Friday, August 27, 2010

Newsflash: Obama Still President!

Here in Foreign Language Land, we are out of touch with the 24-hour news cycle that reflects creates public opinion back home. This is a good thing, in general, but it does sometimes leave us feeling out of touch.

For example, it has seemed over the last few months, that Barack Obama is no longer the President of the United States. Any number articles have come our way which take for granted the "fact" that Obama is an impotent, even hated figure, hiding behind the tightly-closed curtains of his office, now and then peaking out at the jeering masses on the lawn. He is washed up, done in, no longer in control of his bladder, much less the free world.

All this seems unlikely, at least to our old-fashioned "four-year-term" understanding of his job. But what do we know? It's on the internet, so it must be true.

Apparently, though, Obama is still president. We know this because a guy in Foreign Policy says so, and that's even truer than the internet. (Or is it Foreign Affairs that's truer? Anyway, one of them has got to be, because they sound so serious, just like anything with "institution" or "foundation" in its name).

Anyway, it's like this. In a WSJ op-ed, Fouad Ajami says Obama is washed up. But David Rothkopf, our FP guy, read Ajami's op-ed on the subject. Here's his take:
Ajami wrote that "the Obama strategy has lost the consent of the governed." ... [Hi]s central assertion was that ...[d]ue to mistakes already made ... the president had sealed his own fate, couldn't recover and that he (and we) are doomed to a Carter-like descent into presidential impotence and irrelevance....

It was a well-argued, quite passionate piece. The problem with it was that it was arrant nonsense.

Then follows a droll excursus on "arrant nonsense," which phrase Rothkopf concedes "should usually be reserved for gaunt English character actors playing the Sherriff of Nottingham." (Well played, sir. We salute you.) He goes on to observe acidly that "[w]hile Ajami writes with the serious language of a scholar, it is clear that history is of little interest to him."

Rothkopf's main point is that, this early in their tenures, very few recent presidents had done the things for which they are now best remembered. Kennedy had not faced the Cuban missiles; Reagan had not talked about an "evil empire," nor demanded that it "tear down this wall." To judge -- much less dismiss -- Obama based on the results thus far is unfair, and betrays a frank partisan bias.

No surprise there. Ajami is not exactly a dispassionate observer. As Wikipedia puts it, "Eight days after [Obama] took office, [another WSJ] op-ed piece by Ajami called Obama a 'messenger of the old, settled ways,' claimed that the George W. Bush administration's diplomacy [sic!] had had 'revolutionary impact,' and chided Obama for not praising the Iraq War." In other words, Ajami needs Obama to fail, if only to keep himself from looking like a false prophet. Or a blathering idiot pandering wildly to the GOP.

The most hopeful comparison, we suppose, is to FDR. Like health-care reform, the New Deal emerged rapidly, in part because of a new president's willingness to spend down an enormous treasury political capital. The merits of the New Deal are still debated fiercely, to be sure, and we expect that those of Obamacare [shudder] will be in decades to come. Still, for better or worse, it was an enormous act of leadership. And while Obama will not serve a Rooseveltian concatenation of terms, nor win the Second World War, we still have some hope that he will clean up the atrocious military mess he inherited from Bush and bin Laden.

The most worrisome comparison, however, is to LBJ. Like Roosevelt and Obama, he scored a stunning victory early in the game. Sadly, there was more to it than that. As Rothkopf puts it,
Johnson accomplished a great deal including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act and, if defined by his first 18 months, would have been regarded as a great success. It wasn't until after 1966 that his political fortunes began to turn with the deepening involvement in Vietnam and spreading unrest in American cities.
"His political fortunes" are the least of it. Vietnam was a disaster which devastated a foreign nation, killed American soldiers, and tarnished America's reputation in the world. Little frightens us more than the possibility that Obama will make a series of military missteps which do likewise. "Little," we say. One thing frightens us much more: that he will fail to offer a firm defense against genuine enemies. However, the bloodthirstiness of Obama's war in Afghanistan and now Pakistan makes this seem unlikely.

1 comment:

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I think Obama lost his clout when he failed to put on a scuba suit and go down and plug that leak himself. Those against him have been complaining that he had changed things too much, but when he wasn't able to change that oil into a soothing balm, they started complaining that he wasn't doing enough.