Roger’s Rules

What Makes Barack Obama Such a Bad President? Or, What Is an 'Existential' Threat?

No, I am not suggesting a perverse game of “let me count the ways.” The question is not as easy to answer as you might think.  That he is a bad president I take as given, as a look at the U.S. economy, race relations in the U.S., and the dismal state of the world whose dismalness is due to the fecklessness of U.S. foreign policy inarguably show.

I know that there are those who dissent from my assessment, but then there are people who dissent from the judgment that the Great Society welfare policies of the Johnson administration were and (to the extent that they persist) are an utter disaster. People really can be, as Wittgenstein said, “captivated by a picture” of the world, blinded by their attachment to what we have come to call “the Narrative.” According to the narrative, Great Society welfare programs are a good thing. They are framed (weren’t they?) to help poor people (and, not incidentally, to make the people framing them feel better about themselves) ergo they cannot be a failure, not really. Do they, as a matter of fact, institutionalize rather than abolish poverty? Do they make an entire class of people more and more dependent on government? Do they encourage a range of social pathology, from teen pregnancy and single-mother households?  Do they nurture a Janus-faced culture of dependency that involves a huge government bureaucracy, captive politicians, as well as official “clients”?  None of that matters to The Narrative, which persists through it all partly by demonizing its critics, partly by dispensing public largess to said politicians, managers of the bureaucracy, as well as (of course) to the officially designated objects of government benevolence.

If you can’t dislodge people from their attachment to so ostentatious a failure as the Great Society welfare project, how do you suppose you can dislodge them from their allegiance to a half-black international man of mystery with no visible qualifications to be president but who is the very incarnation of every leftist aspiration from the gospel of environmental economic suicide and hatred of the United States to an “evolving” metrosexual affirmation of polymorphous eroticism (has any other president dilated on “transsexuals” in his State of the Union speech?) to his embrace of an ideology—I mean Islam—diametrically opposed to America’s traditional commitment to limited government and individual liberty?

That’s a long-winded way of saying “good luck, it can’t be done.” Partisans of Obama will be with him to the bitter end no matter how ostentatious his lawlessness, how flagrant his incompetence, how surreal his proclamations, how disastrous his policies.

Consider, for example, his  recent interview with Mr. Plagiarism, Fareed Zakaria. The interview turned largely on Obama’s attitude towards terrorism and Islam, two words—“terrorism” and “Islam”—he is loath to see in the same sentence.  (Why? Perhaps Obama’s early tutelage in the Muslim religion in Indonesia has something to do with it.) It was a remarkable exchange. After saying that, of course, he has oodles of sympathy for the families whose loved ones were slaughtered by those whom he elsewhere has called “violent extremists” (i.e. Muslims), he goes on to  insist that we maintain a “proper perspective” by not “over-inflating” the importance of those terror networks. Above all, said Obama, we wouldn’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking that we regard them—i.e. Islamic terrorism—as an “existential threat to the United States or the world order.” Sure, “they can do harm,” Obama acknowledged, but—pay attention now: semantic slippage ahead!—“but we have the capacity to control how we respond in ways that do not undercut what’s the — you know, what’s essence of who we are.”

Eh? Has the air gotten foggy all of a sudden? The leader of the free world continues:

That means that we don’t torture, for example, and thereby undermine our values and credibility around the world. It means that we don’t approach this with a strategy of sending out occupying armies and playing Whack-A-Mole wherever a terrorist group appears because that drains our economic strength and it puts enormous burdens on our military.

Feeling better? Then this will really set your mind at ease:

Ultimately these terrorist organizations will be defeated because they don’t have a vision that appeals to ordinary people. It is — it really is, as has been described in some cases, a death cult, or an entirely backward looking fantasy that can’t function in the world.

When you look at ISIL, it has no governing strategy. It can talk about sitting up the new caliphate but nobody is under any illusions that they can actually, you know, sustain or feed people or educate people or organize a society that would work. And so we can’t give them the victory of over-inflating what they do, and we can’t make the mistake of being reactive to them. We have to have a precise strategy in terms of how to defeat them.

By doing what?  By releasing 5 terrorists in order to secure the release of one Army deserter (here’s looking at you, Mr. Bergdahl)? By describing ISIS as a “jay-vee” operation right before it started (speaking of Whack-a-Mole) beheading people in earnest?  By insisting that Major Hasan’s murderous “Allahu Akbar” rampage at Ft. Hood was an instance not of Islamic terrorism but of “workplace violence”?  And on and on and on.

In that remarkable interview Obama also said that “it’s very important for us to align ourselves with the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are looking for the same thing we’re looking for. Order, peace, prosperity.” Do you wonder where he got that statistic?  Leave aside al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, the assorted wackos who murdered Theo van Gogh, who slaughtered innocents at the Boston Marathon, who just murdered 16 people in Paris, some for drawing cartoons, some for being Jewish.  Forget about them, and forget about the madmen who did for Daniel Pearl, who blew people in London to bits, who incinerated a Bali nightclub, or a train in Madrid.  How about the millions—millions— in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Syrian who agree with what Obama lightly dismisses as a “medieval” interpretation of Islam? What about them?  Why should we believe that a dozen secularized Muslims living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Washington, D.C., speak more authentically for what Islam is and aspires to than those millions? Why?

Just about the first thing he did when he took office in 2009 was embark on a world’s tyrants tour. He bowed to despots the world over. He apologized for the United States. And in Cairo, he gave a speech in which he outlined his hope for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” “one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam . . .  overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

“Progress,” “tolerance,” the “dignity of all human beings.”  Progress like subjecting a blogger in Saudi Arabia to 1000 lashes because he “insulted” Islam. “Tolerance” like that extended to the women who were just beheaded in Iran. Or the “dignity” extended to Jews by, to take just one example, the Egyptian cleric who said that it doesn’t matter what the Jews do or refrain from doing. “The Prophet” commands us  to “fight the Jews and kill them.”

So to return to my original question: What makes Barack Obama such a bad president? In brief, his unwillingness to face up to reality, his insistence on his beneficent-sounding (but ultimately poisonous) narrative in the face of an avalanche of contradictory facts.  Obama, like some other infamous political leaders in history, is a fantasist.  Some people share his fantasies. But it’s the rest of us who will have to bear the brunt of his blinkered and ideologically motivated stumblings.