Monday, September 09, 2013

The President,the Premise, the Problem, the Syrians, and the Economy

Let’s start off with a basic premise here, shall we? Because if you don’t agree with that, there’s no point
in reading on.
Premise: Any Democrat, including Barack Obama, is better than just about any Republican who might be in office today instead — Mitt Romney and even John McCain not excepted.
 However, Barack Obama came into office propelled by a slogan (“Yes we can,”) and experience that essentially consisted of less than a full term in the Senate. Not exactly a long resume for somebody who would sit in the White House and make sink-or-swim decisions for the United States – and then lead us to support those decisions.

During the first Obama primaries, I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton, although I did not, to the best of my recollection, blog about it. My fear about Hillary was that, given all the hate for her that had been generated by the Republican propaganda machine over the years, she might lose a national election, whereas Obama could win. I was right, or at least right enough about Obama there. The Republican machine didn’t generate the ongoing deluge of anti-Obama bile until they realized they were going to be stuck with him for a while.

However, Barack Obama has proved to be an inordinately inept president. Most of what he has done wrong could be summed up with the phrase “bargaining with himself,”  and the rest by the verb "dither" Bargaining and dithering led to a weaker Obamacare plan than we might have had otherwise.

Perhaps the President’s biggest mistake vis-à-vis Obamacare was to allow years to go by before implementation, giving the right wing a world of opportunity to stir up a hornet’s nest of opposition and weaken the plan. They have done both.

The President missed a great teaching moment, at the very beginning of his first term, when he failed to indict – or at least impugn – George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al for lying us into a war in Iraq that cost a still-mounting-and-being-calculated fortune in American lives and treasure – and also weakening our resolve to engage in legitimate wars, when called for. Mr. Obama wanted to make nice-nice with thugs and crazy people. Did it work? As you may have noticed, nobody in Washington has sat around the camp fire singing kumbaya since the President was elected. Or before then, for that matter.

Since late in the 20th Century, effective presidents have had the courage, or perhaps the unmitigated gall, to seize initiatives first and ask for authorizations later. Certainly in an age of missile technology and surprise attack warfare – from Pearl Harbor to 9-11 – a U.S. President who admirably but foolishly stands in the middle of the highway and calls for a Congressional consensus before taking action is likely to get knocked down, run over and squashed flat by the onrush of history. Such is the case with Mr. Obama.

Moreover, he speaks and acts authentically, from his heart rather than from cold calculations. This is an admirable trait in a friend but a liability for an American president. If an enemy is using poison gas and you want to destroy that capability, do so without dithering, and without making fruitless appeals to the UN and then to Congress. Fussing and diddling with the niceties only gives the enemy an opportunity to bury or otherwise hide the offending goods. This makes the attempt to destroy the enemy’s poison gas capabilities – if the effort ever comes – more of an exercise in futility.

In retrospect, had Mr. Obama spent eight or a dozen years in the Congress, preferably on committees related to defense and diplomacy, and eight or so years in a senior government administration job – Secretary of State, governor of a state, mayor of a major city – he would have been better prepared for what faces the Presidency in every administration.

As for domestic policy, the president has compromised the nation’s economic future, not with his admirable push for healthcare, but by his compromising on a national economic stimulus when it was needed; and by his acquiescence to financial austerity, which is still not needed. We could have full employment and a growing middle class in America again if the Preisdent were willing to fight Congress tooth-and-nail and pour the bucks into the economy.

Instead, we have a president dithering while the world burns and the American economy coughs and sputters. His inexperience has cost him – and all of us – prestige and power in the world, and social advances at home.

His push for national healthcare was a great and important thing, and bore some fruit, albeit shriveled fruit. His halfway measures on the economy were better than nothing. This is not a failed presidency. It is a well-intentioned but mediocre one. The greatest mark Barack Obama  will leave will be for becoming the first Afro-American president of the United States. That achievement is certainly not to be belittled. Nor is Obamacare, no matter how wanting.

But how sad that he has been able to achieve so little beyond that.

September 10th addendum: The news late last night and this morning has Russia offering to act as sort of an intermediary in an attempt to secure Syria's gaseous WMD. If that works — and it's a very iffy if — the nation will perhaps have been spared direct military intervention in Syria and President Obama will look like a hero. Interestingly, if that works out, Vladimir Putin will be holding a huge chit from Barack Obama. One wonders how he'll cash it in. This is one of those times when I yearn for the ability to see into the future.

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