Obama Demonstrates Fear, not Courage

Challenging times call for extraordinary courage. But at the risk of sounding indelicate, the only cojones associated with President  Obama are the ones lined up on the putting green, where his frequent appearances have given  rise to  a new meaning of  the term “stay the course.” 

You’d think the so-called leader of the free world would at least sound courageous. But at recent press conferences, Mr. President has sauntered in, often late, leaned nonchalantly on the podium, and delivered a lackluster “lecture” in a tone of voice more peremptory than somber.  His record for ambiguity and dullness reached a nadir of exasperation in remarks about the beheading by ISIS -- which he calls ISIL -- of American journalist James Foley. 

That minimal effort must have exhausted our Commander in Chief, who ten minutes later sought R&R on the golf links of Martha’s Vineyard. Despite criticism even from his inner circle, Obama seems intent on ignoring Rahm Emanuel’s advice to never let a crisis go to waste. The president prefers never letting a tee time go to another foursome. But when it comes to his official duties, for which leadership is crucially in demand, our detached president lacks the drive to score anything but shockingly below par. 

Nevertheless, Obama supporters persist in excusing his questionable behavior by pointing to other presidents who also played golf, went on fundraising junkets, took any number of vacations, blundered about in foreign policy, etc. Likely there is a member of the Obama cabinet whose chief duty is to count the number of days Bush spent at Crawford or Eisenhower teed up. There has always been a sort of tit-for-tat mentality at work in this administration, suggesting that two or more wrongs make a right. Some may remember how Gerald Ford was criticized by his opponents for not being able to “walk and chew gum” at the same time. It was an absurd charge for a former top athlete, but it stuck. At least nobody can accuse Obama of being unable to simultaneously chew gum and play golf!

“Courage” is difficult to define, and even harder to find in the political arena. That doesn’t prevent it from being bandied about, as members of both sides of the aisle boast about having “the courage of their convictions” and insist that some of their colleagues do not. Many hailed Ted Cruz as a courageous leader when he spent long nocturnal hours on the floor of the Senate emoting about ObamaCare, among other things. Conservatives who stood their ground on the partial government shutdown were said to demonstrate courage; those who sought compromises were accused of lacking it. Some have even questioned the courage of Senator John McCain, who during the Vietnam conflict suffered years of harsh imprisonment that broke his body but not his spirit. 

Almost sixty years ago, then-Senator John F. Kennedy received a Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage. At the time, it was rumored that his chief speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, had actually composed most of the contents. But the topic remains relevant. 

Chapters of the book are devoted to eight U.S. Senators throughout history and from all shades of the political spectrum. In that diverse lot are a few who were relatively obscure, even in their day. But a common thread of personal courage unites them all. While Kennedy chose these politicians specifically for their “acts of bravery and integrity,” their ultimate measure lay in the degree of risk they were willing to personally endure from their bold and often unpopular actions. In times of crises -- whether in war or peace -- true heroes are those who put on the block all that they have striven to possess:  their reputations, fortunes, futures -- even their very lives. 

By that definition, very few modern politicians qualify to wear the badge of courage, least among them Barack Obama. There is nothing courageous in the absurd oxymoron of “leading from behind.” The opposite of courage is fear, its scent quickly picked up by friend and foe alike. One of the most cowardly decisions Obama made was to ignore his own “line in the sand” with Syria and then to trust the dangerous matter to a dictator like Putin. Both actions were taken because, unlike those of true courage, he put the cost to his own popularity and convenience ahead of everything else.  He has never in his life had to risk much, and doesn’t seem about to start now.

Ultimately, Obama fears the unpopular course of action because he lacks the courage to confront the world as it is. His delusional fairy-tale endings have the bad guys like ISIS eventually crumbling under the weight of their own evil burden. In the solution to problems, his own unrealistic view is that Little Red Riding Hood always escapes the big, bad wolf, and decent guys like Jack in the Beanstalk always vanquish menacing ogres. 

Obama’s immediate challenge is to remove his blinders and view the world as it is, not as he hopes it will appear in his fast-evaporating legacy. He needs to take his eye off the little ball on the green and fix it firmly on the big ball called Earth. That will, in itself, take a measure of courage.