politician claims credit for something he can’t have caused, call it out.
Most importantly, if you hear Obama supporters complaining about the consequences of one of his policies, educate them. Obama supporters complaining they can’t find a job? Talk to them about the impact Obamacare and regulatory uncertainty are having on employers. Complaining about high gas prices? Talk about the ban on gulf oil drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline. Make the link between their complaint and their vote.
Do this gently. Do it in a friendly, engaging way. But do it. Every. Single. Time.