Belmont Club

Who Can I Turn To?

Forgotten in the discussion about the President Obama’s falling domestic popularity is his even more precipitous decline in the esteem of the Arab world. The Christian Science Monitor reports Zogby found it had slipped from 45 percent to 20 percent in the past year, and that his “negatives” had soared from 23 to 62 percent. ” The Asia Times says Arabs asked to name a leader they admired named Obama well below the Shi’ite Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

When respondents were asked to name the world leader they admired most, Obama’s standing was less than 1%. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was cited most often (20%), followed by last year’s top pick, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (13%), and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (12%).

The hope that appeasement would be rewarded by respect has earned the President a kick in the nose. Perceived strength generates its own legitimacy in rough places; Arabs who have traditionally feared Persia now believe it has a right to build nuclear weapons. They have watched Iran push the President’s flaccid arm down to the table and drawn their own conclusions. The policy of apologizing for America has not won friends or influenced people; it has not even delegitimized Iranian expansionism. It has produced the contrary result.

Iran appears to have benefited, at least indirectly, from Arab disillusionment with Obama, the poll results suggested.

While a majority of respondents (55%) said they believed Tehran’s nuclear program was aimed at developing weapons – a charge denied by Iran – nearly four out of five respondents (77%) said the country had the right to pursue the program – a whopping increase of 24% since last year.

Appeasement has been bought at the price of respect without even gaining “moral” standing. Many of the Zogby respondents believed Obama was an Israeli tool, just as apparently President Obama’s left wing critics believe his a tool of Wall Street. Robert Kuttner in the Boston Globe argues that President Obama is failing to please his liberal supporters because he’s been too soft. So they are witholding approval from the President out of “tough love”. That’s another and nicer word for blackmail.

Liberals have criticized Obama mainly because he is bungling this opportunity, not because he isn’t as leftwing as some might like. …

With his temporizing, Obama has left independent voters perplexed and the Democratic base dispirited. Democrats are now at risk of an epic legislative defeat this November, leaving Obama with even less running room to provide the recovery program that the country needs.

Obama’s failure to rise to the moment seems more characterological than ideological. He has the temperament of a conciliator, at a time when his opposition wants mainly to destroy him.

Temporizer .. conciliator … the word Kuttner should be looking for is loser. Nobody likes a loser. The nasties on the Left and extremists in the Arab world can never in any case feel something as uplifting as gratitude. There is no market for gratitude in a dog-eat-dog world. About all a certain type know how to do is kick people people who display weakness in the face.

In the most cutting of ironies Politico reports that the President is running for the middle — to the people who cling to their guns and Bibles, now that even Wall Street, which supported the Democratic Party in the last elections, is turning against him. “Wall Street executives are donating nearly 70 per cent of their political contributions to Republican candidates ahead of November’s mid-term elections, representing a significant shift in allegiances across an industry that has in recent history heavily favoured Democrats.” Not even the prospect of One More Bailout for the Street — in the guise of support for Fannie and Freddie — can restore the President to his former high estate among financiers.

Perhaps by running to the middle — if he is — the President will seek decency where he should have looked for it in the first place. The President might have tried being the careful steward of the economy and security entrusted to him. But that would have been too simple. Maybe there was something about the crowds — the intoxication of making speeches in front of styrofoam columns and before the Temple of Hercules — that made him see himself as the New FDR; the post-everything President. Maybe there was something about the whispers in his ear that blinded his judgment. The editor of Newsweek, recently sold for a dollar, once described Obama as a “sort of God”. Did that ring deliciously in his ear? At all events it may have made him forget that in order to be a success you must actually do something sometime. It’s always hard when you forget that part. Now with his popularity in decline it may finally be evident that those who play to the audience of fools becomes one of them himself.

Belief in magic and faith in spells runs strong in political Washington. The New Republic’s print edition describes the reaction of the Administration on “April 14, 2009 as Barack Obama’s standing in the polls was beginning to slip”. Obama was looking for a phrase to bring back the love, “something that would evoke comparisons to Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal, Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

Obama had hit on the phrase the New Foundation. He tried it out with Presidential historians at a private dinner in the White House. Doris Kearns Goodwin nixed it. She said it sounded “like a woman’s girdle”. Goodwin was right. But it underscores the complete vacuity of a public policy built on wordsmithing. The administration was trying on words like a courtier at Versailles might try on a hat or a dress thinking it would make a difference.

Not that there is anything wrong with hats or dresses or deckchairs. The only thing wrong is imagining that rearranging these articles on the deck of the Titanic will keep it afloat. There’s something crazy about that, something pathetically crazy.

And yet it’s a safe bet that even now, with the IMF saying that the US has committed suicide by debt, even now when the Arab masses are almost literally laughing at the great uniter, even now when the polls show an impending bloodbath for the Democrats in November, that they’re still spending their money on Axelrod, pollsters, spin-doctors, PR men, media mouthpieces, talking points memos and the whole clanking apparatus of political witchcraft. What is the phrase? What is the magic lighting angle, what is the buzzword, what is the frequency Kenneth? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The advantage of the ancien regime over the current crop is that they would have understood the French.


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