The anger that seemed President Obama’s central theme in his September 9 speech to Congress was palpable, almost shocking. He demanded action now, and threatened to “call out” those who — he claimed — were spreading falsehoods about his healthcare nationalization plans.
Obama does not seem to realize that the fire and brimstone of the campaign trail have to be left behind when a man enters the Oval Office. Presidents who exude confidence, competence and principle usually succeed. Anger belies the self-confidence that has been Obama’s trademark. It may soon replace it.
Obama is, again, the incredible shrinking president. His anger — in speech after speech about healthcare, before and after the address to the joint session of Congress — is not just unpresidential, but has a constant negative effect, a gradual whittling away of whatever influence he may have abroad that has not already been surrendered in his June speech in Cairo.
The reactions to it are more important than his speech to congress because they may well shape both the fate of Obamacare and the White House’s course on vastly more important matters.
On September 12, the Tea Partyers’ caravan arrived in Washington about 250,000 strong. (Ed. Note: an earlier version of this article stated an incorrect estimate of the crowd’s size. This estimate is based on the analysis performed for us by William Campenni.)
The fact that so many conservatives and independents would travel to protest is itself something of a milestone. It’s usually liberals — college students and others who don’t need to get to work on a given day — who can mass in such numbers. Obama’s anger is being mirrored by voters who are convinced he is doing too much too fast, and too recklessly.
The president apparently got a bounce in the polls from the speech. The Rasmussen Report said on Sunday that Americans were now tied at 48% in support and opposition to the Obamacare plan. But that bounce is likely to be very short-lived. And its span will be shortened by the ferociousness of Obama’s allies, who are overtopping each other in their outrage at his opponents.
In the New York Times, the reliably hysterical Maureen Dowd accuses Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) of racism in his shout out to Obama during the congressional speech. (Wilson yelled “You lie,” which — as John Gizzi reported on September 12 — may have been ungracious but was not unfactual.) And in the Philly Inquirer, from one fevered liberal brow comes the admonition that, “A U.S. president who fails on his signature issue — health care — won’t have the strength and public support to deal with new challenges by Islamists. He will be seen at home and abroad as seriously weakened,” and so — she reasons — to save Afghanistan we have to give in to Obamacare.
That risible analysis does have one value: it shows how weakened Obama has become in his eight months in office. Because the challenges we face abroad aren’t new: they are, by now, at least as old as bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa of war against the United States. And by insisting on months of debate on the healthcare “crisis”, President Obama has turned his back on crises that are both more serious and more immediate.
He may well get Obamacare this year, or something like it. But at what cost? In Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran the butcher’s bill is being written.
Start with Iran. Time for diplomacy is shortened by the advantages Obama has already thrown away.
President Obama campaigned on the promise of personal negotiations with Iran without preconditions. He then, in his June Cairo speech, green-lighted Iran’s nuclear program by saying, “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons.” Apparently, diversity among the nuclear nations is his goal.
Now Obama plans to be the first US president to chair a session of the UN Security Council, on an occasion not many days off. Two facts await his gavel.
First, the International Atomic Energy Agency — the UN’s purblind nuclear watchdog — has just reported a stalemate with Iran, which isn’t obeying any of the UN’s resolutions or demands for compliance.
Second, is the statement by Iran’s president Ahmadinejad that the discussions of the Iran nuclear program are over. Ahmadinejad’s hand is enormously strengthened by the quasi-public statements from Russia and China disparaging further UN sanctions on Iran, and by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’s recent promise to export about 20,000 barrels of refined gasoline to Iran daily. The only prospective economic sanction against Iran — a ban on gasoline shipments from Europe to Iran, which lacks significant refinery capacity — is now moot.
The result is that it will now be Iran that imposes preconditions on discussions with Obama, not the other way around. Weakened by anger and naïveté, Obama is incapable of dealing with Iran. On Iraq and Afghanistan, the news is no better.
President Obama’s plans to withdraw from Iraq are being executed ahead of schedule, as are the victims of terrorist violence we leave in our wake. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, now overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, is reportedly ready to request a large enhancement of troop levels there (and may have already done so.) But Democratic congressional leaders — beginning with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mi) are already raising objections.
Levin’s objections — to expanding the size rather than planning withdrawal from Afghanistan — may be right for the wrong reasons. Obama’s plans for Afghanistan are an updated version of Bush’s nation-building in Iraq. It didn’t work for President Bush and it won’t work for his successor. But Obama and the Democrats have no policy or program to defeat the enemy, only to withdraw farther and faster from conflict.
If the president were as serious about the threat of Islamofascism as he is about his healthcare bill, he’d set aside the latter and deal exclusively with the former now and for as long as it took to resolve.
Passion and style can work for politicians and entertainers, or they can backfire because they are out of place. When Faith Hill belts out the song introducing Sunday Night Football, viewers are being sold something they’ve already bought. But when President Obama rages and threatens about healthcare, voters’ doubts are only enhanced. And our foreign adversaries judge him weak, not only because of his domestic political problems, but for his personal inability to maintain composure.
Barack Obama substitutes anger and naïveté for passion and style. It makes him weaker domestically, and America weaker in the global conflict that we are now engaged.