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Judging Obama

 Change was the theme of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency. 

 
Much has happened since then, just as much as happened in any 6 year period as far back as we can remember.
 
Among the questions:
 
Have the changes been more positive than negative? And to what extent are one or the other linked to Barack Obama?
 
There is no shortage of nasty criticism.
 
Some of it has been overtly racist, or with a racist tone.
 
Early on we heard him described as an Equal Opportunity president. Presumably that referred to Obama's own record of benefits in higher education and political advancement, as well as the block vote he received from African Americans.
 
More recently we have heard that he will be the "last Black president."
 
Among the items received in my in-box during the last week are a montage showing Obama looking through binoculars, and seeing Vladimir Putin with his middle finger elevated.
 
There is also a pithy message said to come from Clint Eastwood, who is on the record as anti-Obama. There is some doubt if this one actually came from Eastwood, but it is faithful to his style, and that of the characters he played. And whoever is the author, it fits with other items circulating about the President.
 

I voted against that incompetent, lying, flip-flopping, insincere, double-talking, radical socialist, terrorist excusing, bleeding heart, narcissistic, scientific and economic moron currently in the White House!

 

Participating in a gun buyback program because you think that criminals have too many guns is like having yourself castrated because you think your neighbors have too many kids.


It is no easy task to judge Obama fairly. As in the case of any President, he has said and done much, in the midst of numerous complex problems, and surrounded, pushed, and constrained by what may be the world's most convoluted government and feisty politics.
 
Then, too, are the political perspectives of those judging, ranging from the simplest kind of party loyalty to more elaborate ideologies.
 
Obama's presidency has more than two years to go, and his posture has changed on a number of issues. He has gone from endorsing military advisers who led him to increase American efforts in Afghanistan to a generalized policy of withdrawal from that and other trouble spots. The latest indications about his stance toward Israel and Palestine, which are not likely to be the last indications, are skepticism and modesty about the prospects for anything positive to emerge from several years efforts.
 
And beyond the end of his term, we can bet that historians will be writing and quarreling about the aspirations and achievements of the Obama presidency as long as they write and quarrel about anything.
 
My own modest conclusions to date conclude that he and perhaps even more prominently his Secretary of State John Kerry have been innocents abroad, especially in the morass of the Middle East. Their current prospects are for doing more harm than good with respect to Israel and Palestine. They have unsettled both polities, and provoked both sets of extremists by proposals and demands that fly in the face of several decades experience. 
 
At its heart, Obama's problems in the Middle East (i.e., Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Iran) may stem from multi-cultural blindness to the ferocity of rivalries and hatreds that exist under the umbrella of Islam. The situation is much closer to that which prevailed for several centuries in Europe after Luther than to any polite ecumenical discussion between religious activists in an American setting. 
 
Obama's greatest strength is his rhetoric. Critics say that he only reads what written by others and put on the teleprompter. Whether that is true or not, the performances have been among the greatest since Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Winston Churchill.
 
Yet the contrast between rhetoric and performance are not only stark, but damaging.
 
Most dangerous to his reputation and the power of his government was the contrast between John Kerry's speech and and then the first part of Obama's speech in regard to Syria's chemical weapons, to be followed by his own concluding remarks that read more like surrender than a serious attempt to deal with a pressing issue. 
 
It may have been better to have left the Syrian civil war to the Syrians and the thousands who have gone there to fight on one side or another. The casualties from chemical weapons were a small part of the total mayhem, and not worth the cheapening of America's foreign policy.
 
Obama's rhetoric has been problematic from the beginning.
 
The Cairo speech of 2009 was an early sign of naivete with respect to the Middle East, and arguably contributed to the chaos that he and others initially applauded as Arab Spring. 
 
Barack Obama has no monopoly on bluster without any intention of serious follow up.
 
Bibi is a serious competitor.
 
GWB's promise of democracy in Iraq may go down as the greatest bluster of all time, or the most tragic, given what is said to be more than one million deaths, and still counting.
 
Promises of change and hope are being examined daily in the latest stories about Obama's iconic health care initiative. 
 
However, that anything dealing with national health insurance was enacted is deserving of praise, insofar as the issue has been begging treatment at least since Harry Truman failed in his own effort.
 
The measure bears some resemblance to Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Johnson himself admitted the problems, but claimed that a rare political opportunity--the Kennedy assassination and a striking presidential election victory--demanded acting before Congress went back to business as usual. LBJ said that it would be necessary to fix things that were legislated quickly.
 
Admittedly there is a lot of junk in the 2,200 pages that Congress passed and Obama signed.
 
Fixes are already underway, and it will take more time to match aspirations to reality. Many will suffer along the way. From the beginning, however, the US had about the worse health record of any western democracy. Chances are things can only get better.
 
Those of us fated to be Middle Easterners hope that things will get better in this neighborhood. Among the things we argue about is whether the chances of improvement would be greater if the White House looked elsewhere for something to do. 
 

 
Average: 3.2 (5 votes)
 
   
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