Recent months have taught us something important about the Obama White House. Listen to the silence — listen carefully to what the president has not said in recent weeks about leaks that endanger the country, a revolting accusation in a campaign ad, and the relationship between Obamacare and religious freedom. On all three issues, the president could have stood up for honor and decency without hurting himself politically. But he didn’t; and so we are forced to wonder just how much he values honor and decency.
Is this president awake to moral questions, does he see and feel and understand them? Or does he operate by political instinct alone? No president has seemed this dead to moral imperatives since Nixon at the height of Watergate. So perhaps the Democrats should have one last, long think before they re-nominate Nixon Junior; they might remember that Nixon’s second term did not turn out well.
Those death-dealing leaks regarding U.S. military and intelligence operations made Obama furious — furious at accusations that top-level White House sources were responsible. “The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national-security information is offensive,” he said in June. He seemed much less bothered by the leaks themselves. What could be more characteristic of the man than his comment that this toxic high-level leakage “makes my job tougher”? He could easily have said “I am boiling mad at these disgraceful acts, and have directed the attorney general to spare no effort to find the culprits and bring them to justice.” He could have, but didn’t. Instead he used a routine cliché: “zero tolerance” for leaks in the Obama White House. What do we conclude about this man and his moral equipment?
#more#Was the president outraged by the vicious cancer ad dreamed up by his friends and cronies at the Priorities USA super PAC? If he had been, he would have said so. He could have (merely) said “I categorically condemn this ad and its false accusation against my Republican opponent. I stand for fair play in politics.” Such a statement would not have hurt him, might well have helped him. But the president didn’t bother, and the only rational conclusion is that he didn’t care.
Last January, HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius decreed that, under the rules of Obamacare, Catholic hospitals and related institutions must hand out birth-control pills, including those that induce abortions — morally equivalent, for those institutions, to handing out suicide pills. This August, the Sebelius Diktat took effect. Did the president understand the relationship between the Sebelius Decree and religious freedom? If he did, why didn’t he say so? Or is it that he understands but simply doesn’t care? He had only to say something like “I acknowledge the supreme importance of religious freedom to this nation, but in moral terms I am forced to rate the Sebelius mandate even higher, because of [something or other].” Again, such a statement could not have hurt him, would probably have helped him. But he didn’t bother.
A thousand serious arguments crop up in this country every day, and the president can’t talk about them all. But when a controversy is sustained and important, the nation and the world expect the president to speak, carefully. This year the president has had no time to address three supremely serious moral issues. Now as the Democratic convention celebrates and glorifies and exalts him, it is the nation’s turn to ponder what he has done and left undone, and draw conclusions about the moral vacuum at the nation’s center.