The Consequences of Obama’s Conceit

Mark down the president’s Memorial Day speech as another solemn occasion this administration has gratingly managed to politicize. The blockquote is from an email the White House Updates account is sending around, suggesting Vietnam vets “never received the hero’s welcome they deserved” until “Obama told their story as it should have been told all along”:

In his speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., President Obama did more than just mark Memorial Day; he began the 50th commemoration of that conflict and those who served in one of America’s longest wars.

That Vietnam Vets had to wait until this week for a president to properly honor them will be news to, among others, Ronald Reagan.

The White House’s pomposity is the flip side of Obama’s long-incubated self-pity, which holds that no president since the 1930ss has had things as rough as this one has. Not Truman ending World War II, not Eisenhower struggling with the Cold War’s first hot conflict, not JFK and LBJ navigating Vietnam, and so on.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss these Year 0 delusions with an eyeroll. They have policy implications. It was the core conceit that history began with this White House, after all, that had the president pursuing engagement with Syria’s Assad, Iran’s mullahs, and the Palestinian Authority’s kleptocrats. Outreach from multiple administrations had been consistently rebuffed. But this White House was going to inaugurate a historical break.

Three and a half years later, thousands of Syrian civilians have been murdered, the peace process has been suspended, and the Middle East has been brought to the brink of regional war on account of Iran’s ongoing nuclear program.

Individual psychology matters. Group worldviews matter. Whether policymakers take themselves to be modifying previous efforts or revolutionizing everything matters. If only there had been some way to know, during the election, that Obama would end up embracing tired old policies even as he made literally messianic promises.