Our Most Overestimated President

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

This past weekend’s Wall Street Journal carried an article entitled “Our Most Peculiar President” which reviews two new books on former President Richard M. Nixon. The reviewer concludes that Mr. Nixon was an extreme introvert in an extreme extrovert job. The lengths to which Mr. Nixon would go to avoid engagement in social discourse – focused primarily on conversations with others – were extraordinary. Virtually everyone in Washington was aware of Mr. Nixon’s peculiarities – meaning that the press had to also know – and yet it was left to the historians to compile and comment on those peculiarities decades later.

It has been nearly four decades since Mr. Nixon was forced to resign the presidency in disgrace. It will probably be another forty years before the historians have banished the progressive sycophants and deal honestly with the peculiarities of President Barack Obama. And when they do one startling characteristic will subtend all of the actions of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Mr. Obama entered office accompanied by trumpets blaring, Greek columns rising and his own Messianic pronouncement that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” Mr. Obama was immediately hailed as the smartest person to ever be elected President. That effervescent pronouncement has faded intro grudging resentment over failure on an epic scale.

Mr. Obama has a prodigious memory. He absorbs facts and data at a phenomenal rate and seemingly stores them forever – thereafter to be returned at the drop of a hat. There are few subjects that Mr. Obama cannot drop into and contribute a stream of facts, anecdotes and/or commentary forged by others. What he cannot do is assemble that myriad of facts and data into defensible solutions for complex problems. To wit:

Mr. Obama was the head of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. As such he was expected to write the premier law review article for the year. Such articles generally require not just a command of facts and law but the ability to organize them into commentary on a critical, and usually unsettled, point of law. So widely recognized is the value of such articles that the United States Supreme Court has routinely included reference to such articles as support or justification when deciding cases involving such critical issues. The process for creating and publishing such an article in the Harvard Law Review requires research, analysis, draft submissions, defense of premises and positions, and edits to accommodate (either accepting or countering) contra-positions. It is not unlike the practice of law in which positions, arguments, and assertions are tested against equals with a third party ultimately making the decision. Mr. Obama has been the only head of the Harvard Law Review to fail to publish such an article.

When Mr. Obama completed law school he declined to enter the practice of law thus avoiding the contest of opinions, the preparation and debate in defense of those opinions and the uncertainty of a third party’s ultimate decision as to the merit of his opinions. Instead he became a “community organizer” and a part-time lecturer at a Chicago law school. While there is “confrontation” involved in the role of “community organizer” is mostly theatre and publicity. There is no “opponent” of equal standing facing you and prepared to counter your assertions with facts, law, and reasoning. There is just you and the television cameras, the placards with slogans, and success measured not by whether you are right or wrong but rather by the “minutes of air time”, the column inches of newsprint or the cadence of the supporting chorus.

As a part time lecturer in law school, Mr. Obama was able to state his opinions without contest. Students are there to learn and record, not to debate with the teacher who determines their grades.

Mr. Obama became of member of the Illinois legislature. The whole concept of legislation is centered on debate and compromise in which successful legislators prevail by not only understanding their own position but the position of others with a corresponding ability to find the middle ground between those positions. Some flourish in those setting and become the leaders within those bodies. Mr. Obama remained a “back bencher” who avoided the confrontation of debate and the defense of his positions. He often voted “present” to avoid taking and defending a position. He authored no substantive legislation. He led no committees. He had few friends and fewer people who looked to him for leadership. He solved no problems.

Mr. Obama’s short term as a United States Senator was an echo of his time in the Illinois legislature. He authored no substantive legislation. He led no committees. He solved no problems. His singular act of notoriety was his rhetorical skills. He gave great speeches – almost always outside the arena of the debating forum of the Senate – in places where no one was present to contradict him or to test his facts, arguments or rationale. But even in those great speeches Mr. Obama never proposed unique solutions to specific problems but rather contented himself with urging the shopworn ideology of the liberal/progressive movement. Again, Mr. Obama had few friends in the Senate and fewer people who looked to him for leadership or solutions.

In an August 19, 2014 article published by The Wire, Arit John notes:

“Once again, we’re reminded that President Obama is aloof and hasn’t made friends in Congress, even with his fellow Democrats, thanks to a new story from the New York Times. The Times story interviews several Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid’s chief of staff, Sen. Joe Manchin and others, most of whom grumbled about wishing Obama would try harder to help them out.

Obama’s aversion to schmoozing isn’t new, something The Times admits, writing ‘grumbling by lawmakers about a president is nothing unusual.’ But!:

‘What is striking now is the way prominent Democrats’ views of Mr. Obama’s shortcomings are spilling out into public, and how resigned many seem that the relationship will never improve.’“Reid’s discontent, voiced by his staffer, is pretty high profile complaining, but there’s never been a shortage of politicians, including Democrats, ready to decry Obama’s aloofness. Over the years dozens of stories have described the relationship between a president who wants to be “above it all” and members of Congress who want the president to pose for photos they can hang on their walls. . .”

What these members of Congress object to mostly was and is Mr. Obama’s refusal to engage in the “give and take” of debate – to defend his thoughts and solutions, to listen to theirs and provide constructive responses. There is no greater insult to a person of importance (even if it is self-importance) than to be ignored. What these members of Congress fail to appreciate is not that Mr. Obama will not engage in the “give and take” of debate but rather that he lacks the ability to thus engage.

Mr. Obama’s inability to engage in interlocution carries over onto the international stage. His failures to cross swords with friends and foes alike reads like a list of Who’s Who among the world’s leaders. Vladmir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, Hosni Mubarack, Mohamed Morsi, Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega, and on and on and on. Because of his inability to engage Mr. Obama has taken to “neutral” forums to criticize these world leaders – forums in which he cannot be questioned and in which no response is available. And to make matters worse the criticism are of a personal nature rather than a substantive nature. Mr. Obama does not describe in terms of facts, data and rationale the essence of disagreement but rather demeans as irrelevant or subservient those who disagree. One can recall that when Putin invaded the Crimea, Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sniffed imperiously that “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.”

The same is true for his dealings with Congress. A Huffington Post article dated June 6, 2015 detailed the Democrat rebellion against Mr. Obama’s Trade Promotion Authority bill:

“But the president’s 11th-hour pitch may have backfired. Some of the Democrats leaving the meeting said Obama promptly insulted their integrity, took no questions and left.

“’Basically, the president tried to both guilt people and then impugn their integrity,’ said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). ‘There were a number of us who were insulted by the approach.

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“Lawmakers leaving Friday’s caucus meeting took issue with Obama repeatedly used the phrase “play it straight” in making his pitch. . .

“‘He was eloquent in terms of saying that he respected our opinion,’ [Rep. Charles] Rangel continued. ‘Where he kind of went off is in believing that anyone voting against TAA was not playing it straight.’”

Mr. Obama used similar language elsewhere. In a recent speech in Minnesota, Mr. Obama is quoted by USA Today:

“They’re phony scandals that are generated,” Obama said. “It’s all geared towards the next election or ginning up a base — it’s not on the level.”

And on the international scene Mr. Obama chose to attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns about the pending Iran nuclear negotiations not by debating the fact or logic but by attacking Mr. Netanyahu’s motive. He chose to characterize Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress on the dangers of Iran and the negotiations as “electioneering” by Mr. Netanyahu who he characterized as facing a close and difficult re-election bid. When Mr. Netanyahu, contrary to Mr. Obama’s characterization, swept to an easy and overwhelming re-election, Mr. Obama refused to congratulate him on his victory for nearly three days.

The inability to engage is understandable – not everyone possesses the capacity for critical thinking – but the personal attacks, the diminution of the stature of others as a cover for your own shortcomings is the mark of a small and insecure person.

Critical thinking – problem analysis, crafting solutions, vetting solutions in debate, and boldly implementing the results – is one of the hallmarks of leadership. Lacking such skills and refusing to listen to anyone who possesses them has confined Mr. Obama to the slagheap of failures.