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Nobody’s Fault

Liberals make excuses for Obama

Sep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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And how do these theories stand up to inspection? Not all that well. As to the idea that stuff simply happens, sometimes it does, sometimes it does not. At the end of World War II, for example, nothing on earth could have dislodged the Soviet Army from Eastern Europe once it was there, but the fact that Western Europe stayed out of the Communist orbit was entirely owing to men. It was the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the formation of NATO that stopped the Communist advance in the middle of Europe, done by the will of Harry S. Truman with the ardent support of his next two successors, who held the line until the screws were tightened many years later by Ronald Reagan, and the Soviet empire collapsed from within. 

Those years too were filled with “nuance-drenched problems,” and Truman, along with Dwight D. Eisenhower, Reagan, and John F. Kennedy, had to walk a very fine line between being weak enough to invite Russian aggression and aggressive enough to risk nuclear war. Replace Harry S. Truman with Henry A. Wallace (and make the three others a little less resolute) and the Cold War would have ended a whole lot less happily. Replace Barack Obama with John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Hillary Clinton, and Iraq would be now pretty much as it was when George W. Bush left it, with no jihadist state formed in the heart of the desert, ready and willing to bring the war home. When one thing goes wrong, it may be an accident, but when five do at once—Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and our border—the man at the helm may have something to do with it, and a foreign policy based largely on John Lennon lyrics may be the proximate cause.

As for partisanship, it’s true that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama ran as uniters and ended by further dividing the country, but this outcome was not foreordained. Clinton ran as a moderate, a “new kind of Democrat,” but at the start of his tenure behaved very much like an old one, picking his cabinet by bean-counting diversity standards, and allowing his wife to draft a huge, complex health care reform bill that was vastly unpopular. Knocked on his heels in the 1994 midterms, he triangulated his way back to the center, signed welfare reform, and seemed on his way to brokering a historic and bipartisan deal on reforming entitlements when he was impeached on perjury charges related to his affair with a college-age intern, which put the culture wars back on the boil and ended his term on a less pleasant note. Bush entered under a cloud, as the very close recount was always going to leave the losing side feeling cheated, and made a catastrophic mistake after September 11, when he did not convene a war cabinet with Democrats in it, which would have tied both parties into the war effort, given the Democrats a greater stake in its success (and part of the blame for any mistakes), and would have expanded the pool of people from whom he was taking advice. With this, the course of the war might have gone very differently, Bush might have changed course in 2004, and not 2006, when public opinion was turning against him, and the Democrats might not have been able to weasel so easily out of their prior support for the war.  

But Clinton and Bush were models of outreach compared with Obama, who burst on the national scene in July 2004 with a magnificent paean to red-and-blue unity, but by August 2009, acting as president, was tearing the country apart. Using the fiscal crisis as the pretext he needed to enact a progressive agenda, he passed extensive big-spending bills with no consensus behind them. But it was his passage of health care reform in the face of fierce opposition, expressed in surprise GOP wins in two big statewide elections, that brought him the resistance he deserved, especially when he used a technical loophole to ram Obamacare through Congress after Scott Brown’s capture of the “Ted Kennedy seat” in ultra-blue Massachusetts made it impossible to pass it in the legitimate, normal, and time-honored way.

“Liberals really do not understand emotionally the extent to which the Tea Party was created by the Affordable Care Act and the feeling that its government was simply steamrolling it,” as Megan McArdle tells us, correctly—a fact that eludes Obama’s apologists in the media, who seem to regard Tea Party resistance as an inexplicable phenomenon with which Obama’s own actions had nothing to do. And as for the Green Lantern part, they might have a better case if Obama hadn’t campaigned as the Green Lantern, a creature possessed of magical powers who could not only lift us all up into new ways of being but cause the rise of the oceans to halt. 

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