What Lies Ahead; Postmodern Presidency- Part IV

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Post-modern Presidency

Presidential SealFortunately G. W. Bush failed as a post-modern president.  He was unable to project a successful image of himself and failed at being only a pragmatist and relativist.  Unfortunately, he also failed to govern according to Biblical and eternal principles.  He applied some clear principles but often did what he thought, i.e. felt was right.  I believe that he is a man of convictions, but these convictions are not always founded on godly foundations.  In certain areas he allowed for decisions that were unbiblical.  Alas, he supported the idolatrous concept of Statism which encourages “Big Government” and the apparent inevitability of Big Government.  Some examples of this would be the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Prescription Drug benefits, endless deficits, the budgetary increases, and finally the bailouts.  His economic plan was pragmatic as well and his justification for war was ineptly presented and articulated.  .

As the Bush presidency ends and Obama’s begins what can we look forward to in the future?  Will the Obama presidency be a principled or a post-modern presidency?  What have we learned concerning this through the campaign and election of 2008?  I contend that the election of 2008 was the most post-modern campaign in American history that projects to the ascendency of a truly post-modern president in Barach Obama.

In the election of 2008 the candidates were continually creating images of themselves and trying to tag the other with short lasting impressions.  It did not matter whether these impressions were true or not; what mattered is whether they stuck or not, or whether they were useful.  We know that images stick, especially since the age of television politics began.  The forerunner was the 1960 election when Kennedy debated Nixon on television and presented a far superior presence than Nixon, probably securing him victory.  And who can forget the 1988 election when Bush constantly ran a commercial depicting Dukakis as a goofball riding in a tank with his helmeted head bouncing out of the top.  These were very powerful images.

In the 2008 election each candidate was trying to own the concept of “change”.  Both Obama and McCain claimed to be agents of change and it often became a contest between who could create the greatest facade of change.  Also they tried to portray the other as having a specific image whether that picture was true or not, accurate or not, with it sometimes being partially true.  For example, McCain called Obama a socialist.  He tried to make this image of Obama stick.  Is it true that Obama is a socialist?  As a philosopher I have read the writings of socialists.  The truth of the matter is that, yes, an argument can be made that Obama is a socialist, but McCain was not good at explaining what a socialist is (one who believes in the centralized ownership of property) and exactly how Obama practices socialism.  This was difficult because McCain also has socialist tendencies and publicly supported the government bailout of the banking industry which was clearly a socialist action.  In some ways it was one socialist calling the other socialist, a socialist.

McCain was unsuccessful at making any truly negative image of Obama stick.  He attempted to portray him as inexperienced or anti-American but never really succeeded.  In contrast, Obama and his supporters were able to make McCain look consistently erratic by pinning this image of him as erratic based on his sudden decision to return to Washington and call off the campaign when the financial crisis broke out in its fullest.  Yes, this may have been an erratic-like decision by McCain, but by linking this to a few other actions like McCain’s choice of Palin along with McCain’s age made this portrayal of McCain stick.

Is McCain erratic?  I don’t know, but many of the talking heads picked up on the use of this term and suddenly everyone believed this presented a reason to be hesitant about McCain.  It did not matter whether it was a true character portrayal or not.  Americans believed that this made him a risky candidate.  The Obama campaign also successfully linked the image of McCain to the image of Bush thus damaging McCain as well.  And the slaughter of Palin by presenting false images or half-true images of her is inexcusable but was a very successful part of the Obama campaign.  McCain’s campaign often reverted to his true image of American hero, even though those events of over thirty years ago are irrelevant to his policies today. They can only reflect a bit of significance about his current character.

There was not much real substance to the campaign.  Many cannot tell you what Obama believes beyond his promise to end the war and to cut taxes.  They are unaware of his voting record on issues like abortion and government spending or control.  Obama won the election not because of his policies, but because he had a superior story and created a better image.  There was little in the campaign about policy.  Obama won because he established an image of youthfulness, vitality, steadiness, change and due to his organizational skills and ability to communicate.  Most people cannot tell you what his political accomplishments are except winning elections.  And Obama supporters accused McCain of avoiding the issues all the while curtailing the campaign from becoming a contest about issues or from it being about Obama’s voting record as the most liberal in all of the Senate.  And I personally enjoy asking Obama supporters what he has politically accomplished other than succeeded at being elected.  They do not have a response or they mutter something unrelated to the question.

Obama wants to be perceived as the president of all Americans.  He wants to be looked at as a centrist.  Evidence of this is shown by his choice of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State, of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates a holdover from the Bush administration and of his using Rick Warren as the pastor leading the inaugural prayer.  These present us an image of a moderate democrat attempting to appeal to all America.  But when it comes to social issues Obama is no moderate.  He made a campaign promise to Planned Parenthood that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act if it came to his desk.  This would overrule all abortion limitations that have been passed by states.  As Citizens for Community Values has revealed He has also named Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  The former Senator never saw an abortion limitation he liked and even supported partial birth abortion.  He will support all anti-family legislation.  Obama has spoken of reducing the number of abortions nevertheless his White House Communications Director will be Ellen Moran, the Executive Director of Emily’s List, whose only mission is to promote pro-abortion candidates.  Overall, it looks like the litmus test of serving in the Obama cabinet or on his staff is to be pro-abortion.  Any suspicions how it will affect his court appointments?  But this extreme liberalism is not the image we have of him.

Obama has promised to “rebuild America”.  We need a “new” America, but I am afraid that it is not the one of that will be given in the near future.  The best we can expect will be a new image of America, but this incoming post-modern president could be very successful at providing a successful image of a rebuilt America.  The concern, however, must be that what that America will look like?  I have my suspicions.  What will come next may ultimately be very disconcerting and not at all look like the America we were raised on.   A successful post-modern presidency will provide an appearance of success and a perception that we have solved our troubling problems, but it will not really be an answer and certainly not make us a better people.  It is time for Americans to regroup, to reject the premises of post-modern relativism, pragmatism, and image-building and to return to a principled, biblically-based world view.  This will be the only way to truly solve the crises that we now face. Let us commit ourselves to this prayer and effort.


This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Post-modern Presidency

Presidential SealSo if Bush failed as a truly principled president, was he therefore a post-modern president and thus a successful post-modern president?  In the previous essay, it was argued that Bush could have been a successful principled president but he failed at that task by compromising numerous historic principles of justice, conservatism, and capitalism.  Now this does not mean he is not a Christian or that he was personally unethical.  What it means is that at times (more and more as the years wore on) he obviously compromised these principles in developing public and social policy.  And even when he believed that he was practicing those principles he failed at clearly articulating those principles to the American public.  He will undoubtedly go down as the worst communicator among modern presidents.  His failure to stand consistently principled and his inability to articulate the principles he did hold have turned the American people against him and made him a laughingstock. Does this make him post-modern?

He did have the chance to be a great post-modern president in the image of Bill Clinton..  He had a great American story fall right into his lap.  All he needed to do was to keep America united beginning with the events of 9/11 and the story which came out of that.  Post-moderns are great story-tellers, ignoring the truth of the story.  For the post-modern it is power that matters and not whether the story is true.  Images are for power-broking.  The story was dropped into his hands on 9/11 but he failed; He was just too poor of a story-teller.

A better post-modern president could have used this to make sweeping changes toward a new revitalized America that he had created.  In post-modernism there is no essential country.  America or any country is defined by the image that those in places of power create.  Successful post-modern politicians are those who are able to re-invent themselves and re-invent their dominions as the political climate changes.  One can mock this view by sarcastically portraying the modern politician asking himself what he believes on a particular topic and then the politician quickly turning to his advisor and asking her to “quickly take a poll so I can know what I believe.”  Philosopher Richard Rorty has called it “achieving our country.”  There is no America, we have to create it.  Bush failed in this and so his popularity tumbled.

Bush tried to build an image of strength after 9/11 and told a good enough story about Weapons of Mass Destruction to unite the country for war.  But this ultimately failed.  He was caught in the apparent lie and even if it wasn’t a lie, the post-modern media which was not interested in the truth but in discrediting the president, were better post-moderns than Bush.  Thus it does not matter whether there really were weapons of mass destruction; what matters is that Bush wore the mantle of failure for the inability to find these weapons (I believe they had been moved out before we arrived).  This image stuck to him.  Today no one knows really why we are fighting. If we have a legitimate basis, then Bush and his administration have failed to sell the American public on the reason.

The image that sticks is that it is Bush’s War, not America’s, so the Democrats and the media have made this Bush’s legacy.  Bush was personally principled.  He still believes in doing the right thing. I think that he has himself convinced that he has ruled in a principled manner. The problem is he does not know what the right thing is.  He is not biblically grounded enough to rule as a principled Christian and he is not personally deceptive and immoral enough to succeed as a post-modern.  Because of that he gave in and compromised his principles based on his own personal “feelings” (and I speculate upon the advice of unprincipled advisors).

Bush’s convictions are not strong or deep enough.  I think that he still believes himself to be a fiscal conservative even though the national deficit has climbed to over a trillion dollars.  Because of this lack of principled depth, he has been too willing to compromise, and on the other hand he is too personally principled to become sold out to post-modernism.  He could not compete with the post-moderns who created an image of him that is far worse than he really is.  And for principled Christians Bush has failed by overseeing a government that has become more idolatrous than ever before wanting to oversee all of life.  Furthermore we’ve been in a prolonged indefensible war, failed to act swiftly on the economy, and showed an inability to articulate in succinct ways why principled social values need to be observed by all.  Thus I conclude then that Bush is a man without a country.  He failed in achieving a new America, a successful post-modern America, and he failed in understanding and maintaining the historic Constitutional and moral principles that is grounded in and guided by Eternal Truth. We should be rejoice that he failed as a post-modern but devastated at his failure as a truly principled ruler.  Oh, for a true Christian Statesman!

Post-Modern Success and A Failure of Principle; The Post-Modern Presidency- Part II

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Post-modern Presidency

Presidential SealIn the last essay post-modernism is briefly described along with how Bill Clinton’s presidency was a post-modern presidency.  That opinion piece ended with a summary of how G.W. Bush was elected by many who hoped to put a reversal to this, even if they didn’t understand the concept of post-modernism.  These supporters of Bush were people who knew that God existed, that there was truth in the universe; they were disturbed by the continued swing to relativistic ethics (morality as determined by the individual), that a lie was no longer defined as a lie, and that government was becoming God in the lives of Americans by controlling and monitoring everything we do.  Bush was a glimmer of light and hope.  Ah, relief, the Clinton years could become ancient history.  Maybe it was all a mirage, a nightmare.  Unfortunately to many it was a nightmare of the worst kind (that’s a nightmare that is not really a nightmare but reality).  With Bush’s inauguration, my Christian friends could now cease their imprecatory prayers toward Washington.

Articles are now being published attempting to evaluate the Bush years and to measure his forthcoming legacy.    Democrats are blaming him for everything, while friends and associates are publicly defending and spinning the administration’s decisions and actions.  As one looks back on the presidency of George W. Bush, one can evaluate his achievements from two distinct vantage points.  In retrospect, Bush could have had a “successful” presidential legacy by remaining principled and honorable, or second he could have succeeded in a manner like Clinton reinventing himself as a triumphant post-modern president.  Bush, though, failed on both of these accounts.  This essay will evaluate the failure in the first way and the next essay in his failure as a post-modern.

Has Bush been successful as a principled president or as a successful post-modern president?  Let’s first make a broadly general principled Christian evaluation.  As stated earlier, Bush seemingly started out well.  He was strongly pro-life and took lots of heat for his principled stand against infanticide for stem cell research purposes.  He cut taxes in 2001 and again in 2003.  Why, word even spread that he openly shared his Christian faith.  He appeared principled and talked about wanting to keep a lid on government spending.  There was hope restraint would be placed on the idolatrous role of government over our lives.

When he was first elected I actually thought that there was a chance that he would become, a truly principled president.  I was hesitant because I initially thought he was ideologically like his father, a centrist and a compromiser.  But early in his presidency he made me become optimistic that he actually was principled and historically conservative in his approach to big government, budgeting, defense, and on social issues.  And though I opposed him on faith-based initiatives because I do not see this as a role government should play.  (In response to faith-based initiatives, I’ve argued before, cut our taxes and allow us to support the faith-based causes we believe in).  I, however, saw this as an expression of his faith convictions; and the concept of compassionate conservatism rang true to the desire to practice positive fruit-bearing faith in the market place.

In the early months succeeding this 9/11 event Bush looked pretty good.  He appeared in control as he visited grief-stricken New York City.  He seemed determined to get those who had forged this atrocity.  He (we) would get the culprits, Osama bin Ladin and Sadam Hussein; we would find the weapons of mass destruction.  America would take the high road and fight terrorism on a principled moral stand, the right to self-defense.  Might and goodness would prevail.  We were the ones attacked and we had good (even God) on our side as justice would triumph.  Bush and Guiliani emerged as the symbols of this appeal to justice and Americans responded with apparent unity and a revival of patriotism. Just as Americans rallied in support of WWII after an extension of our homeland was attacked at Pearl Harbor, we could not remain still as sitting ducks.  We were united because we had been attacked.

WHAT HAPPENED?  After 9/11 Bush led us off to war, but failed to build the case for a principled just war.  It looked like a war of revenge, like a war for oil not a just war on principle.  It even felt just because we’d been attacked first, even if it had not been by the forces of Sadam Hussein.  Everyone agreed that Afghanistan that could be justifiably attacked but Iraq was questionable at best.

In order for war to be just there must be a just reason for it; it also must be declared by a competent authority and as a last resort.  There was never a just cause publicly and consistently provided for the Iraq War.  Different reasons were given at different times (an evil oppressive government, they were behind 9/11, oil) but never was a just reason accepted by a consensus, except for the initial anger.  This war should have been publicly debated prior to the invasion, not just given a nod of approval by a Congress still reeling from the effects of 9/11.  Congress failed in its initial response to the terrorism and because of that it became Bush’s War and not America’s War.  Only a public declaration of war can make a war owned by the whole government and by the people.  Since no morally comprehensive just reason for the Iraqi War was established, a new concept or reason was launched: seek out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for they threaten the region and our interests.  We’ll fight a war not for justice but to limit the power of a potential enemy, even though they were not directly involved with the attacks of 2001.  A just cause could have also been a formal declaration of war against Iraq for training, supporting, and harboring those who had declared war on America, but this too was not done.

As it became obvious that there was no consensus publict reason for the Iraqi War, except to capture Sadam Hussein, Bush emerged no longer principled but willing to buy and sell a lie without real verification, to send us to war on this lie, to compromise principles of just war by permitting and even supporting the torture of prisoners.  Then to justify torture, specifically water-boarding, leadership becomes Clintonesque by redefining torture.  There is no difference in Bush saying that it is not torture than Clinton saying it is not sex.  Our collective character, at least what remained of it, was substantially destroyed in this war.  Foreign countries mock us because we’ve no visible character left standing. It has been said that America is great because it is good, but I add that once America is no longer good that it ceases to be great.  Of course there are great difficulties and challenges in fighting an assymmetrical war, but at what moral cost?  A just war must be fought in a just way but also all-out to be won.

Furthermore we hold prisoners without trial calling them prisoners of war, yet we are technically still not at war.  I believe that those who are being held at Guatanamo are generally terrorists and evil men, but our own system of law cannot be compromised.  We needed to either hold them as prisoners of war, as part of a legally declared just war, or charge them as international criminals and publicly try them.  Instead we just hold them and make ourselves  unjust.  And internally, historic American rights to privacy are lost to the pragmatic security argument post 911 and in recent years government expansion occurs exponentially.  Bush must be commended for protecting American citizens post-9/11, but what freedoms have been compromised?  And how compromised do our borders still remain?  Let’s see now, we are still in a war that continues today, a war based on muddled premises, and a war that has expanded government and possibly compromised American freedoms.

This war, like all post WWII wars is ironically not formally a war, yet it is a war.  A principled president would have declared a formal declaration of war and gone forward with it, or not have done so at all on this basis.  This is unquestionably difficult when the war is not against a state but asymmetrical and against a “hidden” group of people.  Nevertheless, it needed to have been guided by the principles of justice, not by pragmatic aspirations.  And yes, we detain prisoners for years without trials justifying it by calling them prisoners of war, but we are still not constitutionally at war.  (This is the new post-modern re-definition of war.  We only call it a war when it works for us to do so otherwise it is not a war).  Before the war began I publicly stated that a plan for a replacement government in Iraq had to be in place before the war/revolution there began.  It had to be a war owned by the revolutionaries from Iraq and supported by outside military forces.  In order for it to be successful it had to be a war led by the Iraqi people in a just revolution with a government in exile already in place even before the war began.

This non-war war continues.  The budget is out of control, the national debt has multiplied, yet some people believe Bush is still a conservative?  Compassionate conservatism (I haven’t heard that phrase for years) is dead; it means nothing today.  And most recently government has involved itself in areas where it has no right being, in the government bailouts of privately owned banks and businesses.  This economic crisis has not been confronted by consistent principles but rather by pragmatic considerations.  One of the most glaring statements of absurdity and post-modernity was recently uttered by Bush, “I’ve abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.”  No, George, you’ve abandoned these principles in order to save your own legacy.

Bush failed as a principled president, the hope that so many had when he entered office. There was another option for Bush though.  Bush still had the possibility of becoming a successful post-modern president.  Is Bush really a closet post-modern and only deceived us in being principled?  In the next installment, an examination of Bush as a post-modern president will be given.

The Post-modern Presidency

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Post-modern Presidency

Presidential SealIn his 2000 book, Time for Truth (available in our bookstore here), Os Guinness calls Bill Clinton America’s first post-modern president.  Post-modernism is the view emerging out of late 20th century existentialism that rejects the existence of God resulting in skepticism and relativism, and advocating the rejection of truth, certainty, and any moral foundation except that which can be created by an individual or group. It has led us to multi-culturalism, (that all cultures have equal value), historical revisionism, and political posturing.

Post-modernism recognizes the failure of the Enlightenment project (the unabashed trust in human reason) and places radical limitations on human reason because a finite human mind cannot understand an infinitely complex universe.  Since we cannot know everything, we cannot know anything.  This doubting of all truth and values leads to a culture devoid of substance where everything is image and story-telling.  Truth is relegated to whatever those in positions of power determine to be true or right.  Power is gained by creating stories, images and perceptions that appeal to people that stir them to become “believers in” or part of the story.

Guinness argues Clinton was post-modern because he was so adept at avoiding the truth and creating his own truth even in his re-creation of language.  Statements such as “what is, is” or “I did not have sex with that woman,” or “I didn’t inhale” (the marijuana) are prime examples of this.  Guinness accuses him of prevarication, which is distorting the truth or telling falsehoods.  Reverend Jesse Jackson said of Clinton in 1992, “There’s nothing he won’t do.  He’s immune to shame.  Move past all the nice posturing and get really down in there in him, you find absolutely nothing…nothing but an appetite.”  Guinness even quotes Clinton White House staffer and now CNN commentator, Paul Begala, as saying that the first rule of politics is: “Define and create the reality you want.”

This is the true legacy of the Bill Clinton White House.  And now in his post-presidential years Clinton has even been skilled enough to persuade people to believe his newest narrative, to embrace the image he now projects to not only as a presidential survivor but to now reinvent himself as a respectable elder statesman.

It is in this post-modern era of history that G.W. Bush came sweeping into the White House in the 2000 election carried by an underlying hope held by many Americans, especially conservative and Christian ones, that he might reverse this drift toward post-modernism, even if they did not know it by that name.  They wanted a return to absolute values, to principled decency, and to a government that stood for something good.  It should be understood that there is only one way to reverse or to overcome this non-rational, non-system called post-modernism and that is to go back not to the system-building optimistic humanism of recent generations but to depend on a transcendent value system based on an absolute transcendent reference point.

Francis Schaeffer would describe it as returning to a God who is really there who has spoken true truth to His creatures.  Many hoped that G.W. Bush would do this.  There was hope that he would take a stand for truth, that he would be courageous and principled, and that he would do what is right because it is right and because it is God’s truth.  After all, he was a conservative Christian.  Early in his administration he did some of this.  He stood on the right side of the embryonic stem cell issue, he signed the ban on partial-birth abortion and post-911 he offered Americans a return to true values, historical patriotism, and a sense of goodness.

Maybe America wasn’t dead after all.  Maybe the idea of a principled America based on a belief in God and true inherent values could be rekindled.  But something went terribly wrong.  And now by the end of his final term we find him powerless, and the reality of a bankrupt economy metaphorically pictures the White House perfectly.  We have a presidency which should give up and declare bankruptcy for it is a ghost house.  No one is at home.

What happened to the hope that was part of this administration?  Where did it go wrong?  How is George Bush a product of post-modernism? If Clinton was the first post-modern President, was the election of 2008 the first post-modern election?  How is President-elect Obama a representative or spokesman of post-modernism?  And finally, what is a conservative Christian to do now?  These questions will be addressed in subsequent commentaries.