Are we witnessing the implosion of the Obama presidency? It seems that events on several fronts are spiraling beyond Obama's ability to deal with them. Whether it's the Sestak affair, the oil spill or Obama's failure to live up to his campaign promises by ending the war in Iraq in 16 months or closing Gitmo, Obama seems in over his head.
It wasn't so long ago that Obama's fine words about his new vision for America captivated a nation weary of war and partisan strife. Look back at the remarks of then candidate Obama as he launched the final leg of his Iowa caucus campaign; a victory that paved the way for him to enter the White House. The speech, known as "Our Moment Is Now" is worth reading in it's entirety as it captures the failed promise of Obama. A few excerpts are below:
OBAMA: We cannot wait for good jobs, and living wages, and pensions we can count on. We cannot wait to halt global warming, and we cannot wait to end this war in Iraq.
I chose to run because I believed that the size of these challenges had outgrown the capacity of our broken and divided politics to solve them; because I believed that Americans of every political stripe were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that focused not just on how to win but why we should, a politics that focused on those values and ideals that we held in common as Americans; a politics that favored common sense over ideology, straight talk over spin.
The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result.
But you can't at once argue that you're the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it. You can't fall in line behind the conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and offer yourself as the leader who is best prepared to chart a new and better course for America.
It's change that won't just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans. There's no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don't need more heat. We need more light. I've learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That's the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election.
For the first time in a long time, we have the chance to build a new majority of not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans who've lost faith in their Washington leaders but want to believe again - who desperately want something new.
The speech was a reaction to the charge by the Hillary campaign that Obama lacked the experience to lead. But as most of us have learned by now, rhetoric is no substitute for leadership and experience.
After reading the speech above, don't you think voters were right to expect something better from Obama? Yet, let's look at a few specifics and see what we got:
Candidate Obama called George Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster "unconscionable incompetence". Yet Obama has made only two brief visits to the Gulf to monitor the oil spill disaster. In the same time period Bush made seven trips to the Gulf Coast after Katrina. The growing perception is that Obama is disengaged from the tragedy and seems to spend more time playing basketball or golfing than knocking heads together to save sensitive marshlands along the Gulf.
And with the Sestak affair we're told by the White House that "Efforts were made in June and July of 2009," to encourage Sestak to stay out of the Pennsylvania senate primary with Arlen Specter. The White House tried to claim that former President Bill Clinton was the go between for what the White House admits were offers of multiple alternatives to encourage Sestak to drop out of the race. But according to Sestak, that call only lasted 60 seconds. Hardly enough time to explore the "alternatives" alluded to by the White House over a period of months.
Would any of those who found Obama's message of a new kind of politics compelling describe the White House conduct in the Sestak affair as meeting that challenge?
And what about Obama's effort to bridge the partisan divide and build that new majority with Independents and Republicans? Obama can't even attend a closed door meeting with Republican Senators without getting prickly over criticism that his legislative agenda is being put forward using a solely partisan strategy.
Peter Wehner reminds us that David Axelrod once warned Obama in a memo that he appears unable to withstand criticism.
Wehner finds that last statement incredible. Obama is so self focused that he puts his own difficulties above the attack on Pearl Harbor, September 11th, Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the D-Day landings on Normandy. Really? Wehner concludes: "for Obama to complain that the problems he faces are so much worse than any other president in the last 80 years is stunningly self-indulgent, to say nothing of ahistorical."
I thought of this memo after reading the comment by Sen. Pat Roberts after he and other Senate Republicans had a contentious 80-minute meeting with the president on Tuesday. "He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans," Roberts said. "He's pretty thin-skinned."
Sen. Roberts is being too generous. Obama is among the most thin-skinned presidents we have had, and we see evidence of it in every possible venue imaginable, from one-on-one interviews to press conferences, from extemporaneous remarks to set speeches.
The president is constantly complaining about what others are saying about him. He is upset at Fox News, and conservative talk radio, and Republicans, and people carrying unflattering posters of him. He gets upset when his avalanche of faulty facts are challenged, like on health care. He gets upset when he is called on his hypocrisy, on everything from breaking his promise not to hire lobbyists in the White House to broadcasting health care meetings on C-SPAN to not curtailing earmarks to failing in his promises of transparency and bipartisanship.
In Obama's eyes, he is always the aggrieved, always the violated, always the victim of some injustice. He is America's virtuous and valorous hero, a man of unusually pure motives and uncommon wisdom, under assault by the forces of darkness.
It is all so darn unfair.
Not surprisingly, Obama's thin skin leads to self pity. As Daniel Halper of The Weekly Standard pointed out, in a fundraising event for Sen. Barbara Boxer, Obama said,"Let's face it: this has been the toughest year and a half since any year and a half since the 1930s."
More Wehner: The president's instincts are by now obvious to all: deflect blame, point fingers, and lash out at others, most especially his predecessor. We know from press reports that the strategy for the Democrats in 2010, two years after Obama was elected president, is to – you guessed it – blame George W. Bush.Then, there is this from Peggy Noonan. You'll recall that Peggy was an early admirer of Obama, mostly because of speeches like the one above. Sadly, her enthusiasm for Obama helped lead astray other voters who must have thought "if Peggy likes him, he can't be all bad."
Well, Peggy has changed her tune. And in each of her column's on the subject of Obama the tone gets more and more worrisome.
He Was Supposed to Be Competent
The spill is a disaster for the president and his political philosophy.
By Peggy Noonan
Wall Street Journal
MAY 29, 2010
I don't see how the president's position and popularity can survive the oil spill. This is his third political disaster in his first 18 months in office. And they were all, as they say, unforced errors, meaning they were shaped by the president's political judgment and instincts.
There was the tearing and unnecessary war over his health-care proposal and its cost. There was his day-to-day indifference to the views and hopes of the majority of voters regarding illegal immigration. And now the past almost 40 days of dodging and dithering in the face of an environmental calamity. I don't see how you politically survive this.
The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. This is a terrible thing to see in a political figure, and a startling thing in one who won so handily and shrewdly in 2008. But he has not, almost from the day he was inaugurated, been in sync with the center. The heart of the country is thinking each day about A, B and C, and he is thinking about X, Y and Z. They're in one reality, he's in another.
The original sin in my view is that as soon as the oil rig accident happened the president tried to maintain distance between the gusher and his presidency. He wanted people to associate the disaster with BP and not him. When your most creative thoughts in the middle of a disaster revolve around protecting your position, you are summoning trouble. When you try to dodge ownership of a problem, when you try to hide from responsibility, life will give you ownership and responsibility the hard way. In any case, the strategy was always a little mad. Americans would never think an international petroleum company based in London would worry as much about American shores and wildlife as, say, Americans would. They were never going to blame only BP, or trust it.
I wonder if the president knows what a disaster this is not only for him but for his political assumptions. His philosophy is that it is appropriate for the federal government to occupy a more burly, significant and powerful place in America—confronting its problems of need, injustice, inequality. But in a way, and inevitably, this is always boiled down to a promise: "Trust us here in Washington, we will prove worthy of your trust." Then the oil spill came and government could not do the job, could not meet the need, in fact seemed faraway and incapable: "We pay so much for the government and it can't cap an undersea oil well!"
Two years ago on May 31, Harriet Christian described the real Obama. Her rant below was prescient:
Did anyone really believe an inexperienced Community Organizer and liberal agitator from Chicago had the right stuff to be President? To paraphrase Obama's mentor and former Pastor Rev. "God damn America" Wright: Obama's chickens are coming home to roost!