Whether it's Bush or Obama, if he is not your president, then you are not my countryman

Congratulations, Mr. President.  I voted for the other guy, but I wish you well — and if you had to win, I’m deeply relieved that Florida doesn’t matter this time.

Once again, you’ve inherited a mess from your predecessor.  This time, you won’t be able to get as much mileage from blaming him.  One of the beauties of our two-party system is that eventually, both parties end up sharing the responsibility for every major issue.

Unlike some of your critics, I don’t think your re-election is a disaster.  Even though you’ll continue to be the most powerful person in the world, you are not powerful enough to inflict serious long-term damage on America.  We survived Nixon’s thuggery, Carter’s ineptitude and Clinton’s reckless sexual predation, and we’ll survive Obamacare and anything else you may throw at us.

To me, Obamacare was the most important reason to defeat you.  The day before the election, Christopher DeMuth described the stakes as he saw them:

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls to choose whether or not to nationalize their health-care system. …

If President Barack Obama is re-elected, ObamaCare’s controls over doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical firms and other providers of medical care will be tightened, and the operations of private insurance companies will be progressively restricted. Everyone involved will know where the process is going—to a single-payer system or one with a few chosen insurers subject to national public-utility controls—and will negotiate the best possible accommodations to it. Within a few years, a new political equilibrium will be in place, making the system irreversible and subject to only marginal adjustment.

The Heritage Foundation has a helpful Obamacare tax chart -- click for more details

Well, maybe.  I sure wish we had elected a Republican president and enough Republican senators to overturn Obamacare altogether, but we did not.  However, opposition to socialized healthcare is not going to go away. When the tax increases start kicking in a few weeks from now, you may find that your predecessor has bequeathed you a healthcare system so deeply unpopular that you may not be able to enforce party discipline to protect it.

I’m also not overly worried about continuing to entrust you with our national security — although again, I would have preferred the other guy as commander-in-chief.  Despite the ridiculous Nobel Peace Prize, you’ve steered well clear of the moral bankruptcy of pacifism.  To your credit, you green-lighted the risky takedown of Osama bin Laden, rather than taking the safer route of a Predator missile — and you’ve used those Predators to take out thousands of enemy combatants.  You retained Bush’s defense secretary and his strategy for Iraq, and mimicked his surge in Afghanistan.

Heck, you even started a totally unnecessary war in Libya, where we had no national interests at stake.  I don’t want to encourage unnecessary wars, but at least this one got rid of a very bad man, and up until Benghazi it seemed to be turning out all right.  Your administration’s inattention to a deteriorating situation cost four brave men their lives in Benghazi.  But at the risk of sounding flip, all presidents make mistakes that get brave people killed.

If America never uses its military strength, then all that money spent on defense truly is wasted.  On balance I think your Libya adventure was probably unwise, but I like my presidents to have a bias toward action in the face of evil people.  When, not if, the war with Iran enters its kinetic phase, I’m confident now (as I was not in 2008) that you will not preemptively surrender.  And despite your occasionally shoddy treatment of our ally Israel, I have no doubt which side you’ll take.  Even during the crucible of the final weeks of the campaign, you’ve already started laying the ground work for war, through joint exercises with Israel and by condoning Israel’s attack on a weapons plant in Sudan.

You have a tough job ahead of you, Mr. President.  So did your predecessor.  However wrong-headed some of your policies may be, I believe you to be a good and decent family man, a person of substance, and a person dedicated to doing what you believe is right for America. I can’t find the link now, but to paraphrase another voice on the right: The fact that our political system has given us a choice of two such candidates is a testament to the enduring strength of America.

Good luck, Mr. President, and may God watch over you and those you serve.

At church today I had the privilege of reading excerpts, from the lectern, of one of the greatest speeches in American history.

I was worried that I wouldn’t make it all the way through without crying.  I have a Boehner-like tendency to dissolve in tears on solemn occasions — not just at funerals, but also at weddings and ordinations, and whenever some spoken sentiment profoundly moves me.

This is the weekend of Martin Luther King Day, and it was only 15 minutes or so before the opening hymn this morning that I learned I would be reading from Dr. King’s speech. I was intent on doing justice to the text, so I ignored the early part of the service as I sat in the pew, listening to the famous cadences march through my mind. Here is the passage that choked me up repeatedly; it’s at about the 6-minute mark in the video:

I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

A dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  Dr. King had grievances with some Americans, but a deep love for America.  Yes, I know about the dalliance with socialism, and about the anti-war activism that sometimes lapsed into anti-American rhetoric.  But Dr. King deserves to be judged on the totality of his life, and for paving a path for others to follow.

Nearly half a century later, another skilled black orator would proclaim America’s greatness even while urging Americans to do better. In eulogizing a murdered nine-year-old girl last week, President Obama said:

We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

When Dr. King gave his famous speech, Obama was just two years old — too young to share Christina’s interest in politics.  But Obama came of age in a society profoundly shaped by Dr. King’s legacy — so profoundly that a daughter of a slave lived long enough to vote for the first black president.

Ulysses Grant Dietz

I made it through my reading of Dr. King’s speech this morning, then returned to my pew to listen to a moving sermon by parishioner Ulysses Grant Dietz, the great-great-grandson of the general who won the war that freed the slaves.

Ulysses talked about “the bubble of integration and acceptance of diversity” that we enjoy in Maplewood, NJ.

My children, who are not white, have never been taunted because of their skin color, nor because they are adopted, nor because they have two fathers, nor because one of their fathers is Jewish.  They have black friends, and Asian friends, and white friends, and even gay friends—all of which would have been unimaginable in the Syracuse of my childhood.

The road to civil rights paved by MLK Jr. is not complete. The legal instruments of justice and equal civil rights for all Americans are largely in place—with some glaring exceptions. Living into those legal facts, however, is still, as we all know too well, a work in progress.  But we are on that road, and together we are moving forward.

America is not perfect, but it is exceptional.  Dr. King helped make it a better place through his leadership, his eloquence and his sacrifice.  Happy Martin Luther King Day.

noble_medalsWhat to make of the bizarre awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a president who had completed 0.82% of his term at the time the nominations were due?

Or, as Claudia Rosette frames the question, “What Price for Obama’s Nobel Prize?“  Her conclusion:

America, in the course of defending its own freedoms, has long extended to the likes of Norway, Denmark and Sweden a protective umbrella. Under that shelter, too many Europols have come to believe that peace is a function of nothing more than talk and hope and dreams and … premature prizes.

Obama said on Friday morning that he will accept this award as “a call to action.” Action on whose behalf? The five Norwegians who make up the Nobel peace prize committee chose to give him this award, for their own purposes. Obama, and America, owe them nothing. The real hope is that Obama will remember he took an oath (twice) not to serve as global spokesman for the Norwegian Nobel Committee, but “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Before his presidency is over, keeping faith with that oath may require him to do things [that] would knock the stuffing out of the featherbed philosophy of this sanctimonious crowd of Scandinavian free-riders.

To pick a completely unhypothetical example, it may require him to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.  At first blush, the Nobel Prize may seem to make it harder for an Obama administration to do anything involving a projection of American military power.

But there’s another way of looking at it.  While the prize is ridiculous, it’s not Obama’s fault that it was awarded.  At the risk of indulging in wishful thinking, the prize may give him protective cover to act in the long-term interests of peace — even when it involves military action in the short run.  If so, it would be part of the silver lining I’ve been monitoring since Election Day.

Thank You, Mr. President, For Your Message to Kids

obama schoolCan we now please have an end to the silliest non-controversy of the young Obama administration?

I caught the tail end of the President’s speech on CNN’s live stream, and I’ve read the prepared text.  The kids just saw a highly accomplished black man, who lives with his wife and plays an active role in raising their delightful young children, tell students of all races that it’s important to stay in school and do their best.

Any excuse for staging such an event is a good enough excuse for me.  Given that the black man in question is our President, it would be a huge opportunity lost for him not to provide a back-to-school message.

Here’s the beginning of the part I caught, from the prepared text:

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

Hear, hear. Fellow conservatives would be well-advised to save their criticism for more consequential debates.

Mr. Obama’s War: I Told You So

President Bush salutes in front of General David Petraeus
and Admiral William Fallon, September 2007, in Iraq

President Obama today announced an Iraq withdrawal plan that George Bush would be proud to call his own. Actually, it IS Bush’s own.

Don’t be fooled by the lawyerly language in his pledge to complete “the responsible removal of our combat brigades from Iraq” by August 2010. He’s leaving up to 50,000 troops in place until the end of 2011, and I guarantee that they’ll have weapons and the capability of responding with more than battalion strength. I’m not sure how he’s defining “combat brigades,” but he must be dancing close to an outright lie — a brigade is only 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, it looks to me like he’s leaving three divisions in place.

Thank God.

Fully seven months ago, in July, I wrote the following:

If it’s going to become Mr. Obama’s war, I can take some comfort in the fact that at least he’s showing signs of an ability to think independently of the extreme pacifist wing of his party.

Candidate Obama already was tacking to the right on the war — his clarion call for surrender lost its usefulness as a wedge issue once Hillary Clinton withdrew from the race. The previously hapless George Bush had finally found the right general and the right strategy. Well before the election, even Obama had to acknowledge that the surge had “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

After winning in November, Obama co-opted Hillary and her one-time support for the war by naming her Secretary of State. But the clearest indication that the grown-ups would be in charge of the war came when Obama announced that he was retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq. I feel much better about the Obama Presidency now than I did on Election Day.

The Bush Administration won the war in Iraq just in time, making it too late for the Democrats to surrender. The real test will come with the war Obama says he wants to fight, in Afghanistan. I wish him every success.

(Photo: Associated Press)

Today’s edition of Obama Silver Lining Watch (hereafter OSLW) starts with a trip down memory lane.

In my very first substantive post on this blog, way back in July 2008, I discussed how Obama was, inevitably, moderating his stance on multiple issues after finally knocking Hillary Clinton out of the race:

But it turns out Obama is a politician. After winning the Democratic nomination by appealing to the young, the idealists, the activists and the pacifists, he’s swerved right so fast that many of his supporters have whiplash.

Now that he’s won the general election, I’ve blogged several times about my relief at the extent to which Obama has not swerved back to the left. But the very signals that I find encouraging are causing consternation in other quarters.

In an essay titled “The Coming Rift,” Abe Greenwald argues at CommentaryMagazine.com that Obama and the Democratic leadership are much more in tune with the Republicans than they are with the liberal Democratic base. Noting the recent support for Israel’s current Gaza offensive from Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, Greenwald says:

On matters of foreign policy, social policy, and economics, Democratic leadership is largely indistinguishable from the Republican variety. And Democratic voters have noticed.

The best part of the essay is where Greenwald analyzes the role of Bush Derangement Syndrome (he doesn’t use that term) in creating a disconnect for Democrats:

The runaway train of preposterous (and liberal) expectations that delivered Barack Obama into the White House first gained speed as a runaway train full of preposterous accusations against George W. Bush. With their cartoonish demonization of every Bush policy and associate, groups like the Daily Kos and Moveon.org made it impossible for any liberal with a web browser to give a single conservative policy a fair shake. Barack Obama’s exploitation and mobilization of this online hysteria made for an unstoppable campaign, but also for an illusory state of political affairs. Democratic politicians, President-elect Obama included, always knew better than the frenzied multitude that voted in “change.” But the netroots were duped as a result of their own momentum.

It’s too early to know how the betrayed will repay their leaders in the next Congressional or Presidential elections, but if Democratic fragmentation is to be avoided down the line, perhaps the introspection about re-branding, redefining, and reaching out needs to happen on the Left.

Democratic activists can be vindictive. In 2000, Joe Lieberman was the party’s VP candidate. Just six years later he was denied his own party’s nomination for re-election to the Senate, and two years after that he became an absolute pariah for daring to campaign for McCain on the basis of support for the Iraq War. The analogy is inexact — Obama clearly is a darling of the liberal Democratic base in a way that Lieberman never was. But that could make the left’s sense of betrayal sting all the more in the context of some future hard decision by President Obama.

Left-wing anger could damage Obama’s effectiveness, but I see happier possibilities for Obama and for our country.

Obama’s election victory was the product of two powerful forces: Obama’s own undeniable charisma, combined with Bush’s liabilities. In turn, Bush’s problems also had two parts: frenzied hatred from the left and dissatisfaction from many across the rest of the political spectrum.

Starting two short weeks from now, Bush will become largely irrelevant. President Obama will be the leader of what Newsweek controversially (but correctly, I think) called a center-right nation. If, as I expect, Obama makes grown-up decisions that infuriate the extreme left, he’ll still have a broad base of support from the center and from some on the right. In the process, Obama — like Clinton before him — may help move the center of gravity of the Democratic party away from the leftist fringe.

(Photo Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images. Note that Obama is leaning to his right.)

Obama Silver Lining Watch (Gitmo Edition)

“The single best thing about the election of Obama may be that we now have a chance to view the terror threat without the distorting lens of Bush hatred.”

So says Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush Administration, as quoted in a William McGurn column in today’s WSJ. The topic of the column is Guantanamo, and McGurn describes reports that Obama may tread cautiously despite his campaign promise to close the prison camp and move the remaining 250 detainees.

During the campaign, of course, both John McCain and Barack Obama vowed to close Gitmo down. But a President Obama will likely find it easier to do the prudent thing. As a Republican hawk charged by his opponent with representing a third Bush term, Mr. McCain would have been under immense pressure to prove that he wasn’t George W. Bush. And a hasty closing of Guantanamo would have been a high-profile way to do it.

Fortunately, Mr. Obama is under no such pressure. …

Yes, it’s a double standard. But it could turn out to be a good thing for the nation. What the American people need today is a sensible policy that recognizes three facts: that terrorists present a unique challenge to our rules of war; that capturing and holding terrorists is different from capturing and holding criminals or prisoners of war; and that the men and women who set up Guantanamo did so not because they were out to shred the Constitution but because, faced with some very imperfect choices, this was thought to be the best way to protect the American people.

Six weeks from today, Barack Obama becomes commander-in-chief of the global war against Islamic fascism, as well as the active combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama won the Democratic nomination on a platform of surrender in the Iraqi theater, but events overtook him — it’s now too late to surrender there, as the war in Iraq has largely been won.

By retaining the Secretary of Defense who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq, Obama has signaled that he will take seriously his duty to protect American interests. Caution on Guantanamo is a similar signal. Sometime in 2009, I fully expect Obama to begin explaining why America’s best interests are served by a stable democracy in Iraq — rather than chaos in the wake of a too-hasty withdrawal. And because the explanation will no longer be coming from the hated Bush, both of America’s major political parties will begin to have a stake in the success of the war effort.

That’s why this McCain voter sees yet another silver lining in Obama’s electoral victory. (Wait a minute… silver lining? Are you calling Obama a “dark raincloud”? Don’t even go there.)

Reasons for Republicans to be Thankful

Jennifer Rubin offers some Thanksgiving cheer at Pajamas Media. I don’t agree with every word of her post, but I love these parts:

First, President-elect Barack Obama won by assuring voters he would pursue tax cuts, victory in Afghanistan, prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and go “line by line” through the federal budget to eliminate waste and unneeded programs. We can doubt his sincerity or ability to achieve these ends, but he won by recognizing and espousing center-right principles. If he pursues some or all of them, the country will be the better for it. If he doesn’t, he is unlikely to succeed or maintain the broad-based popularity needed to keep Democrats in power.

Second, Hillary Clinton, James L. Jones, and Robert Gates are on tap to fill key national security roles. This is not the crew to bug out of Iraq before the job is done, repeal FISA, rush off to meet with Ahmadinejad, or support a 25% cut in defense spending. On national security, the president-elect in essence has conceded that the Left’s vision is impractical and dangerous. …

Ninth, President George W. Bush and General David Petraeus persevered against tremendous odds and have placed us on the verge of one of the great military turnarounds in our history. We can disagree about the wisdom of the decision to go to war in Iraq, but a victory with a stable Iraq allied with the U.S. and a humiliated al-Qaeda is now within our grasp. By avoiding defeat and empowering an Arab nation to take up arms and defeat Islamic terrorists, Bush and Petraeus furthered the security of the U.S., the region, and our allies around the world.

Rubin’s post is headlined “Ten Reasons for Conservatives to be Thankful.” I substituted “Republicans” in my headline because after describing myself as a liberal for most of my life, I can’t quite get my brain wrapped around the idea that I’m a conservative. I’m certainly right-of-center on economic and national security issues, but I’m pro-choice and I favor marriage equality for same-sex couples. I guess that makes me a libertarian… except hard-core libertarians tend to oppose the Iraq war, which I strongly support.

Also, once you get too far out on the libertarian spectrum you’ve got anarchy. This 64-question libertarian purity test gives you extra purity points for a desire to abolish government, privatize roads, police forces, etc. I’m a big fan of capitalism and market-based incentives, but I think we need some government.

Here’s a much shorter quiz (10 questions) to help locate your political identity. Here’s the result I got:


Bullseye. Happy Thanksgiving.

Evidence That Obama May Not Be a Socialist


Here’s hoping that whatever socialist tendencies President-elect Obama may have will be tempered by recognition of the success of his remarkably entrepreneurial, decentralized campaign.

Bret Swanson floats this idea in today’s WSJ (free link), in a piece headlined “Obama Ran A Capitalist Campaign.” Some excerpts:

The results of Mr. Obama’s decentralized Web effort were staggering: 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 50,000 local events, 1.5 million Web volunteers, and 3.1 million donors who contributed almost $700 million. …

The key question now is how will Mr. Obama govern? Will he stick with the policies he ran on or adopt the approach that he won with?

The only way a president can maximize economic growth is to unleash diffuse networks of entrepreneurs. As economist Bob Litan of the Kauffman Foundation says, “Government can’t compel growth.” But Mr. Obama’s plans — “card check” legislation to allow workers to unionize a workplace without a secret ballot election; curbing free trade; a government-led “green economy”; and higher tax rates on capital and entrepreneurs — do not reflect his campaign’s deep trust in individuals.

A thought experiment, Mr. President-elect: What if as your campaign raised more and more money it was taxed away and given to Mr. McCain to level the field? Or think of this: What if you were not allowed to opt out of the public financing scheme that left Mr. McCain with a paltry $84 million, about a quarter of your autumn total?

Opting out of monopolistic, closed or centralized systems is often the path to innovation. Sometimes we opt out through the relaxation of regulations. More often, technology allows us to leap, obliterate or ignore the obstacles altogether.

Further evidence that Obama understands the magic of capitalism can be seen from the fact that he has attracted a prominent critic from his left: Anti-Corporate Buffoon Ralph Nader, who asked on election day if Obama would be Uncle Sam or “Uncle Tom.” This offered a rare opportunity to see a Fox News anchor who has Obama’s back (4:48):

P.S.: It also provides a rare example of a criticism of Obama that actually IS racial code.

A McCain Voter Finds Silver Linings

Differences on policy issues should not, on this day, obscure the marvel that has occurred. A man who in his early childhood could not use certain public restrooms has just been elected to the most powerful office in the world.

The 109-year-old daughter of a slave lived long enough to help elect a black president.

There will always be toxic individuals, but it’s now permissible to hope that we may have seen “The End of Racism” as a potent force in our society.

I’ve read a lot of conservative commentary in the past few hours, some of it cranky and bitter, more of it gracious and respectful. Here’s an excerpt from my favorite, from Mike Potemra in The Corner:

I voted for John McCain because I admire him immensely as a person, and agree with him on many more issues than I do with Senator Obama. And I ask a rhetorical question: Can we McCain voters, without embarrassment, shed a tear of patriotic joy about the historic significance of what just happened? And I offer a short, rhetorical answer.

Yes, we can.

As Peggy Noonan said earlier, “this means a great deal.”

It also means a great deal that America’s first black President is not a grievance monger like Jesse Jackson or a race-baiting thug like Al Sharpton. Obama is an archetypal family man who exudes a sense of calm leadership and stresses personal responsibility, and who built a winning coalition by earning the support of millions of people of all races. Jackson, who as recently as 2006 was named America’s “most important black leader,” will never wear that mantle again, and America will be the better for it.

More silver linings (and no, dammit, the silver lining metaphor is NOT racial code):

  • As I’ve written before, it’s probably too late to surrender in Iraq — even though Obama’s support for doing so helped him win the Democratic nomination. Enough progress has been made that once it becomes Mr. Obama’s war, 76 days from now, he will not want to be the President who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Obama’s election will, at least temporarily, dramatically improve America’s standing in the eyes of the rest of the world. (I consider this to be similar to the redemptive benefit of electing a black President. It’s not reason enough for me to vote for Obama in a time of war, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be pleased by that part of the package.) When the time comes to respond to the next terrorist assault, President Obama will be more free of the phony unilateralist label than President McCain could ever hope to be.
  • Despite holding the Presidency and both houses of Congress, the Democrats will be constrained in their ability to increase the size of government by the financial crisis that will take at least a year or two to unwind. The Obama Administration may well turn out, against its instincts, to be more financially conservative than the Bush Administration. Not a high hurdle, I admit.

I’ll close this tour of silver linings by returning to the theme of the first post I wrote about Obama: I Prefer the Chicago Politician to the Obamessiah. Obama is an extraordinarily charismatic and talented politician. To quote The Corner again:

The manner of this political victory is important, as well. This was not some prize bestowed upon him, and Barack Obama didn’t just buy a winning lottery ticket; he out-smarted and out-worked both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. It is healthy that the American political system gathers the energies and talents of those who feel excluded into the nation to change it, rather than pushing them away from the nation to oppose it.

“Politics” is often considered a dirty word, but politics is the craft of government, and America has elected a master craftsman. He is a man comfortable in his own skin. Even while taking full electoral advantage of the cult-like following he inspired, he remained self-aware enough to jokingly deny rumors that he was “born in a manger.”

Although I’ve written at length about his occasional appalling choices in associates, to me that always seemed much more of a blot on his judgment than on his own moral character. No person is without flaws, and no successful politician can always take the high road. But I believe President-Elect Obama — like the man he defeated — is fundamentally a good and decent human being with the capacity to be an inspirational leader. The fact that our political system gave us a choice of two such candidates may be the greatest silver lining of all.

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