The Image of Barack Obama in 2007–08 Was an Illusion

by Jim Geraghty

Also in today’s Jolt . . .

The Myth of Barack Obama

Ron Fournier takes to the Ezra Klein to the woodshed, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Similarly, I loved Pete Wehner’s post “New Obama Narrative: Epic Incompetence,” but I feel like it needed a bit of expansion. Because it’s not merely the competence that never arrived after all the hype of 2007 and 2008, but the entire gamut:

Bipartisanship: Obama doesn’t really respect anyone who disagrees with him; he prefers to adopt an “only adult in the room” pose, demagogue issues, and attack straw men. He’ll talk about the need for a “new tone” and then stand by as his allies attack opponents as “not one of us” or accuse them of committing felonies without evidence, and even of causing cancer. Far from the post-partisan healer he was sold as in 2007–08, he’s a ruthless demagogue who urges his followers to “get in their face” and “punish our enemies.” “Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother.”

Honesty and willingness to acknowledge inconvenient truths: He thinks nothing of saying something that isn’t true if it helps him at the political moment — “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” When the promise is broken, it’s everyone else’s fault but his.

Engagement with the world: The president is functionally an isolationist and not that interested in the world beyond our borders. Russia’s aggression doesn’t trouble him enough to move beyond routine sanctions. Whether it’s the territorial saber-rattling of China and Japan, the Iranian nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, increasing violence in Iraq, the increasingly routine provocations of the North Koreans, or the prospect of leaving a bloody, Taliban-reconquered mess in Afghanistan . . . it’s clear from his weak-tea proposals, sporadic public comments, tone, and body language that the president wishes it all would just go away.

Consistent Concern: He doesn’t give a rat’s tush about half the things he criticized in the Bush administration: the increasing national debt, a dysfunctional VA, domestic surveillance, concerns about Americans’ privacy, meeting with lobbyists in the White House, appointing lobbyists to high-level White House staff positions, rewarding big-time donors with ambassadorial appointments . . . 

A Focus on What Matters Most: His own staffers have described him as “impatient and disengaged” in key meetings, and the intelligence community has wondered how closely he reads his briefings. With increasing frequency, he says he learns about problems within his own administration from media reports. (See the NRCC’s new “Obama Excuses” page.) He really enjoys the good life of the presidency and doesn’t see any reason why he should limit public expenditures on himself and his family during hard economic times. He recently laughed, “That’s the good thing about being president, I can do whatever I want.”

Accountability: Obama is perfectly fine with letting his subordinates investigate themselves and assess their own failures — the Justice Department’s investigation of itself in “Fast and Furious“, the U.S. State Department’s review of its own actions before, during and after the Benghazi attacks; he picks his own people to examine his own NSA policies on domestic surveillance, and now Eric Shinseki will get to the bottom of any wrongdoing at the Department of Veterans Affairs. He rarely if ever fires staffers; the rare cases, like General Stanley McChrystal or Jofi Joseph, involve cases where an underling criticized him. Even the most consequentially incompetent, like Kathleen Sebelius, are given a soft landing months after they’ve made crucial errors to avoid administration embarrassment.

Respect for the Constitution: He was sold to us as a constitutional-law professor; in office, Obama enacted policies that violated almost every amendment in the Bill of Rights.