Politics & Policy

Obama Skitters, Scampers, and Scuttles Away from Failure

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Obama is a president perpetually in motion, with little to show for it.

Skitter, scamper, scuttle. That seems to be the mode of the Obama administration of late.

Skitter away from your red line in Syria. Scamper off to a meeting you’d previously nixed with Texas governor Rick Perry.

Scuttle as much as the Constitution allows you, at least until you get called on it by 9–0 majorities in the Supreme Court, as the justices did on recess appointments, warrantless cell-phone searches, and $75,000-a-day fines for disturbing supposed wetlands.

It’s not a very effective way to make public policy, and it tends to put you in an embarrassing public posture. But that’s what happens when you start off believing you know all you need to know and that the world is endlessly enchanted with you.

Skittering away from the consequences of your economic and big-government policies takes the form, often, of averring that you’re going to pivot to the economy.

But that pivot never seems to get very far. Last winter, Barack Obama was talking a lot about income inequality.

Something must be done about it, he said. But the specific policies he advanced would do pathetically little to change things.

Raising the minimum wage always scores well in polls, but most of the gains go to households well above the poverty line. And it leaves some people with minimal or entry-level skills out of a job.

So now Obama has apparently stopped talking about what he used to call “a fundamental threat to the American dream.” Perhaps he’s noticed that while Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, advocating 80 percent income taxes on high earners, has been a big seller that, to judge from Amazon Kindle highlighting, has held the attention of few readers.

Scampering seems to be the mode of choice in addressing menacing developments in the Middle East.

Obama used to proclaim his total withdrawal of troops from Iraq a great success. But now that al-Qaida-linked terrorists have been capturing Iraqi cities and proclaiming a caliphate, he is sending several hundred troops back there.

Antiwar activists with long memories will remember that this is how things started off in Vietnam. Supporters of military action in Iraq will argue that this is too little too late, and that Obama should have pushed through a status-of-forces agreement keeping more troops in Iraq back in 2011.

Scampering has also been his response to the flood of illegal underage migrants from Central America coming across the border into Texas. This seems to be a response to the president’s proclamation that he wouldn’t enforce immigration laws against many of those brought here illegally as children.

Obama has oscillated between saying that most of the underage illegals will be sent back and saying they won’t, while the government sends them off to relatives in the U.S., on condition that they attend immigration hearings later.

Meanwhile, Obama went to Texas on Wednesday — not to visit the border but to speak at three political fundraisers — which brings his total close to 400 since taking office.

Governor Rick Perry initially declined to meet him at the airport, saying, “A quick handshake will not allow for a thoughtful discussion.” Then Obama skittered and promised Perry a meeting in Dallas.

All presidents find that events at home and abroad don’t always unfold as they had imagined or hoped. They find that they’re often unable to get things to turn out as they’d like.

This realization seems to have come as something of a surprise to a man who, while campaigning for the office, proclaimed that he was a better speechwriter than his speechwriters and a better political director than his political director.

And who prophesied that his victory would be the moment when the seas stopped rising and the planet began to heal.

Events have taken a different course from what he expected. Obamacare and the stimulus were not met with grateful rapture. Europeans who once cheered him now call for an American foreign policy that is less, well, European.

Skittering and scampering doesn’t seem to be making things better. Blasting House Republicans for blocking legislation when they have passed more bipartisan bills than the Democratic Senate doesn’t pack much wallop.

Scuttle policies that aren’t working. The alternative is something Obama does not seem to have considered: Back up American promises and pledges abroad. Govern within the Constitution.

Any chance he will?

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2014 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com

Michael Barone — Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

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