Crashing and Burning in 2013
Recent polls suggest Barack Obama has become a turn-off. Why?
In part, all presidents wear on Americans. Their presence has become as ubiquitous in our lives as the busts of the emperor Augustus dotting the Mediterranean world. So who wouldn’t annoy after speaking and appearing on our screens 24/7 for five years?
But in Obama’s case, two character traits made him especially aggravating this year. Both explain why vero possumus and hope and change have descended to “you can keep your plan, period.”
One, Obama blames everything bad on everyone else, and takes credit for a few good things that he had nothing to do with. He reminds me of a losing Little League coach who blamed the lights, fans, and umpire for his last-place standing, only to brag about his own genius after inserting a 12 year old who hit a freak homer to win his only game.
Why so? Few care to speculate anymore other than the obvious that his cursus honorum was always characterized by rhetoric in lieu of achievement. By that I mean I don’t know how his transcript merited admittance to Harvard Law School; what publications he authored as editor of Harvard Law Review; on what basis he was offered tenure at Chicago; how his record in the Illinois legislature prepped a U.S. Senate career; or why his brief sojourn as a U.S. senator qualified him as president. But I do concede through it all he sounded pretty confident and mellifluous.
George Bush, ATM machines, the Tea Party, the post-2010 Congress, the earthquake in Washington, D.C., the Japanese Tsunami -- all this and more have caused Obama’s otherwise brilliant policies to fail. You would have thought that he entered office with a Republican supermajority in the Senate and a raging Tea Party majority in the House, all conspiring to thwart his every godhead from January 21, 2009.
Putting higher taxes on the productive classes, discouraging energy exploration of federal lands, adding more regulations, chronically bad-mouthing the successful, borrowing $6 trillion to waste on stimulus and handouts, and socializing a sixth of the American economy with an unworkable Obamacare plan apparently had nothing to do with our non-recovery.
The flip side is that public efforts to subsidize failures like Solyndra or shut down federal leasing of new gas and oil drilling have mysteriously led to record energy production -- thanks to Obama! The more you try to shut down Keystone or block drilling in Colorado, the more you become the gas and oil president.
Obama may have tired of watching the hunt for bin Laden, and instead in mediis rebus preferred to play cards with sidekick Reggie Love, but he alone also got bin Laden -- not really at all the men who broke into the Pakistani compound, or the prior policies that facilitated their operations.
The second aggravating habit of the president is to calmly talk nonsense, from the trivial to the profound. In the hip cool world of the ex-Harvard Law Review editor, it is legal not to enforce the laws. Plead to your frustrated constituencies who want more stuff right now that you are not quite a dictator, king, or autocrat -- and then you can do your best to act like one.
In such a fantasy world, corpsemen are soldiers instead of zombies. An uncle he stayed with he never met. Austrians speak Austrian. Syrians dare not cross red lines to use chemical weapons. Putin is a valued partner in the Middle East. Iran is now backing down and acting adult-like, not racing to acquire a bomb. The IRS scandal is both “outrageous,” but also now some cooked-up and over-hyped media melodrama. We are still hunting the perpetrators of Benghazi -- once we figure out who exactly was set off by that hateful video that day.
You can keep your existing health plan, your current doctor -- and save $2,500 a year without new taxes -- and with your preexisting condition and the 25 year old on your plan thrown in as a freebie.
On any given day, Obama says things that are not just untrue but also cannot be by any stretch possible. In other words, when he is not intentionally deceiving, he is simply clueless. If he tomorrow were to assert that Iran dare not use chemical weapons, that it is time for Assad to go, that Putin better start treating gays with respect, that in 2014 you really can keep you own doctor and health plan, that Guantanamo is to be closed, that Obamacare is going to save you money and provide better care, that there will be no lobbyists or revolving doors in his administration, would we laugh or cry?
One open mic, two bows, three apologies, four red lines, five deadlines, six “period!”s, and he might have gotten by. But seven, eight…?
I don’t recall that Greece worked. Detroit is bankrupt. California managed to have the highest income, sales, and gas taxes in the U.S., along with the highest poverty levels, near-worst roads, and at-the-bottom schools.
The administration’s cure for nationalizing a sixth of the U.S. economy is to call in private-sector techies to fix the website and a CEO or two to iron out the organization.
Borrowing $6 trillion did not lead to any “summer of recovery.”
In other words, what model -- Illinois, Maryland, Italy, Spain -- is the administration using to chart our course to ever more statism? Is Apple run by G-10s? Is fracking a discovery of the Energy Department? Is the IRS a model of fairness and probity?
The Detritus of a Culture
I don’t want to hear any more from Anderson Cooper that his 85-year-old mom bragged of great cunnilingus -- nor to read that Cosmopolitan magazine sent one of its bloggers to masturbate publicly on the New York subway. Life is sick enough without all that. I’d rather read about the heroism of Depression-era farmers, or the ordeal of those who fought on Okinawa to ensure that Mr. Anderson can editorialize about octogenarian oral sex.
Miley Cyrus is neither attractive nor talented. But to paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, she has one thing you don’t have: a mini-celebrity name and a prior image as a pure Disney screen teen. Add that mix with this year’s raunchy sex on stage and you have a grating sort of disconnect that bewilders an audience -- for about six weeks. Now she has poked about with one outsized foam finger too many.
Kanye West somehow keeps in the spotlight. It is hard not to run across his name, quotes, or rhymes in the news. Yet a visitor from an alien solar system who examined his corpus of work and collated his public commentary would quickly conclude that he is talentless. A potty-mouth 5th grader could make up his ditties. He does not seem to distinguish music from banging or shouting. Were he not protected by his own victimhood, his cheap slurs of racism and anti-Semitic rants would have doomed his public persona long ago, despite Rev. Farrakhan coming to his rescue. He is more or less famous for being a famous version of the Kardashians. Wait, isn’t he hooked up with one?
Ditto Oprah. Unlike Cyrus or West, she is talented on TV and can act. She is also a billionaire who now stages racial dramatics to save a fading career. Did she not know that her suburban mom morning audience was non-partisan and liked her therapeutics because she transcended politics and race, and seemed to focus on people as people?
That was her currency and she threw it away, hyping Obama when he was 65% up in the polls and then whining about racism when he was not. It is hard to feel any empathy for Oprah when she claims that a racist Swiss clerk at Trois Pommes denied her the opportunity to examine first-hand a $38,000 crocodile purse (where is PETA when you need them?), or to listen to yet another half-educated sermon on racial relations, in which she hypes her fading movie by warning us that lots of bad Americans will have to die off before racial relations meet her criteria.
Die now, you Trois Pommes bigots!
The Middle East
The Middle East remains a critical region. It borders Europe’s southern flank that is now in financial chaos. It still produces 30-40% of the world’s petroleum. The Suez Canal is vital to world commerce. Who knows what our new ally Recep Erdogan is up to. A nuclear Middle East would not let others alone. Asian industry depends on access to the Persian Gulf. Trillions of petrodollars allow terrorist global reach that they would not otherwise have. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were born there. Israel is a successful democracy surrounded by lunatics. Hot spots -- Cyprus, the West Bank, Gaza -- could spark a wider war anytime.
But all that said, the American public grew tired of the Middle East. Maybe it was the aftermath of the war in Iraq. Maybe our new energy production gives us that leeway. Maybe Benghazi. Or was it the psychodrama of threatening and not threatening Assad? Or maybe Iran’s bomb? Or maybe the nutty periphery like our other two allies Afghanistan and Pakistan?
No matter -- I detect that most Americans’ attitudes toward the Arab Spring, or talk of reform, or the Shiite-Sunni ongoing rivalry is summed up as something like “please turn the channel.” Three things seem to characterize those of the Middle East: almost everyone professes to hate Europe and the United States; yet half the region schemes to immigrate to either place; and once immigrating, Middle Easterners dream of turning the West into the Middle East that they under no circumstances wished to live in.
Take out a dictator, foster democracy and you get blame-America Maliki. Bomb Gadhafi out of power, and you win murders in Benghazi. Karzai hates America so much that he forbids us to leave as he orders us out. Stay out of Syria and you are damned as being heartless. Support Mubarak and you are cynical; support the crazy Muslim Brotherhood and you are naïve; support the junta and you betray your principles -- ad nauseam.
Who is worse -- Hezbollah or Hamas? Assad or Nasrallah? The Iranians or the Pakistanis? Who cares?
For most of us, a bearded youth strutting around with an RPG on his shoulder is not our problem, twelve years after 9/11. Nor is the contorted face burning an American flag on CNN, shouting the boilerplate "Death to America!" -- as he brags off-camera that he has an uncle in Lansing.
The next time around -- and I think there will be a next time around -- the American reaction, foolishly or not, will probably be purely punitive rather than engagement and nation-building.
Somehow the idea that the existence of Israel means that Egyptians were deprived of democracy, or Iraqis were made corrupt, or Syrians are gassing each other has become sort of like Miley Cyrus’s foam finger, Kanye West’s latest limerick, or masturbating on the subway -- boring.
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