Commentary Magazine


Still Decoding Obama

I recently devoted a piece to trying to decode President Obama. In reading more of his comments, I’ve noticed a tendency that now almost qualifies as a reflex: the more strongly the president denies something — and especially, the more he mocks his critics and feigns amusement at what they say — the greater the odds are that he will do what he denies.

In an interview yesterday, the president said, “I think the irony … is that I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government.”

Of course; examples of his “light touch” abound during the first five months of his presidency.

During his press conference discussing his first 100 days in office, Obama said, “And that’s why I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, ‘Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.”

Why would anyone think Obama wants to “grow government”? Isn’t it clear by now he wants to limit it?

While speaking at a town hall forum in New Mexico last month, Obama insisted that the “long-term deficit and debt that we have accumulated is unsustainable.”

They are, and they certainly seem to be a primary concern of the president, who is clearly doing everything humanly possible to reduce the deficit and the debt.

At a June 1 White House Press event, Obama asserted, “What I have no interest in doing is running GM.”

Why would he even need to say that? Why would anyone think he wants to run GM?

During a health care event in Green Bay, Obama said: “And the reason [he supports his so-called “public insurance option”] is not because we want a government takeover of health care — I’ve already said if you’ve got a private plan that works for you, that’s great.” And speaking to the AMA, Obama said, “Health-care reform is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health.”

It is; and we all know Obama is doing everything he can to oppose a government takeover of health care.

During his presidential campaign, Obama ridiculed those who said he was interested in reading Miranda rights to terrorists. During a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft, Obama was emphatic: “Now, do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter down the block? Of course not.”

No-sir-ee; such a thing would never happen on his watch.

Here’s the thing, though: in every one of these instances Obama is not only doing something different than what he said, he’s doing very nearly the opposite of what he says. Obama’s “light touch” is turning out to be as intrusive a set of actions by the federal government as we have seen. He is “growing government” in record-shattering ways. Facing a staggering deficit and debt, Obama has decided to hit the accelerator rather than pump the brakes when it comes to federal spending. Facing a deficit and debt he calls unsustainable, Obama is adding trillions to them. He actually is running GM. He really is trying to engineer a government takeover of health care. His health-care plan may be the single worst thing he could do for America’s long-term fiscal health. And his Justice Department has acknowledged that FBI agents have read terrorist suspects their Miranda rights.

Let’s stipulate that most politicians use words in an elastic and imprecise manner, that often their account muddles rather than clarifies things, and that what they say doesn’t always correspond to what is. Even with all of that, President Obama seems to be carving out some fairly exclusive rhetorical real estate for himself.

No one doubts Obama speaks exceedingly well; he uses soothing words that come across as reassuring and reasonable. The problem comes when you examine what he says versus what he does. And by that standard, Mr. Obama is turning out to be almost promiscuously misleading. He is not yet Bill Clinton, who belongs in a category all his own — but Obama is taking up residence in the same zip code, which is troubling enough. And for those of us who thought Obama, whatever his political ideology, would bring intellectual integrity to his words and his tenure, it is disappointing. It is hardly the change we were promised. But I imagine that it will catch up with him sooner or later — and when it does, the man who promised to be the antidote to cynicism will only deepen it.

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