Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office January 20, 2009. The challenges he inherited on that historic occasion were as great as any president has faced – including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt; any assessment of Mr. Obama’s presidency not accounting for those challenges would be incomplete – and, more telling, dishonest.
With that as preface let me note I have written before about our president and have done so absent undue praise – but I yield to no one in my personal regard for him.
In the beginning of his administration I was concerned neither Mr. Obama nor his economic advisors, notably treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, fully comprehended the great economic divide between the wealthiest one percent of Americans and everyone else, on the excesses of Wall Street and the virtual collapse of Main Street.
While the president has moved recently to address this issue, especially with his speech in Kansas, where he admirably invoked the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, I remain unsettled in mind as to whether the president gets it, of whether he will campaign against Wall Street’s greed and sense of entitlement?
By this I do not mean just the political issue of standing up and challenging Wall Street, but to see it as his moral imperative; the failure of which will imperil further what has become the fragile state of our democracy.
Another significant concern is the president’s relationship to Congress. From the beginning he sought to work with the party opposite when it was evident they had no similar intent.
Not long after the president’s inauguration Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, told the National Journal’s Major Garrett his principal objective was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. What Mr. McConnell said in that interview, as a public declaration, is without precedent in our history – and foreshadowed the political and legislative difficulties that ensued.
The first casualty of the party opposite’s intransigence was President Obama’s health care legislation. True, health care legislation finally passed – no mean achievement given the long history of past presidential failures – but the legislation’s original intent and final passage were not the same.
The president’s problems with health-care were compounded when Tom Daschle withdrew as secretary designate of Health and Human Services and the White House gave the legislation to Montana’s Max Baucus, a Democrat in name only. Mr. Baucus’ muddled stewardship of the president’s health care objectives resulted in political obstructionism.
But given Mitch McConnell’s self-declaration to emasculate the president and similar vows by GOP House leaders, Mr. Obama’s efforts to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill can only be characterized as mystifying, since it has been marked by constant conflict. Surely the president knows Dr. Einstein’s definition of insanity, the expectation of achieving a different result while doing the same thing?
But maybe the greater puzzlement is why Rahm Emanuel, while serving as the president’s chief of staff, apparently never shared with Mr. Obama Lyndon Johnson’s operating principle of leadership, “If you have a man by his by balls, his head will follow.”
The president’s public face marks a remarkable tolerance toward those who would destroy him politically and end his presidency. As a fellow Christian I know the president knows the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:39, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
But perhaps Mr. Obama is too literal in his acceptance of that New Testament verse; that his presidency would be better served if he saw the words of Jesus more in the light of the late American theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr, who said, “It is the sad duty of politics to establish justice in a sinful world.” Dr. Neibuhr understood the necessity of compromise in politics and governance, but he also knew at times compromise is unacceptable – and morally indefensible.
Mr. Obama’s challenges following his election in 2008 were, as previously noted, as great as any faced by his 43 predecessors, but I did not mention then what I am obliged now to mention – he faced those challenges as our first African-American president.
If I affirm that much of the opposition he’s encountered is racist I understand I have postulated a claim I cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt. Nonetheless, there it is.
How else does one explain the birther movement that claimed Barack Obama is not an American citizen? Is it possible to clarify it as other than a manifestation of public idiocy? Or as H.L. Mencken put it, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”
Constrained as I am by Christian charity I am reluctant to call others idiots (to be so labeled is unpleasant, as I know from personal experience), but how else does one describe those who believe Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the United States? And further, I am persuaded no such drivel would ever have emerged and found acceptance among a stunning number of people in this country if Mr. Obama were white and not black.
The United States has experienced more than its share of shameful moments, but the campaign to discredit Barack Obama as an American citizen, is the embodiment of an evil I cannot abide.
And while the firestorm created by the birthers has receded there remain those convinced Mr. Obama was born, not in Hawaii, but Kenya. My only solace is the knowledge there are also people who believe America’s astronauts never made it to the moon, that it is a fiction of Hollywood filmmakers.
During the bogus birther issue many Republicans lost their self-respect, including most of the party’s presidential candidates, who were only too willing to join the fraudulent fray in the hopes of stealing cheap political points. But while this hysteria dominated media coverage, one person kept his dignity, and then some – the President of the United States.
I characterized the birther campaign, “White America’s Shame.” I called it that because at a time when decency and fairness was required the Republican political establishment was silent – and by its silence said it was acceptable during a time of war and national emergency to incapacitate the president by challenging his legitimacy to serve.
The birthers who belligerently claimed the mantle of “patriotism” were in their ignorance unaware that Samuel Johnson had defined it as “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
But moving beyond the birther moment what is one to make of the current Republican presidential field? If I said the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has been fascinating, I would misspeak. Curious and strange are more appropriate descriptions.
When the primaries are past Mitt Romney will emerge as the Republican presidential nominee. But Governor Romney cannot defeat President Obama. There is only one Republican who has any chance of defeating the president, but he is also the one Republican with the least chance of being nominated, former Utah Governor John Huntsman, who served as President Obama’s ambassador to China.
Jon Huntsman’s candidacy is a throwback to a time when decent and reasonable Republicans bore proudly the estimable traditions of the party of Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Eisenhower, Mr. Reagan, and Mr. George Herbert Walker Bush. But beyond Governor Huntsman, where are they today?
That said, I think Governor Romney will lose for four reasons:
1) Wall Street’s evil doings have escaped his understanding (“Corporations are people, my friend.”); 2) He believes the way forward is to increase tax breaks for the wealthy; a policy that has led to near economic ruin and is without moral defense; 3) at a time when our national debt stands at 14.2 trillion dollars he wants the U.S. military expanded, with 100,000 additional troops and more ships for our Navy, and 4) he has disowned his one significant political accomplishment as Massachusetts’ governor, a health-care system that works. In short, Mr. Romney is not credible.
No one, however, should vote against Mitt Romney because he’s a Mormon. A person’s religious beliefs or the lack thereof are not a test for American public office. Period.
Any enlightened judgment of President Obama and his administration will mark the following major achievements:
Brought home our troops from Iraq and ended George W. Bush and Dick Cheney’s war that cost America 4,500 dead, 30,000 wounded, and $850 billion; successfully carried out the mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11. Something the Bush administration pledged to accomplish but didn’t, and in what was deemed a highly controversial decision, the president saved General Motors and Chrysler, which averted the collapse of two giants of American industry, provided Detroit with a measure of hope, and kept thousands employed.
In addition, one could list the following: advancing women’s rights, ending “don’t ask, don’t tell”, passing hate crimes legislation, clean energy investments, improving America’s food safety system, expanding health insurance for children, improving assistance to the nation’s veterans, creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the appointments of two women to the United States Supreme Court.
The dénouement of the 2012 presidential campaign will result in Mr. Obama’s re-election by a majority greater than his victory over John McCain. In addition, Democrats will win back control of the House of Representatives and retain control of the Senate. And further, Harry Reid as Senate leader will succeed in restoring majority voting rules, thus ending the tyranny of the minority.
In July of 2008 I told a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune that Barack Obama would be elected president, and it wouldn’t be close. I also predicted Democrats would win control of both houses of Congress. Will I be as prescient this time? Let’s revisit this post the 2012 election.