Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our Enigmatic President

Michael Medved is trying to tell us something about President Barack Obama.  Noman isn't exactly sure what that is.  But, he respects the nationally syndicated radio talk show host, Sneak Preview movie critic, and author of "Hollywood v. America," "What Really Happened to the Class of '65," and a number of more recent books enough to try to figure it out.

Medved captured Noman's attention about a month ago with an Op-Ed entitled "Obama Isn't Trying to 'Weaken America.'  Noman wondered how Medved knew.  The argument goes that, by and large, American Presidents have been honest men.  And while collectively they may have made plenty of bad decisions, none among them were bad men.  They uniformly "attempted to rise to the challenges of leadership and never displayed disloyal or treasonous intent."  This backdrop renders charges leveled against President Obama by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Dinesh D'Souza and Victor Sharpe "especially distasteful--and destructive to the conservative cause."  Those charges are that he is "eagerly promoting Islamic power in the world while diminishing the West"; "purposefully weakening America--because he understood that debt weakened America, domestically and internationally, and yet now he supports increasing debt"; "a man driven by the anti-colonial ideology of his father and the first American president to actually seek to reduce America's strength, influence and standard of living"; and that "we're now governed by people who do not like the country...  payback is what this administration is all about, presiding over the decline of the United States of America, and doing so happily."  This all strikes Medved as strategically imbecilic.  Without addressing the substance of the complaints, he takes issue with the intentionality imputed to the President.  He finds it implausible that the President would brazenly display intentional bad faith, given his undoubted desire to be reelected.  Medved believes that it's wiser to focus on the wrong-headedness of the President's policies rather than dwell on his supposed intention to wound the republic.  He believes the Palin/Limabaugh tack is inadvisable given the public's generally favorable view of the President's personality, and generic reverence for the White House.  "Americans may not see a given president as their advocate, but they're hardly disposed to view him as their enemy--and a furtive, determined enemy at that."  

The problem, as Noman sees it, is rather that the President views Americans as "the enemy."  

His Homeland Security Office seems more concerned with furtive, determined pro-lifers, returning veterans and 10th Amendment advocates than with enemy combatants, secure borders, and home-grown Islamic terrorism.  

As attractive as Americans may find the President's persona, they were not thrilled when he said that the "Cambridge police acted stupidly" for arresting his friend, Harvard Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, in his own home for mouthing off to a policeman on the scene to investigate a potential break in.  

Neither did people of conscience appreciate having their moral objections to federally funded embryonic stem cell research dismissed as inconsistent with "sound science."  

On the reelection question, President Obama might believe--with some justification--that he could shoot Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Dinesh D'Souza with an AK47 on prime time television and still win reelection behind the phalanx of media support that will (and does) line up to do his, and Democrats, bidding.  

Noman takes Medved's point about not "judging" others intentions, which nobody can ever "know."  But, people necessarily infer other's intentions from their actions in order to make judgements about who to trust.   To not do so invites abuse, and ridicule.

In a follow-up Op-Ed entitled "Obama a 'Radical'? Get Real," Medved argues that the President is typical for his party, rather than radical.  He is no more "an unprecedented, frightening fanatic with an alien, un-American agenda" than anyone else in the Democratic Party.  He is simply another big government, tax-and-spend liberal.  His policies and appointments--all mainstream within the Democratic Party--are the same as what any of his party's presidential contenders would have pursued and made.  "The problem with Mr. Obama isn't that he functions far outside the Democratic mainstream.  The real problem is that mainstream itself, a toxic stew of dysfunctional and discredited notions that have flopped reliably whenever they've been employed."

Noman thinks that's a fair enough description of the Democratic Party, and of President Obama's place within its spectrum.  But to say that he is mainstream for a radical party, is not to say that he isn't radical. Precisely the opposite.  And whether or not his Democratic contenders would have appointed Kevin Jennings, say, as Safe Schools Czar precisely for his founding of a gay organization that leads "fisting" seminars for teenagers, it is no less true that this is unprecedented, frightening fanaticism that is alien, un-American and radical to the extreme.  What especially worries Noman about President Obama is that he makes these appointments, and pursues his toxic, dysfunctional policies without alienating the citizenry in whose name he deigns to govern so radically.  

Noman isn't sure why Medved uses his platform to scold fellow travelers for impolitic reactions to the President's offenses, rather than to decry the policies and appointments that give offense.   Neither is he certain that it's politically helpful to incessantly reproach one's own side.  Undoubtedly, Medved's migration from the Ron Dellums left to the Ronald Reagan right gives him special insights into the  independent mindset.  It would be nice to read an article of his addressed to independents explaining why so many conservatives find their personable President so objectionable.  Perhaps the hyperbole about the President stems from this fundamental assessment:  that he is not trustworthy; that he is not the measured man he appears to be; that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing.  Given his easy ability to say one thing do another, and the record of his first two years in office, that is not an unreasonable inference.  It is lent credence by his former longstanding associations with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright, as well as his fondness for Saul Alinsky's community organizing tactics, and his work with ACORN to force banks to make sub-prime loans.  Perhaps conservatives that Medved takes to task can be excused for lacking the ideally temperate words to express the deep apprehension they feel about what this Administration is doing to the country, and world.  He might cut them some slack.  

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