President Obama may have escaped the widespread carping at his West Point speech by bringing even greater embarrassment upon himself with the Bowe Bergdahl deal, and now the implosion of Iraq, but the recent D-Day celebrations impel us to revisit the offensive speech. There is much more here than the widely-noted hackery: e.g., “Those who argue otherwise—who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away—are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.” The captivating orator had become the whining demagogue many had previously perceived; the admired student body president appeared a petulant schoolyard bully.
By bold paramilitary action, Vladimir Putin is seizing full power over eastern Ukraine. At the same time his empty threat of outright invasion is leading the Ukrainian government—supported by Barack Obama as a rope supports a hanging man—to agree to a “federative structure” for the country.
Vladimir Putin is playing for the highest geopolitical stakes. Can the U.S. government afford to do less? Regardless of whether Putin’s near term aim is to take a chunk or two out of Ukraine —as he took chunks out of Georgia in 2008 —or just to stake out a bargaining position to make sure Russia can hold on to its Black Sea naval base after its lease expires in 2017, there is no doubt at all about his long term objective
“Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.
The Obama Administration tried buffering last week’s announcement that it is reducing the US Army’s size to below its levels of 1940 (when the world’s population was less than one third what it is today) by suggesting that it would concentrate on mastery of the sea and of space.
Transparency in government is a public good, because it helps us understand what government is doing, including what favors its officials dole out to private citizens. Being invited to a state dinner is of no small significance. For the hundred or so citizens not in public office who are invited, it is not only a memorable event but a boost to one’s reputation and an advertisement of one’s proximity to power. But for the rest of us, learning who goes is one way to understand what the President cares about and who his core supporters are.
President Obama’s guest lists are sadly much less transparent than those of President George W. Bush. Other than government officials they list the affiliations only of journalists. Compare the guest list to President Obama’s state dinner for Francois Hollande to George Bush’s list for the dinner for Queen Elizabeth II. (I have not studied the lists of all state dinners, but I have no reason to believe these are atypical).
What could be the reason for this selective information? Unfortunately, only cynical explanations are plausible.
Being human, politicians lie. Even in the best regimes. The distinguishing feature of totalitarian regimes however, is that they are built on words that the rulers know to be false, and on somehow constraining the people to speak and act as if the lies were true. Thus the people hold up the regime by partnering in its lies. Thus, when we use language that is “politically correct” – when we speak words acceptable to the regime even if unfaithful to reality – or when we don’t call out politicians who lie to our faces, we take part in degrading America.
The White House staff is reported to have concluded after an internal review that the United States does not have a parliamentary system. The lesson deduced from this insight is evidently that we have proconsuls instead, but in neither case is a regime of separated powers treated as more than an inconvenience. This is to be “a year of action,” after all, and Press Secretary Jay Carney bottom-lines it for us: the president will “work with Congress where he can and … bypass Congress where necessary.”
There has been a great deal written about the failed rollout of Obamacare, much of which I have not read. Still, it strikes me that there are some key aspects of this rollout, and what it says about the President, that are worth emphasizing. (I apologize if others have made these points.)
1. The failed rollout obviously exhibits tremendous incompetence on the part of the Obama Administration and the President. This is the signature “achievement” of the Obama Presidency but they failed miserably on this key aspect.
2. The incompetence does not merely extend to the design of the website. It also extends to the failure to know that the website was failed. If the Administration had known of the failure, they could have delayed the implementation of Obamacare.
3. The incompetence also extends to politics. The Administration had a perfect excuse for delaying the rollout of Obamacare. It could have “reluctantly” agreed with the Republicans and delayed the implementation for a year. It could have been sold as showing that Obama was willing to work with his political opponents. He was a compromiser.
Cass Sunstein recently published two short essays-here and here-on the current political struggles between “tea-party” conservatives and progressives. In the first essay, Sunstein attempts to link our current political fracturing with the famous standoff between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss. His second essay, which compares Whittaker Chambers and Ayn Rand’s divergent philosophies and then links their disagreements to various tendencies within present-day conservatism, is much better.
Much of President Obama’s speech commemorating the 1963 civil rights March on Washington deserves praise–or at least admiration. Speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, he began by reciting the most famous lines from the Declaration of Independence. He reminded his cynical audience that the cause of civil rights comes from the heart of our national existence. And he reinforced that principle by later quoting Lincoln, in his brief speech on the meaning of the Declaration, that “the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.”