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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

By Paul A. Rahe

When the Democratic Party nominated Al Gore for the Presidency in 2000, they made what seemed at the time – before the man unveiled himself as a “crazed sex poodle” – a respectable choice. Gore had been a prominent member of the Senate, and he had served for eight years as Vice-President of the United States. Nothing in his background, after he got a grip on himself in the wake of doing military service in Vietnam, suggested that he would go off the deep end – as he did after losing the Presidency.

When, however, that same party nominated John Kerry in 2004, they really did take a flier. His one qualification for office was his performance of military service during the Vietnam War (when George W. Bush was in the reserves), and he had blotted his copybook after the war by playing a prominent role in a radical anti-war group (as the party elders knew perfectly well). He had, to be sure, served three terms in the Senate, but in those eighteen years he had never once even proposed a bill. He was an empty suit unqualified for executive office, and that was obvious. Nominating him for the nation’s highest office was a supremely irresponsible act.

In 2008, the party doubled down on the same irresponsible strategy. This time they nominated Barack Obama. He had two qualifications for that honor. With the help of a teleprompter and a speech writer, he could deliver a speech with some panache, and, as Senator Joe Biden observed in a moment of rare candor, when he described the freshman Senator from Illinois to a reporter from The New York Observer, Barack Obama was “the first mainstream African-American [in American politics] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Biden said it all, when he added, “I mean that’s a storybook, man.” What he meant was that Obama’s biography was a narrative that the Democratic Party could use to sell us a bill of goods. They did not care that Obama had never held executive office, that he had never run anything (apart from a campaign), that as a state senator he had mostly voted present, and that – while he had been elected a United States Senator – he had never actually served as a Senator. In fact, Obama made John Kerry look positively presidential. The former had chaired a senatorial subcommittee – on Afghanistan, as it turned out – but, tellingly, he had never even bothered to call a meeting. He had been honored in all sorts of ways in the course of his life, but he had never delivered the goods – not on the Harvard Law Review, not at the University of Chicago Law School, nowhere nohow, notime.

Unfortunately for us as Americans, Barack Obama was nominated at a moment when the Republican Party was in a bad way – thanks in part to an unpopular war ill-defended by those conducting it, to mortgage policies begun under the Clinton administration and continued under George W. Bush, and to the nomination of a man who had made a career out of betraying his own side. It was, moreover, a time when the mainstream media, never impartial, had reached its nadir and covered the campaign in a fashion suggesting that they worked for the Democratic National Committee. Their efforts constituted what one of the contributors to Journolist aptly called “the unofficial campaign.” To this day, thanks to these intrepid reporters, we know very little about Barack Obama – though bits and pieces have come to light.

Now the chickens have come home to roost – for all Americans in general and for the adherents of the Democratic Party in particular. As President, Barack Obama has been incompetent. He has led domestically, as he has led in international affairs, “from behind.” He left the stimulus bill to Congress, Obamacare to Congress, and Dodd-Frank to Congress. Instead of taking the lead himself. He rolled out his teleprompter and gave speech after speech – until the very mention of his name caused television viewers to reach for the remote. The results were predictable, and I have no doubt that someone in the White House warned him of the dangers. But he did not listen. He knew better. Reading speeches written by other people had gotten him this far. It would suffice. He evidently still thinks that speechifying will do the job.

Never does it seem to have crossed Barack Obama’s mind that, if Congress were allowed to write major bills, every Senator and every Congressman who had any swat would write into it a special deal for his supporters. Never did it dawn on him that the President – and no one but the President – represents the national interest. The results were utterly predictable – bills running thousands of pages, which no one had read or could comprehend, and debts extending from here to the moon.

Obama is, as was obvious from his record, a man of legislative temperament – eager to dodge responsibility, always happy to run his mouth in front of a microphone, good at posturing, incapable of rising to the occasion, forever intent on blaming someone else. Consider what he did this year. Along the way, someone persuaded him that he would eventually have to deal with the deficit. To that end, he appointed a commission to make recommendations and stacked it with the usual suspects. The commission then issued its recommendations; he spoke a few words of praise; and then he ignored what they had said and proposed a budget that did absolutely nothing to remedy what was an obvious problem. The budget he proposed was so ridiculous that it was voted down in the Senate 97-0. Not one member of the President’s own party was willing to sign on.

Did he then acknowledge defeat and propose a revised budget? No, he played golf. Then, he played golf again. Then, you guessed it, he dragged out his golf clubs over and over again. When the Republicans in the House took up the challenge and, under the guidance of Paul Ryan, passed a bill that would have righted things somewhat, he threatened a veto and got the Democrats in the Senate to nix it on a party-line vote. As Harry Reid proudly put it, “Cut, Cap, and Balance is over, done. It’s dead.” With that sentence, he wrote his own political epitaph and that of this President.

And now – as unemployment keeps climbing, when the recovery has stalled, and S&P has lowered the rating on our debt – all that Barack Obama can do is whine and blame someone, anyone, else. We are all paying a considerable price for this. African-Americans, the one group stoutly loyal to this President, are paying the highest price. But everyone has been hurt, and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

It is commonplace – and has been for some time – to compare Barack Obama with Jimmy Carter. That is, I think, to do Jimmy Carter an injustice. The President whom Obama most closely resembles is Herbert Hoover. We have not had a man in the oval office since Hoover who is as hapless as the current incumbent.

What we are going to see in the next few months – and we may see it in the next few weeks – is a thorough-going collapse in confidence in the man. I still think that he will be the Democratic nominee. The reason that no one is running against him for the nomination is twofold: it would cause a civil war within the party, and, if he were not nominated, African-Americans might well revolt and refuse to turn out and vote. But I would also not be surprised were President Obama to decide not to run. We are witnessing, as we did with Carter and as my parents and the grandparents of most of my readers did with Hoover, the collapse of a Presidency.

Think about it. The stock market is crashing; unemployment is growing; and Barack Obama is a man without any sort of plan. Americans wake up when they discover that their President is in over his head. If the Republicans can find a standard-bearer, 2012 will be their 1932.

In the meantime, were I in John Boehner’s boots, I would put Cut, Cap, and Balance up again in the House for a vote. This time Barack Obama and Harry Reid might in desperation seize on it with both hands.

Paul A. Rahe holds The Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale College, where he is Professor of History. He is author of Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution (1992) and of Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory under the English Republic (2008), co-editor of Montesquieu’s Science of Politics: Essays on the Spirit of Laws (2001), and editor of Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy (2006).

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