But in domestic affairs, the president spoke last week of the need for consensus on “taxes, schools, and sustainable energy sources” because “engagement can more durably lift” the spirits and welfare of the country. But there is no indication that he will pursue a course of sincere compromise any more assiduously than he did in his relentlessly confrontational first term. Again, the Republicans are frequently unreasonable, and are disorganized, and the speaker, John Boehner, has gained inadequate authority to deliver the House of Representatives to full partnership with the administration. But the president has made no effort to reach an agreement on anything and the Democratic leadership in the Senate, the horrifying triad of Reid, Schumer, and Durbin, will not allow anything to be seriously debated, much less come to a vote. The president won’t deal, the Democratic congressional delegation is devoted to preventing anything from happening, and the country has patchy, constitutionally dubious government by executive order; endless posturing and games of chicken over every fiscal issue, from sequestration to the annual humiliating bipartisan juvenilism over the debt ceiling. Yet the president spoke last week of translating “name-calling” into “reasoned debate.” As his longest-serving predecessor famously said, “The presidency is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership.” It is not that now.
And it is very hard to take seriously the over-frequent references the president made to God and traditional patriotic shibboleths he rather refreshingly avoided earlier in his career. The president doesn’t really take “an oath to God and country,” as the reference to God is optional; it is hard to credit that Mr. Obama really believed it when he said the U.S. “flag . . . fills our hearts with pride,” and that “immigrants regard America as the ‘land of opportunity,’” since it doesn’t really attract much net immigration now. He called upon his countrymen to observe a spirit of “solemn duty and awesome joy.” It is hard to imagine that such an exhortation is motivated by much more than an appreciation of a country that has twice elected him as its leader.
The same sort of credibility gap yawned before Secretary Clinton in Congress last Wednesday. She recounted that 65 foreign-service people had been killed in the line of duty and that she had been well aware, generally, of the dangers to State Department personnel abroad, but she sent hundreds more Marines to buttress security after the tragedy in Benghazi. If she knew generally about the dangers, why did she wait for the ambassador to Libya and others to be murdered before sending them? Her much-quoted answer was to ask, “What difference does it make?” If the State Department was negligent and its spokespeople dishonest in their responses to tragedy, it does make a difference, in America and the world. The U.S., she emphasized, “has come a long way in the last four years.” I don’t think so and she did not elaborate, but lapsed into turbo-platitudes: “The United States is the most extraordinary force for peace and progress the world has ever known . . . [is] the world’s indispensable nation . . . [and will remain] safe, strong, and exceptional.” All those assertions were true for many decades, but they are very arguable now, and this administration is partly responsible for that fact. Mrs. Clinton has spent four years declaring to be “unacceptable” things the United States then accepted.
I will also grope my way determinedly to some sort of mental honeymoon for John Kerry, who fabricated his Swift Boat history and voted to send troops to Iraq but not to fund them once they got there. But after more than 20 years in which I have not known him to utter one intelligent sentence about foreign policy, I am prepared to fear the worst.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and the recently published A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at [email protected].