James Taranto brilliantly weighs in on recent events in his column today, inaptly titled Smart President, Foolish Choices…
When President Obama gives TV interviews, the treatment he gets is typically soft, if not reverential. This is not because of the interviewers' respect for the presidency–they were much tougher on George W. Bush–but because of ideological and personal sympathy for the man who now holds the office. Yesterday was an exception–perhaps the first time Obama has ever faced a tough interview. The interviewer was Bret Baier of Fox News Channel, and the president was clearly unprepared, coming across as petulant and evasive. (You can watch it online: Part 1 and Part 2.)
If the rest of the so-called adversary press had been doing its job for the past few years, Obama might not be in the political trouble he is. Then again, he might not have withstood the scrutiny and become president either.
Oh well, that's water under the bridge. ObamaCare isn't, at least not yet. And here is what Obama had to say in summing up the case for the legislation Americans fear and hate:
The reason that it needs to be done is not its effect on the presidency. It has to do with how it's going to affect ordinary people who right now are desperately in need of help.
But if this is for the sake of ordinary people and not the presidency, why is it the president who will stop at nothing to cram it down the throats of ordinary people? What part of "no" doesn't he understand?
If a report from Politico is accurate, the president is telling undecided Democratic representatives exactly the opposite of what he claimed in the Baier interview to believe:
Obama had exhausted most of his health care reform arguments with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during a White House meeting last Thursday when he made a more personal pitch that resonated with many skeptics in the room.
One caucus member told Politico that Obama won him over by "essentially [saying] that the fate of his presidency" hinged on this week's health reform vote in the House. The member, who requested anonymity, likened Obama's remarks to an earlier meeting with progressives when the president said a victory was necessary to keep him "strong" for the next three years of his term.
Another caucus member, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), said, "We went in there already knowing his presidency would be weakened if this thing went down, but the president clearly reinforced the impression the presidency would be damaged by a loss."
Added Serrano: "He was subtle, but that was the underlying theme of the meeting–the importance of passing this for the health of the presidency."
A failed presidency, or one that is perceived to have failed, is bad for the country, as anyone who lived through the Carter years or the latter part of George W. Bush's administration can attest. But it takes chutzpah for Obama to ask members of Congress to save his presidency by passing this misbegotten legislation. Having failed utterly to persuade Americans that his plan was worth supporting–whether because it is not worth supporting or because his persuasive skills are defective–he could have backed off at any time.
By pressing forward anyway, it is he who has imposed on America the unattractive choice of either a failed presidency, or a "transformed" health-care system and the crisis of legitimacy attendant to imposing such a transformation through partisan bullying and in defiance of public opinion. What a reckless abuse of the trust the voters placed in Obama.
Still, if this is the choice left to America, a failed presidency is clearly the less unattractive alternative. If Obama's presidency fails, it will be over in less than three years. A wrecked health-care system would be much harder to repair, and a crisis of legitimacy could last for decades.
Further, a failed presidency would not necessarily result from the failure of ObamaCare. Bill Clinton similarly targeted the health-care system. He failed, yet his presidency is generally viewed as having been modestly successful. If Obama has Clinton's strength of character–a discomfitingly big "if"–he could adapt after a single failure and learn to be successful.
Obama's threat of a failed presidency is classic passive-aggressive behavior. He is playing the victim in order to get what he wants. At least one sympathetic journalist is playing along. Check out this bit of analysis from David Brooks of the New York Times:
I persist in the belief that government is more fundamentally messed up than ever in my lifetime. Barack Obama campaigned offering a new era of sane government. And I believe he would do it if he had the chance. But he has been so sucked into the system that now he stands by while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks about passing health care via "deem and pass"–a tricky legislative device in which things get passed without members having the honor or the guts to stand up and vote for it.
Deem and pass? Are you kidding me? Is this what the Revolutionary War was fought for? Is this what the boys on Normandy beach were trying to defend? Is this where we thought we would end up when Obama was speaking so beautifully in Iowa or promising to put away childish things?
Obama just got "sucked into the system"? He is the president of the United States. He is the system! The implication of what Brooks is saying is that Obama is simply not up to the job. One of the reasons may be that the news media, which are supposed to hold politicians accountable, have too few Bret Baiers asking tough questions and too many David Brookses making excuses for the president's bad decisions.
And ObamaCare isn't the only area in which the administration has been acting recklessly. Yesterday we noted that Attorney General Eric Holder, asked by a congressman whether a captured Osama bin Laden would get the due-process protections of a common criminal, evaded the question by scoffing at the idea that bin Laden would be captured as opposed to killed. The Associated Press reports that the military has weighed in on the claim;
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that it remains the goal of U.S. troops to capture Osama bin Laden alive and "bring him to justice."
Let's hope they don't bring him to Justice, because it's amateur hour over there. In the liberal New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi looks at President Obama's recent Mideast missteps and reaches a similar conclusion:
That Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur. But he has now taken his failed policy and intensified it. By demanding that Israel stop building in Ramat Shlomo and elsewhere in East Jerusalem–and placing that demand at the center of American-Israeli relations–he's ensured that the Palestinians won't show up even to proximity talks. This is no longer amateurishness; it is pique disguised as policy.
The Obama administration desperately needs adult supervision–and this is yet another reason to hope the House defeats ObamaCare. Handing Obama a defeat offers at least some hope that he'll seek the help he needs. A victory promises more of the same recklessness–on all fronts.