The great Obama levitation is ending; the inexplicable aspect of it is that it has endured so long. The president won in 2008 on a slick platform, but given the unpopularity of George W. Bush and the economic calamity that caused the incumbent to announce, with his customary grasp of the need for eloquence on momentous occasions, that “the sucker could go down” (in reference to the economy), Elmer Fudd could have won the election as the Democratic nominee. Obama’s triumph was not in defeating the blunderbuss candidacy of John McCain but in swiping Bill and Hillary Clinton’s party out from under them. They are nothing if not hardball professionals, and despite some serious gaffes, such as Senator Clinton’s claim to have been under sniper fire at the Sarajevo airport when she was in fact virtually festooned with curtsying schoolgirls tendering her flowers, all probabilities were that she would be nominated. Mrs. Clinton won more votes in the primaries, but Senator Obama carried the day with a subtle pitch effectively promising expiation of the guilt and shame of decent white America for slavery and segregation, and the added bonus of never having to listen to charlatans like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton again, if they merely put him in the White House: a one-stop, quick fix to what Abraham Lincoln called “the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil,” followed by what Lyndon Johnson called a century of “Nigra, nigra, nigra.” This won enough of the “super” (i.e., unelected and ex officio) delegates to put Obama across. It was genius and seemed to presage a slick professional administration. Instead we have had five years of The Gong Show.
Foreign policy seemed to start from the premise that those countries that were antagonistic to the United States were probably correct to be so, because, he implied in his famous speech in Cairo in 2009, the headship of the country had always been in the hands of white Christians, and now things had changed. It was an apparent extension of his successful play for the support of the Democratic party, a disparate organization a fifth of whose supporters are probably African Americans and that is generally quite susceptible to an idealistic, repentant, egalitarian appeal. None of the party’s factions are anti-American, even if they want to change America. Foreign-policy success depends on national interest, which depends on different criteria from domestic policy, as all but the most obtuse Obamaphiles will have learned. The Bush policy of encouraging democracy was loosened, improving relations with the Mubarak regime in Egypt and giving the Iranian theocracy a free pass on its phony election in 2009, resulting in an even more provoking policy by Iran, and after the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, a supportive U.S. policy toward the elected Muslim Brotherhood and its even more authoritarian Salafi allies, to the point that when they were overthrown by General al-Sisi and his military colleagues, the Obama administration reversed field again and has alienated and suspended aid to the military in protest against its undemocratic treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood had been trying to impose an unconstitutional dictatorship. The Obama administration was thus on every side of the democratic/despotic argument within Egypt but never held the same position for long. The new Egyptian regime is making overtures to the Russians, and the Saudis have replaced the suspended American military assistance to Cairo. It is impossible to find any pattern to American policy here except a love of self-inflicted wounds, like that of a flagellant religious order.
The same pattern was followed in Syria. President Bashar Assad, the “reformer,” as he was described by then–secretary of state Clinton, fell into civil war and the Obama administration declined to do anything about it while sanctimoniously announcing that “Assad must go.” When he employed sarin gas to kill more than a thousand of his countrymen, he crossed an Obama “red line,” and a punitive military strike was planned, which would sting but not hurt him, because Assad was now considered preferable to his opponents. As the naval squadron that had been dispatched to chastise Assad hovered offshore, Obama abruptly abdicated the position the Constitution confers upon him as commander-in-chief and handed over to the Congress the authority to approve such a mission. Secretary of State Kerry, to assist in securing this completely superfluous approval, reassured the legislators that the missile strike would be “unbelievably small,” an accurate description of the discernible logic in the administration’s shimmying, fishtailing policymaking process. Of course, when the secretary’s assurances of self-imposed ineffectuality were revealed as insufficiently persuasive to the 535 commanders-in-chief in the Congress, Obama and Kerry, like drowning men leaping for a life vest, accepted Russian president Putin’s offer to take away (unverifiably) Assad’s (easily replaceable) poison-gas supply.
Those of us who have made ourselves blue in the face by expressions of concern over the federal public debt, which in 233 years of American independence to 2009 had reached 10 trillion dollars, and is now almost 18 trillion dollars, and a large part of the increase being really just accretions to the money supply as the Federal Reserve has “bought” the bonds of its 100 percent parent, the Treasury, with spurious notes issued for the purpose, are hoarse and winded, and have been reduced to little more than mute spectators. The disintegration of the regime’s energy and environment policy, as the effort to provide 100 billion dollars a year for all of the world’s most oppressive countries as compensation for the effrontery of the advanced world’s using non-renewable energy to operate successful economies came down around President Obama’s ears like a toilet seat, and as cap-and-trade was revealed as unmitigated lunacy, was of a piece, in the clarity of its conception as in its complete failure, with the rest of this “transformative” regime’s program, foreign and domestic.
None of it seemed to matter. The trained, docile national media nodded like donkeys and blinked like owls. It was the first administration to seek reelection without running on its own record since Martin Van Buren in 1840, who at least had Andrew Jackson, whom he had served as vice president, to blame for the economic depression that defeated his reelection bid. The best Republican candidates — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels — didn’t seek the nomination; Mitt Romney won over the most improbable field of challengers in American history, and completely failed to hold Obama accountable for his record as the president successfully distracted the country with a pelagic inundation of claptrap about a Republican War on Women, on Hispanics, on gays, on the average person. Not since George McGovern had there been such a feeble excuse presented by a major party for voting for it, but the electorate was steadfastly undeterred. The signature achievement of the first Obama term was the Affordable Care Act, a giant step to universal health care, to bring America up to speed with the forward march of social progress in advanced countries. Everyone with even the most fleeting awareness of grade-three arithmetic warned that it would not work. Even Republicans such as Olympia Snowe, who tried desperately to find common ground with the administration, abandoned ship. To jam through Obamacare, the Democrats had to rely on the defection from (and rejection by) the Republicans of about-to-be defeated Arlen Specter, on the fraudulent conviction of Senator Ted Stevens, and on the election theft by partisan incremental recounts of Al Franken. They lit the fuse. It sizzled quietly through Election Day, Inauguration Day, and the decent interval since then, and now it has blown up and left the president a plucked, seared chicken, naked, stunned, and gape-mouthed at the debacle he and his idolatrous claque have inflicted on the country, dispensing a Band-Aid of a palliative “fix” to those amputated from their health care.
Bill Clinton has helpfully advised that the president must be as good as his word, good-naturedly sparing him the current president’s solemn affirmation (before embracing the insane concept of full nuclear disarmament) that “words must have meaning.” They should, but on this subject, his didn’t. To extend care to 20 million Americans who were not covered by health-insurance plans, by forcing the cancellation of medical-care plans that did not meet the arbitrary standards of the new law, and by straitjacketing small businesses next year, he has upturned what was good about American health care, without significantly improving what was bad, and has jeopardized the medical care of 100 million Americans already covered. If he had listened to any voices but those in the amen-chanting echo chamber of his entourage, he could have avoided this. If he had been prepared to cooperate at all with the sensible Republicans, and there are some, he could have marked up a solid and useful achievement for the country. This leaves out those in violation of the law because of the technological impossibility to register electronically for the new plan. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” The only moderation of this disaster will be in comparison with the cataclysm when the fiscal chickens come home to roost, in the foxes’ den.
— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at email@example.com.