Obama increasingly comes across as devious and dishonest.
By PEGGY NOONAN
Something’s happening to President Obama’s relationship with those who are inclined not to like his policies. They are now inclined not to like him. His supporters would say, "Nothing new there," but actually I think there is. I’m referring to the broad, stable, nonradical, non-birther right. Among them the level of dislike for the president has ratcheted up sharply the past few months.
It’s not due to the election, and it’s not because the Republican candidates are so compelling and making such brilliant cases against him. That, actually, isn’t happening.
What is happening is that the president is coming across more and more as a trimmer, as an operator who’s not operating in good faith. This is hardening positions and leading to increased political bitterness. And it’s his fault, too. As an increase in polarization is a bad thing, it’s a big fault.
The shift started on Jan. 20, with the mandate that agencies of the Catholic Church would have to provide services the church finds morally repugnant. The public reaction? "You’re kidding me. That’s not just bad judgment and a lack of civic tact, it’s not even constitutional!" Faced with the blowback, the president offered a so-called accommodation that even its supporters recognized as devious. Not ill-advised, devious. Then his operatives flooded the airwaves with dishonest—not wrongheaded, dishonest—charges that those who defend the church’s religious liberties are trying to take away your contraceptives.
What a sour taste this all left. How shocking it was, including for those in the church who’d been in touch with the administration and were murmuring about having been misled.
Events of just the past 10 days have contributed to the shift. There was the open-mic conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which Mr. Obama pleaded for "space" and said he will have "more flexibility" in his negotiations once the election is over and those pesky voters have done their thing. On tape it looked so bush-league, so faux-sophisticated. When he knew he’d been caught, the president tried to laugh it off by comically covering a mic in a following meeting. It was all so . . . creepy.
Next, a boy of 17 is shot and killed under disputed and unclear circumstances. The whole issue is racially charged, emotions are high, and the only memorable words from the president’s response were, "If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon" At first it seemed OK—not great, but all right—but as the story continued and suddenly there were death threats and tweeted addresses and congressmen in hoodies, it seemed insufficient to the moment. At the end of the day, the public reaction seemed to be: "Hey buddy, we don’t need you to personalize what is already too dramatic, it’s not about you."
Now this week the Supreme Court arguments on ObamaCare, which have made that law look so hollow, so careless, that it amounts to a characterological indictment of the administration. The constitutional law professor from the University of Chicago didn’t notice the centerpiece of his agenda was not constitutional? How did that happen?
Maybe a stinging decision is coming, maybe not, but in a purely political sense this is how it looks: We were in crisis in 2009—we still are—and instead of doing something strong and pertinent about our economic woes, the president wasted history’s time. He wasted time that was precious—the debt clock is still ticking!—by following an imaginary bunny that disappeared down a rabbit hole.
The high court’s hearings gave off an overall air not of political misfeasance but malfeasance.
All these things have hardened lines of opposition, and left opponents with an aversion that will not go away.
I am not saying that the president has a terrible relationship with the American people. I’m only saying he’s made his relationship with those who oppose him worse.
In terms of the broad electorate, I’m not sure he really has a relationship. A president only gets a year or two to forge real bonds with the American people. In that time a crucial thing he must establish is that what is on his mind is what is on their mind. This is especially true during a crisis.
From the day Mr. Obama was sworn in, what was on the mind of the American people was financial calamity—unemployment, declining home values, foreclosures. These issues came within a context of some overarching questions: Can America survive its spending, its taxing, its regulating, is America over, can we turn it around?
That’s what the American people were thinking about.
But the new president wasn’t thinking about that. All the books written about the creation of economic policy within his administration make clear the president and his aides didn’t know it was so bad, didn’t understand the depth of the crisis, didn’t have a sense of how long it would last. They didn’t have their mind on what the American people had their mind on.
The president had his mind on health care. And, to be fair-minded, health care was part of the economic story. But only a part! And not the most urgent part. Not the most frightening, distressing, immediate part. Not the ‘Is America over?’ part.
And so the relationship the president wanted never really knitted together. Health care was like the birth-control mandate: It came from his hermetically sealed inner circle, which operates with what seems an almost entirely abstract sense of America. They know Chicago, the machine, the ethnic realities. They know Democratic Party politics. They know the books they’ve read, largely written by people like them—bright, credentialed, intellectually cloistered. But there always seems a lack of lived experience among them, which is why they were so surprised by the town hall uprisings of August 2009 and the 2010 midterm elections.
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If you jumped into a time machine to the day after the election, in November, 2012, and saw a headline saying "Obama Loses," do you imagine that would be followed by widespread sadness, pain and a rending of garments? You do not. Even his own supporters will not be that sad. It’s hard to imagine people running around in 2014 saying, "If only Obama were president!" Including Mr. Obama, who is said by all who know him to be deeply competitive, but who doesn’t seem to like his job that much. As a former president he’d be quiet, detached, aloof. He’d make speeches and write a memoir laced with a certain high-toned bitterness. It was the Republicans’ fault. They didn’t want to work with him.
He will likely not see even then that an American president has to make the other side work with him. You think Tip O’Neill liked Ronald Reagan? You think he wanted to give him the gift of compromise? He was a mean, tough partisan who went to work every day to defeat Ronald Reagan. But forced by facts and numbers to deal, he dealt. So did Reagan.
An American president has to make cooperation happen.
But we’ve strayed from the point. Mr. Obama has a largely nonexistent relationship with many, and a worsening relationship with some.
Really, he cannot win the coming election. But the Republicans, still, can lose it. At this point in the column we usually sigh.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:42 pm
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Two foreign journalists died in a Syrian government shelling on Wednesday while reporting from the rebel stronghold of Homs. Hounded by snipers and hunger, activists are comparing the bombardment to genocide and begging the West for help.
"We can’t recover them. Both of their bodies are lying in the doorway. But, if we go to get them, we’ll be shot by the snipers!" For a few minutes on Wednesday, it was possible to reach Omar Shakir in Homs, the stronghold of the Syrian resistance. Shakir is one of the rebels’ spokesmen in the city’s Baba Amr district, where the American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Cochlin had been killed by Syrian government shelling at around 7:30 that morning.
They had been in the back of the apartment serving as the "media center" when the first missile shook the room. "We wanted to move to another building, but the shelling was constant," Shakir says. "Then there were two minutes of quiet, and they ran — and were hit by the next round of fire, which struck the building’s entrance. Both of them died immediately."
This was the same building that SPIEGEL reporters worked in for a week last December, when Baba Amr become the first liberated zone in central Syria. Soldiers who had defected from the Syrian army to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA) defended the run-down neighborhood in the southwest part of the city from troops loyal to the regime. At the time, SPIEGEL described it as an area of three square kilometers (one square mile) under a state of emergency. Still, things were quieter there than in other parts of the city, where reporters described how government snipers were hunting people down, how the wounded were being killed rather than treated in state hospitals and how Assad’s troops were starting to starve entire sections of the city.
An Increasingly Desperate Situation
In the meantime, things have gotten much worse in Homs.
Since February 4, several districts in the west and north of the rebel stronghold have been under constant bombardment from tanks and rockets. Shells batter homes every few minutes or sometimes even seconds. They either kill the last remaining residents immediately or leave them to die slowly since there is no longer anyone who can come to their rescue. Snipers on nearby high-rises take aim at everyone they get in their sights.
The epicenter of this horror is Baba Amr. Streets there are reduced to heaps of rubble. The surviving doctors work without pause beneath the small mosque they evacuated to after their previous clinic was bombarded. They amputate legs and arms without anesthesia; they have hardly any medication or bandages left, let alone blood for transfusions. And they no longer know what to do with all the dead bodies.
Increasingly little word was coming from the surviving activists in the "media center," which was moved from the third to the first floor of a residential building. In December, it was a place of hope. Telephones sitting between countless computers were ringing throughout the night while students uploaded videos of the latest demonstrations.
But now there’s no electricity, no phone connection, no water. Snipers have shot up the water tanks on the roofs, and the last diesel fuel is being saved for the generator that powers the satellite phone.
Last week, this sole mode of communication was interrupted for six days. Not until Tuesday were Omar Shakir and the others able to relay the news that they were still alive. It’s "a miracle," Shakir says, that the satellite dish on the roof is still standing. He says that only few hundred, or perhaps just a few dozen, FSA fighters are still in the neighborhood, powerless against the vehemence of the tanks.
Hungry, Dying, Trapped
When the shells hit on Wednesday morning, other Western journalists were injured besides Colvin and Ochlik. The British photographer Paul Conroy suffered a severe leg injury, and the French reporter Edith Bouvier suffered a compound fracture to her left leg.
For the moment, both are in the underground hospital in Baba Amr. "But if we don’t get Edith out of here, she won’t survive," says Dr. Mohammed. "She needs to be operated on immediately; she needs a blood transfusion and medication." They are threatened with the same fate of hundreds of Syrians who are slowly dying because they can’t be treated. Perhaps 50 or 100 people died in Baba Amr on Wednesday alone, when the shelling by Assad’s forces started hitting the lower floors of the neighborhood’s houses with increasing frequency.
More than 20,000 people — mostly women, children and the elderly — are still trapped in their houses in Baba Amr. They chose not to flee back when it was still possible to escape by foot. Hardly any of the houses have basements, it’s bitterly cold, there’s no more water, and no food is reaching the neighborhood. Those still living in Baba Amr are at the mercy of the shells that Marie Colvin heard striking 14 times in 30 seconds on Tuesday, during her last interview.
"What’s happening here is genocide," says Shakir, who has to repeat himself on the phone often because the explosions are drowning out his voice. "Assad wants to wipe Baba Amr off the map. He thinks people would then give up."
He compares the situation to Srebrenica, the Bosnian town where more than 8,000 Muslims were massacred in 1995. "And here, too," Shakir says in a bitter tone, "the international community will send an investigative commission after the fact. But we don’t need an investigative commission! We need an end to the bombardment. Please help us, or everyone here will die!"
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:01 am
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