On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, James Delingpole says that the President-elect is horribly reminiscent of Tony Blair in 1997. He may be a fantastic guy, and look great, but he will bring a ragbag of scuzzballs, communists and eco-loons to power with him
No matter how excited you may be about Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday, I bet you’re not as pleased as I am. Never have I wished more devoutly for a presidential victory than the one won by this mighty intellect-cum-healer-cum-fashion-model-cum-general-all-round-Messiah — a man so conscious of his own merit that, unlike any president before him, he plans to swear his inaugural oath on the Lincoln bible.
But this wasn’t because I nurtured a burning desire to see the first ever African-American made US president. Nor because I’d bought into his speeches or that lovely, confident, articulate speaking voice he has. Nor yet because I had the remotest faith in Obama’s ability to change America for the better. Quite the opposite, actually. The reason I wanted him to win was because I was halfway through writing a book called Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work. The title just wouldn’t have had the same ring under a President John McCain.
When I tell them about the book, most of my Conservative friends go: ‘Wow! That is such a good idea.’ But all the credit here belongs to a brilliant US publishing vice president named Harry Crocker III who contacted me out of the blue one day with the nicest email I’ve ever received. ‘Dear James,’ it went, ‘as a longstanding Spectator reader and fan of your column I wondered whether you might be interested in writing a book for us…’
I’ve been pinching myself in disbelief ever since. Mind you, there were a couple of obstacles which at first seemed insurmount-able. The first was that Harry wanted the book delivered in a month and the second was that, it being published only in America for a US audience, the project seemed to require rather more knowledge about US politics than I have or ever will possess.
‘We’ll help you out with all the US detail as necessary,’ replied Harry. ‘But you’re already far better qualified to write this book than most Americans.’ ‘Why’s that?’ I said. ‘Because unlike us, you’ve already spent 12 years living under socialism,’ he replied.
At which point, it all made such perfect sense that the write-in-a-month part ceased to be a problem. ‘But of course!’ I realised. ‘It’s like May 1997 all over again. Same euphoria. Same sense — even among many Conservatives — that this time it’s different, that this guy’s The One who’s going to change everything. Same subtly bullying, post-Diana’s-death-style atmosphere where if you don’t subscribe to the popular consensus you’re a freak and a cynic and you’re wrong and you should probably be shot.’
Crikey, they were scary times for those few of us who, right from day one, refused to give any credence to the Blair project. It was like the second half of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, where pretty much every human alive has been taken over by the evil, gelatinous pod-creatures, and you no longer know which, if any, of your friends you can trust. Remember the awful final scene in the classic 1978 remake where the sweet girl goes up to nice Donald Sutherland only to have him reveal with that blood-curdling scream that, yes, he too has been got by the bodysnatchers? Well that’s just how I felt when my hitherto sound friend Damian confided to me that he too now held out high hopes for the new regime.
How did I know — when the majority of media ‘experts’ didn’t — that the Blair project was doomed from the off? Look, I’m not trying to claim any special political insight here. Anyone with eyes to see could tell that the man was a snake oil salesman. You only had to pause to think for more than half a second about the very notion of the ‘Third Way’. As with ‘excellence for all’, it was always going to be a non-starter. In politics you can only have more of the left way or more of the right way. Yes, you can find middle ground between those two positions, but it doesn’t transport you to some hitherto uncharted and wondrous territory where the paradigm changes and perfection is reached. It’s either compromise or cheating, that’s all.
Yet for a quite shockingly long time the British electorate — those few who could be bothered to vote, that is — were prepared to believe the impossible. Never mind the Millennium Dome, the railways disaster, the Bernie Ecclestone scandal, foot and mouth, the stealth taxes, the growing hospital waiting-lists, the falling literacy rates: almost every- one was so determined to take this pretty straight-talking kind of guy at his own estimation that they wouldn’t let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of their wishful thinking. Hence the bizarre phenomenon — cue much disbelieving rubbing of eyes from future historians — of Blair achieving higher popularity ratings than either Margaret Thatcher or Winston Churchill.
Obama, I very much fear, is Blair Mk II. Of course there are differences. Obama, for example, has been very much more open than Blair ever was about his plans for redistributive taxation. But what both men have in common is this chameleon ability to be all things to all men. Just as Blair’s accent was forever veering from Scots to public school to estuary according to his audience, so Obama is ‘Hussein’ to Muslims, a fellow person of colour to Hispanics, an authentic negro hero to blacks, and to Caucasians an honorary (and, indeed, half-) white person in the fine tradition of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Tiger Woods and Lewis Hamilton. To no one is he an obvious threat.
Unlike, say, Gordon Brown. With Gordon Brown it’s obvious what the threat is — he’s a dour, tax-and-spend socialist — and whether you love him or you believe (not unreasonably) that he is the most criminally incompetent prime minister in British history, you can’t deny that he is and always has been an ‘enemy plain in view’. Which is why, though superficially more grisly than his predecessor, he is in fact a lot less dangerous. Most voters know exactly what’s wrong with Brown. Most voters don’t (or at least for a long time didn’t) have a clue what’s wrong with Blair. It’s the same with Obama. By the time Americans begin to discover what they’ve let themselves in for, the damage will long since have been done.
And in any case, it’s not just about Barack Obama. Like Blair, I’m sure he’s a fantastic bloke. Looks great in a suit, fabbo teeth, wonderfully charming. But what about that ragbag — an inevitability with all left-liberal administrations, especially when they control both houses of Congress — of scuzzballs, communists, class warriors, eco-loons, thugs, malcontents, and single-issue rabble-rousers that will sweep into power on his back? They’re the ones America really needs to worry about because they’re the ones who’ll be wreaking the most havoc while Obama stands in front masking their excesses with that reassuring ‘I’m not a socialist’ smile.
Most people don’t want to hear this at the moment. Just as they didn’t want to hear it during that previous ‘new dawn’ in May 1997. No one likes being told that those magnificent, invisible imperial threads they’ve been salivating over don’t actually exist. Besides trampling on their dreams, it makes them feel stupid, which is why the reaction to my book’s title — even among British people who you might have thought by now would know better
8212; is more often than not a mix of surprise, hurt and horror.
Sometimes you get the ‘sophisticated’ reaction. ‘You mark my words, Obama is a closet conservative. Just you look at his economic and foreign policy appointments.’ Etc. (Sorry. Don’t buy it. This is classic Blair-style strategic positioning. You feint right, the better to move left. It’s the equivalent of Brown’s surprise move as chancellor when he handed over the power to set interest rates to the Bank of England. In a stroke, he became Mister Prudence, and bought himself a decade’s leeway to act as socialist as he liked.)
Sometimes — from liberals, especially, like my best American friend W, who’s gay and teaches creative writing at a US univer-sity — you get the ‘You just don’t understand’ reaction. ‘You maybe can’t gauge just how vile and crypto-racist his opposition is here,’ protested W in a long, impassioned email trying to warn me off the project and quite missing the point. Me, I’m with the great Rush Limbaugh all the way on this one: I don’t hate Obama because he’s black. I hate him because he’s a white liberal.
Most often, and perhaps most predictably, though, you get the ‘Awww, how could you?’ reaction. This has less to do with anything Obama has ever said or done, than with the general fluffy benevolence people feel towards him. ‘But James, this is too awful!’ protested one former newspaper editor — let us call him Trevor — when I relayed the news. ‘Obama’s election was the one event this year that gave me hope for the future!’
It’s the naivety of this last group which I find most worrying because it’s sadly indicative of the critical response Obama can expect when he starts screwing up: i.e. no kind of critical response at all. We’ve had a glimpse of this already in the way the press has responded to his frankly terrifying announcements on the environment, in which he has endorsed every one of the extreme — and since mostly discredited — claims made by Al Gore in his eco-scare movie An Inconvenient Truth. With the honourable exception of the Sunday Telegraph (Christopher Booker’s column in particular), no newspaper would seem to have noticed that by falling for this grotesquely misinformed claptrap President Obama will be costing the hard-pressed US economy billions of dollars for schemes that will hamstring American heavy industry but alter the world’s ever-shifting temperatures barely one jot.
In four, or more likely, eight years time, America is going to wake up one morning — rather as Britain did in the dog-end of the Blair years — with the most terrible hang- over, only to find its pockets empty, its savings gone, its property trashed to virtual worthlessness, its streets rife with crime and its traditional liberties circumscribed by nannying bureaucrats and pettifogging regulation, and it’s going to ask itself: ‘Huh? How did that happen? Did someone drug me? Why didn’t I see that one coming?’
As one who did and does see it coming, I find it hard to summon too much sympathy. It’s like Dr Faustus complaining when, having been granted his every earthly fantasy, the devil turns up at the end to steal away his soul. It’s like the citizens of Hamlyn complaining when, having welshed on their deal with the Pied Piper, he lures all their kids inside the mountain. You just want to give them all a good shake and say: ‘Did you think it was going to come free, this once-in-a-lifetime wonder deal you made with the mysterious dark stranger you met at the crossroads at midnight?’ In your dreams, America. In your dreams!
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 17, 2009