Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 14, 2011

“I’m Going to the American People With This”

So said President Obama before reportedly storming out of high-pressure debt ceiling discussions with Republicans last night. It sounds like the president is more interested in playing politics than in actually drilling down and resolving the problem.

He’s already “gone” to the American people – with his hopelessly vague budget plan speech, his hyper-partisan press conferences, and his fear-mongering to elderly voters. What he needs to do now is the same thing he’s avoided doing since the beginning of his presidency: sit down with lawmakers and hammer out some sort of resolution. Being the “adult in the room” only works if you actually stay in the room. Running out in a huff because you can’t take the pressure isn’t a Reagan-esque move – it’s a tantrum.

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So said President Obama before reportedly storming out of high-pressure debt ceiling discussions with Republicans last night. It sounds like the president is more interested in playing politics than in actually drilling down and resolving the problem.

He’s already “gone” to the American people – with his hopelessly vague budget plan speech, his hyper-partisan press conferences, and his fear-mongering to elderly voters. What he needs to do now is the same thing he’s avoided doing since the beginning of his presidency: sit down with lawmakers and hammer out some sort of resolution. Being the “adult in the room” only works if you actually stay in the room. Running out in a huff because you can’t take the pressure isn’t a Reagan-esque move – it’s a tantrum.

Today, Senate Democrats are planning to hold another press conference criticizing the Republicans. Obama will do two more TV interviews, ostensibly on “the importance of finding a balanced approach to deficit reduction” – but it’s more likely he’ll be spouting more of the same divisiveness.

Obama might call these interviews and press conferences “going to the American people.” But in reality it’s just demagoguery of his political opponents, which is exactly what helped lead us to this crisis point, as Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal:

His tone also hasn’t helped achieve a comprehensive agreement. The president’s two most recent press conferences, in which he accused the GOP of foot-dragging, convinced Republicans that he was interested in scoring political points and attracting independents, not facilitating a deal. Convening high-profile White House meetings without offering substantive concrete proposals and then having his aides leak madly (and inaccurately) to the press afterward further squandered trust.

Maintaining trust with the opposing party is an essential component of presidential leadership, and it’s something that has eluded Obama since he took office. The candidate who once promised to end the partisan gridlock of Washington has become the president who has systematically made it worse.

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The Strategic Storm-Out: Obama’s Hand Improves

Two data points. 1) Obama loses his cool with House Whip Eric Cantor, says he’s had enough, tells Cantor not to call his bluff, walks out. 2) Quinnipiac releases a poll indicating that by a margin of 48-34, the public will blame Republicans and not Obama if the debt ceiling is not raised. Put them together and you come to point #3: The president thinks this is a fight he can and will win.

I suspect the president’s conduct in yesterday’s meeting was informed either by an early read-out on the Q poll or by private polling showing similar results. In which case, his departure from the meeting wasn’t a fit of weak pique, but rather an improperly understood expression of confidence. Thus, when he told Cantor not to call his bluff, he misspoke. He was warning Cantor not to call Obama’s bet—because Obama believes his hand is the winning hand and if Cantor calls, Cantor will lose.

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Two data points. 1) Obama loses his cool with House Whip Eric Cantor, says he’s had enough, tells Cantor not to call his bluff, walks out. 2) Quinnipiac releases a poll indicating that by a margin of 48-34, the public will blame Republicans and not Obama if the debt ceiling is not raised. Put them together and you come to point #3: The president thinks this is a fight he can and will win.

I suspect the president’s conduct in yesterday’s meeting was informed either by an early read-out on the Q poll or by private polling showing similar results. In which case, his departure from the meeting wasn’t a fit of weak pique, but rather an improperly understood expression of confidence. Thus, when he told Cantor not to call his bluff, he misspoke. He was warning Cantor not to call Obama’s bet—because Obama believes his hand is the winning hand and if Cantor calls, Cantor will lose.

At some point, those who believe it will be acceptable to go to August 3 without an increase in the debt limit, as well as those who believe the politics favor the Republicans, are going to have to reckon with the fact that there are no data points supporting their beliefs. The way things are going, if August 2 comes and goes without an agreement, there will be a worldwide panic that would have catastrophic immediate consequences in the equity markets. And when Obama says, “I warned and warned and warned and they didn’t listen,” any attempt to offer a counterargument is going to sound very hollow.

 

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Your Tax Dollars at Work: White House Defends Aid to Fatah-Hamas Coalition

This past year, the Obama administration has picked several fights with Israel that have helped tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. Yet in return for this help, the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly thumbed its nose at an Obama administration by boycotting peace talks, making an alliance with the Hamas terrorists and then attempting an end run around U.S. diplomacy with a pointless effort to get the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state.

But like a battered spouse, the administration won’t admit the truth about its “peace partner.” Obama’s credulous approach to the PA was on display again earlier this week when administration officials testified before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia to defend the continuing flow of American tax dollars to the Palestinian Authority.

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This past year, the Obama administration has picked several fights with Israel that have helped tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians. Yet in return for this help, the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly thumbed its nose at an Obama administration by boycotting peace talks, making an alliance with the Hamas terrorists and then attempting an end run around U.S. diplomacy with a pointless effort to get the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state.

But like a battered spouse, the administration won’t admit the truth about its “peace partner.” Obama’s credulous approach to the PA was on display again earlier this week when administration officials testified before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia to defend the continuing flow of American tax dollars to the Palestinian Authority.

When lawmakers pointed out the new alliance between the PA’s ruling Fatah Party and Hamas put the United States in the position of funding a government aligned with terrorism, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jacob Walles replied in a “hear no evil, see no evil” statement that once again demonstrated the administration’s unwillingness to face up to the reality of Palestinian politics.

As for the much vaunted PA security forces trained by the United States, the best that Lieutenant General Mike Moeller, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, could do was to tell lawmakers PA leader Mahmoud Abbas “retains sole authority” over the security forces. That may be so for the moment, but left unsaid is whether those troops will help keep the peace in the event of a new outbreak of Palestinian violence in the wake of the inevitable failure of the PA’s UN initiative.

This is not the first time the United States has attempted to train a Palestinian force only to see it become part of the problem. In 2000, at the start of the second intifada, American generals and State Department officials were shocked when American-trained PA “police” turned their weapons on Israelis and joined the mobs attacking Jewish targets. If, as many expect, the PA resorts to violence to break the stalemate it has created by refusing to negotiate, the expectation that this current generation of Palestinian policeman and security officials will act to halt the bloodshed seems completely unrealistic.

It’s clear President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have painted themselves into a corner about the PA, but that is no reason for Congress to go along with this mistake. At this week’s hearings, House members from both parties assailed the position taken by the administration. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the next disaster to unfold, Congress needs to act to halt the flow of aid to the PA now, before once again American tax dollars are used to fund Palestinian terror.

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Obama the Petulant

According to a press report, “President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of a stormy debt-limit meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, a dramatic setback to the already shaky negotiations.’ ‘ He shoved back and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ and walked out,’ House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters in the Capitol after the meeting.”

The president’s reported agitation, his lecturing tone, and his threats aren’t terribly surprising. Last week, I wrote about the president’s narcissism, of which petulance is a kind of second cousin. When an individual of almost limitless self-regard doesn’t get his way — when a man who was dubbed by his aides as the “Black Jesus” during the 2008 campaign encounters resistance rather than compliance – he is not likely to handle it well. And when you combine this with the fact that Obama’s policies are failing on almost every front and the soaring hopes of 2008 crashed and burned long ago, then storming out of meetings with members of the other party is predictable.

The stress of the presidency seems to be bringing out some of the worst qualities in Obama. Just wait until the campaign.

According to a press report, “President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of a stormy debt-limit meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, a dramatic setback to the already shaky negotiations.’ ‘ He shoved back and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ and walked out,’ House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters in the Capitol after the meeting.”

The president’s reported agitation, his lecturing tone, and his threats aren’t terribly surprising. Last week, I wrote about the president’s narcissism, of which petulance is a kind of second cousin. When an individual of almost limitless self-regard doesn’t get his way — when a man who was dubbed by his aides as the “Black Jesus” during the 2008 campaign encounters resistance rather than compliance – he is not likely to handle it well. And when you combine this with the fact that Obama’s policies are failing on almost every front and the soaring hopes of 2008 crashed and burned long ago, then storming out of meetings with members of the other party is predictable.

The stress of the presidency seems to be bringing out some of the worst qualities in Obama. Just wait until the campaign.

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Obama Lied About Mother’s Health Insurance Problem

During the 2008 campaign and throughout the subsequent debate over his health care legislation, President Obama used his mother’s experience as a cancer patient fighting to get coverage to pay for treatment for what her insurer said was a pre-existing condition as an emotional argument to sway skeptics. However, a new book by New York Times reporter Janny Scott has revealed this story appears to be a fabrication.

The Times reports today (in a story buried on page 14 rather than on the front page) that during the course of researching her book, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother, Scott uncovered correspondence showing “the 1995 dispute concerned a Cigna disability insurance policy and that her actual health insurer had apparently reimbursed most of her medical expenses without argument.” In response to inquiries, “a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott’s account or Mr. Obama’s memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama’s broader point remained salient.”

In other words, Obama lied in order to make a political point.

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During the 2008 campaign and throughout the subsequent debate over his health care legislation, President Obama used his mother’s experience as a cancer patient fighting to get coverage to pay for treatment for what her insurer said was a pre-existing condition as an emotional argument to sway skeptics. However, a new book by New York Times reporter Janny Scott has revealed this story appears to be a fabrication.

The Times reports today (in a story buried on page 14 rather than on the front page) that during the course of researching her book, A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother, Scott uncovered correspondence showing “the 1995 dispute concerned a Cigna disability insurance policy and that her actual health insurer had apparently reimbursed most of her medical expenses without argument.” In response to inquiries, “a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott’s account or Mr. Obama’s memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama’s broader point remained salient.”

In other words, Obama lied in order to make a political point.

The early death of the president’s mother was a tragedy for her family, but Obama’s manipulation of the narrative about her life was utterly unscrupulous. While her battle for disability coverage probably was stressful, that has nothing to do with her son’s subsequent efforts to impose a government health care plan on the nation. Moreover, it should also be pointed out the president is in no position to claim his untrue account of his mother’s problems was the result of a misunderstanding about a matter in which he was not involved. According to Scott, the correspondence says his mother referred to her son as her attorney in these matters.

For those with short memories, it’s important to recall that Obama has used this story repeatedly, including during one of the presidential debates with opponent John McCain.  During that debate he said:

For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.

Lest you think calling out Obama for this fib is conservative spin, the Times quotes Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, who said if the truth about Obama’s mother’s insurance coverage had been revealed during the campaign, “People would have considered it a significant error. I just took for granted that it was a pre-existing condition health insurance issue.”

Using personal tragedies to make political points is generally in bad taste, but it is typical political fare. It is much worse when such a story turns out to be a barefaced lie. Barack Obama owes the American people an apology.

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