Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts on Obama

How savvy a politician is Barack Obama? He certainly ran an excellent campaign but his presidency has been one misstep after another. Many people point to the stimulus package as a success simply because it passed but who can deny now that it's been detrimental to Obama? It's clear in the public mind that there was no stimulative affect in it, just a lot of giveaways to favored constituencies. Along with the administration's first budget, the stimulus also focused people's attention on the deficit, to Obama's detriment. It automatically made it more difficult to pass any other legislation that would add to the deficit. So what does Obama do? He follows with an economy-ruining energy bill, the cap-and-trade initiative that has since been tabled due to lack of support. And now the Obamacare fiasco, which is tanking, deservedly. The administration initially tried to sell both cap-and-trade and health-care reform as good economic policy but that's a hard sell. A quick perusal of the legislation disproves that immediately (along with a basic understanding of economics, and a smidgen of common sense.) Then there are the minor failures, like the tabling of the card check legislation, the Gates affair, and the mess that is the cash-for-clunkers program (the administration calls this 'wildly popular' but polls show it's only popular among those who've taken advantage of it. Us taxpayers paying for this largess aren't particularly thrilled.) And so Obama's approval ratings have reached 50%, quite low for any president six-months in. Public confidence in his policies and Democrats in general is plummeting. Another few months like the past two for Obama and his entire presidency will be threatened.

So which is it? Is Obama the brilliant politician we've been led to believe, or the bumbler of the past six months? Which is closer to the truth?

Well, you can probably guess my opinion. While I've said nothing about Obama in this space since his inauguration, I had plenty to say about him during the campaign last year. Looking back at what I wrote then, my main theme seemed to be that Obama was an empty suit, a man with little real-life experience that would suit him for the presidency, who displayed a startling lack of economic and historical literacy, and who was not, contrary to his admirers claims, some new type of liberal but rather a conventional one, one who had nothing to offer but retrograde ideas, retreads from the 1970s. Six months into his presidency, I've seen nothing from Obama that would cause me to change that opinion. In fact his performance to this point has done nothing but reinforce my views. It's been nothing short of pathetic.

So where's the Obama of the campaign? The one we were told was such a formidable presence? I would argue he is still here with us for his administration is one long campaign, and he is out there on the stump day in and day out, using his undeniably impressive voice and speaking skills to sell his programs. But governing is quite a different thing than campaigning. Now there are actual programs and policies that must be defended. Now persuasion comes into play, not to mention trust. Obama had all the good will in the world going for him on January 20. His party had solid majorities in both houses of Congress. He could have passed whatever he wanted. And he did - the stimulus, which was his first mistake. Not a mistake in going after a stimulus package, for the American people were solidly behind that. It was in the particulars of the legislation. He should have worked for a bipartisan bill that included tax cuts for business and on individuals in the upper income brackets. A capital gains tax cut would also have helped, along with an announcement that he was going to extend or make permanent the Bush tax cuts set to expire in 2011. That would have been stimulative. That would have been a success. But, alas, Obama is too much the ideologue to take such a step. Instead he blew up the budget with giveaways and people started to watch him, and wonder who they actually elected. The mainstream media did its best to cover up Obama's radical past from ordinary Americans during the campaign. They pressed the fiction that he was post-partisan, post-racial man, a healer of sorts, a wise-man who would lead us into a new future. That myth has now been exploded and polls show that the American people see Obama for who he really is, a leftist ideologue. A lack of trust has crept into the public opinion of the man, not to mention much anger over the health-care initiative. Everything he'd like to accomplish as president thus becomes harder. Had he started out of the gate with a real victory on the stimulus everything thereafter would have been easier. It mat have enabled him to ram cap-and-trade through Congress and even much of the health-care program because people would have trusted him. But now they don't, and folks are paying very close attention. That's not a good place to be six months into a presidency.

And so my opinion is confirmed. Obama was too inexperienced, too much the naive ideologue to become president. He's overreached, making the same mistakes Clinton did in 1993 and LBJ did in 1964-65. The economic and historical ignorance that I accused him of during the campaign is pretty much a given now. That said, things may turn for Obama in the future for you never know in politics. After all, Clinton's presidency was actually saved by his mistakes. So upset were the American people about his initial political initiatives that they swept the Democrats out of power in 1994. Clinton, faced with Republican rule in both houses of Congress, realized he needed to move to the middle. He became the free-trade president, he signed welfare reform, and he got out of the way of the Internet boom. By the time he finally got caught up in scandal the economy was in such good shape even cigars, stained blue dresses, and outright lies could not bring him down. If Obama were smart, if he is as smart as we've been told, he will seek out some sort of middle ground that will reassure Americans and reestablish some public trust. Will he? I'm not so sure. Clinton had been a governor for a decade before he became president. He'd won and lost elections and he knew what it took to succeed. He truly was a savvy politician. Obama has never really accomplished anything beyond what his public speaking skills could get him. He's never been associated with any issue or legislation. He is disinterested in policy (again, unlike Clinton, who loved talking policy and knew all the issues from both sides) and when he tries to talk about it off-the-cuff he is pathetically inept. His knowledge is all surface-deep. We've got a parochial-minded community organizer for president who has the arrogant mentality of a cloistered, pipe-smoking university professor. He's a faculty-lounge orator, utterly self-assured about his own righteousness and infallibility. No president can succeed with a mindset like that. If Barack Obama doesn't have the ability to rise above this outlook his presidency is almost guaranteed to be a failure.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

"Is it the Fourth?” Those were Jefferson's purported last words, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. When assured that it was, he apparently felt he had permission to give up the ghost. Five hundred miles away, John Adams was also breathing his last, though not before whispering "Jefferson lives." Alas, he was wrong, for Jefferson has passed a few hours previous. Fifty years to the day, the two men who along with Washington (the greatest American) were most associated with the founding, pass on. Coincidence? Divine providence for a nation which many at the time believed was divinely blessed? You decide. For me, I will give thanks for being born in America, for, as the saying goes, if you were born an American you won life's lottery. We are the greatest country on earth, the greatest nation in the history of the world. I say that without shame or hesitation.

For all you lovers of American history, here's a terrific column about July 4 by the best of all historians of the founding, Joseph Ellis.


There is only one way that Sarah Palin's resignation as governor of Alaska makes sense: she's had it. She will no longer stand for the vicious attacks she's been subjected to from the left and the media (I know, that's a redundancy) since she became a national political star. So she's getting out now to protect her husband, her children, and herself from any further abuse. She'll retire to a more quiet life out of the public spotlight and call her political career quits.

If this is not the case, if this is a political move in preparation for a Senate run in 2010 or a presidential run in 2012, then it is a disaster and those of us who previously thought highly of her are going to have to start questioning her judgement. Not only does her resignation label her a quitter, a label both her Republican and Democratic challengers will be quick to hang on her, it also is a betrayal. She's betrayed her staff, her supporters, and all those who donated time and money to her cause. She's betrayed the people of Alaska whom she was elected to serve. Who can be confident going forward about this woman's dedication and perserverance? The more I think about it the more it seems to me to be the move of a highly selfish woman, one who thinks, to use the current parlance, it's all about her. She is in politics not, as many of us hoped, because she has a particular vision, philosophy, agenda, that she is passionate about and wants to implement for the greater good. No, she's in it for personal gain, for fame, power, and money. In other words, she's a normal politician, quite a bit more charismatic than most but just as shallow. If this is the case, then good riddance to her.

I've been skeptical since the election last year whether Sarah Palin could ever rehabilitate herself in the eyes of the American public. The left's attack on her has made her, however unjustly, a public joke. That's a hard thing to recover from. But, if she really thought she had a future in politics, yesterday's announcement is a self-inflicted wound, one that will make it nearly impossible for her to be elected to higher office ever again. She can credit herself with throwing the last few shovels full of dirt over the political grave the left has dug for her. Whether she knows it yet or not, Sarah Palin's political career is over.