Obama’s once and future failed presidency
Even at this late date, I can think of nothing about President Barack Obama as a person not to like. He is intelligent, informed, sensible, sensitive, articulate, gracious, amusing and decent. But about Obama as a president – well, that is a different story.
For months, I have been detailing Obama’s failings as president. Between late April 2009, just three months after his inauguration, and early December 2010 – a period of over a year and a half – I wrote half a dozen columns or blogs (published in various places including here) that repeatedly called into question not only his competence, but also his capacity, to lead.
The gist of my increasing discontent has been Obama’s lack of convictions and courage, thus a lack of decisiveness and persistence. Perhaps my happiest phase summarizing his failings: “This Prince Hamlet decides and does nothing; instead, he dithers and dodges.”
As I said at the end of these writings, “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.”
The reasons for Obama’s failure
It gives me no pleasure to predict that Obama’s presidency, whether for two terms or, more likely, only one, has failed and, so long as he is in office, will to continue to fail, for three reasons.
One, by circumstances, he became temperamentally unsuited to succeed in a national politics torn by sharp and sustained partisan divisions. Undoubtedly, racism plays a role in opposition to him and his policies – it inspires the birther movement – but his failure does not result from racism. Instead, it results in part from his acquired reflex, shared by some blacks rising into the higher circles of the society in which they find themselves, to be ingratiating almost above all else.
However, disciplining oneself to be ingratiating is poor training for making executive decisions, implementing them, and running the risk of offending some people in discharging one’s responsibilities.
Two, as a result, he has displayed an inability to articulate, advocate and advance clear policies. He has repeatedly shown himself to be – unlike Bush the Decider – Obama the Undecider, advocate of interminable debate, adopter of half-measures, promoter of pullback from their implementation – all under the cover of a bogus bipartisanship.
The result is that he splits the difference with Republicans as they raise the bar. If the choice is between 2+2=4 and 2+2=6, he goes for 2+2=5; when the next choice is between 2+2=5 and 2+2=7, he goes for 2+2=6. Incremental abandonment of traditional Democratic, liberal or progressive positions will doom him not only with his natural constituencies, but also with independents, who most respect decisiveness and determination on issues.
Three, as another result, he cannot effectively lead the country to achieve many of the changes he advocated in his campaign and that attracted the electorate to him. I give him partial credit on health-care reform, the recovery of financial and automotive industries, and the end of DADT. But what else? Not much.
In foreign and military affairs, he did not close Guantanamo, pursue or even investigate the civil and human rights abuses of the Bush administration, or end American involvement in two Middle East wars. In domestic issues, he dropped immigration reform, abandoned his energy policy, and weakened the social safety net. When Republicans insist on major program cuts to avoid a debt-ceiling crisis, trust him to further weaken them.
Inattention to the economy
All three reasons reflect his lack of leadership, the monument to which is a still-weak economy. From first to last, Obama has demonstrated a marked degree of inattention to the economy, especially unemployment, and a callous disregard for the unemployed – a few speeches to the contrary cannot erase his save-the-rich-suffer-the-rest approaches.
In the face of rising gasoline prices and in the context of his caving on his energy policy, I expect him to cave to demands for more oil and gas drilling in sensitive areas and for less regulation, at the cost of endangering the safety and health of Americans, and of further despoiling the environment, though such steps will not depress gasoline prices one cent. Are many Americans becoming an endangered species?
One note: I had thought that, by linking economic recovery, new alternative-energy energies, and a cleaner environment, Obama had created a synergistic approach to inspire Americans to work together to build a better future. Now, in his presidency, each area – economy, energy, and environment – are, if not weaker, at least not stronger, than before.
This change is not the one in which anyone believed.
The GOP field
Whether Obama’s presidency is a one-term or a two-term failure, his re-election is doubtful unless he is saved by a weak opponent from among those already positioning themselves on the right. The changing line-up of weaklings now includes Bachmann, Daniels, Gingrich, Huckabee, Palin, Paul, Pawlenty, Romney and Trump. None of them (I omit Huntsman and Johnson as presently invisible to the public) can succeed without taking the gamble of distancing themselves from the economic or social ideologues on the right.
You can safely bet that most or all will not take the risk.
That said, I think Romney might have some chance of securing the nomination if he dares to take two steps. One is to oppose the crazies and appeal to other conservative voters willing to support someone stable and sane (despite some Christian resistance to a Mormon, especially among many fundamentalists who will never warm to him despite his best efforts). Two is to flip back from his flip-flop on health care – that is, to endorse, instead of disavow, his smart state program that Obama acknowledges influenced his federal program now liked by majorities of all political stripes.
If Romney took these difficult steps, he would make a convincing display of decisiveness and determination, boldness and grit, which would most starkly contrast with Obama’s dithering and back-downing. He would also disarm Democratic attacks on his politically expedient but ineffectual effort to win far-right support, and he would re-assure all Americans that he will protect at least this part of the social safety net.
Meanwhile, more sensible conservative candidates are likely sitting on the sidelines, biding their time, watching celebrities make a degrading spectacle of themselves and damage others and their side, and quietly preparing to enter the race if and when the electorate tires of their inanities. Their wait-and-see strategy may be wrong, however; the electorate may be so eager for change that it might go for anyone other than Obama, however loony, and give solid candidates no chance to get into the race at a later date.
If not Romney, maybe Bloomberg. But, after a failed experiment with a black president, I doubt Americans will opt to try a Jewish one.
Continuing to lose
My problem is that, even if Obama wins against mounting odds, I think we will continue to lose. We are losing now in his first term as he acquiesces in the erosion of the social compact. Given the history of two-term presidents, we cannot hope for better from him in a second term.
And, if Democrats lose control of the Senate – and Obama will not try to help them keep it and should probably do them the favor of not trying – things will go from bad enough to worst of all.
Michael L. Hays (Ph.D., English) is a retired consultant in defense, energy and environment; former high school and college teacher; and continuing civic activist. His bi-monthly Saturday column appears in the Las Cruces Sun-News; his bi-monthly blog, First Impressions & Second Thoughts, appears on the intervening Saturdays at firstimpressionssecondthoughts.blogspot.com.
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