Friday, October 23, 2009
A Flash Of Perspective
Remember discussions of "character" during the 2008 Presidential elections? A point made by supporters of Sen. McCain, time and time again, was that character matters -- your character, your sense of honor, your track record how you deal with friends and opponents (and how you distinguish the two), all these strongly influence the decisions you will make as an executive.
The point was then made that, with respect to then-Senator Barack Obama, we knew virtually nothing about him. He had no executive experience from which to draw a track record of successful decisions; his college transcripts were sealed, and remain sealed to this day; serious inquiry into his past was firmly discouraged. (To the everlasting shame of our supposedly independent press, they were asked to support Sen. Obama blindly, and they did.)
As such, we were being asked to make a huge leap of faith, based on the candidate's word and nothing else -- a candidate who, for all we knew, could have been the world's most successful snake-oil salesman. We couldn't judge him on his actions and accomplishments, because he had virtually none he was willing to let us examine carefully. "Trust me", he essentially said... and, in a spirit of hope (or naivete, or perhaps both), we did.
We are now seeing, more and more, the consequences of that leap of faith. Mr. Obama was criticized many times, for many things, during the campaign -- and those criticisms were quickly hushed up, as though none of them mattered -- but now we are seeing how those criticisms reflect the man himself, and the way he acts and makes decisions. He was criticized then for avoiding difficult issues and difficult questions (for example, with his classic response "Look, why can't I just eat my waffle?"); today he is dragging his feet on approving more troops for Afghanistan, a step insisted upon by Gen. McChrystal (whom he appointed to the job), in what Obama used to call a "war of necessity". Mr. Obama was criticized then for his economic priorities (as he famously told Joe Wurzelbacher: "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody"); as President, he has nationalized industries to an extent not seen in this country for generations. He was criticized for being thin-skinned -- remember when he warned reporters not to make fun of his ears? -- and today we find that he can't stand being criticized, to the extent of shutting off news organizations that refuse to toe the party line:
Decide for yourself what the most disgraceful aspect of this is. Was it the fact that Gibbs told Jake Tapper explicitly on Monday that the White House wouldn’t try to dictate to the press pool who should and shouldn’t be included — before doing precisely that? Was it Anita Dunn going out of her way to say she respects Major Garrett as a fair reporter — before the administration decided he didn’t deserve a crack here at Feinberg? Or was it the repeated insistence by Dunn and Axelrod that of course the administration will make its officials available to Fox — before pulling the plug today?As Jennifer Rubin writes in Commentary, the heavy-handedness can no longer be ignored:
It’s a cringe-inducing moment, both for those who oppose the White House on policy grounds and those who cheer its every move. As surely as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton allowed their personal flaws to erode the office of the presidency, Obama seems bent on allowing his own flaws (thin-skinnedness, hubris) to do potentially grave damage to the office as well. And over what? Not some grand policy matter or some key personnel matter, but over the desire to exclude a news network that has criticized him. For those who suggested that Obama’s main selling point was his “superior temperament,” we anxiously await an admission of grave error. It seems they were terribly mistaken.
It has been said that you are known by who your friends and your enemies are. In the case of President Obama, his actions speak louder than his words, and they tell us strongly that his enemies are not al-Qaeda (whom he pledged to fight in Afghanistan, but now isn't sure about)... or Iran, which continues to call America "the Great Satan" and to fight directly against American troops in Iraq, but which Obama insists on "engaging". No, his enemies -- the ones who earn his venom -- are the conservatives who criticize his policies (whom he openly calls liars, and whom his cabinet calls everything from "unpatriotic" to un-American"), and the one news organization willing to ask tough questions.
President Obama continues to show contempt for Americans that disagree with him. As such, I have to say that I was annoyed to hear, on the morning news, that the President will spend a significant part of today at MIT, walking distance away from my office. He's liable to mess up my commute home. It's doubtful that he'll accomplish anything else.
UPDATE: No, he didn't mess up my commute; I saw the police barricades going up on my way in to the office, and I stayed at my desk until well past 5PM, when the streets were open again.
On the other hand, I was surprised to read that, even in Massachusetts, President Obama was followed by protesters. In this case, they were liberal protesters -- Code Pink ladies (angry that we still have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan), LGBT groups (angry about the President's failure to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, among other things), environmental groups, and so on.
If the President is now being hounded by the left... and headlines a major fundraising dinner for the sitting Governor of Massachusetts, which then has trouble even filling the hall... then his popularity is indeed in trouble.
And apart from his popularity, what does he have, really? He can't claim support because of his policies, given that he's deviated from so many of his campaign promises. He can't rely on being able to think quickly and make snap decisions, because he can't. He doesn't even have the power of his soaring rhetoric, long his greatest gift, because fewer and fewer people are willing to believe him. And he certainly can't rely on character, which the American people were willing to take on faith that he had; his private war on Fox News answers that question pretty definitively.
What does that leave, Mr. President? Think about it; the American people are waiting for your answer.
UPDATE 2: Ed Morrissey has something similar to say:
Obama wanted to be President, not to lead, but just to win. Now that he has won, he has no core set of governing principles other than what impacts Barack Obama. He has offered no leadership on any part of his agenda all year long, content to have Nancy Pelosi run it for him. His foreign policy thus far consists entirely of making himself personally popular with the world. On Afghanistan, Obama has thus far allowed Robert Gates and David Petraeus to make his decisions, only balking at the moment because the McChrystal strategy puts him at odds with his base, which could erode his popularity.(emphasis mine)
We’ve complained a number of times about the cult of personality that surrounds Obama, but as [Chuck] Todd implies with this answer, it’s really all Obama has.
And now, with special elections putting Republican governors into place in Virginia and New Jersey, we find that President Obama's popularity, such as it is, doesn't translate to those he supports. (In both cases, he campaigned heavily for the Democratic candidates.)
Personally, I think this means that, even if the President remains personally popular, that doesn't mean people trust the candidates he vouches for... which means that, in a real sense, they don't trust him.
If you can't use your popularity to accomplish anything, what good is it?