I suppose if you are a moderate Democrat who believes in some sort of fiscal sobriety and a robust foreign policy (like Bill Clinton’s military intervention in Bosnia) you must be somewhere between disappointed and apoplectic with this president. He’s made zero progress on our real fiscal issue, entitlement reform. He has shrunk from the world in ways hard even for conservatives to have envisioned. If you thought President Obama was going to repair our “standing” in the world, you did not fully appreciate that the correct standing for the United States in Obama’s eyes was akin to that of Belgium — polite and inoffensive.
But let’s say you are a person of the left who believed he would “stop the oceans” from rising, do away with the Bush anti-terrorism architecture, pass serious gun control and bring single-payer health care to the United States, not to mention rip out the Bush tax credits by the roots. Well, you, too, have been left in the lurch; you might blame the Republicans for some of this, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not force Obama to expand the drone problem. And for all the talk about going back to gun legislation or global warming, the president has done nothing for months. The president won’t even put a real liberal, a woman no less, in charge of the Fed (Maureen Dowd is apoplectic). If it weren’t for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the faint hope of immigration reform, you’d have little to cheer for in the second term. Yes, he got Obamacare, but it is a bastardized version of national health care, too complex and unpopular to crow about.
And if you were a Republican who thought the president was Clinton II, able to triangulate in office and use American military power when humanitarian and strategic interests coincided, it turns out you were a fool.
In the most insightful piece written on the Obama foreign policy former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams details that Obama has neither lived up to his billing as a responsible “citizen of the world” (“On the human-rights side, administration policy has been marked by indifference”) nor been willing to wield power as a maestro of realpolitik. He argues:
It is not enough to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan; the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan must also be learned so that those mistakes are never repeated. And the lesson Obama has learned, and wishes to teach to others, is that the exercise of American power, with the sole exception of direct strikes on al-Qaeda terrorists, should be avoided for practical and moral reasons.
This, I believe, is what the president was really talking about when he said, in Berlin: “We are not only citizens of America or Germany. We are also citizens of the world. And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.” He wants us to see that “exuberant desire” as outmoded at best, and dangerous, and morally wrong.
It is not every president who can please so few and infuriate so many. What we see with increasing frequency is a muddled, half-baked response that draws criticism from all points on the political spectrum. His grudging defense of the National Security Agency surveillance program? Libertarians and left-wing critics of government power have figured out that he is doing nothing materially to alter the Bush-era programs; conservatives are miffed he is not forcefully defending the need for such programs. On Syria and Egypt, the president’s incoherence and his refusal to act have united Democrats and Republicans who demand stronger action.
And when it comes to Obamacare, only the GOP internal fight over the harebrained scheme to shut down the government is distracting the media and voters from an underlying reality: The president has created the worst of all worlds. As things stand, individuals will be required to purchase health insurance with no out-of-pocket caps from exchanges that are not set up to secure their personal information or to detect fraud. This, mind you, is the centerpiece of Obama’s presidency.
Republicans have a unique opportunity to find grounds for common cause with Democrats nervous about being marched off to slaughter in 2014 and to formulate arguments that transcend party identification: Obamacare is unworkable; the president is floundering on foreign policy; we still have not gotten to the bottom of the Internal Revenue Service scandal; the economy is not generating enough jobs; and common sense measures like domestic energy development are being sacrificed because of left-wing interest groups.
Make the arguments. Take the votes. Force Democrats to defend the indefensible. And then hold them and the president accountable in 2014 and beyond. That is how the GOP can capitalize on the common dismay of Democrats, independents and Republicans. But, like doctors, Republicans should first pledge to do no harm — to the argument that they are capable of governing and deserving of electoral victory so they can end the parade of horribles that have characterized the second Obama term.