At the Weekly Standard, Jay Cost explores “What We Learned from Obama’s Rolling Stone Interview.” He concludes with a very good question, given the remarkably narrow far left focus of Obama’s previous life experience. “So, my question is: Where would Obama have encountered a genuinely conservative Republican bloc?”
Obama’s residence is in Kenwood, right near the University of Chicago. I lived there for three years, and my personal experience confirms the conventional wisdom: While it is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse places in the country, it is also one of the most ideologically homogenous. The neighborhood is part of Ward 4 of the city, which gave John Kerry a whopping 95 percent of the vote in 2004. So did nearby Ward 5, where the University of Chicago is actually located.
The handful of conservatives I knew there were much like myself – they kept their ideological predispositions so close to the vest you’d think they were communists in the 1950s terrified of being called before the HUAC! When you’re outnumbered by a 20:1 margin, you really have no other choice.
So, my question is: Where would Obama have encountered a genuinely conservative Republican bloc? Certainly not in Wards 4 or 5!
Not in the U.S. Senate, either. He was there for such a short period of time. Remember that he started campaigning for president after just two years there, and the planning phase surely pre-dated the formal announcement.
Not really in the Illinois state senate, either. State legislatures do not deal with the kinds of divisive issues that animate the national two-party system. And remember, we are talking about Illinois, which hasn’t voted for a Republican president for 20 years. The state senate job was a part-time gig as well, which is how he could also lecture at the University of Chicago Law School. That school is known for being “conservative” as law programs go, but your average law school professor at the U of C doesn’t have a heck of a lot in common with your average Bush/Cheney ’04 voter!
My guess is that President Obama never really learned what makes conservatives and Republicans tick, as he hadn’t been around them long enough to understand them. He had an idea about what it means to be a conservative, and he wanted to work with those “conservatives,” but they don’t really exist outside his own mind.
I think he was genuinely surprised that conservatives would balk at $800 billion in deficit spending, a huge health care bill that created a brand new entitlement, and a vast new bureaucracy and tax structure to regulate the energy sector. He genuinely thought he could empower legislators like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, George Miller, and Henry Waxman to draft the most important legislation, and the GOP would be satisfied if it had an opportunity to make changes at the margins.
Having discovered that Republicans are much more Republican than he thought, he’s fallen back on the safety and comfort of the Democratic worldview: his opponents are either fools being manipulated by the Koch Foundation or perfidious hacks who were content to let the economy sink into the depths for the sake of electoral victory this November.
The president’s background is such that he’s never had to deal with a conservative Republican coalition on the rise, and that makes me wonder how he will handle the 112th Congress, if the GOP does indeed take control of the House. Will he be deft like Bill Clinton was in the winter of 1995/96, or will he dig in and, to borrow a phrase, cling to the partisan worldview he so bitterly expounded to Jann Wenner? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, at Mediate, a great quote from a Fox News employee:
An executive at Fox News who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity expressed “astonishment” over Mr. Obama’s focus on the network. “We are so in his head,” he said. “Can you believe with all the other things going on in this world he’s preoccupied with Fox News?”
Given the events of the last two years, absolutely.
At the Washington Examiner, Diana West mines another telling detail about the president from Bob Woodward’s new book. As West notes, “Obama can’t even control the military:”
As Woodward frames the behind-the-scenes struggle, Obama “was looking for choices that would limit U.S. involvement and provide a way out.” Meanwhile, “his top three military advisers were unrelenting advocates for 40,000 more troops and an expanded mission that seemed to have no clear end.”
But the problem wasn’t that the military men pushed their pet strategy, it was that they failed to present the president with alternatives as asked, bidden and ordered.
For example, Woodward writes: “When Mullen learned of the hybrid option” — Vice President Biden’s plan to eschew nation building and focus on Taliban hunting and training Afghans — “he [Mullen] didn’t want to take it to Obama. ‘We’re not providing that,'” he told Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James E. Cartright.
“We’re” not? Who do “we” think “we” are?
Obama heard about the option anyway and “instructed Gates and Mullen to present it.” Woodward continues: “Mullen had other ideas” — namely, a war game exercise “to support his case against the option.”
What comes next describes something rotten in the chain of command. According to Woodward’s reporting, the Joint Chiefs chairman went on to rig the wheel, in effect, against the hybrid option by failing to take it completely through war game exercises — a halfway effort attended by Mullen and, not incidentally, Petraeus.
At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, Woodward writes, “Petraeus cited the war game as evidence that the hybrid option would not work. … ‘Okay,’ Obama said. ‘If you tell me that we can’t do that, and you war-gamed it, I’ll accept that.'” Then: “No one contradicted the claim.”
If this is true, it’s outrageous. After all, Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired for trash talk about the civilian leadership. What Woodward describes is trash treatment of the civilian leadership, which is worse.
But it’s hard to imagine Obama firing anyone over this case. What also comes across in Woodward’s account is a weak-in-the-war-making-department president who recoils from the potential consequences of overruling the military: namely, the resignations of people blocking the very policy changes he set out to enact.
Why he flinches, I don’t know.
Well, one reason might be that Obama originally presented himself as a typical anti-war member of the far left. Recall his trashing of Gen. Petraeus in 2007, his near-concurrent prediction that the surge in Iraq would fail, and his infamous October 2007 anti-SDI ad during the early days of his campaign shoring his base, before his feints designed to appeal to more mainstream voters. Like Bill Clinton, he’s obviously having a very difficult earning the trust of much of the military. And I’m sure he can’t imagine why that is.
As another person on the presidential campaign circuit rather presciently noted in 2008, “My fellow citizens, the American presidency is not supposed to be a journey of ‘personal discovery.’”
Thanks to the Palace Guard media though, many of one presidential candidate’s most devoted followers never realized just how many gaps there were in his wisdom, life experiences, and common sense knowledge of the American people.
And with all of those burdens of reality now befuddling him, is it any wonder that the man needs a little more time off away from the office he once sought?