Public disapproval of how Barack Obama has handled the oil spill has increased 15 percentage points from a month ago. I rather doubt that the president’s Oval Office address last night will reverse this slide.
Posts For: June 16, 2010
MSNBC commentators are turning against Barack Obama. So are clever and intelligent liberals. Here’s Jon Stewart from last night, on what he considers to be Obama’s hypocrisy. From the left, the air seems to be leaking out of the Obama balloon.
Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.
This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.
But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.
If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.
This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.
There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor does the talking, but standing with him are Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Congressman Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.):
So will Democrats now come forward to join in Rep. Peter King’s resolution?
Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, sometime consultant to General McChrystal, and a Middle East expert who blogs as “Abu Muqawama,” joins in the general hand-wringing over the state of Afghanistan. He says it’s “probably true” that the “United States and its allies have vital interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” but like much of the commentariat, he is growing pessimistic about our chances of safeguarding those interests. He renounces his previous belief that the “United States and its allies will devote the time, money, and troops to execute a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.” He now writes that this is “probably false”:
For a variety of reasons — some good, some less good, some having to do with massive oil spills that didn’t exist in 2009 and a financial crisis that didn’t exist in 2007 — the United States and its allies will likely not provide the resources necessary for a long-term counterinsurgency effort. They might have in 2003. But in 2009? In retrospect, it was always going to be unlikely, and I think I personally overestimated U.S. and allied resources available (including but not limited to political will).
I agree with him that the political will to prevail appears to be waning. But I think it’s bizarre that he treats “political will” as a fixed, exogenous factor like the weather or the terrain. Hurricane Katrina did not make impossible the success of the surge in Iraq; so too the BP oil spill does not make impossible the success of the ongoing surge in Afghanistan. The question is whether President Obama will have the will to see this through as President Bush did in the face of much greater public opposition.
All it would take would be a speech from the president saying something like this: ”I was wrong about trying to set a timeline for American withdrawal. I wanted to inject fresh vigor into our military and diplomatic efforts. But I now realize that my talk about starting to pull American troops out next summer has been misinterpreted; it has caused some in the region to doubt our resolve. So let me be clear. We will stay as long as necessary to defeat the cruel evil of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated extremists. I now pledge that, to paraphrase another young Democratic president, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty in Afghanistan.”
Boom. With a few gutsy words like that, President Obama could instantly change assumptions about our willpower. That’s all it would take, because in all likelihood the Democratic Party would fall in behind him — or at least not challenge him too aggressively. Republicans, for their part, would enthusiastically support him as they have whenever he has increased our commitment to Afghanistan.
I admit that this is unlikely to happen (particularly the last line from John F. Kennedy, a very different kind of Democrat!), but it’s hardly impossible given that Obama has already done full or partial flip-flops on other issues, such as civil trials for terrorists and the closing of Gitmo. We have the resources (money, manpower) to prevail in Afghanistan — just as we had the resources to prevail in Iraq. The question is whether President Obama will commit those resources and give our commanders the time needed to make effective use of them.
That remains to be determined, but I would caution Andrew and others about suggesting that the necessary willpower simply doesn’t exist and can’t be manufactured. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
John, you’ve certainly hit on the “finger-in-the-wind” aspect to liberals’ reactions to Obama’s speech. The stampede for the exits was worsened, I think, by the image of Obama in the Oval Office, a great irony for the man who once entranced the media and the public with his cool TV persona. The image projected of Obama last night was also extraordinarily damaging — perhaps fatally so — to the president, and it was dispiriting to his base. You sensed that the liberal base was not merely making a political calculation , in effect, to dump Obama, but that they were actually shaken on a visceral level, too.
For good or bad, images help shape the modern presidency. Ronald Reagan was the master of the visual – he was aided by Michael Deaver but rested on his own sense of theatricality. And the visual can also undo a president, freezing in time and then repeating ad nauseam a moment that crystallizes “the problem.” For George W. Bush, there were the photos of him looking out the window at the Katrina devastation (the message: distant, disengaged) and of him standing under the “Mission Accomplished” banner (the message: overconfident, oblivious).
That iconic moment for Obama may well be the image of him last night, hands folded behind that huge empty desk. He was revealed as an impostor, someone play-acting as president and an interloper in serious matters. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with what he said – it was that image. He and his presidency seemed shrunken, with the man once considered a political colossus now hiding behind and dwarfed by the props of the office.
Part of the reaction is certainly the steely political calculation by the left that Obama may be a lost cause. But there was also, I think, the flash of insight and the pang of panic by those invested in this president: it is impossible to maintain the pretense that he’s larger than life. The man looks entirely out of his league. For those of us who never bought into the myth, it’s easy to underestimate the demoralizing effect last night seems to have had on Obama’s base. It’s not often that one speech provides an “ah, ha!” moment of lasting impact, but last night may well have been Obama’s.
The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.
Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.
Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.
But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.
Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.
And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.
Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.
Truth has it all over fiction. Sports photographers captured a poignant moment at the Brazil–North Korea match in Tuesday’s World Cup play, when North Korea’s star striker, Jong Tae-Se, stood with tears in his eyes as his national anthem was played and a tiny contingent of fans cheered wildly. The New York Times’s Rob Hughes, answering the call of sentiment, reported that the match helped “bridge the world’s divides” and urged “everyone [to move] away from the notion that the isolation of half of the Korean Peninsula makes its citizens and players somehow inferior.”
No trip back to the manufactured atmosphere of Cold War–era sporting events would be complete without some kind of deceptive show put on by the Marxist side. And this incident requited expectations: it turns out that the 100 North Korean fans vigorously waving their flags last night in the bleachers in Ellis Park were Chinese actors, hired by China to play North Korean fans.
China didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. According to a Chinese TV news anchor who’s now in Johannesburg covering the tournament, “Chinese fans will stand for the Asian teams.” South Korea and Japan are also competing for the World Cup this year, but the TV anchor’s additional comments clarify why China is standing for one Asian team in particular:
… 60 years ago, China’s military forces valiantly crossed the Yalu River to fight alongside the North Koreans against their enemies.
Sixty years on, we cheer for their football team and hope they will go far.
These aren’t comments a Chinese TV personality can make without government approval. America may have common interests with China in a variety of situations, but we’ve been deceiving ourselves for too long that such commonality exists when it comes to the disposition of the Korean peninsula. In significant ways, it’s still 1950 in Beijing. What China wants is a viable North Korea that can withstand attempts at unifying the Koreas under a U.S.-friendly government. China can wait for a propitious time to foster reunification to its own advantage; the key under current conditions is to prevent the Kim regime from collapsing.
In light of North Korea’s torpedoing of the South Korean ship in March, the Chinese endorsement at the World Cup is very pointed. It’s also classic state-socialist stage management — if with a twist this time, China having straightforwardly announced what it’s doing back in May. China’s apparent sense that such signals will be either missed or shrugged off by the U.S. has deepened considerably with the Obama presidency. Asians are less obtuse in this regard, however, and they are the target audience.
Brazil defeated North Korea 2-1, incidentally — a creditable showing by the North Koreans against the world’s top-ranked team.
Jennifer rightly decries Barack Obama’s lack of leadership in stymieing a UN effort to set up an “international inquiry” into Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. But Congress need not wait for him to act; it could pressure the UN to desist all by itself, via its power of the purse.
The salient precedent occurred in 1974, when “UNESCO voted to exclude Israel from one of its regional working groups because Israel supposedly altered ‘the historical features of Jerusalem’ during archeological excavations and ‘brainwashed’ Arabs in the occupied territories,” as Front Page magazine recalled in a 2003 essay. Congress retaliated by suspending funding for the organization. UNESCO eventually gave in and readmitted Israel.
The U.S. provides 22 percent of the UN’s budget, so Congress has plenty of leverage. Nor need it threaten to pull the plug on the entire UN: it could deprive some specific UN agency of that 22 percent, as it did with UNESCO in 1974. And because Congress is far more pro-Israel than Obama, trying to work through Congress makes sense.
Even Congress, however, wouldn’t take such a step without strong pressure from American Jews. Jennifer has repeatedly (and rightly) bemoaned this community’s unwillingness to confront Obama, but another issue is at play here, too: American Jews, being overwhelmingly liberal, are reluctant to support an Israeli government that many deem “right-wing” or “hard-line” (to quote the mainstream media’s favorite terms).
What they fail to realize, however, is that even Israel’s left considers a UN inquiry utterly unacceptable. Here, for instance, is what Ze’ev Segal, legal commentator for the far-left daily Haaretz, said on June 4: “Recent experience — both the Goldstone Committee’s report on last year’s war in Gaza and the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the separation fence – shows that international probes related to Israel are irredeemably politically biased, due to the political composition of international bodies like the UN.” And again, two days later: “Israel cannot agree to an international investigation, which would be political and biased.”
Thus, by backing Israel on this issue, American Jews would be supporting not just the government they hate but also the left-wing opposition they adore.
And while American Jews sometimes wonder how much clout they really have under a Democratic administration, the consensus seems to be “plenty.” Consider, for instance, this New York Times piece on Turkey’s radicalization, which quoted unnamed “analysts” as saying that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s behavior toward Israel “boxes in the Obama administration, forcing it into a choice between allies that the Turks are sure to lose.”
Bizarrely, the Web version offers no explanation of this assertion. But in the print version of the Times’ overseas edition, the International Herald Tribune, the next paragraph does: “‘If Obama is faced with the choice of the American Jewish community or Turkey, he’s not going to choose Turkey,’ said a former American diplomat.”
The same would undoubtedly be true were Obama faced with a choice between American Jews and a UN flotilla inquiry. Unfortunately, American Jews have yet to present him with such a choice.
Yahya Wehelie is an American Muslim man who, after spending 18 months in Yemen, was detained in Cairo by U.S. intelligence agents. For six weeks now he has been living in a no-fly-list Egyptian limbo. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and various other activist groups are raising a stink to get him back to his Virginia home. In the New York Times, Scott Shane paints a largely sympathetic portrait of Wehelie and his predicament, quoting ACLU lawyers who say things like, “For many of these Americans, placement on the no-fly list effectively amounts to banishment from their country.” Fine. Maybe Wehelie is being treated unfairly; maybe not. However, I can’t help but think that Shane was a bit remiss in placing the following factoid 22 paragraphs into the story about the luckless world traveler:
Mr. Wehelie studied computer science at Lebanese International University in Sana, the Yemeni capital, he said, and last year he married a Somali woman in Yemen. And in the small American expatriate community, he said, he met Sharif Mobley, the New Jersey man who was later accused of joining Al Qaeda and killing a Yemeni guard. Mr. Wehelie said their handful of encounters were brief and casual, the innocent small talk of two expatriates.
Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.
The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.
In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.
The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight – decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.
But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.
At yesterday’s Senate hearing, both Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain heaped criticism on the management of the Afghan war. As this report makes clear, increasingly the spotlight is focused on Obama’s ill-fated decision to announce an unrealistic and counterproductive timeline for withdrawal of the troops:
The rising level of concern about the war effort in the U.S., shared by some military and civilian officials within the administration, is focusing increased attention on President Barack Obama’s decision to begin U.S. withdrawals in July 2011, always one of the most controversial aspects of his war plan.
Senior U.S. and Western officials acknowledged that they have done a poor job explaining to allies in the region that the U.S.-led coalition will remain committed to Afghanistan even as withdrawals begin next summer. One Western diplomat who has discussed the issue with the Obama administration said allies will attempt to make a stronger case in the coming months.
“Up until this point, I don’t think we have quite got that message across yet,” said the diplomat. “People are still focusing on July 2011 as an issue unto itself.”
That might be because the president made such a big deal of it and continued to emphasize after his West Point speech that he wasn’t enamored of “open-ended” commitments. But as conservative critics warned, that insistence has worked to the detriment of our war effort:
[C]urrent and former U.S. officials said there is increasing evidence that the short time frame is forcing the key actors in the war—particularly Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Pakistani military leadership—to begin cutting deals to ensure their position in Afghanistan, a process that may be exacerbating sectarianism in a country where the insurgency is dominated by the Pashtun majority. … Earlier, Gen. Petraeus appeared to struggle with whether withdrawals should begin in July 2011. Pressed by Mr. Levin whether it was his “best personal, professional judgment” that reductions should begin then, Gen. Petraeus paused for eight seconds before appearing to hedge, saying “we have to be careful with timelines.”
There is no way to “explain” the timeline that will improve this situation. Obama needs to lift it, announce we are in this for the long haul, and commit himself to victory. Anything less is dereliction of his duty as commander in chief to win on a battlefield he defined as critical to our national security.
I guess the thrill up the leg is gone. If you’re Barack Obama and, as Jennifer points out, your speech is panned by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman — three Obama acolytes in the press — then it’s reasonable to assume that the speech can be judged a failure. And last night’s Oval Office address was certainly that.
President Obama was thin on policies. He focused on inputs instead of outcomes. The words were flat. And it contained one of the worst sections from an Oval Office address ever:
All of these approaches [on energy policy] have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny — our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.
It is a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.
This is clueless nonsense. For one thing, the reference to the moon landing is hackneyed. The reference to not accepting inaction is meaningless in the context of what is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico right now. And the concession that “we’re unsure exactly what that [destiny] looks like” and “we don’t yet know precisely how to get there” is devastating. President Obama is invoking pseudo-inspirational rhetoric that is disconnected from reality and from a road map.
Barack Obama is clearly more interested in the theater of the presidency than he is in governing. He is cut out to be a legislator and a commentator, not a chief executive. And when he spoke about seizing the moment and embarking on a national mission, as if he were trying to rise above the environmental catastrophe he looks powerless to stop, there was something slightly pathetic about it. He was trying to recapture the magic from a campaign that was long ago and far away. He is now being humbled by events and his own limitations. And he doesn’t know what to do about it.
The unmasking of Barack Obama continues. It is not a pretty thing to witness.
Last November, which seems like a lifetime ago, in the context of anti-terror measures, a sharp observer spotted a common thread that connected Obama to his attorney general. Of Eric Holder, she remarked:
The dispassion, the self-reverence, the blindness of the man, are marvelous to behold, and so perfectly reflect the president he so perfectly serves. “Neutral and detached” people shall “understand the reasons why” he made those decisions, shall see he has left “the politics out of it,” and shall recognize what’s right–something the rest of us, benighted and bellicose souls that we are, have never managed to do with respect to the disposition of those committing mass murders of Americans in their ongoing war against our civilization.
It is more true today in the wake of excising “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from our lexicon. Indeed, it extends to every area of governance. The public doesn’t appreciate the gift of ObamaCare. The voters fail to understand that “costs” (that would be taxes) are needed to enact a massive cap-and-trade scheme. The Jews don’t comprehend that Obama has their interests at heart — go self-reflect, he instructs them. And he tut-tuts Jewish leaders who don’t “get” how his master plan for peace in the Middle East is unfolding. He judges, evaluates, and criticizes us — remaining above the fray.
Even Maureen Dowd stumbles upon the truth: “President Obama’s bloodless quality about people and events, the emotional detachment that his aides said allowed him to see things more clearly, has instead obscured his vision.” (And rendered him ineffective and increasingly unlikable.) Robert Reich similarly edges to the core problem:
The man who electrified the nation with his speech at the Democratic National Convention of 2004 put it to sleep tonight. … [H]e failed tonight to rise to the occasion. Is it because he’s not getting good advice, or because he’s psychologically incapable of expressing the moral outrage the nation feels?
When Obama drops the mask of detachment and reveals true emotion, it is for himself. What spurred the angry denunciation of Rev. Wright? Wright’s personal attack on him. What gets his goat? The media, which impose a 24/7 news cycle on him. What gets his blood boiling? The “insult” he perceives to him when Israel dared to announce a building project while his VP was visiting. Why was Obama annoyed with Daniel Ortega? He implied that Obama was responsible for the Bay of Pigs when he was but a child.
So we have a curious president — cold and distant when it comes to dangers from foreign foes, economic catastrophe, and environmental disaster, which wreck havoc on our lives, but filled with outrage at the slightest offense to himself. Now Bill Clinton was and is a renowned self-pitier. But at least he had the political smarts and acting skills (and to be fair, a real emotional connection to his fellow citizens) to project empathy and to tell us that he felt our pain. Obama can’t muster that. The lion’s share of his concern and emotional energy is reserved for himself. As his presidency comes crashing down around him, his self-concern will grow, the yelps of self-pity will intensify, and the complaints about dull-witted Americans and duplicitous opponents will multiply.
Things have gotten so bad for Obama that MSNBC pundits sound like me. The troika of Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews, ripping Obama’s Oval Office speech with the bitterness of spurned lovers, complain he didn’t do much or say much or project much leadership. And indeed, with his hands folded on that really big and empty desk, you got the impression not that Obama was in charge of that office but that he didn’t do much real work there.
Salon’s Joan Walsh was similarly dismissive. (“I was underwhelmed by President Obama’s first Oval Office speech, as I expected to be. From the moment he began, hands folded on his desk like a well-behaved student, the imagery and energy was off, inadequate to the visual, horror-movie scope of the Gulf oil disaster.”) Maureen Dowd remains infuriated with the hapless president. (“How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?”) Hmm. Because he’s in over his head? Because all he’s ever done is promote himself? Even Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C., which has few harsh words for the town’s stars — acknowledged that “this wasn’t one of Obama’s best speeches” and observed “it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this ‘national mission.’”
This was certainly the liberal media’s big chance to write the “Comeback Kid” story on the oil spill, as they tried to do after every equally ineffective health-care address (“Game changer!” we heard after nothing at all was changed). Instead, they informed the president that he’s no FDR. (Howard Fineman: “It was Obama who compared the Gulf disaster to World War Two, and it was, unfortunately, Obama who was unable to approach let alone match the specificity, combativeness and passion of Franklin Roosevelt.”) Have they suddenly become more savvy or recovered their objectivity? Perhaps they see it all crumbling — the generic polling, the NPR poll, and the president’s ratings slide all confirm that Obama and his party are heading for a drubbing.
Not unlike what the White House did to Creigh Deeds: rather than admit to the failure of liberal ideas, the easiest solution is to blame the candidate — in this case, the perpetual candidate who resides in the White House. So just as readily as they scrambled onto the Obama bandwagon, they are scurrying off. The MSNBC gang and liberal columnists look now to empathize with and retain the loyalty of their liberal audience, which is frustrated that the “sort of a God” has proved inept.
The same “Run for your lives!” mentality will soon take hold of the Democrats on the ballot. Whether they aim to reconnect with their base (as Bill Halter tried to do) or dash to the center of the political spectrum, they will flee from association with the president for whom they walked the plank on vote after vote. I suspect they will have as hard a time retaining voters as MSNBC, Salon, and the New York Times will in keeping their target audience and readership. The Democratic base is depressed — for good reason — and probably won’t be much interested in voting, watching gobs of cable news, or reading endless recriminations from aggrieved columnists as the liberal media tracks the descent of the Obama presidency.
Four weeks after claiming the Pennsylvania Senate nomination, Rep. Joe Sestak continues to have an awkward relationship with many leaders of the state’s Democratic establishment — with the two-term congressman so far neglecting to check many of the boxes that ordinarily would be routine for a candidate trying to unify his party after a hard-fought primary.
It’s been nearly a month since the May 18 primary, and key local party leaders have not been in close contact with Sestak. His unorthodox campaign organization is unnerving Democratic officials, and his public comments suggest he hasn’t forgotten the rough treatment he received from the White House and the state party establishment, both of which worked furiously to deliver the nomination to party-switching Sen. Arlen Specter. All of it has Democrats wondering about the pace and direction of his bid against Republican nominee Pat Toomey.
Perhaps this is sour grapes coming from party insiders who picked the other guy. But if the insiders are correct — that Sestak lacks staffing and an actual campaign manager — that’s a problem. And we hear that Sestak isn’t the ideal boss. (“On Capitol Hill, Sestak’s office is known for its high staff turnover rate, and several staffers left his primary campaign over the course of its nine months in existence. He has relied heavily on his brother and his sister, who manages his prolific campaign fundraising, for his House races and also for his Senate bid.”)
A bigger problem is that Toomey is beginning to set the terms of the campaign — making hay out of the job-offer scandal and painting Sestak as out of the mainstream on everything from energy to Israel. There’s still time for Sestak to get his act together, but he better do so fast before Democrats decide to spend time and money on more viable survivors of the Republican wave heading their way.
The Obama administration has pointedly refused to rule out a UN inquest into the flotilla incident. Jewish groups have been giving him a pass in public as they hand wring in private. Now we learn:
A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that the secretary-general remains “hopeful” that the body will approve a new international inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident — on top of Israel’s own domestic investigation — after it found overwhelming support in a closed Security Council meeting Tuesday.
“We are continuing to talk with all parties about an international inquiry, and we remain hopeful that Israel will accept that,” a spokesman for the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, said.
A diplomat with one Security Council member said that 14 of 15 nations had expressed support today for some form of panel established by the Secretary-General — rather than by a Security Council vote, which the U.S. could block — to investigate the deaths on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza. The U.S. was the sole nation not to support the measure in the closed session, the source said.
This is what flows from playing footsie with the Israel-haters and not making clear that the U.S. will block all measures to unleash the UN on Israel. The administration insults our intelligence by declaring, “As we always do, we will work hard to make sure that Israel is not treated unfairly at the U.N.” As we always do? Like when we sat idly by as the UN Human Rights Council bashed Israel? Like when Obama signed on to a statement setting up Israel, but not Turkey, for international scrutiny?
Now imagine if at the time of the UN statement, every pro-Israel member of Congress of both parties and the major Jewish groups had strongly and publicly rebuked the administration. Do we think we’d be sitting on the verge of “Goldstone: The Sequel”? Instead, once again, we have signaled to Israel’s enemies that the U.S. values agreement with the “international community” more than our relationship with the Jewish state. The price for silence by weak-kneed supporters of Israel will be borne by Israelis and those who are likewise left to the mercy of the world’s bullies, who know Obama is not about to stop them.
The headline is from the Washington Post: “69 law school deans endorse Kagan in letter to Senate.” OK, after “duh,” my first reaction is that this is precisely what is wrong with Elena Kagan. She has spent most of her professional career flattering and being flattered by utterly like-minded liberals. And remember, it was this “club” that decided that the Solomon Act was unconstitutional, a legal judgment that eight Supreme Court justices rejected. Moreover, their praise is really without much basis in fact, and at points misleading:
The letter says that Kagan “excels along all relevant dimensions desired in a Supreme Court justice.” It says her “writing in constitutional and administrative law are highly respected and widely cited.”
As to the first, well, judging and a few years of litigation would be nice. As to the second, only the White House actually believes she is a scholar of any note. Her meager writings are conventional and uninteresting, as even liberal supporters will admit.
But we also learn that there are no letters of opposition. It’s not hard to figure why. She is the most innocuous and least “dangerous” nominee from the perspective of conservatives, who view her as inexperienced and an intellectual lightweight. They also take note of the many cases from which she will be recused and figure they will get the equivalent of a Court power play (i.e., the other team will be down a man). Liberals are unenthusiastic and disgruntled for the very reason conservatives are pleased. In addition, they suspect she’s an ideological squish. But they have enough problems with this president and this election without staging a coup against the nominee.
So she will sail through, the second Supreme Court slot for which Obama missed the chance to find his liberal Scalia. Conservatives should be (and many are) thankful.
With help from Saturday Night Live‘s Seth and Amy, Cliff May takes apart Jamie Rubin (no relation, thankfully).
With help from the IDF, we have a concise and thorough account of the flotilla incident.
With help from the increasingly unpopular president, “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, June 13. That ties the GOP’s largest ever lead, first reached in April, since it first edged ahead of the Democrats a year ago.”
With help from the upcoming elections: “There aren’t enough votes to include climate change rules in a Senate energy bill, a top Democrat said Tuesday. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, dismissed any hopes his colleagues might have of including regulations to clamp down on emissions as part of a comprehensive energy bill this summer.”
With help from J Street (the Hamas lobby?), Israel’s enemies always have friends on Capitol Hill: “In the most open conflict in months between the left-leaning Israel group J Street and the traditional pro-Israel powerhouse AIPAC, the liberal group is asking members of Congress not to sign a letter backed by AIPAC that supports the Israeli side of the Gaza flotilla incident.”
With help from the NRA, House Democrats are in hot water again: “House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the NRA. House Democrats are facing a backlash from some liberal and government reform advocacy groups over an exemption for the National Rifle Association that was added to a campaign finance bill.”
With the help of Rep. Peter King, we’re sniffing out who the real friends of Israel are: “Congressional Democrats say they want to defend Israel — but without taking on Israel’s enemies. Bizarre choice — so bizarre as to make their professed support for Israel practically meaningless. At issue is a resolution proposed by Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) that calls on Washington to quit the US Human Rights Council — which two weeks ago voted 32-3 to condemn Israel’s raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. Incredibly, not a single House Democrat — not even from the New York delegation — is willing to co-sponsor King’s resolution ‘unless we take out the language about the UN,’ he says. Why? No Democrat wants to go on record disagreeing with President Obama’s decision to end the Bush-era boycott of the anti-Israel council — whose members include such human-rights champions as Iran and Libya.”
With help from an inept White House and BP, Bobby Jindal is beginning to look like a leader: “Eight weeks into the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of the Mexico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has told the National Guard that there’s no time left to wait for BP, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. In Fort Jackson, La., Jindal has ordered the Guard to start building barrier walls right in the middle of the ocean. The barriers, built nine miles off shore, are intended to keep the oil from reaching the coast by filling the gaps between barrier islands.”