Thursday, September 19, 2013

Writing History Painfully

I often wonder how history will remember the Presidency of Barack Obama.  Will it be seen as the grand beginning to a new era of progressivism?  Will it be recorded as the beginning of the end of the United States as a world power?  I don't feel comfortable with either conclusion.

My best guess right now is that future generations will just wonder how the American people could have let themselves be bamboozled by someone who when, viewed in the fullness of time, was not much different than a 19th century snake oil salesman.  Articulate and personable with a nice smile who  was great on the stump.  However, in the end, that was all there was.

I know it sounds harsh but I can't escape this nagging feeling that history is going to judge Barack Obama in a very unfavorable light.  The world has been Obama's oyster almost his entire life.  Things came easily.  Private school in Hawaii.  Occidental. Columbia.  Harvard Law. Law Review Editor. Community organizer. Constitutional Law professor. State Senator. U.S Senator. President.  Nobel Peace Prize. He had a lot of help along the way.  He seemingly got pushed to the front of the line at crucial times in his life.  People wanted to help the nice young man and he took full advantage every step of they way.

However, it appears to me that Barack Obama's luck has run out.  He's finding that out every day.  American's foreign policy is in disarray.  Although many thought it was impossible, respect for America is lower than it was under George W. Bush.  The economy is still lackluster.  Our fiscal house is in horrible shape and we seem to be in eternal gridlock in Washington. At the same time, Obama appears incapable of leading, building consensus or doing anything to unite the country.

Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal describes the Obama modus operandi as: "I think, therefore you do."

We should admit the obvious: Barack Obama is the most anti-political president the United States has had in the post-war era. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter (even), Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. All practiced politics inside the tensions between Congress and the presidency that were designed into the system by the Founding Fathers. Not Barack Obama. He told us he was different. He is.
Mr. Obama doesn't do Washington's politics. Disappointed acolytes say it is because he is "passive." That underestimates him. For Mr. Obama, the affairs of state are wholly a function of whatever is inside his mind. 
Some things remain in his mind, like the economic benefits of public infrastructure spending, which appeared one more time in Monday's post-Navy Yard speech on the lessons of the financial crisis and Congress's obligations to agree with him. Some things enter his mind and then depart, like red lines in the Syrian sand.
From where he sits, it is the job of the political world outside to adjust and conform to the course of the president's mental orbit. Those who won't adjust are dealt with by the president himself. They are attacked publicly until they are too weak politically to oppose what is on his mind.
There is no better example of this than the President's speech to the Business Roundtable yesterday where he stated,

"Raising the debt limit, which has been done over a hundred times, does not increase our debt."

Excuse me? Did he really say that? This was not one of Obama's famous gaffes either. He read it straight off the teleprompter.

Here is a chart of increases in the debt limit and in the federal debt since President Obama took office. You can make your own determination of that statement.
Granted, raising the debt limit does not increase our spending obligations. But it certainly leads to increases in our debt as the chart shows . That fact is inescapable. However, the President did not say that. The President also conveniently ignores the fact that the only reason the Republicans want to negotiate with the debt ceiling is to attempt to reduce the rate of increases in spending and the resulting federal debt from our deficit spending. If the President showed any willingness to negotiate on normal terms it would not be necessary.

What is really remarkable is what Barack Obama said in 2006 when the Bush administration asked Congress for a debt ceiling limit increase. These are verbatim excerpts from his speech on the Senate Floor on March 16, 2006 when he stated he would not support an increase in the debt limit.
The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. Over the past 5 years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion.  (Note: the current debt limit ceiling is $16.7 trillion which is almost $8 trillion more than in 2006)

And the cost of our debt is one of the fastest growing expenses in the Federal budget. This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our children of critical investments in education and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on.

Every dollar we pay in interest is a dollar that is not going to investment in America’s priorities. Instead, interest payments are a significant tax on all Americans—a debt tax that Washington doesn’t want to talk about. If Washington were serious about honest tax relief in this country, we would see an effort to reduce our national debt by returning to responsible fiscal policies.

Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘‘the buck stops here.’’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.

I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

Over the years I have learned that things that don't make sense can continue for much longer than you ever thought possible.  The reason is that human beings often make decisions and come to conclusions based more on the reflexive parts of their brain than the reflective parts.  However, over the long term, you can't defy gravity.  Bubbles burst, false heroes fail and what appeared to be gravitas is revealed to be nothing more than glibness.

Politics is a tough business.  It is difficult to know who your real friends are.  It is also ultimately a game of survival.  For most politicians it is largely about maintaining power as well as positioning for the next step up the ladder.  You help those who can help you.  You distance yourselves quickly from anyone who cannot help your cause or could harm your own survival.

People can also turn quickly on someone.  Especially if they believe they have been duped or misled.

Barack Obama is in a different place right now than he has ever been in his lifetime.  The finely polished veneer is cracking and we still don't fully know what is really underneath.  My guess is that we will find out a lot more about the real man Barack Obama is over the next few years.  Will we start to see more Democrat defections on key Obama initiatives?  Will his approval ratings continue to fall with voters?

The real danger for Obama is that once cracks start to surface they tend to spread.  He has had a lot of cover up to now from both his party and the press.  How will he deal with it if that starts to slip?

There is much history yet to be written with Barack Obama.  Salesman or Statesman? Pretender or President?  Liability or Leader?

George Washington once said, "Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to life."

The last five years have been painful enough.  How much more pain is it going to take to get these answers?

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