Remembering Pre-Obama America

Revisiting America's past greatness.

It is pretty much common knowledge by this time—except to his diehard supporters—that President Barack Obama is ill-equipped to occupy the highest office in the country. The only campaign promise he has not broken is the pledge to “fundamentally transform” America, which he has done in record   time, at great cost to both America’s solvency and its standing in the world. Aside from his undoubted socialist convictions and his undeniable anti-Israel bias, which he shares with his voting constituency, he is a man who cannot box his compass, whether morally or directionally. Indeed, he functions several vertiginous levels below his pay grade and, aside from following a nation-killing neo-Marxist agenda, basically has no idea where he is going in the real world of practical affairs.

This is bad news for just about everybody—heritage Americans, Muslims,  minority communities, geostrategic allies and especially Israelis, the latter having taken the measure of his ineptitude and disingenuousness more effectively than most. It is by no means surprising that Israel should have figured out who Obama is and what he represents since its very survival is at stake—but then, so is America’s. Obama’s constant swerving, misreading the map, reversing course and flaunting the rules is by now too well known to require much in the way of comment. Steered by someone who does not know how to drive and may not even have his license, the nation has gone completely off track and lost its way, mired in debt, its gas tank near empty, sideswiped by its competitors, like an old jalopy rusting in an empty field.

I often think of the America I saw as a kid when I would accompany my father two or three times a year on his business trips, mainly to New York, Baltimore and Washington, plus a few other places as well. It seemed so different from everything I knew back home in Canada with its “lethal combination of passive-aggressiveness and smugness” (to quote a recent email from a friend). It was a country bursting with vigor and adventure, brash, pugnacious, swashbuckling and multifaceted, laced with an invigorating sense of manageable danger. It was an intoxicating land. And of course, like any kid, I loved American cars, the tailfins of the Cadillac, the wraparound windshields, the lavish chrome, the luxobarges, the Texas pick-up trucks with rifles strapped to the roof of the cab, the hot pony cars, and Jeeps everywhere. The Jeep became my youthful symbol for the U.S. (as it did for the husband of a colleague who gratefully remembers the G.I.s at the end of World War II rolling through his liberated city in convoys of Jeeps).

My impression of American pep and moxie was reinforced years later when I was a student at Berkeley and drove across the U.S. several times, east to west, north to south, and back again—once in a rented Jeep along the magnificent route from San Francisco to Seattle. This was Rubicon country for me. Canadian poet Peter Van Toorn could have been describing America when he wrote that it “Just jeeps right up. Five hundred turkeys/on each hubcap…For traction.” How things have changed, celebration of a dynamic, can-do nation having turned to mere nostalgia. Even the Jeep badge, or a part thereof, has been carved up and shunted overseas. The new Chrysler co-branded, Fiat-planned micro-Jeep, like the Jeep mule based on the Fiat Qubo, will be built in the former Yugo plant in Serbia (Motor Trend, July 2011). Adding insult to injury, an Italian company now enjoys a controlling interest in emblematic America.

Clearly, this is no longer a Jeepers Jamboree America. The swagger is gone. Its off-road capability is severely compromised, especially in the rugged territory of the Middle East, but also in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Its platform owes much to foreign influence. Its internal power plant generates scant oomph and impetus and little torque is sent to the wheels. Its cabin design looks like the bland and insipid template of the best-forgotten Trabant. Its shock absorbers no longer cushion the bumps even in city driving.

“There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery,” Obama said to the workers at a Toledo Jeep plant. “We’re going to pass through some rough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a tough time with.” The more perceptive among his unionized audience did not appreciate the remark, obviously realizing the economy had stalled somewhere in the middle of entitlement hell. As Mark Steyn comments, “This is Main Street, Obamaville: All bumps and no road.” It’s all rut and washout. Another way of putting it: a country with lots of creepers but few Jeepers. This is only to be expected in a nation crippled by unqualified stewardship, high fuel prices, untapped reserves, rampant outsourcing, no sense of destination, and far too many hitchhikers thumbing a free ride.

The U.S. now resembles a political vehicle desperately in need of a makeover before it sinks unwinchably into the mudflats of history. Can it recover its patrimony and reclaim its mojo? Perhaps the coming election will start it on the steep and tortuous path to an on-camber destination, a ceremonial trailhead, from which it can reconnoiter, as Van Toorn writes, “good grass out front,/bad brush behind.” And given, of course, a competent driver behind the wheel. Americans can hope. Perhaps they can even change.