What is the loyal opposition to do?
Nov 23, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 10 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
President Obama chose not to travel to Germany for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, he graced the occasion with a video address. He didn't have time in his two-and-a-half minutes to mention Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher or Pope John Paul II. But somehow he did find time to mention . . . Barack Obama:
Obama tried (unconvincingly) to disguise his remarkable self-absorption, by adding Angela Merkel to himself as a culmination of the world-historical events of the last 20 years. But what do the victories of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel have to do with the character of human destiny anyway? If the recent German and American elections had gone the other way, and a united Germany were now led by a man from North-Rhine Westphalia, and their American ally by a man of Scots-Irish descent, wouldn't human destiny still be what human beings make of it?
Obama's claim does, however, invite the question: Just what is Barack Obama as president making of our American destiny? The answer, increasingly obvious, is . . . a hash. It's worse than most of us expected. His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial. The next three years are going to be long and difficult ones for our economy, our military, and our country.
What is the loyal opposition to do?
Oppose Obama's destructive proposals (health care, cap and trade) and try to defeat them. Expose the foolishness of Obama's ineffective policies (the stimulus, cash for clunkers) and show the American people their failure. And try to influence Obama's policy choices by persuasion (Afghanistan), embarrassment (political correctness in the fight against jihadists), or legislation (Guantánamo), so as to minimize the damage done to the country on his watch.
In all of this, Republicans and conservatives can succeed, especially if they keep two rules in mind: Don't celebrate bad news. Don't root for the bad guys.
Republicans need to point out that Obama's economic policies aren't working. But they need to resist appearing to relish bad news for the country on Obama's watch. When rising unemployment numbers come out, there is occasionally an unseemly sense of celebration in the emails that come from various GOP offices. More in sorrow than in joy, more in confirmation than in vindication--that should be the Republican mood as the news of Obama's failures, failures which damage the well-being of Americans and of America, rolls in. And as the failures become ever more evident, conservatives can urge that he correct them, that he see the error of his ways and move on to the right path.
In areas where policies are still being debated--in foreign policy in particular--conservatives need to keep urging Obama to do the right thing. We are disgusted with Obama's irresoluteness on Afghanistan. But we continue to urge that he side with the experienced military leaders he's been fortunate to inherit against the second-guessing of political hacks (and of failed ex-generals turned political hacks). We conservatives want American soldiers to win wars, American interests to prevail, and American principles to flourish. We want the bad guys to lose. We're happy to work with President Obama to defeat them--and we only wish he shared our clarity and urgency about accomplishing that task.
One year after his election victory, the wheels are coming off the Obama presidency. The first attempt in three decades unambiguously to govern America from the left is failing quickly and decisively. Our task is to minimize the damage to the country, and then to be ready to set things right--to use the next three years to lay the groundwork, intellectual and political, for a new era of a governing conservatism that can restore American prosperity, revitalize American strength, and restore the foundations for American greatness.