Obama Heeds Dictator Handbook with School Speech

President Barack Obama cannot possibly intend to resemble an aspiring dictator. Somehow, he keeps doing so.

Now he's going ahead with plans to address America's schoolchildren, having dropped the part about encouraging those children to then "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

This administration's run is rapidly transforming into an episode of "The Twilight Zone." How could Obama be so foolish?

Fascism, at its core, is a stew that begins with liberal orthodoxy and then adds a charismatic leader and thuggish government officials.

He and his advisers must be oblivious to the connections between the American far left and fascism. They must be immune to the revulsion that so many ordinary citizens feel when they see government acting as it has this past year.

The irony is that Obama could achieve his objectives if he worries a little more about the genuine fears of his opponents. If you want to be successful in a democracy, don't dismiss your opponents as kooks; study them.

By far the most important and prescient book of the past decade is Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" (2007), which makes it easy to understand why town-hall meetings are stuffed with concerned and angry citizens. If Obama wants to save his presidency, he needs to drop what he is doing and read it, now.

"Fascism, at its core," Goldberg writes, "is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work together in spiritual union toward the same goals overseen by the state."

I'll put it this way: Fascism, at its core, is a stew that begins with liberal orthodoxy and then adds a charismatic leader and thuggish government officials.

Obama's Mistake

So if you pursue a radical left-wing agenda, you will inevitably arouse fear of fascism. Obama's big mistake has been to ignore this dynamic and the fears that his own powerful charisma will inflame in his opponents.

When you think fascism, you think of the evil tyrants of the 20th century. But the first fascist nation in the world was, Goldberg insists, the U.S., and Woodrow Wilson the first fascist dictator.

The case is surprisingly strong. The "progressive" Wilson centralized power, shut down members of the press he didn't like and pressed his brand of nationalism on American children, who were asked to pledge, "I make a promise that I'll do my honest, earnest part, in helping my America with all my loyal heart."

Given Goldberg's definition of fascism, it makes sense that Americans would be nervous today.

A government that rapidly attempts to consolidate power over everything from automakers to health care will naturally give people pause. Attempting to do so by following the lead of a charismatic politician who rose to power by organizing massive rallies will naturally give people pause. That such a leader would surround himself in the White House with political thugs will naturally give people pause.

Personality Cult

Obama needs to recognize all this and be sensitive to it. Instead, in misstep after misstep, he has taken actions that heighten questions about his ultimate objectives.

The school address plays to fears that he is building a personality cult. There are many other concerns as well.

For example, Obama was silent when it was reported that Van Jones, a White House special adviser on "green" energy jobs, had used a profanity to describe Republicans in a speech in Berkeley, California, a month before he joined the administration.

The attention Jones received for the remarks uncovered a disturbing past. For example, ABC News reported that "Jones and other young activists in 1994 formed a group called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, or STORM, rooted in Marxism and Leninism."

Fire Him

Is it any wonder that Americans are rising up against this president? If your agenda calls for a massive expansion of government power, one that requires you to convince citizens that your motives are pure and the power will not be abused, don't put a guy who formed a Marxist-Leninist group called STORM in the White House. If you do make a mistake and hire such a person, fire him when you learn he dismissed political opponents with a vulgarity. (And no, letting him resign over a long holiday weekend doesn't count.)

A look at Wilson's first inaugural address shows it was pure Obama: "I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side."

Anyone with those characteristics would, of course, agree with Wilson. And those who didn't? According to Goldberg's book, Wilson said in another venue that those who are not progressive "better look out."

Obama can make the mistakes he makes because he and the people around him believe that they are forward-looking, honest and patriotic. They may well be all of those, but people who oppose their policies can be as well. Obama must become far more attentive to the fears of his opponents.

If he doesn't, and continues to allow thugs in the White House, and to engage in charades such as his address to America's schoolchildren, then his opposition will grow without bound.

Kevin A. Hassett is a senior fellow and the director of economic policy studies at AEI.

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About the Author


Kevin A.
  • Kevin A. Hassett is the State Farm James Q. Wilson Chair in American Politics and Culture at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He is also a resident scholar and AEI's director of economic policy studies.

    Before joining AEI, Hassett was a senior economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and an associate professor of economics and finance at Columbia (University) Business School. He served as a policy consultant to the US Department of the Treasury during the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.

    Hassett has also been an economic adviser to presidential candidates since 2000, when he became the chief economic adviser to Senator John McCain during that year's presidential primaries. He served as an economic adviser to the George W. Bush 2004 presidential campaign, a senior economic adviser to the McCain 2008 presidential campaign, and an economic adviser to the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

    Hassett is the author or editor of many books, among them "Rethinking Competitiveness" (2012), "Toward Fundamental Tax Reform" (2005), "Bubbleology: The New Science of Stock Market Winners and Losers" (2002), and "Inequality and Tax Policy" (2001). He is also a columnist for National Review and has written for Bloomberg.

    Hassett frequently appears on Bloomberg radio and TV, CNBC, CNN, Fox News Channel, NPR, and "PBS NewsHour," among others. He is also often quoted by, and his opinion pieces have been published in, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

    Hassett has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College.

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    Email: khassett@aei.org
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