Free Markets, Free People
Is Obama In Over His Head?
For those of us who predicted that, we may as well keep quiet because when we pointed out all the reasons Barack Obama wasn’t qualified for the presidency, we were waved off as people not understanding his exceptionalism.
Barack Obama was the one guy who didn’t need the seasoning or experience most would deem critical for such a position. Barack Obama was unique among men because he didn’t need to have “run” anything, or, for that matter have “done” anything. A stint as a community organizer, a short time as a state Senator and an even shorter one as a US Senator were all this fellow needed to pick up the reigns of the presidency and lead brilliantly his sycophants said. As for leadership, he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, you know – even if he himself never published a thing.
Pointing that out was simply a waste of time given the reaction of his followers. They were positive none of that mattered and, many still maintain that posture today. But some of those he wooed overseas are starting to take a more objective look at the man and they’re not particularly thrilled with what they see:
Regimes in Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran simply pocket his concessions and carry on as before. The picture emerging from the White House is a disturbing one, of timidity, clumsiness and short-term calculation. Some say he is the weakest president since Jimmy Carter.
The grizzled veterans of the Democratic leadership in Congress have found Mr Obama and his team of bright young advisers a pushover. That has gravely weakened his flagship domestic campaign, for health-care reform, which fails to address the greatest weakness of the American system: its inflated costs. His free trade credentials are increasingly tarnished too. His latest blunder is imposing tariffs on tyre imports from China, in the hope of gaining a little more union support for health care. But at a time when America’s leadership in global economic matters has never been more vital, that is a dreadful move, hugely undermining its ability to stop other countries engaging in a ruinous spiral of protectionism.
Even good moves are ruined by bad presentation. Changing Mr Bush’s costly and untried missile-defence scheme for something workable was sensible. But offensively casual treatment of east European allies such as Poland made it easy for his critics to portray it as naïve appeasement of the regime in Moscow.
I disagree on some of the particulars of Edward Lucas’ assessment but not the overall point – lack of leadership and lack of experience equal weak and clumsy foreign policy and disastrous domestic policy. The only reason I can’t at this point say “disastrous” in terms of foreign policy is the foreign policy disaster just hasn’t happened yet. But it will.
Mr Obama’s public image rests increasingly heavily on his extraordinary speechifying abilities. His call in Cairo for a new start in relations with the Muslim world was pitch-perfect. So was his speech in Ghana, decrying Africa’s culture of bad government. His appeal to both houses of Congress to support health care was masterly – though the oratory was far more impressive than the mish-mash plan behind it. This morning he is blitzing the airwaves, giving interviews to all America’s main television stations.
But for what? Mr Obama has tactics a plenty – calm and patient engagement with unpleasant regimes, finding common interests, appealing to shared values – but where is the strategy? What, exactly, did “Change you can believe in” – the hallmark slogan of his campaign – actually mean?
The President’s domestic critics who accuse him of being the sinister wielder of a socialist master-plan are wide of the mark. The man who has run nothing more demanding than the Harvard Law Review is beginning to look out of his depth in the world’s top job. His credibility is seeping away, and it will require concrete achievements rather than more soaring oratory to recover it.
The unplesant conclusion Mr. Lucas has reached is the Obama critics were right – they’re “just words” with nothing there to back them up. The speeches are rhetorically pleasing, well delivered and substantive. But he’s never, ever had to really apply them in any concrete way during his short political career. They’ve been his passport from job to job. He has no record of substantive legislation, no legacy of hard work or leadership. He’s proving to be what every one of the critics said he was – a face man. An empty suit with one sterling ability – delivering a speech. But other than that, there’s just not much there.