Last week, on November 16th, our dear leader, President Barack Obama stumbled a bit while meeting reporters in Antalya, Turkey where he was attending a Group of 20 summit meeting. The meeting centered on economic matters, but quickly transitioned into an emergency session after the horrifying events of Friday, November 13th in Paris. Speaking in response to questions concerning his recent declaration that the Islamic State was “contained”, Obama struck a defensive and quarrelsome tone in his answers, and he seemed more interested in libeling his domestic political opponents than in showing empathy for the Parisians, or concern for the future in the never ending War on Terror.
Admittedly this President has always been better when reading a speech from a teleprompter rather than speaking extemporaneously from the heart. We do remember, of course, his off the cuff remarks about bitter religious folks clinging to their guns and religion and his response to a self-employed plumber that it is better to “…share the wealth” back in 2008. Still, the boss picked a particularly poor time to exhibit his petulance and irritability to the world, and the international press has begun to take notice. The usual positive coverage gave way last week to more critical reviews highlighting the President’s habit of ridiculing and belittling his opponents and his disturbing tendency to personalize all political disputes.
The purpose of this column is not to point out that the world press has now discovered what many Americans (not only Republican voters) have known since 2007, namely that President Obama is notoriously touchy and does not do constructive criticism well. The purpose, rather, is to point out that when the chips are down, Obama can always retreat to his most reliable defensive redoubt, which is his amen corner in the American press, centered in the Op-Ed pages of the Washington Post.
Last week, Eugene Robinson, the two-column per week star commentator at the Post, mounted his soapbox and, while admitting that Obama’s churlish responses in Turkey were hard to defend, he blamed the remarks on the Republican Party. According to Robinson, “…it’s not hard to understand his (Obama’s) frustration.” Robinson then goes on to carp at the GOP candidates, saying that Obama has a plan, and they have none. He admits that this so-called plan has produced no concrete results, but says that it is better than nothing, and that if the Republicans don’t like this they should substitute their own blueprint instead. This would be, presumably, another example of Obama’s famous “leading from behind” strategy.
Robinson goes on in his column to further insulate his favorite politician from any lasting damage. He admits that Obama’s maladroit response to the Paris situation cannot be defended. “Obama’s tone in addressing the Paris atrocity was all wrong. At times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive…” Robinson then segued to the heart of his column, the main idea being that Republican intransigence is the source of all of Obama’s troubles. He attacks Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, among others, for offering platitudes instead of solutions, and points out that only Lindsey Graham has offered a concrete plan, one that calls for an American led coalition of 100,000 troops. Needless to say, Robinson rejects that idea outright, as would the American public, in all likelihood. Yet Robinson throws down the gauntlet to the GOP, specifically the conservatives, challenging them to solve a problem that Obama prefers to dodge.
It would behoove Eugene Robinson, and for that matter President Obama, to meditate for a while on the nature of leadership. The American people elect one person to serve as the President of the United States. This man is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is the symbol of our nation, the top diplomat, and is the person the nation looks to for leadership, especially in times of crisis. George Washington understood this when he charted a national course in the 1790s, Lincoln understood this when he waged a Herculean struggle to preserve the Union during the Civil War, Kennedy understood this when he pledged to put astronauts on the moon by then end of the 1960s, and Ronald Reagan understood this when he vowed to lead the nation to victory in the Cold War.
It would also be helpful for Mr. Robinson and President Obama to reflect on the nature of politics. They might re-read Gulliver’s Travels and look at Johnathan Swift’s satire of 18th century English politics as the “High Heels, and Low Heels”. They might study the recent past and note the vitriol directed by their Party at the Bush family, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other assorted personages. No one ever said that national politics are fair, honest, and/or honorable. They are, in fact, dirty, lowdown, and shady. If you can’t deal with criticism especially that of the dishonest variety it is time to find a new line of work.
In the particular case of Barack Obama, we have a man who has been the beneficiary of media coverage verging on adoration since 2004. He came on the scene as an intelligent, well-educated, articulate sometime law professor, who happened to be black. He quickly moved into a position as the likely first black presidential candidate, and the first black president, if you discount Bill Clinton. The major media largely extended Obama a free pass on criticism, and he now expects that this will continue forever. He does not like it when this precedent is broken and he faces scrutiny. Fortunately for Obama, he will always have a cheering section that excuses his failings and blames his problems on someone else, that someone being the Republican Party.
We can expect little of substance in the remaining year of Obama’s term. He will deflect any further questions on the terror threat and attempt to turn the political conversation to Obamacare, the booming economy, the harmonious racial relations, and all of the other successes of his storied presidency. There is one thing we can count on: If a Republican candidate wins the next election you can count on the Democrats to lob abuse, insults and rhetorical Molotov cocktails at that person the moment a tragedy strikes. Such is the nature of politics in the modern age.