The Audacity of Hope Hubris

by Tom Rogan
President Obama rejects risk out of arrogance.

‘The price of greatness,” Winston Churchill once said, “is responsibility.”

There can no longer be any doubt that President Obama is unwilling to pay that tariff.

In a world defined by uncertainty and ever-stronger enemies, the president’s administration announced this week that American armed forces would be cut to historically low levels. But the sad farce doesn’t end there.

Last Thursday, we also learned that the president’s new budget won’t include a minor but useful reform he’d proposed last year to trim entitlement spending. The rejection of these changes — ones that every citizen capable of basic arithmetic should know are necessary to save America’s pension program — is telling.

After ten years of war, that is, the military gets gutted while civilian entitlements remain sacred.

This is a White House in which short-term ideological calculations always rule the roost.

Less than a month ago, the president spoke of “working together” with Congress — now he is calling for an end to the era of austerity. (Did it ever begin?) The president’s budget next year proposes increased spending on favorite (wasteful) programs. This is playing to the favorite liberal myth that austerity doesn’t work, that only continued binging can end the hangover. The president knows that the U.S.’s fiscal position remains tenuous, and knows that ballooning deficits will make recoveries much harder in the future.

So what’s changed in the last month?

Nothing.

Except politics. A month ago, the pageantry of a national address offered the president an opportunity to present a “face of moderation,”  as the leader willing to make hard choices. But now, elections loom, Democrats are worried, and leadership is too hard.

It’s the audacity of hubris.

These budgets are just the topping on the cake: From executive orders to Obamacare theatrics, it’s long been evident that the president holds a high regard for his domestic authority. He seems to believe that by saying something he makes it true.

But this arrogance isn’t confined by our borders. Whether it’s flip-flopping in the Middle East, disregard for our allies, or paralysis in the face of America’s enemies, Obama roams in the wilderness of inaction.

Nowhere is this clearer than with the administration’s policy toward Russia. Here, where the president keeps chasing consensus, Putin is playing geopolitical pranks. Everyone knows it’s a farce, but because both administrations have an interest in keeping a straight face, the farce becomes reality.

At home or abroad, the president’s hubris enfeebles any hope that America might successfully lead. To be sure, ego is a necessary component of any presidency — without it, the strains of office would destroy the officeholder. But disconnected from humility, confidence becomes arrogance. In a president, arrogance means problems of state are always others’ fault. It provides a blanket of self-protection against criticism. And it offers an excuse for excessive trepidation.

Yet the outcome is always the same. Spinning from election to election is no way to govern. It’s like a military officer who rejects risky decisions on the battlefield for fear that they might endanger his bureaucratic standing.

But the past is clear: Great presidencies require acceptance, not denial, of risk. If the president continues to consider himself above that responsibility, history’s judgment will not be kind.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger based in Washington, D.C., and a contributor to the Guardian.

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