In his critique of Barack Obama’s “declining presidency” yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Fred Barnes makes some accurate observations. The assessment that Obama’s administration is flailing due to the lack of a defined vision for his second term is fair. Indeed, the Obama re-election campaign never shifted away from an anti-Romney message long enough to establish any sort of primary goal for moving America boldly in one direction or another. Barnes also concedes that the “scandals” currently making headlines have little to do with the President himself or the ineffectiveness of his six-month-old second term. Yet beyond those two fair and balanced points made by the Fox News pundit, Barnes’ analysis devolves into a flimsy, subjective argument that is both misleading and ignorant of some major political truths—some of which would even advance the anti-Obama agenda he so clearly supports.
The most egregious offense by Barnes is his declaration that Obama has been “too liberal to find common ground with Republicans.” Barnes does little to initially support this claim with specific policy-based evidence; instead, he uses the President’s alleged inability “to mask his contempt for Republicans” as proof that the President is not willing to compromise. This reliance on an intimate knowledge of how Barack Obama, the man, personally feels about conservatives is not exactly the strong empirical evidence on which winning arguments are typically based.
To his credit, Barnes does eventually attempt to cite Obama’s unwillingness to compromise with references to two key policies, but an objective look at either of those policies does more to define President Obama as an uncompromising conservative than a far-left liberal. The masterful spin jobs that Republicans put on the passage of ACA and the extension of the Bush tax cuts just may be destined to become known as two of the modern wonders of the political world.
Consider the basic fundamentals of political philosophy. A true liberal-socialist agenda would never approve the extension of massive tax cuts for 98% of the population. A true liberal-socialist agenda wouldn’t approve of tax cuts at all. Still somehow, with their political glasses 98% full of vintage Bush ‘43, Republicans and pundits like Fred Barnes accuse President Obama of failing to compromise. There is certainly room to criticize Obama regarding the one-sided “deal” he struck, but that criticism has no logical connection to the right side of the political spectrum. Barnes may be technically correct that Obama didn’t compromise on the Bush tax cuts, but only because 98% for one side does not meet anyone’s definition of compromise.
As for the signature legislation of Obama’s first term, the Affordable Care Act, Barnes writes that “By failing to ensure that the GOP had some influence on the health-care law, the president gave them no reason to support its implementation.” There is no way Fred Barnes is stupid enough to believe this. The key component of the ACA, the individual mandate, was an idea first proposed by America’s leading conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, and that same component was later proposed legislatively by a group of REPUBLICAN congressmen in 1993. The GOP not only “had some influence” on the law, they birthed it. Barnes loses all credibility with this futile attempt to entitle himself to his own facts. He knows as well as anyone that the idea of universal coverage by individual mandate only became toxic to conservatives when (and because) Obama chose to adopt it.
It is a shame that Fred Barnes is either incapable or unwilling to make a stronger case against Obama the President, because a strong case can easily be made. Obama failed to close Guantanamo and regulate Wall Street as he promised in his initial campaign. Broken promises are fair game for criticism, and those were some big important promises. A foreign policy of “drone now, answer questions never” is also a disgrace to the office of the President. But you will rarely see this kind of evidence-based criticism from the right. Why not? Because Republicans are just as culpable as the President in these particular matters.
Republicans have repeatedly blocked the closing of Guantanamo, attempted to weaken Dodd-Frank, and supported military action (i.e. drone strikes) to sustain the military industrial complex they represent so fervently. This leaves right-leaning political observers with an interesting paradox: they can be anti-Obama, but they can no longer be anti-Obama and conservative at the same time, at least not legitimately. Fred Barnes and many others might continue to critique the President without mentioning Obama’s broken campaign promises that Republicans ensure stay broken. They may also choose to develop their assessments of Obama without acknowledging the violations of human rights that are now inherent with the Commander in Chief’s military action, but arguments from conservatives that cite illustrations of Obama executing conservative ideology are asinine.