November 5, 2008
The American Eagle Needs Two Wings to SoarBy Jay Rooney
More than a week before Election Day, a prominent MSNBC commentator was clearly irritated that McCain was continuing to campaign strongly and, at least in her view, with extreme negative attacks. She surmised that the only purpose behind this campaign push must be to undermine (her word) the upcoming Obama presidency.
It was the unity talking point straight from the Obama campaign playbook. Along with hope and change, it makes a great campaign platform for middle school class president but mocks the values of the greatest economic and military power in the history of the planet. People shouldn't need to be reminded that our nation's highest value is liberty. Remember "pay any price, bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty" in Kennedy's inaugural speech? In contrast, Obama whines about the costs of the war to liberate the Iraqi people and how he could better spend those funds on ever-expanding day care and early childhood education.
Now that he's won, letting The Great Unifier rule without opposition would be risky and inimical to the American political tradition. Obama is peddling the tired notion that America is weary of the divisiveness of partisan politics but his own record shows no evidence of unifying ability. It's obvious that people are frustrated by Congress' inability to make even the most minor progress on the great issues of our day, but partisan bickering is only a symptom of a general lack of leadership in both houses and both parties - and not something the election came close to solving. Aside from being great entertainment, aggressively partisan debates are just a standard part of making laws, and they're real debates, not the sanitized snoozers put on by a debate commission.
The energy and enthusiastic support behind the newly-elected Obama will be used by the media to claim a mandate and intimidate or discourage opposition. Here are five reasons to ignore that story line and gear up for a long fight:
Slow him down
It's critically important to slow the we-are-the-change-we-need momentum - the worst ensues when politicians act with haste. Much of Obama's support isn't serious, and derives from his cult celebrity status, making it unsustainable for more than a few more months. The O-logo on t-shirts and baseball caps (has a President ever had his own logo before?), the chanting youth, and the Che Guevara-like images of Obama staring off in the distance, as if at a Jumbotron image of himself, are downright creepy. Americans are notoriously fickle when it comes to celebrity and are likely to move on quickly after the inauguration - like the Super Bowl or Academy Awards, his victory will soon be yesterday's news. How do we know this? Several media outlets interviewed adoring and vocal Obama supporters regarding his policy platform and most knew almost nothing about it. The outrageous Howard Stern took it a step further and presented McCain's policies to Harlem voters as Obama's policies - they wholeheartedly supported those policies. Perhaps Obama can keep the celebrity attention by offering Barbra Streisand a cabinet post.
Prevent damaging no-growth economic policies
Obama pushed economic policies throughout his campaign that are little more than fuzzy concepts and obviously unaffordable. Most of the details provided by the campaign, like his soak-the-rich tax plan, are little more than recycled Democrat policy platforms from the 70s. Obama's silly available-by-phone response to the financial crisis, and his subsequent support of a pork-laden bailout package, shows a disturbing unfamiliarity with basic economic policy. He was outwardly hostile to the notion of a federal spending freeze in the face of a sputtering economy and $10 trillion in national debt. The economy is fundamentally strong - a John McCain statement that was ridiculed by the Obama campaign. Then Obama adviser Warren Buffett wrote the same thing on The New York Times op-ed page several weeks later! Obama can't be allowed to squander this strength by moving America toward the high-tax European social model at a time when those countries have decided they can't abandon that model fast enough and want to move closer to the American model.
Avoid weakness in foreign policy
Obama supporters like to paint him as a cerebral policy wonk except that he isn't, at least not in the Clinton (Bill and Hillary both) model. Obama has no foreign policy background at all and almost no exposure to ideas outside the left-liberal echo chamber where he has lived his entire adult life. There's almost no paper trail of original thoughts and ideas. Bill Clinton at least recognized that an Arkansas governor needs brushing up on foreign policy but Obama clearly doesn't know what he doesn't know and hasn't shown the intellectual curiosity of a Clinton.
Of great concern are: Obama's neutral response to Russia's invasion of Georgia (hint to Obama: Russia was the aggressor), his Berlin speech, the all-but-planned meeting with Ahmadinejad, his statement endorsing the rights of oppressed Palestinians, his dithering support for Israel, and his public disagreement with Gen. Petraeus and the Iraq President over the war strategy. Joe Biden is correct (once in a great while) that Obama is likely to be tested by America's enemies and his response will affect America's standing in the world. His foreign policy naiveté has drawn sharp criticism from Australia and Europe, including the French president. What could be more embarrassing than French accusations of weakness?
Capitalize on his inexperienced leadership and poor judgment
It's very possible some bad policies will gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Congress and Obama will be their chief salesperson. The only option will be to assail his leadership. Despite the oratory, it isn't clear Obama has natural leadership abilities - it especially shows when he's off script. Despite the press treatment of his manufactured calm and cool persona, Obama tends to take himself too seriously and react with adolescent frustration. Those moments are easily ridiculed and parodied. He is likely to stumble early by forgetting the campaign is over. Obama won't have Bush or McCain to bash and will try to blame his early difficulties on the previous administration or on recalcitrant Republicans in Congress but that won't work for long. He may try to employ Clinton-style attack dogs to try to destroy the opposition but he doesn't have the natural political instincts and shamelessness that Clinton used to defend himself.
The nation can ill-afford Jimmy Carter-like decisions on the domestic and international issues Obama is likely to face. His overconfidence in his own judgment amounts to hubris and his dissembling responses to questions about his past associations suggest he's learned little. Questions about Obama's judgment won't fade away as fast as his celebrity. The reform façade hides a political opportunist with neither strong convictions nor a steady moral compass. Taken together, Obama's campaign conduct and choice of friends show a consistent and disturbing pattern of poor judgment.
Counteract the Biden Effect
Vice President Joe Biden claims loudly that he's a key policy adviser to Obama, which seems somewhat doubtful, but is reason enough to worry. Here's a man a heartbeat away from the Presidency who actually ran for President and was rejected as unfit by the voters more than once, never receiving more than 1% of the vote. Biden received fewer votes for President nationally than Obama received running unopposed in his Illinois state senate race.
It's hard to caricature the already two-dimensional, gaffe-prone Biden. He could be inserted without coaching into a Hollywood film role that calls for a clueless and vain politician. His bluster and buffoonery would be humorous if it didn't have such dire consequences - he's been consistently wrong on almost every major foreign policy initiative for 30 years. Pray for Barack Obama's health and safety, and that he doesn't listen too closely.
A spirit of generosity in opposition will be important -- the key is to be happy warriors, as William F. Buckley was fond of pointing out. Loyal opposition is critical to make American politics work the way it should. Critics should be prepared at the outset to be labeled racists by angry Obama supporters. The stronger and more valid the criticism, the more likely the racist label will be applied. They should have a reasonably good-natured response with a dose of humor and not otherwise back down. If the Obama administration is forced to play that card early and often it will quickly lose its power.
Voters across this center-right nation ultimately decided Tuesday that if Republicans were going to act like Democrats, they may as well go ahead and elect Democrats. That's hardly a ringing endorsement of the Obama agenda. Democrats took over Congress two years ago and it has lower approval ratings than President Bush (17% to Bush's 25% at this writing), something the media almost always fail to mention. Obama will gain support when he deserves it and when his ideas make sense (e.g., Clinton with NAFTA and welfare reform). It will be apparent in the support these initiatives receive in the House of Representatives. The country will benefit from conservatives waging the good fight with an unwavering return to low tax, small government principles - if conducted with discipline, honor, and conviction, the outcome should be pleasing in the 2010 elections.
Jay Rooney is a pen name .