Monday, November 3, 2014

Obama's Failed Presidency and America's Leadership Crisis

"The glory and freshness of a dream. It is not now as it hath been of yore". The words of Wordsworth best befits the state of Obama's presidency. Barack Obama came to Washington D.C. like a triumphant Ceasar and he will leave the White House like Nero. America exulted in the election of the nation's first black president and few would've foreseen a day when his own party candidates, like St. Peter, deny any knowledge of him. The world's richest, most powerful and most innovative country is practically leaderless. What happened and why did a dream become sour?

Nothing about Barack Obama, especially his over-hyped oratorical skill, has ever impressed me or inspired trust in his ability to lead a great country. Today when Obama's approval rating hover in the low 40s I stand vindicated. A New York Times headline humiliatingly informed that "on campaign road, uneasy Democrats show Obama their tail lights". The Democratic party, another article pointed out, is now Clinton's party, not Obama's party. Dana Milbank of Washington Post headlined an article, "Conservatives are finally right: Obama is not a dictator. He's a bystander". Milbank pointed out that he had in the past called Obama as "President passerby", "hapless bystander" and charged that Obama functioned "oddly like a spectator".

The unkindest cuts came from Obama's own former cabinet members. Hillary Clinton, Secretary of state, former opponent and prospective candidate created a furore by saying that Obama's policy of 'don't do stupid stuff' is not an 'organizing principle'. Leon Panetta, former director of CIA and Secretary of defense, was withering in his memoir "Worthy fights". Panetta focused on Obama's disengaged style and lack of thinking through strategic decisions like Syria. Robert Gates, a Bush appointee as Secretary of defense and retained by Obama, was open about how Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both saw the Iraq war through only a political prism. Not even George W Bush came in for such stringent criticisms from senior members of his cabinet.

Obama came to office vowing to show that the government can be 'smart' and disprove conservative criticism that government, dysfunctional by nature, needs to be as small as possible. On this score more than anything Obama is a grand failure. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into the appallingly shoddy roll out of the health care web site that left many including his supporters fuming. News reports repeatedly pointed out how disengaged Obama was on the roll out of a landmark law. The department of Veterans Affairs charged with healthcare of veterans was a cesspool of incompetency where a huge cover up, across the nation, took place to cover the inordinate waiting time for veterans to receive care. The IRS was caught acting partisan. The Secret Service was caught in a web of scandals involving prostitutes and gross negligence leading to the firing of their chief. The CDC's handling of the Ebola breakout eroded faith in the one agency that Americans tended to trust more than any. The incompetence of Obama's administration makes Bush's administration look better by contrast and that says a lot. In all instances the worst part was that Obama learned about a crisis from news reports. Democratic supporters and columnists sympathetic to the administration themselves have now started saying in chorus that the dysfunction is the direct result of Obama's lack of management.

In his inaugural address Obama declared, airily, that Americans reject the 'false choice between security and values'. That Obama is the president who oversaw the worst administration that willy nilly spied on American citizens in a scope that shocked the conscience of many. He also has the dubious honor of launching punitive drone strikes where the casualties are counted in such a way, according to principles accepted by him, to undercount civilian deaths. Jill Abramson, former editor of New York Times, called Obama's administration the "most secretive administration" since Richard Nixon's administration. Susan Page of USA Today said this is the "most dangerous" administration. Obama's Department of Justice has pursued reporters with a zeal and tyrannical glee that has sent the chill down the spine of many a reporter. A Fox News reporter was even charged with being a co-conspirator for refusing to reveal source of a news. Frankly, if the President had been a republican the press would have pilloried him endlessly and mercilessly unlike the muted condemnations that are being sprinkled now. In any other administration if US senators had been spied upon by CIA the press and Congress would've erupted in volcanic rage. Obama has made Bush appear reticent when it comes to testing the limits of constitutional propriety.

Restoring US credibility in the world arena was a prime commitment of Obama after the Bush years. Spying on the leader of a nation that's a close ally is not a good way to make friends and Obama learned that lesson after the NSA was caught snooping on Angela Merkel of Germany. After declaring haughtily in a press meet that he is drawing a 'red line' in the Syrian imbroglio Obama walked back his words and declared, again haughtily, that it was the world that drew a red line. By now the world understood that the US President's bluff can be called out. Obama mocked Romney for calling Russia our enemy number 1. Thanks to Putin Romney stands vindicated. In his zeal to be defined as the 'not-Bush' persona Obama pulled out of Iraq in haste and today Iraq appears to be run over a murderous ISIS army. There is no part of the World today where Obama's words carry any weight. Other than ending wars Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster. Fresh after his Ceasar like inauguration Obama and Michelle went abroad to lobby for Chicago to be the city to host the next Olympics. Thanks to their lobbying Chicago was eliminated in the first round.

Bill Clinton is often derisively called the master of triangulation but grudgingly admired for his ability to mud wrestle with his opponents to finagle an agreement or a compromise. Obama with his airy "I shall not soil my hands" attitude and undisguised contempt for the political process is singularly devoid of any ability to be a leader. Bob Woodward recounts in his book 'Price of politics'  the vacuous leadership of Obama during the debt deal negotiations in 2012. While Woodward faulted both Democrats and Republicans for failing to resolve America's debt issue he singled out Obama for harsh criticism since as President he has  to take the blame for lack of leadership.

America faces serious challenges. Prophesying the decline of American power is a cottage industry amongst authors. The biggest challenge facing the country is the crushing debt that is driven by 'entitlement spending'. New York Times has called the Affordable Care Act, pejoratively called by many as Obamacare, a success based on the millions of previously uninsured who had enrolled. The same article also stated that a vast majority of the new enrollees are in Medicaid, the Federal program to provide insurance to low income people, and that too a majority of such enrollees receive subsidies. Essentially this is the largest wealth transfer program in US history. Romney lost the presidency for stating a fact- that nearly 47% Americans do not pay taxes. Obama, in his role as high priest of liberalism, thinks he can balance the debt on the backs of just 2% of American tax payers. Overhauling the byzantine tax code, broadening the tax base, realistic cuts to entitlements are needed urgently to ensure the fiscal health of USA.

Immigration is another very serious challenge facing America. While Democrats, especially Obama, have happily reaped votes from the Hispanic lobby promising immigration reform they have been equally happy on not doing anything to resolve the issue lest they lose a wedge issue that is advantageous to them. The GOP is being ridiculously bull headed in not just falling to resolve this but in damaging its electoral prospects when a presidential candidate suggests illegal immigrants to 'self-deport' themselves. Obama's administration deported hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants until Obama, facing an election, decided to stop the deportations. Obama repeatedly allowed politics to determine what he does or does not do about immigration. When Obama announced he was going to announce executive actions this summer Democrats facing re-election pleaded that he postpone any action until after the election. The Hispanic lobby is livid that lives are being treated like a political football. At last they too understood who Obama is.

Has Obama ascending to the White House done any good for African-Americans? In a word, no. Obama, ever eager to win re-election and political success sought to actively distance himself from even appearing to address any problems specific to Afro-American community. When supporters were invited to the White House and given talking points for re-election the Afro-American representatives found themselves with no instructions since the White House did not want to be seen as advocating any issue relating to them lest it anger the rest of the electorate. Early on during Obama's first term Shirley Sherrod, an African-American employee in the Department of Agriculture,  ran into a controversy when an edited video of her speaking appeared in a right wing online site and seemed to show that she was unwilling to help White farmers. The Obama administration and NAACP eagerly condemned her and forced her to resign. Only later did the full video surface and Sherrod was vindicated that she did not refuse help to a couple because they were white. If this had happened under a White president and that too a Republican president the entire black community would have been enraged.

Obama has single handedly encouraged the politics of envy with his rhetoric about Wall Street, corporations and the top 2% of the income demographics. The Economist magazine recently pointed out how Democrats win elections by populist promises and shrill rhetoric about the rich. Never in recent history have achievers and job creators had it so bad as in the Obama era.

Infrastructure, roads, bridges and airports, in the world's richest country is crumbling. Anyone passing through JFK or Newark International Airport and driving through Verrazano Narrows Bridge or I-95 will be appalled at the state of America's infrastructure. Obama supports infrastructure spending only as an avenue to grease the greed of construction unions. Between the greed of unions, avaricious lawyers and a run away environmental lobby it is almost impossible to build a Golden Gate bridge or a Brooklyn Bridge or a sprawling airport.

Republican party, for their share, have become the party of crazies. The Tea Party revolt yanked the GOP to a crazy far right wing corner. Pushing to the country into a debt default, ranting about abortions, ludicrous ideas on 'legitimate rape' etc have alienated the GOP from a large section of the population. Though the GOP might deliver a blow to democrats in Tuesday's mid-term elections winning the White House remains a dream. Republicans lost the popular vote in 5 out of the last 6 Presidential elections, of which 4 were lost in landslides. Mitt Romney, being no Reagan, could not become the voice of capitalism and rebuff Obama team's malicious attacks on him and the free market that made him rich. The GOP lacks an intellectual leader who can be the voice of free market against a democratic party that is fast becoming Marxist in its outlook.

All is not gloom however. American economy still remains the most resilient, the most dominant and the most innovative in the world. Facebook, iPhone, iPod, Twitter, Google, Driver less cars, Tesla and many other technical innovations of the past decade are still coming out of only America and are impossible to happen anywhere else.America still remains, by comparison, an open economy welcoming thousands of foreigners as students and workers. Much to the chagrin of many the American financial sector remains a robust component of a great economy. America, to the surprise of the world, is now a net energy exporter thanks to the fracking boom that has unleashed America's potential on energy and remade the energy landscape.

America is looking for a leader to emerge and be its voice. The list of presidential hopefuls from both parties is uninspiring. Whether it is has-beens, like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush or scary ideological extremists like Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren or head scratching flip floppers like Rand Paul or a novice like Marco Rubio, that are spoken of as presidential contenders. In one word, uninspiring. The country needs a leader who will unleash America's innate unmatched energy to innovate, to create, to take risks and be rewarded handsomely. The country needs a leader who will speak of equal opportunities and not equal outcomes.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

                                              --- 'The Second Coming' by W.B. Yeats

Let not some candidate slouch towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. America needs a leader to tell her that she is still the shining city on a hill. America needs a president who will embrace the American spirit and American exceptionalism.

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