I am happy to see that my friend Peggy Noonan has graduated from being the star-struck cheerleader of Obama to joining the ranks of the disillusioned. Back in the summer of 2008, when much of the country was swooning over The One We’ve Been Waiting for For (remember that?), Peggy was enthusiastically outlining the case for Barack Hussein Obama in the Wall Street Journal:
He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.
Embarrassing, what? But 18 months after that “fresh start” things are looking pretty rancid, even to Peggy. “He was,” she complained in her WSJ column a few days ago “supposed to be competent.”
In fact, some of us have been wondering about Obama’s competence since before the election. That was part of the reason your humble correspondent, among others, worried about his total lack of executive experience. Sarah Palin had run the largest state in the union. Barack Obama had run . . . his campaign.
I believe that Obama is unique in the annals of American history. It’s not any individual quality — if “quality” is the right word: perhaps “attribute” would be better — that sets him apart. It’s the combination of attributes. What are those attributes?
Peggy Noonan touched on one: enormous, all-encompassing, stupefying incompetence. The man can pose. He can preen. He cannot, judging by his performance these last eighteen months, govern. His handling, which is to say his ostentatious mishandling of the BP oil spill, is only the latest evidence that he is wildly out of his depth. That episode is shaping up to be the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history. What has Obama done to address it? What would he do were we confronted with another sort of existential calamity? How would he react?
But incompetence is only one aspect of Obama’s make up. There are two other attributes along with an under-appreciated, or at least under-commented on, character flaw that we must ponder in order to take the full measure of this post-modern American politician.
The other two attributes are 1) arrogance and 2) ideological animus.
Many people have commented on Obama’s arrogance. His notorious reputation for being “thin-skinned” (I googled “Obama thin-skinned” and the search engine turned up 93,000 hits in .21 seconds) is a coefficient of his arrogance. It is amusing (sort of) to watch his reaction to criticism: generally, it starts in incredulity and ends in disdain. I suspect he is genuinely surprised to find himself called to account: it interferes with his sense of election.
Add to arrogance Obama’s left-wing, redistributionist agenda — it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of his “spread-the-wealth-around” philosophy, his ambition (as he put it a few days before the election) to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” As we look around at the trillions of dollars of wealth that has evaporated under his watch and contemplate what he is doing to the U.S. military, American health care, immigration, and a host of other issues, it is difficult not to conclude that he is well embarked on that course of fundamental change. The United States had been the richest, freest, most mighty country in history, with a health care system that was the envy of the world and also a generous but responsible immigration policy. Now it looks more and more like — what? Europe? (Query: Europe was able to pursue its utopian, socialist policies for the last 60 years because someone else, viz. the United States, paid for its defense. Who will be America’s America? The Chinese?)
Incompetence. Arrogance. Left-wingery. Those qualities go some distance in explaining what Obama is. But there is another feature that has been often but obliquely noticed. It hovers in the air when it is announced that Air Force One is ferrying the first couple to New York for a date and a night on the town. You sense it when you read, as you are always reading, that Obama is about to embark on, or about to return from, another vacation. You feel it as an unstated premise when you hear (as you are always hearing) about Obama’s latest round of golf.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Obama is lazy. He loves the perquisites of high office. He just doesn’t have much time for the demands.
Incompetence. Arrogance. Left-wingery. Laziness. The final oddity is the way Obama combines laziness and ambition. For he is certainly ambitious. His efforts to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” are prosecuted by following what Governor Mitch Daniels described as a policy of “shock-and-awe” statism. Here’s how it works: when it comes to achieving his left-wing agenda, Obama is, if not quite tireless, at least dogged and uncompromising. But when it comes to serving the interests of America, he reverts back to his old Senate habit of voting present. (Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard Obama talk about, and endorse, especially American interests? They just don’t figure very prominently on his scale of values.)
On this Memorial Day, when we pause to commemorate the sacrifices of the brave men and women who served in the American military to help keep us free and strong, it is worth thinking as well about those whose visceral reaction to the United States is arrogant and impatient loathing. It is not an edifying, though it may be an empowering, thought.