Every President starts to wear on the public. But the omnipresent Obama has become wearisome in record time. Why?
1) Money: There is none. Every time the president talks of another billion for this, and trillion for that, the people sigh: “We don’t have it; he’s going to borrow it.” Unemployment is near 10%, so borrowing nearly $2 trillion each year makes more sense to Keynesian economists than to voters who don’t find hope by maxing out their credit cards when they lose their jobs.
Obama is weirdly oblivious to number crunching — as is true of many who have never been self-employed or had to scramble without a public salary. Yet even Hillary is now whining that her foreign policy is frozen by the fact of mounting American debt. Obama is the stereotypical great-aunt that sweeps into the Christmas dinner casually boasting about what she is going to do for this niece and that nephew, while most roll their eyes with the understanding that her credit cards are long ago maxed out — and more likely she will be hitting up relatives for loans. Americans don’t like magnanimity with other people’s money.
2) Style: Great orators get better in their rhetoric, not worse. It turns out that the people risked a blank slate in Obama in part because in his teleprompted hope and change orations, he sounded fresh and mellifluous. Voters assumed he would wear well. But in nonstop interviews, press conferences, and conversations, the impromptu president seems no more comfortable than was an ad hoc George Bush. And just as liberals were turned off by Bush’s cowboyisms, so too conservatives are tired of Obama’s professorial, condescending sermons. After a year, the people are tired of all the “let me be perfectly clear” psycho-drama, the “make no mistake about” pseudo-tough man pose, the straw man “I reject the false choice that some would…,” and the narcissistic “I have ordered…..my team…to.” The boilerplate is now recognizable even to the Washington press corps. But as important, it dovetails with more disturbing propensities: there are the periodic signs of inanity like “Cinco de Cuatro” and “corpse-man;” the constant fudging on the truth of multibillion dollar new programs really “saving” money; and the surreal bowing to dictators and emperors, with the relish of turning our misdemeanors into felonies and our enemies’ felonies into benefactions.
3) Laureate Warmaking: Utopians cannot get away with quadrupling the number of targeted killings in Pakistan and Waziristan against suspected terrorists and their wives. Twangy Texans who believe that we are at “war” against non-uniformed enemy combatants logically order Predators assassinations against what they see as a ruthless, bloodthirsty radical Islamic “enemy” in a “them or us” fight to the finish. But, again, not so Nobel Peace laureates, who want terrorists to be Mirandized, the architects of 9/11 to be tried in civilian courts in New York, and CIA interrogators to be investigated for waterboarding known mass murderers. So once you go down the path of our struggle against terrorists and jihadists as a criminal enterprise, with writs, trials, and prison sentences, then targeted killing and assassinating suspects, even from high in the sky, simply do not make sense. (Comparative morality argues that it is nicer to waterboard confessed mass murderers than to vaporize suspected terrorists.)
4) Saintly partisanship: Crass politicians can get away with the nuclear option or reconciliation. Hard-nosed Republicans senators once threatened to go nuclear with 51 votes in the Senate to get judges confirmed in the manner that once outraged liberal politicos who now are more than happy to ram through health care without 60 votes. But messiahs? Obama once gave a sermon on the dangers of mere majority rule, when he was a backbencher in the Senate and a favorite of the hard left. “Majorities” in his refined mind were then a sign of rowdy tyrannical populism. So such a parliamentarian really cannot now threaten to use a bare majority to smash through health care, not when he has assured us that he is no Harry Reid or Barbara Boxer, but rather a “no more blue/red state” “healer.” The wages of hypocrisy are usually more costly than mindless partisanship. And the more Obama talks of bipartisanship and reaching out, the more the law professor seems to go out of his way to be petulant and trenchantly “my way or the highway.”
5) The “Bush Did It” whine is over: Why? Two reasons: 1) Obama has copied Bush on almost all the anti-terrorism protocols that worked, such as tribunals, renditions, Patriot Act, Iraq, Afghanistan, Predators, wiretaps and intercepts. And to the extent he has not — a trial for KSM in New York, a witch hunt against the former CIA interrogators, Miranda rights for the would-be Christmas Day bomber, proposed closing of Guantanamo — the people wonder: what in the hell is this guy doing? 2) Obama turned Bush’s misdemeanors, like deficits, borrowing, and new government programs, into felonies. So in comparison, Bush doesn’t look quite so bad now: next time Obama plays the “Bush Did it” card, the public will think either “Thank God” or “Yeah, but not as badly as you did”.
6) Race is a no-no: We have variously heard that opposition to Obama is based on: 1) right-wing, tea-party know-nothing angst; 2) greedy Wall Street profit-making to ensure riches for the elite; 3) narrowly-minded partisanship of Republicans that only want power for themselves rather than what is good for America; 4) the clueless American people and their “broken” system that hasn’t yet fathomed what a rare chance they have with a prophet like Obama who can lift them out of their NASCAR ignorance. All of those tropes either did not resonate or backfired. Obama laughing about “tea-baggers,” his “fat cats” quip, his “partisans and Washington insiders,” and the notion that Americans will come to appreciate health care once he forces it upon them — they all failed. What is left? The race card. Some of his own supporters have played it; other losing politicians like Gov. Paterson tried it. Yet it is a prescription for turning failure into catastrophe. Every time Obama got near racial grievance-mongering — the Rev. Wright mess, the “typical white person” slur, the clingers speech, the Holder “cowards” outburst, the Skip Gates “stereotyping” whine — he sunk in the polls or had to backtrack big time. The population is so tired of racial chauvinism, so multiracial itself, so convinced that constant affirmation action bromides, entitlements and guilt will not ipsis factis remedy problems in the black community, that a charge of racism against the society that elected its first black president will simply boomerang.
Can Obama recover in the midterm elections? Compare the following ifs: if the economy grows by 5% (it could, given the massive government borrowing) in the third quarter and unemployment goes below 8% (not likely) in a natural cycle of rebound; if Obama kills or catches Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden (kills is the operative word); if the Democrats clean house of Dodd, Rangel, Pelosi, Reid, etc. and start using old time (are any left?) centrists as their public spokespeople; if Obama himself shows more humility, drops the “I”s and “me”s, weans himself off the teleprompter, quits all the bowing and apologizing, and, Clinton-like, starts talking about balanced budgets, well, then there is a chance of recovery. But note if he were to do that, he would not be Obama as he has been for nearly the last half-century. More likely, he’s going to Carterize it to the end, and end up at 85 writing op-ed responses why he really, really was a great president nearly forty years prior.
1) Chilean Earthquake. I was much relieved to hear from my daughter Susannah, who has been teaching in Santiago for over the last year; she called and is safe and now wondering how to fly home (scheduled over three months ago to leave on [now canceled] March 3 on an American flight to Fresno, to be reset I think a few days later). Let us hope the news of damage is not as grievous as first reported.
2) Makers of Ancient Strategy (the Princeton press edited volume on ancient precursors to our modern war on terror concerns) comes out March 31. The Father of Us All (rewritten, expanded, and completely new essays on warring between a postmodern West versus and premodern other), appears from Bloomsbury on May 3rd. The final version of The End of Sparta (the novel about the freedom of the helots and the end of Sparta power) goes to the Bloomsbury editors on March 1 for publication in Spring 2011. I am half done with the Savior Generals, and currently deep into Procopius’s contradictory accounts of Belisarius, and eager to start on Scipio Africanus.
3) The cruise down the Danube this May, as the annual military history tour, had both additions and cancellations and is just about right now at about 55-60 participants. We might have opened a very few new slots, but I am not quite sure. (contact the website ad for details). We will have lots of guest lectures from historians and journalists, like Bruce Thornton, Joe Joffe, David Price-Jones, and Anton Pelinka. The military historian Tom Connor will do the on the bus lectures; I’ll talk mostly about WWII and the Ottoman invasions. This trip has everything from talks at Nuremberg and a visit to Hitler’s Eagle Nest, to stops along the Danube at battle sites during the Ottoman invasion and visits to museums like the Vienna’s famed War Museum.
4) Very relieved to see all the rain out here in central California. Just checked the water table in an old well outside my front door on the farm, and it’s come up quite a bit. The snow at Huntington Lake in the Sierra is quite unbelievable and I’ve gone up there a lot to do nothing other than dig — dig the roof, did out the walls, dig the patio, dig everything. I need to remember that all this snow is due to global warming, just as the last few scant years were too — just as the current wet year in the Valley, just as the past drought years, were as well.
5) We are thinking of having a climb to Kaiser Peak in early June, a rigorous ascent over 10,300 feet. I think I’ll post the date and say something like “a political discussion on the top of Kaiser Peak” — and then give the day and time, and hope someone makes it up to converse with who knows how many who will show up. The Hoover National Security Fellows (colonels in the various military branches) promise to make it.
6) Looking forward to the annual Blossom Trail blossom ride next Saturday, and a speaking trip to Alabama this week.
7) Remember — endless globally-warmed drought was not our preordained future here in California; Iraq was not “doomed” and “lost,” the EU was not the “ideal,” and “ a new permanent liberal majority” was never likely. Never give up hope…