Ed Driscoll

The Clothes Have No Emperor

Well, let’s give MSNBC credit for something. As Ed Morrissey writes, Chuck Todd  stumbles onto the truth about President Obama in a segment with the Tingler himself, Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: But Chuck, let me get back to you again.  Is there such a thing as an Obama believer?  In other words, is there a set of beliefs he holds which can be shared by other politicians of the Democratic Party?

TODD: You know, it’s funny you say that.  I think right now you’re seeing an argument on the Left take place where you’re seeing some criticism of the President — “Hey, where’s all the change?”  So I think this is all trying — I think they’re all trying to figure this out.  The White House seems to be about, and this President seems to be about pragmatism and — you know, trying to get something done, trying to figure out a solution in Afghanistan, trying to compromise and get health care through.

But you’re right, there isn’t this core set of principles that were so easy to say and do — “change you can believe in” in 2008.  I think he’s struggling to translate that to policy.  We’re seeing it, this whole Organizing for America wing of the DNC is struggling to work correctly.  I think they haven’t figured it out.

Ed adds:

Jim Vicevich at the link thinks that Obama has a core set of principles that run to the hard Left, but has kept them hidden thus far.  Why?  Jim argues that Obama couldn’t get elected on those principles, and so he has kept them hidden while pushing them through his legislative agenda.

Actually, I think Todd is closer to it.  Obama wanted to be President, not to lead, but just to win.  Now that he has won, he has no core set of governing principles other than what impacts Barack Obama.  He has offered no leadership on any part of his agenda all year long, content to have Nancy Pelosi run it for him.  His foreign policy thus far consists entirely of making himself personally popular with the world.  On Afghanistan, Obama has thus far allowed Robert Gates and David Petraeus to make his decisions, only balking at the moment because the McChrystal strategy puts him at odds with his base, which could erode his popularity.

We’ve complained a number of times about the cult of personality that surrounds Obama, but as Todd implies with this answer, it’s really all Obama has.

Or as S.E. Cupp describes The Won, on the Fox News Website, “Barack Obama — Empty Vessel”:

The proof of his ideological emptiness is practically undeniable. He has been, over the short course of his political career, the great abandoner, ever-willing to denounce those ideals that were previously sold to his constituents as “his convictions.”

After 20 years in Reverend Wright’s church, he simply got up and left. The man who baptized his children, who was marketed (to black voters in particular) as Obama’s spiritual adviser, who was so integral in shaping Barack Obama’s adult life, that he publicly denounced him, and left his church altogether. And he also denounced black liberation theology, despite giving numerous interviews about the ways in which it had helped shape his religious worldview. After initially defending Rev. Wright, suddenly he and his brand of religion were chucked out the window of a moving campaign bus. He has yet to find a replacement, unsurprisingly, but his interest in evangelicals like Rick Warren and Carey Cash means he is open to the theological polar opposite of Rev. Wright.

The same sort of dance occurred with other politically inconvenient allies, like domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, Wright apologist Father Michael Pfleger, and convicted felon Tony Rezko. Obama distanced himself from all of them and then eventually dumped them altogether when it became politically necessary. Van Jones was merely a post-election victim of Obama’s willing abandonment. And there have been others.

So would a real radical disown his radical mentors and protégés? Would a real extremist and true-believer insist with a straight face that he didn’t really believe all that stuff? Would a real ideologue be persuaded by a public opinion poll to abandon whole ideology?

Actual radicals like Wright and Ayers and Jones defend their beliefs, regardless of the pushback and potential fallout. What Obama did, in contrast, was purely political. Because, despite the insistence by the left that Obama somehow transcends politics, that’s what he is – a politician. Nothing more, nothing less.

We can also look at the shift in his policy positions over the past few years. He was once quoted as saying that he supported a single-payer health care system. The best political decision now, however, was to abandon that for a more docile public option. Once that failed to garner the groundswell of support his advisers thought it would, he appeared altogether indifferent to it. If he were reallya radical, he’d be rallying us around universal health care right now, not some watered-down 1990-page bureaucratic hodge podge that is neither revolutionary nor practical.

His impassioned pledges to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” close Gitmo, bring troops home, end military tribunals, and myriad other promises, suddenly seem less like the stuff of real political conviction, and more like political headaches that require a clever exit strategy.

And his reaction to any kind of opposition – from the right, from the citizenry, from Fox News – is equally telling. If Obama’s agenda were based on conviction instead of political expedience and an unquenchable thirst for popularity, criticism would bounce right off him. Instead he seems frighteningly flappable. That’s because leadership without convictions is leadership of empty rhetoric. Convictions can be defended against criticism. Empty rhetoric cannot.

So why all the radical friends and the radical proposals and the radical rhetoric if he’s not himself a radical? Because his lack of conviction and his inability to forge his own philosophical and theological identity, have made him incredibly susceptible to external influence and pressure. He is easily led. He is, as such, the perfect prospect for someone like Bill Ayers or Reverend Wright, whose radical agendas require vulnerable recruits who are malleable and willing.

The 140-character limit of Twitter forces Cupp to boil her thesis down to the perfect soundbite: “Trust me, if Obama’s advisers told him to talk like Goldwater and join the NRA, he would. Empty.”

In his New York Post column last night, Glenn Reynolds noted that Obama really was the Accidental Candidate:

A month ago, I wrote:

Messrs. Brooks, Buckley the Younger, the staff at the Economist, Harpers, and other publications have spent most of 2009 waking up to the fact that there’s no there there inside the man they so heavily invested in last year. So it’s worth flashing back to a key quote from the campaign trail:

The American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of “personal discovery.”

As the Professor has written, “As always, it’s a question of who the rubes are.”

Orrin Judd sums up the president thusly: as a politician, Mr. Obama’s goal “was nothing more than to add a line at the top of his resume. He did everything he set out to do already.”