Has there ever been a president who had to govern in more difficult times?
Even Franklin Roosevelt had years to deal with the Great Depression before World War 2 came upon him.
Are we asking too much of Barack Obama? No, because so much of the confusion and commotion that surrounds him of his own making.
Our young president has always been a man in a hurry. His rhetoric is of urgency, emulating Churchill’s red “action this day” labels attached to the most urgent memos to subordinates. But Churchill didn’t attach the red label to every memo. Obama does.
For him to define a problem as a crisis and demand that congressional action be taken now, and not delayed a year, a month or a day, is a commonplace. But when the action is taken and subsequently fails, the president ignores the failure and moves along to demand action on another “crisis.”
Since his inauguration -- just shy of ten months ago -- President Obama has stampeded Congress into a $1.2 trillion “economic stimulus” package that has caused unemployment to rocket to a 26-year high, a $3.6 trillion federal budget that will carry the federal deficit to a dangerous level of our Gross Domestic Product and taken over two of the three major car makers, losing tens of billions in “loans” to GM and Chrysler. (The only major American carmaker not owned by the government, Ford, reporting a positively bountiful profit last week.)
Obama spent the last three months on his signature issue, the nationalization of healthcare (one-sixth of our economy) despite the fact that a majority of Americans oppose it. And he and the House Democratic leadership have spent the last weeks twisting arms to produce that Saturday night razor-thin approval (220-215 votes) of the Pelosicare bill with the “public option” -- the government-run insurance provider -- included.
The day after the House vote President Obama was asked if he was confident that the Senate would also pass his healthcare proposals. Never given to understatement, he said, “I’m absolutely confident that they will. I’m equally convinced that on the day that we gather here at the White House and I sign comprehensive health insurance reform legislation into law that they’ll be able to join their House colleagues and say that this was their finest moment in public service. The moment we delivered change we promised to the American people.”
And while he has pursued this artificial crisis, he ignores a real one. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “3 am phone call” to the president remains on hold. McChrystal’s August 30 report says that if we don’t reform our strategy to the counterinsurgency he recommends and adequately resource it -- i.e., send at least 40,000 more troops to accomplish it -- we may, within a year of his report, be unable to defeat the Taliban. It’s nearly ninety days since that report was submitted, and the president has yet to decide. Many meetings are held, and nothing comes out of them.
There is a constant commotion and agitation of Americans by the president, a continuous uproar over the subject of the day, combined with a confusion of voices from the media, the public, and the White House team. According to the dictionary, this is tumult. Our president is tumultuary: characterized by commotion, impetuosity and, importantly, in disregard of the Constitution.
We are used to tumultuous Hollywood starlets such as Megan Fox, tumultuous foreign leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Dominique de Villepin, the former French foreign minister who famously refused in 2003 to say which side he wanted to win in Iraq. But American presidents are supposed to be calm custodians of the public weal. Not so Mr. Obama.
The president wants to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allow gays to serve openly in the military, and renew the political war over amnesty for illegal immigrants. His administration and his party -- represented by Attorney General Eric Holder and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- are still at war with the CIA. All of these “crises” are artificial, cut out of whole cloth to advance a political agenda. The president could end them as easily as he and his team created them.
While the president’s time is taken up with manufactured crises, real crises go unattended. The president is leaving for Asia this week, reportedly to convince China and other Asian nations that he isn’t distracted by other crises, such as Afghanistan and the economy. He could cancel the trip to deal with them, but he will not. The trip speaks for itself, unless the president wants to drop in on Gen. McChrystal on a detour to the trip home.
Or he could stay home to deal with the economy. But that would require a reassessment of his failures to date.
Obama’s team proclaims the current “jobless recovery” -- an economic oxymoron -- is proof that his leadership has brought us out of the Bush-induced economic slump. Before he was even inaugurated, his economic team proclaimed (on January 9) that by November Obama’s stimulus plan would hold unemployment to about 7.7%, and that it would be a full percentage point higher without the plan.
But unemployment is now at 10.2% -- 50% higher than Team Obama promised -- and still climbing. The chaotic economics of the Obama White House -- and this includes the costly House-passed healthcare bill -- has kept the economy unstable. Businesses can’t determine the cost of any hiring or investment when the government is constantly fiddling with the basic elements of cost. So they don’t hire, and don’t invest.
The president, who seems to make a speech every day, seeks omnipresence. In the immediate aftermath of the mass murder at Fort Hood last Thursday, the president -- his breathless press team explained -- was in the White House Situation Room coordinating the response. The president cannot be blamed for the tragedy, but neither can he be credited for doing anything about it.
President Obama wants to make big decisions that change America and, unfortunately, he is well along in his plan to do just that. But what he either doesn’t understand, or of which he is willfully ignorant, is that neither American voters nor the world shares his priorities.
Americans expect their leaders to solve problems and they set their own priorities by what affects them most immediately. To the overwhelming majority of Americans -- including among them the unemployed and the businesses who could hire them if government economic policy every stabilized -- the economy is still Job One for the president. The longer it remains unstable, the longer the “jobless recovery” will continue.
Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea won’t wait. They are real crises that the president apparently believes are above his pay grade. They will, soon, be beyond America’s ability to solve.