So far, on the foreign policy front we get pablum from the Obama administration. Bill Kristol (echoing Max Boot) reports that Joe Biden said “nothing” in Munich. (Well, at least we can give a gold star to whoever told Biden he wasn’t allowed to take questions.) The Middle East envoy George Mitchell echoes the same overwrought and unhelpful rhetoric about “restarting” the peace process. None of it seems very well thought out, or even indicates that there has been much thought at all about our international challenges.
At home, we get from President Obama embarrassingly reductionist Keynesian rhetoric, which conservatives hope Obama knows better than to believe. Reasoned argument for the merits of a bloated pork-a-thon are replaced by chest-thumping (“I won”) and confusing “patriotism” with support for partisan political objectives. (Hmmm. Who does that sound like?)
Forget for a moment the politics and the competency issues. What happened to the brainiest president we ever elected and all those great thinkers? What precisely are they doing? They’re not making intellectually defensible arguments for their policies or devising any new ones. Instead, we get a mish-mash of warmed over campaign speeches. It’s not very promising for someone who was supposed to dispense with ad hominem attacks and raise the level of discourse in Washington.
Perhaps the advisors, envoys, councils, and boards haven’t really gotten started — despite promising to hit the ground running. But until they set in place the machinery to formulate smart policy ideas and the explanations which must accompany them, it might be wise to stop turning in vain to the Middle East and to the taxpayers. Better first to start thinking hard about what they want to do and whether it’s wise to operate domestic and international policy from leftover 3X5 notecards from the campaign.