Ed Driscoll

To be PBO or Not to be PBO

Victor Davis Hanson on “President Hamlet:”

President Obama has spent most of his life either in, or teaching, school — or making laws that he was not responsible for enforcing. His hope-and-change speeches were as moving in spirit as they were lacking in details.

But now Obama is chief executive, and learning, as did Prince Hamlet, that thinking out every possible side of a question can mean never acting on any of them — a sort of Shakespearean “prison” where “there is nothing either good or bad.” Worrying about pleasing everyone ensures pleasing no one. Once again such “conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Hamlets, past and present, are as admirable in theory as they are fickle — and often dangerous — in fact.

Of course, as Jay Cost asks at the Weekly Standard, “It’s fair to ask: what else is he going to do at this point? I’d say, not very much:”

As for foreign policy, Obama ran as the anti-George W. Bush, but opposition to a policy doesn’t necessarily imply a positive program, which Obama has never really seemed to have. After all, this is the man who named his top intra-party rival as the secretary of State, perhaps the most nakedly political nomination to that office since Woodrow Wilson tapped William Jennings Bryan, whose major qualification for the job was that he stood up to Tammany Hall at the 1912 convention, thereby swinging the nomination over to Wilson.

All signs point to the Obama team pivoting to campaign mode, and the hope is that the old Obama will shine through and somehow “Win the Future.” Yet here we have to be mindful of the fact that inputs (campaign dollars) don’t necessarily produce outputs (votes) in elections such as 2012. Even though the Obama-Biden campaign is going to be a flurry of activity, relatively little of it will be effective. Incumbent presidents almost always receive a share of the vote roughly similar to their job approval rating, which in turn is influenced by the fundamentals. All those hundreds of millions of dollars might help to move the most marginal of voters, but that is about it.

So really, there is very little for Obama to do. He must bide his time until the fundamental equation of 2012 works itself out. For how consequential it is, this equation is really quite simple:

Optimisim over the Economy – Concern about the Deficit – Backlash to the Health Care Bill

If this “number” is greater than zero, Obama gets reelected. If it’s less than zero, he doesn’t. That’s all there is to it, and at this point there is very little Obama can do to goose any of the numbers. Republicans on Capitol Hill won’t go for another round of stimulus, a significant deal on the deficit is unlikely, and opinions on the heatlh care bill have solidified. Really, the only thing that Obama can do is hope the economy swings around enough to overcome the political liabilities of the deficit and the health care bill.

Michael Ledeen is blunt: “What Would a Desperate Wimp Do?”

I believe that Obama is viscerally opposed to the effective use of American leadership and American power, believing as he does that the big problems of this earth are the consequences of past American sins, which in turn were based on the misguided doctrine of American exceptionalism. Some say that the minisurge in Afghanistan gives the lie to that picture, and there is no doubt that we are waging Obama’s war as vigorously as we know how. We shall soon see how serious he is about it, and I am rooting for him to stay the course, even though I am a military dad and I do not enjoy seeing Americans on the battlefield. I rather expect to see him try to wiggle out of his war, but I will be pleased to be wrong.

In any event, there are always exceptions, and I think the president’s overall approach to the world is that of a humble penitent, not a proud leader. Ask Colonel Gaddafi. Better yet, ask those poor fighters in Bengazi, waiting to die in the next few days. Or ask the Saudis, whose panic is demonstrated by the deployment of their armed forces to quell an Iranian-backed uprising in Bahrain (the Saudis know that their own Shi’ites are getting great encouragement from Tehran to emulate the Bahraini demonstrators).

Imagine this continues, with violence spreading, gas prices rising, friends around the world despairing, and enemies exulting.  At some point a trusted political aide will say: “You’ve got to find a way to turn this thing around, or it’s back to Chicago, sir.”  Does he go for it?  Or does he say, “That’s fine, not to worry.  I’m going to stay this course, and if I lose, I lose”?

And when it comes to the Middle East, there’s the Catch-22 of the last 13 yearshow many times can a leftist pivot?

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