The burning question after the Massachusetts Senate election is whether the administration will respond by making a course correction to survive politically, by jettisoning its policy core and cleaning up its methods, or by “doubling down,” as President Obama has implied, and escalating the ideological and guerrilla war for direction of public policy. This was a referendum on the Obama administration, including health care, but not just health care. Even less was it just the rejection of an astonishingly unappealing candidate, predestined to glory as a trivia question. John F. Kennedy took that seat with lashings of his father’s money in an anti-Brahmin revolt against Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952, and was reelected by 864,000 votes in 1958. In the intervening years of Teddy Kennedy, the Democrats could have won with a candidate not confined to two legs and one head. This was less a wake-up call than a Te Deum for a dying and sweaty dream.
The president has three principal problems. He is well to the left of the public and of what he promised the voters in 2008, and his is an old, passé leftism — one that is authoritarian and deviously presented, and was discredited in this country decades ago; it featured the sort of nostrums that caused Bill Clinton and others to become “New Democrats.” Obama is increasingly perceived as having credibility problems and of being cold, cocksure, narcissistic, and intoxicated by what he modestly called “the gift” of his own articulateness. And, as president, he has been quite, and quite surprisingly, incompetent.
The second of these problems seems to prevent the president from appreciating the last. The only serious domestic initiative he has to show for the last year is an obscene stimulus bill that has had to be defended by the spurious supposition of “jobs saved,” since — contrary to promises — unemployment has risen by over 5 million since it was enacted. That target could have been attained without squandering 787 billion borrowed dollars.
Current projections call for massive debt increases of $1 trillion a year for a decade, with huge money-supply increases that will make history not only by their size but, according to forecasts, by their non-inflationary nature, accompanied by tax increases that will, also miraculously, not retard recovery from the recession. No audible sane person believes this arithmetical fairy tale, including, one dares to hope, the president himself. It is a recipe for stagflation and currency devaluation.
The administration bought wholly into the unproved claim that carbon emissions are causing global warming, but global warming has not, for the last ten years, been happening. The president padded around the Copenhagen global-warming conference trying to generate enthusiasm for $100 billion in annual transfers to the Mugabes and Chávezes, as well as the Chinese (the world’s largest carbon emitters), as conscience-alleviating payments for the carbon emissions of the economically advanced countries. America’s fellow culprits found less tangibly burdensome expiations. So will America.
Mr. Obama must have noticed that the science and the politics were wrong, and that the arithmetic was too. The whole concept, like his promotion of renewable energy, his cap-and-trade bill, his redesignation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and his pursuit of complete nuclear disarmament, is mad. It was a worthy encore to the president’s previous cameo appearance in the Danish capital, where his and his wife’s prodigies managed to bring Chicago in fourth in contention for the 2016 Olympics, out of four competing cities.
In foreign policy, engagement with Iran and North Korea, appeasement of Russia (over Georgia and missile defense), attempting to bully Israel and to deny that there was an agreement between the Sharon and George W. Bush governments over settlements, and siding with Chávez and the Castros in the Honduran crisis against constitutional democracy and America’s legitimate interests have all failed, practically and morally (at least in the absence of indiscernible, and unlikely, contrary intelligence).
There have been no initiatives to reform NATO, the U.N., the IMF — all in need of modernization — and there has been a regrettable delay in launching the long-promised and necessary measures to turn the Afghan operation into a success, while the U.S. and its allies have been milling about, losing ground and taking increasing casualties.
The fumbling over Guantanamo has been another fiasco, as Attorney General Eric Holder has acknowledged that it is an exemplary prison. But Obama has been entrapped by Teddy Kennedy’s unfounded identification of Gitmo with Abu Ghraib. The president’s reaction to the near disaster of the panties-terrorist in the skies over Detroit began with waffling from a Hawaiian luau, and gained altitude agonizingly slowly.
No one is audibly lamenting the retirement of George W. or throwing shoes at his successor’s head because he speaks in sentences, but this president is bestriding the world as a flake, kowtowing to the Mikado, apologizing for President Truman’s use of the atomic bomb, criticizing Roosevelt and Churchill’s uninclusive approach to winning World War II, and Churchill and Eisenhower for disposing of the pajama-clad hysteric Mohammed Mossadegh as head of Iran.