Increasingly, Democrats, liberals, progressives hope and pray that Obama will assert leadership on this or that issue. Sorry, my friends on the Left, give it up. It ain’t gonna happen. This Prince Hamlet decides and does nothing; instead, he dithers and dodges.
Two years ago, I opposed McCain more than I approved Obama. I rightly credited Obama as informed, intelligent, articulate, and reasonable; and with mostly sensible policies. I wrongly assumed that his personal qualities and his political policies and experience would translate into smart but strong leadership. But I quickly recovered, and quickly discovered that Obama is not so smart or so strong as I had expected. As a man and as the president, he is so conflict-averse that his preferred personal and political strategies are bob-and-weave, cringe-and-cower, and duck-and-run.
Even as I have criticized Obama, to the disappointment or disparagement of some family and friends on the Left since the election, I have defended him against Tea Party and Republican rampages of indecent personal and baseless political attacks. If right-side troglodytes had not gone after his birth certificate; spread lies about his country of origin, religion, and economic or political orientation; and distorted or lied about his policies, they might have been done two constructive things. They might have enabled a useful debate on important national issues, and they might not have forced left-side supporters to defend the problematic as well as the practical.
Playing to a public wanting results, Obama has advocated bipartisanship. But, in its name, his concessions in advance, or instead, of negotiations camouflage his desire to avoid confrontation or controversy. Ironically, his strategy obviates bipartisanship; Republicans need not negotiate in any kind of faith since they can get what they want by being partisan and unpleasant. Looking back, I ask myself how did he not learn in Chicago, in Illinois, in Congress, and in the campaign that politics is a contact sport?
First, Obama ducked controversy by discounting likely violations of international and national law (torture); disregarding obligations under treaties and laws, and precedents for legal action; and discouraging their investigation. Despite his special expertise in Constitutional and civil rights law, he established precedents for later administrations to justify future encroachment on, or erosion of, laws, liberties, and democracy itself.
Thus, he has squandered the goodwill and respect which foreign governments granted him as one different from his predecessor in international affairs. America’s reputation is now tarnished by its choice to disregard treaties—a tactic which will come back to haunt this country’s efforts to work with other countries. For leadership in a multi-polar world must be by the example of moral leadership and mutual respect.
Second, Obama dodged conflict by accepting a face-saving but empty promise by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to slow down, not halt, as Obama requested, further construction in the West Bank. Foreign leaders realized that Obama lacked backbone. Result: no influence with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, little with Afghanistan’s Karzai, and less and less with other foreign leaders on international issues.
Third, Obama deflected contention with the financial industry by appointing some of its members to his administration, and by bailing out bankers and brokers before bailing out the bankrupt and the broke, still not bailed out. By first loaning them hundreds of billions without securing their agreement to terms and conditions effecting reforms, he later enabled the financial industry to resist reforms and made it difficult to enact them.
Meanwhile, to avoid conflict with Republicans, Obama rejected nearly unanimous advice from most economists, who urged a stimulus package of nearly $2 trillion dollars. Instead, he proposed a stimulus package about half that size, just large enough to save some jobs and prevent a depression, but not large enough to reverse the recession, from which the country has yet to recover.
Fourth, whatever one thinks of him or his positions, no one can deny that he gives no problem his clear and uncompromised support for any solution, including those which he himself has advocated. He let health care reform, his signature issue, become and remain a muddle because, without indicating that he had any convictions on the subject, he let Democratic Congressional leaders take 15 months to produce a piece of legislation, the making of which discredited or disgraced just about everyone involved in either party, no matter what position or positions he or she took.
Likewise, Obama cannot reconcile his strenuous campaign promises and current positions on extending all or only some of the Bush tax cuts. The House, which must initiate tax legislation, has voted to extend them for individuals making up to $200,000 and for couples making up to $250,000. But Obama is undermining that legislation approved by a large majority of House Democrats by trying to negotiate a face-saving surrender to Senate Republicans standing firm on extending the tax cuts to all.
Obama has turned away from the trigger of the continuing meltdown, the collapse of the housing market, as millions of foreclosures continue to occur. Because he has allowed too-big-too-fail financial corporations to grow even bigger, the damage to the economy threatened from this sector dwarfs the damage just done by it.
So the economy continues to stagnate, and Obama is not using his office—who can associate something like the “bully pulpit” with him?—to rally the nation to transform the economy, including deficit reduction and tax reform. Instead, he takes the bold, creative, and decisive action—not—to create a commission.
Obama has abandoned most of his campaign issues. Guantanamo is still open for business, with detainee trials still deferred and discredited. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act remain laws of the land and likely to remain so because he is taking the path of least resistance and least right to protect or expand civil rights. Education reform under the “Race to the Top” is “No Child Left Behind” with money and smiles, and not more than one whit better. Green industry initiatives have flagged. Cap-and-trade has failed.
Republicans are responsible for their obstructionism, but Obama is responsible for its duration and intensity. He refuses to repudiate personal attacks on his birthright and beliefs; he refuses to rebut distortions of, and falsehoods about, his policies. Obama’s tolerance of persistent personal and political abuse indicates a serious personality defect and grave moral weakness. His desire for peace at any price has costs.
The biggest is Obama’s loss of peoples’ respect, even among supporters. Regardless of what they believe, regardless of what place they occupy on the political spectrum, Americans follow with respect, if not without reservations, a leader who fights for the right as he sees it or even someone who is strong but wrong. But they do not follow someone cringing and craven however right he may be.
The sad fact is that, good and decent as is, Obama is temperamentally incapable of getting it back; getting it back would require what Obama lacks: courage, which is an essential element of convictions, and, in his case, convictions which are Democratic ones. He will not get it back by re-runs of his belief in bipartisanship and public relations activities: speeches, photo ops, interviews, and TV appearances.
By tolerating abuse, Obama has made personal disrespect and political disregard painless. By contrast, imagine Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or any of the other pipsqueaks-in-opposition talking or walking as they do if Lyndon Johnson were in office. He would have a glass bowl full of their soft body parts prominently displayed on his Oval Office desk.
Democrats, liberals, progressives hope and pray that mid-term Democratic losses will give Obama the grit to fight. But they have already witnessed his self-abasing backdown: he blamed himself for not talking enough with Republicans, who have talked only “no.” Cajoling or scolding him by turns, the Left has wanted him to succeed and has worked for his success, but the reality no longer deniable is that Obama has irretrievably failed.
So, my friends on the Left, get over hoping and praying for anything but a Democrat up who can replace him before he takes down all those who have hoped and prayed for him for two years. Find yourselves a real Democrat, man or woman, smart and strong enough for the presidency.