Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Beginning Of The End Of A Presidency

If anyone was not convinced that Barack Obama is ill-suited to be president of the United States, his conduct in recent days during the still-unresolved debt ceiling controversy should have moved them over the line to that understanding.

In one sense, Mr. Obama is the natural focal point, as leader of the liberal party, to defend the point of view that the debt ceiling should be raised so that government spending could continue, and that taxes should be raised to pay for this action. This is the way it has been done in principle for many decades, although government spending deficits and unfunded liabilities have not ever been at present levels, nor has the rationale for “doing business as usual” ever been so unarguably indefensible. The liberal party, the Democratic Party, showed signs of growing out of its old assumptions and patterns for a brief period, at the close of the second term of President Clinton, an instinctive centrist who could and did read the handwriting on the wall of American politics. Al Gore and John Kerry took their party backwards in their presidential campaigns which followed, and they lost. Barack Obama, in the wake of dissatisfaction with the terms of George W. Bush, and most immediately, the economic disaster of the mortgage banking industry, won his election, but he did not verbalize the atavism of Gore, Kerry and neo-New Deal liberal politics. Instead, he ran on vague rhetoric and slogans that promised change, but which contained no specifics. In fact, Mr. Obama was a cipher, a man with few detailed records of his past.

Now we know why there were no details. What there might have been of them, they almost certainly would have revealed how slight was his background in public policy and service. Not one of the previous 43 U.S. presidents has had a slighter resume than Mr. Obama’s.

To make matters worse, Mr. Obama took office at a moment in American history when its economic circumstances and its position in the world required a chief executive of extraordinary skills and experience. Perhaps if a Barack Obama had been elected in 1924, 1952 or 1992, the nation might have gone through his term with minimal damage. But 2008 was a pivotal moment, with great economic and political forces loose in he world.

I said at the outset of his presidency that Barack Obama was a political amateur. Nevertheless, he did win the election, and American history has examples of presidents with limited backgrounds rising to their occasions. Abraham Lincoln is perhaps the most notable example, but Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan come to mind as those who also far exceeded their resumes. Mr. Obama has now been through several crises, and has distinguished himself in none of them. Our position in the world has weakened even as international regard for Mr. Obama has declined. Our economic conditions, long past the time when a robust business recovery should have been underway, remains chronically weak with high unemployment, weak major financial sectors, and a general lack of confidence by U.S. business in taking risks to innovate and expand. Presidents don’t cause recessions, but President Obama’s policies, including his healthcare legislation, intention to expand deficits and government spending, and radical populist notions of taxing the rich, are prolonging our economic problems.

There is some hope for the future of the Democratic Party. It includes the names of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Virginia Senator Mark Warner, as well as younger men and women not yet well-known. But their political day lies ahead, and today the party is controlled by Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Barney Frank, and Dick Durbin. These are men and women whose ideas are archaic, unproductive and self-defeating.

Meanwhile, we have just seen the spectacle of President Obama being sidestepped in the debt ceiling issue, and placed involuntarily in the background, as he rants on and on about “taxing the rich” and other ideas too embarrassing to be taken seriously.

After the serious defeat of liberal public policies in the 2010 national elections, it was suggested by some conservative commentators as well as the usual liberal ones that Mr. Obama would rebound and win re-election in 2012. That was not an unreasonable prediction. After all, Bill Clinton had endured a similar defeat in 1994- 95, but had staged a remarkable comeback (employing conservative and centrist ideas). Mr. Clinton was a skillful and experienced politician.

One more time, in the current debt limit debate, Barack Obama exhibits none of the skill his supporters have claimed for him. Instead he has whined, overpromised, deceived, and acted like a primadonna. He offers no new ideas, no new public policy strategies, no effective economic principles, and no new plans of his own. His strategy is to demagogue on social security, Mediicare/Medicaid, and debt ceiling consequences. His heralded “rhetoric” has become hollow and empty. Instead of negotiation and compromise, he prances and poses.

When someone is elected president of the United States, they receive, and rightly so, the respect of the office, leeway to make initial mistakes, and time to develop their own plans to resolve national problems. Mr. Obama has received these and more, but there is no sign of growth, maturity and political skill as he enters the third year of his presidency.

Time is almost up. I think we have already seen the beginning of the end of a presidency.

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