April 1, 2013

Barack Obama: King of Rhetoric and Effort

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In many ways, Barack Obama is like the King of the United States. Not in the sense of an autocrat, but in the sense of a figurehead, similar to the current British monarchy. Like the British monarchy, Obama receives tremendously benign and infrequent criticism (besides that of a determined minority), he becomes flustered or offended when non-Fox News reporters attempt to question him, he and his family have an incestuous relationship with the media (why exactly did Michelle Obama present an Oscar? For Best Picture, no less) and, most importantly, he is an ineffective and progressively powerless leader.

At this point, I will be graciously pointed to “whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com” and argue that it’s the congressional Republicans’ faults for being in the party of “No” and blocking all the legislation that our poor Commander in Chief has attempted to pass. But for the man who defended his actions during the sequestration crisis with the Nixon-esque declaration of “I am not a dictator,” his flaws are not a simple story.

As a reminder, the Democratic Party controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate for two years after Barack Obama’s 2008 election. Obama had two solid years to bring change to America, such as ending the Bush tax cuts, discontinuing the Patriot Act, closing Guantanamo Bay, curbing American foreign influence or any of the several promises he campaigned on. And for many people, these unsuccessful reforms represent what Obama “just happened” not to do, rather than what he could not or failed to do.

In his first year, he focused his political capital on the unwieldy and unpopular Affordable Care Act. He squandered his rubber stamp, failed to muddle through the crippled Republican minority and lost his national, popular support.

And what did Barack Obama give us in his 2010 State of the Union address, in the face of a crumbling healthcare bill and a stagnant economy? Empty promises of climate change legislation, nuanced blame of the Bush administration and the revelation that he took “his fair share of the blame from not explaining [healthcare] more clearly to the American people.” How could Americans possibly understand healthcare on their own? Yet, the president’s horde of defenders insisted this was the minority Republicans’ fault for being unwilling to compromise. President Obama tried. He called for bipartisanship in Washington, and no one listened. He was just one man who was burdened with the impossible task of fixing the broken Bush economy. The man who was elected to lead the country was a victim of his time.

Despite his best intentions as leader of the free world, the Republicans retook the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections. Conversely, in 2012 Obama secured his reelection as the better of two stale candidates. Thus, for the past two years, we’ve experienced manufactured crises (like the budget ceiling, fiscal cliff and sequestration), stagnant economic growth and stalemates between Speaker of the House Boehner and President Obama. The President has been unable to break through this quagmire of inertia and, once again, his leadership seemingly does not come into question. It is always the Republicans’ fault for stopping Obama’s legislation, never the inability of Obama to negotiate with the opposition and lead the country. Is this because it is a simple impossibility for Obama to successively push his legislation passed the obstructionist Republicans? Once again, this is no excuse for incompetence.

In 1994, Republicans won the majority in the House of Representatives after an almost uninterrupted 60 years of Democratic control. Despite this resurgent and livid Republican Congress, President Bill Clinton fulfilled his duty as the leader of the United States. He negotiated with the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Congress and used triangulation to produce centrist reforms. As a result, Clinton expanded children’s healthcare, deregulated key economic sectors, reformed welfare, balanced the federal budget and promoted free trade internationally. Clearly, a determined opposition is not an excuse for the president to be relieved of his responsibility to lead the nation and promote prosperity.

Independent critics have referred to the Obama administration as the third and fourth terms of George W. Bush’s presidency, and with good reason. With the economy stagnant and Bush-era measures intact, it feels like almost nothing has changed between 2008 and 2013. Today, we can visibly witness the waning of Obama’s power and necessity: the Senate and House approved a budget resolution for the first time in four years despite Obama’s inability to strike a bargain with congressional Republicans. A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen are independently writing immigration reform without Obama’s influence. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected Obama’s wishes and crafted a gun control bill without a ban on assault weapons. Democratic and Republican senators are jointly supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Clearly, for progress to be made in Washington, it seems that Barack Obama must be relegated to the sidelines, for even his own party is beginning to see him as incapable of bringing change to America.

Yet, we will never see a true public criticism of Obama’s ineptitude, for what we have is a sacrosanct president of inaction and rhetoric. He is not a leader, negotiator nor a dictator. He is an orator, a half-term senator who was propelled to the highest office by inspiring speeches and political strategy. He is the president who is so entrenched in the media’s delight  — even his personal support for gay marriage, devoid of substantial policy and declared at a calculated, safe time, was trumpeted as a tremendous historical accomplishment. He is the president who ran for office preaching peace but received a quiet hush for expanding American military operations and targeted drone killings. He is the president who reported misinformation about the crisis in Benghazi and then received a free pass from the media because it basically “wasn’t important.”

As to almost elicit sympathy, his supporters will tell you that against all odds, he has tried. He has tried to save the economy, tried to create jobs, tried to reform healthcare, tried to negotiate with Republicans and tried to bring change to America. Every president has his flaws, but these excuses unfairly validate Obama’s mistakes and push him to the level of a symbolic king or celebrity. We must hold our president to the standard we have held all of our past presidents, both Democrats and Republicans. We need a president who is willing to take responsibility and get things done, no matter what. Barack Obama can be that president, but he must make himself vulnerable. A good effort is not enough.

As the Simpson’s Sideshow Bob once said, “Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry?” Oh wait, I suppose they do, because 11 months into his presidency, Barack Obama received the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for giving a speech in Cairo and promising to stop climate change and nuclear proliferation.

Original Author: Kyle Ezzedine