News & Politics

Strange New Respect, Predictable New Contempt

What, me worry?

A tale of two presidencies, brought to you courtesy of the two most important newspapers in America. Item No. 1 comes to us courtesy of the New York Times:

Why I Miss George W. Bush, by Mehdi Hasan

AS a Briton who, like millions of my compatriots, opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, I did not expect to ever find much to admire about President George W. Bush. But as a Muslim who has come to work in America, I have recently had to revise my opinion.

A “Briton”? Really? In fact, Mr. Hasan in an Indian Muslim, who wrote a biography of the former hard-left (his father was a Marxist) Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, and is a presenter for Al Jazeera. So why, one wonders, does he miss George Bush?

Less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed 2,996 people, President Bush held a news conference at the Islamic Center of Washington. “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said, flanked by imams and community leaders. “Islam is peace.” It was a message repeated often in the months and years afterward. “Our war is against evil,” the president said, “not against Islam.”

Right. We know all that. It’s one of the reasons for the West’s unwillingness to name its enemy. So why now is the Al Jazeera host and Miliband biographer bringing it up now?

Fourteen years later, such remarks seem distant, if not improbable, amid the miasma of anti-Muslim hate and fearmongering fostered by the Republican candidates for president.

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, unfavorable views of Islamjumped 18 points among Republicans between October 2001 and March 2009. The election of a nonwhite president with Hussein as a middle name, not to mention the rise of the self-declared Islamic State, only served to harden the prejudices of some core G.O.P. voters. Today, fully 83 percent of Republicans agree with Dr. Carson that a Muslim shouldn’t be president. Only half (49 percent) of G.O.P. voters in Iowa think Islam should be legal in the United States.

Whatever could the reason for that be, aside from sheer bigotry? Read the rest of this propaganda piece if you like and notice how it avoids any mention of Paris or any of the other recent Muslim atrocities. Meanwhile (as Glenn Reynolds might say), another rube self-identifies over at the Washington PostThat would be long-time columnist Richard Cohen:

The presidency has changed Barack Obama. His hair has gone gray, which is to be expected, and he looks older, which is also to be expected, but his eloquence has been replaced by petulance and he has lost the power to persuade, which is something of a surprise. You can speculate that if the Obama of today and not Winston Churchill had led Britain in World War II, the Old Vic theater would now be doing “Hamlet” in German.

The president has lost his voice, that is certain. The numbers say so. Obama has the approval of only 44 percent of the American people. During his time in office, Congress and much of the nation have gone Republican — statehouse after statehouse, governor after governor (soon to be 32) — an astounding feat when you consider that the GOP has become the Know-Nothing Party in all its meanings.

It’s not that Obama has lost his gift of eloquence. His problem is that he often has nothing to say. When he does, as after the mass murder in June at a Charleston, S.C., church, he can be moving and eloquent. It is on foreign policy particularly where he goes empty and cold. His policy, after all, is to avoid yet another Middle East quagmire. It entails the ringing call to do as little as possible. 

Obama’s self-inflicted predicament was apparent in the statement he issued following the Paris terrorist attacks. Unlike many other mass killings, this one was broadcast in real time — unfolding on TV as it happened. It left the United States both shaken and horrified. Yet Obama spoke coldly, by rote — saying all the right things in the manner of a minister presiding at the funeral of a perfect stranger.

Well, no surprise here to any of us who saw through the most spellbinding orator since Cicero right from the start: a one-act circus, borne aloft on the wings of the media, that by rights should have left town years ago.

To a large degree, Obama became president on the strength of his eloquence. To a large degree, that is what has deserted him. He is out of words because he is out of ideas. Consequently, he ought to listen to others. They’re not the ones who are popping off. He is.

Except that he never had any ideas, except one: payback.