Thursday, March 17, 2011

Obama's Dithering Dilemma- Part Two

It has now been over a week, (ten days to be exact), since my post of Part One on the subject of President Obama's dithering, an apparent attribute of his leadership “style” that has not gone unnoticed by many astute political watchers, click here, including members of his own party, (for Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin's remarks on Obama's failure to lead on reducing our nation's growing deficit click here or here for video, scroll down and click embedded video).

As promised last time, in this post I will examine a few more examples of this trait of the President's as well as, equally important, possible reasons for it in addition to the wider implications for American interests, (i.e., the “dilemma” above mentioned being a particularly relevant matter in this time of global upheaval and uncertainty).

For starters, it can hardly be disputed that Obama's dithering ways are, in fact, established, (see here, here, and here).

Indeed, whether expressed in his “laissez-faire” attitude towards rising domestic gas prices, his failure to produce anything remotely approaching a balanced budget (or that tackles the deficit in any significant way), or his ambivalent stance towards troubles in Mid-east countries like Libya-- which is about to result in a final crushing of the rebels and a falling of the country back into the firm control of Muammar Gaddafi's mercenaries and dictatorial grip and the death of her citizen's hopes for freedom-- all attest to the point of being beyond debate that Obama is, in the most charitable view, disposed to almost paralyzingly careful thought and deliberation on almost every facet of his duties as President. (Indeed, such tendencies hearken in the minds of some back to the days of the Carter Administration, an unwelcome comparison to the current Administration for obvious reasons).

Leaving aside for the moment our own considered analysis of whether this is on balance a “good” or bad thing, we must first ask why it is that Obama seems to exercise such pervasive restraint.

Equal opportunity dithering

It should be noted initially that it is not just his critics on the political right who have noticed his excessively cautious ways (which some allege stem from his early political career in the Illinois State Senate where Obama voted “present” in order to abstain from staking out a position a record 129 times!  See proof here and here.)

Indeed, those on the left which make up his base have long complained that Obama was moving almost imperceptively on such matters as gay marriage “equality” and various 2008 campaign “promises,” from closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist-holding and detention facility to repealing the Clinton era “Don't Ask Don't tell” policy, (which much to the pleasure of his friends on the left he finally pushed through in the lame duck session of Congress post the 2010 mid-term elections); Even in doing this, and subsequently and unilaterally reversing his 2008 campaign position and deciding to no longer defend in federal courts the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as between a man and woman and protects states from being forced to recognize any different definition of marriage imposed by other states, his recent actions have resulted in many on the left uttering a collective “About time!” (For our take on the subject see the Feb. 24th, 2011 post on this blog, "Obama and the DOMA- Rule by Decree?").

So a broader examination of the reasons for this character trait favoring delay is, we feel, relevant and important to review. Indeed, it is this apparent need to placate his political base in conflict with an increasingly disapproving wider electorate that we believe holds the key to Obama's ambivalence over not just this issue, but his entire Presidency.

Squeezed in the middle- Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right?

As alluded to above, Obama was elected on a campaign of broad appeal promising to rise above partisan politics, (remember the “not a red state, not a blue state, but the United States of America” rhetoric?) This was in stark contrast to his dogged critics in society and the media such as Sean Hannity of Fox news and others who claimed his appeal to the political center was just a “smokescreen” for a much more partisan and radical agenda more accurately portrayed by his associations with the likes of former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayres and Pastor Jeremiah Wright, (his pastor of more than 20 years who Obama was forced to disassociate with in the 2008 campaign for certain racially provocative and anti-American statements).

In essence, by walking a fine line between needing to appear “centrist” enough to be elected and what has now become clear are his core beliefs he was able to hold in check these two opposing tensions in the body politic which his party holding a majority in the U.S. Congress afforded him the luxury of.

All this changed with the 2010 elections and the takeover of the U.S. House by the Republicans. This caused an increase in angst and political pressure from his left flank to DO something, anything, (or risk the consequences of their lack of support and a possible primary challenge to his Presidency in 2012, see here).

Thus, with increasing pressure on his political left joined with the increasingly difficult task of burnishing his “centrist” credentials in the eyes of the political right and independents, (who always looked a bit askance at the President's many nuanced and suspect policy positions), a more “liberal” President Obama emerged, (one who finally found the “courage” to push through DODT repeal in the lame duck session and stop defending a DOMA he in all likelihood never truly believed in in the first place).

Nature vs. Nurture- Liberalism meets realism?

When taken in conjunction with the President's decision after the Gulf oil spill to order the cessation of all offshore drilling and his natural coziness with the environmental lobby, (which gave contributions to the Democrats totaling almost two million dollars and to the Republicans only $151,000 dollars, Click here to see proof), this may explain much, if not all, of the President's shift in domestic policy on things such as energy and environmental policy. (If not provide more support for the dithering thesis in general vis a vis the almost one-month-long delay in deciding how to even respond to the BP gulf oil spill, an event which naturally and most certainly was, at least politically, of great interest to the President and his green allies).

However, this political calculus fails to explain his reluctance for decisive action in foreign affairs, (from a coherent policy on Israel, the Mid-East's only reliably functioning Democracy, to his failure to aggressively confront Iran and lessor threats like Libya). For that we must go deeper into President Obama's history and upbringing.

Indeed, we submit that in addition to the above political factors it may well be in Obama's very nature as a former law professor to ruminate, to consider, indeed, to carefully ponder ad nauseum every angle, political and otherwise, before taking action.

Additionally, while we in general reject the premise that any one factor can ever be completely decisive in determining why humans, in all their complexity, behave the way they do, we believe it behooves us to examine all theories which modern scholarship and others more versed than we have contributed to the discussion.

Accordingly, and in that light, author and political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, has researched and written extensively on this subject in his bestselling book “The Roots of Obama's Rage.”

According to D'Souza, and citing Obama's autobiography, “Dreams from my Father,” Obama's formative political beliefs were influenced strongly by both his father's and grandfather's anti-colonial and leftist views. (For an interview where D'Souza explains this click here.)

This, to us, makes some sense. (Indeed, in addition to explaining his ambivalence to “forcing America's will” on countries as Libya that a strong “anti-colonial” philosophical undercurrent in Obama would explain, it could also explain his reluctance to get involved in many similar situations, recall the President's lackluster support of the original Iranian student pro-Democracy protests in 2009).

So what other forces may be at play in explaining Obama's dithering, especially when it comes to domestic American affairs?

The effect of Obamacare and an increasingly conservative electorate upon Obama's dithering.

As previously pointed out elsewhere, the public's support of Obama in the wake of his forcing through the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Act (i.e. Obamacare), has waned as a result of spending so much “political capital” on his crown jewel of domestic policy. Indeed, partly as a result of its being forced through in highly partisan fashion, its passage has raised serious questions for a public no longer willing to give him the political benefit of the doubt, no matter his soaring rhetorical skills. (After all, while many criticized previous President George Bush for his lack of speech-giving skills, no one had to guess whether he had a core belief system or where he stood on most issues. Not so with President Obama).

Moreover, the extent to which President Obama has chosen to almost continuously appear on television and at campaign-style events has resulted in a sort of “Obama fatigue” among many in the electorate.

This, in conjunction with a growing realization among the public in the aftermath of recent highly partisan and political acts including and especially those used to pass Obamacare, (see previous post on this blog “So what's really the problem with Obamacare?”) as well as some of his more recent “political” decisions on controversial subjects of which the American people have serious doubt, (e.g. DADT and his recent DOMA stance) have resulted in somewhat of a “crisis of confidence” among the electorate that the country is on the right track with Obama at the helm, (indeed, public polling data bears this out, with the percentage of people thinking the country is “on the right track” dropping even as Obama's personal approval ratings have fallen to 44%, see poll results by clicking here and here).

While we would argue that such a drop in the percentage of voters who approve of Obama's actions are probably due equally to his unpopular “policy” decisions as to the very way he goes about the process, his lack of projecting strong leadership generally has not helped the impression that he lacks the ability to act decisively when needed-- preferring instead to await action by the other 2 branches of government before deciding whether to follow or oppose their lead-- but whatever the cause, such a lack of seeming ability to act forcibly as the nation's leader is the inevitable end impression the electorate is faced with.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the controversial and left-of-center actions the President has taken, in conjunction with the tactics used to pass “health reform,” has caused many to conclude that Obama may be less “above partisanship” than he led the voters to believe he was in his 2008 campaign, striking at the very heart of a (then) carefully cultivated image of truly being “non-partisan” and able to represent all Americans, regardless of party or sect. (A powerful motivator for re-election in the mind of the electorate that would support his re-election in much the same way that Ronald Reagan was able to capitalize on such sentiments and unite Americans of differing political perspectives in his “It's morning in American again” re-election campaign of 1984).

Unfortunately for Obama, this strikes at the very core of who he was perceived to be in the mind of the 2008 electorate and significantly strikes at his chances for re-election. Indeed, in our opinion it is the chief reason that constitutes the bulk of public dissatisfaction with the President and is the potentially fatal flaw to his re-election prospects. (You can send our consulting fee for political analysis to us anytime Mr. President! lol)

Of course, the President and his advisors are aware of all this, (with modern polling being what it is). But in sum, and getting back to political considerations, as a result of Obama's significant own left-of-center beliefs and the political need to shore up his base ahead of his re-election campaign clashing with his realization that he needs to garner at least 50% of the American people's vote to keep his job in 2012, he is “caught in the middle” in such a way that makes acting decisively difficult for him, (even if he didn't have a natural predilection for cautious and careful consideration).

Indeed, we find this a compelling explanation for his deep reticence to take decisive action in any particular direction for fear of alienating either side, (which also explains his backing off his campaign promise re: closure of Guantanamo Bay, widely condemned by large majorities of the electoraate as well as politicians from both parties).

In short, although we believe his true loyalties are clear, it is in essence a “hunkering down” and awaiting-full-campaign-mode in hopes to shore up just enough votes from his base and a plurality of independents to win re-election in 2012, (and, when it comes to specific issues, another way of hearkening back to his Illinois Senate days and voting “present” without having to cast a vote either way).

Interestingly, on the above example of Guantanamo Bay, the President has just recently given approval to re-commence the trial of some prisoners at the sprawling island complex, see here, even as he almost immediately and at the same time has signaled he will keep the civilian-trial option open, see here.  Such "mixed messages" can only continue to re-inforce in the mind of the electorate the fact that this is a Presidency seemingly bandied about by the winds of ideology and politics, not exactly the sort of position of strength he wants to be in heading into the 2012 election cycle.

Are there benefits to the President's dithering ways?

While in the eyes of some, not only in his core liberal base of supporters but also including some on the right, (e.g. Congressmen Ron Paul, R-TX), who assert that such characteristics may in fact be beneficial in that they might keep us out of unnecessary foreign entanglements that are both costly in a time of burgeoning deficits as well as never ending, (for this general view click here), we are compelled by an even more ancient dictum that “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” (Thomas Jefferson, America's 3rd President), and that “existence of injustice anywhere results in injustice everywhere,” (Martin Luther King, paraphrased). Nevertheless, even if we weren't compelled by such wisdom beyond our own time, the domestic ramifications to Obama's foreign policy dithering are not insignificant.

The political and economic consequences of Obama's dithering

We have already noted in Part one of this topic that for every penny rise in domestic gasoline prices at the pump a billion dollars are taken out of the U.S. economy for such things as job creation and factory expansion.

Moreover, the rapid rise in the price of fuel as a result of uncertainty in places like Libya, while largely a "foreign policy" issue, undoubtedly might be largely offset by an entirely domestic decision on the part of the President to open the spigot of the National Strategic Petroleum Reserve, (activity which when last done by President Bush resulted in a prompt 30 cent a gallon drop in pump prices). Yet, again, in spite of certainly knowing this, the President delays and dithers, increasing the chances of a dreaded “double dip” economic recession that the American taxpayers can ill afford with deficits looming and badly-needed entitlement reform going un-addressed by the President. 

In that light, and while such a tendency may be good, even highly beneficial in matters such as teaching law, (our President's pre-political-career vocation), it is our modest opinion that such a tendency to delay can be dangerous, even lethal, in the execution of the duties of the Presidency. (Indeed, for a stark juxtaposition one need only contrast Obama's leadership "style" with the leadership of President Ronald Reagan who proved he was guided by a much stronger dedication to principles of right and freedom without regard to concern for international "approval" than probably any modern President when he promptly acted to bomb Libya in retaliation for its role in masterminding an attack on a Berlin Germany Disco known to cater to American servicemen in 1986, see here (as well as for its many other terrorist acts around the world, ultimately and including its shooting down of Pan American flight 103 over Scotland two years later. In this light one shudders to think what the outcome might be vis a vis a renewed and increasing support for terrorism by the Libyan nation if in fact Ghaddafi somehow remains in power after the current conflagration).

It is in this context then that such a tendency for continuous delay, often beyond the time when action can even be taken efficaciously, (as it appears the case in Libya now, and was in Iran in 2009), becomes in fact a danger to our Republic, and is, in our view, the very height of abdication of the Presidential responsibility to protect the American people by strongly leading the nation in matters of both foreign and domestic economic policy.  One can only hope that, if President Obama didn't/won't hear the message the voters sent in the 2010 elections, we can amplify it for him in 2012.  jp

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