During early days of the New York Mets, with incompetence reigning everywhere, Casey Stengel famously cried out in frustration, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” In 1962 – their first year in the National League – the Mets were the worst team in major league history, compiling a record of 42 wins and 120 losses. They were so bad that some of their players, like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, actually became beloved icons of ineptitude for their New York fans.
In one of the old M.A.S.H. TV episodes, Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce character delivered the famous line: “…no war is a movie.” Just so, no presidency is a baseball team. We could laugh at the ’62 Mets and their bumbling antics because nothing was riding on their play in the field – except possibly a little money. Despite various mishaps and catastrophes on the diamond, no one died. Each player went home, put his feet up, drank a cold beer, and dreamed of better days. (In the Mets’ case, those better days eventually came round when they won the 1969 and 1986 World Series.)
But none of this applies to presidencies. What goes on (or not) in a president’s administration can have considerable influence on millions of people across the country, as well as the wider world. Their livelihoods and health – indeed, their very lives – can be directly affected by policies, decisions and governance of a president and his executive branch employees. Unlike in baseball – where even the greatest hitters fail six out of every ten times at bat – there is no room for failure in the administration of government. Errors and malfeasance can be far-reaching and often uncorrectable.
In previous articles I have pointed out that President Barack Obama came seemingly out of nowhere to capture the imagination of the American people with his poise and his eloquence, as he swept triumphantly into office a mere four years after bursting onto the national scene. So bedazzled were the media by Mr. Obama’s persona and oratorical gifts that they omitted a serious look into his origins and experience. Concerns about his lack of executive and foreign-policy experience were brushed aside as media hounds, who should have been asking the tough questions and digging into the candidate’s past, dropped their notebooks and rushed after the One they thought was a new Messiah.
I am not the first to observe that talking about governing is a lot easier than actually governing. Mr. Obama was allowed to get away with that, and some reporters and journalists of long experience now seem surprised to find that this elementary truth has real meaning. Nearly six years into Mr. Obama’s tenure, it is finally starting to dawn on reporters, politicians (including some of his own party), and a majority of voters that the president and his administration are in far over their heads in most aspects of governance. (Where is Casey Stengel to yell his famous question when you really need him?) A summary of my view of the Obama presidency follows.
Administration. Since Mr. Obama took office, one scandal after another has been revealed in the running of existing departments and agencies. One of these was Fast and Furious, the gun-running fiasco where the FBI put weapons in the hands of drug cartels and then lost track of them. Some of those weapons later turned up in an ambush that killed a federal border agent. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed no knowledge of the bungled operation, but e-mails later belied that claim. The House of Representatives has cited him for Contempt for his failure to supply requested documents.
Major scandals have also engulfed the Internal Revenue Service, National Security Agency, and Veterans Administration. The IRS was found to be delaying and even denying applications for tax-exempt status from organizations with conservative/tea-party orientations. Many such organizations received extra scrutiny of donor lists and individual tax returns. A special House committee is now being formed to assign responsibility for this corrupt conduct. The NSA was found to be collecting telephone data on USA citizens – possibly in violation of federal laws. And in recent weeks witnesses have come forward to disclose that some veterans have been waiting as much as 115 days for medical treatment in VA hospitals, while employees have falsified records to conceal the lengthy waits. As many as 40 sick and injured veterans have died while waiting for treatment.
Although burdened by all this scandal and inefficiency, the Obama administration still lobbied for (and obtained) passage of the massive Affordable Health Care Act – a.k.a. Obamacare. Its rollout and implementation have been complete disasters. Moreover, just as media attention on the bungled AHCA opening was fading, the VA mess piled on to remind voters that the federal government’s ineptitude at running the VA is likely to presage an evil future for Obamacare. Voters now know that the government cannot run health care systems efficiently.
Foreign Policy. Reversals in Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya and Ukraine/Russia – fulsome details of which cannot be rehearsed in this limited space – represent a complete collapse of United States foreign policy. Upon taking office, Mr. Obama ran round the world assuring both friends and adversaries that he would “reset” our relationships to demonstrate a less aggressive (kinder and gentler) USA. He declared a willingness to talk with anyone, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing no more than talking about talking. At the time, no one seemed to notice that diplomacy is not (as he insisted) a new idea that had not been tried, but an old (old!) idea that has been repeatedly tried and found wanting.
Far too late, reporters and voters are learning that Mr. Obama’s hesitancy and indecisiveness have exposed our weakness to the world. No longer a superpower whose word projects influence and strength, we are now pushed around by countries that once took the mere suggestions of our leaders as virtual commands. The signs are everywhere. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton made a great show of traveling to many countries, but she could not stop or even respond to an Al Qaeda attack that destroyed our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing our ambassador and three other embassy staff. She tried to obscure Al Qaeda’s involvement with a story about a crack-brained internet video causing a Benghazi “Street” riot that morphed into the embassy attack, but that tale was quickly debunked.
Mr. Obama could not stop the Syrian dictator, Assad, from using chemical weapons on his own people. Russian President Putin helped Mr. Obama save face on the issue by offering to broker removal of the weapons. Mr. Putin later annexed the Crimean section of Ukraine in the complete confidence that we would not stop him. (He was right!) In Nigeria, Islamic extremists have kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls, with the intention of sending them into sexual slavery. Mrs. Obama sends tweets, scolding the terrorists and telling them to behave. In Sudan, an American woman will be whipped and hanged for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Mr. Obama has not spoken out on her case, and we seem powerless to halt the imposition of this savage sentence. An American Marine sits in a Mexican prison because he made a wrong turn and drove into Mexico. He is charged with weapons violations because he had several (legal) firearms in his truck. Despite our ability to exert decisive pressure on Mexico, we have done nothing to obtain this man’s release. It is pathetic.
Domestic Policy and Economics. Mr. Obama’s domestic and economic policies are a disaster – even in the judgment of many of his political allies. He has shown a complete disinclination to compromise and work across the political aisle, even when it would help his administration’s success (and his approval ratings). Eschewing any political deals, except on his own terms, Mr. Obama has instead relied on executive orders and agency regulations to impose an unpopular agenda on the country. The EPA’s ruinous environmental regulations will destroy the coal industry and send electricity rates soaring – thus harming the ordinary people he often cites as his greatest concern. His stubborn refusal to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline project has pleased his environmentalist supporters, but has put him at odds with labor unions whose members would realize thousands of good-paying jobs from the pipeline’s construction and the flow of the oil to US refineries and ports.
Mr. Obama has been doctrinaire and unmoving on tax rates – particularly business income tax rates, which rank are the world’s highest. As a result, the US economy has performed at an anemic pace – actually shrinking by 0.1% during the first quarter of 2014. Even the Red Chinese are growing faster than we are, having adopted tax rates more advantageous to business than ours.
Obamacare looms over the country like an ominous thundercloud. Its full effects – cleverly delayed until after the November elections by Mr. Obama, via questionable executive decrees – threaten to engulf the country in a torrent of financial and medical ruin. Democratic politicians running for election this year are fleeing from the program in terror, hoping voters won’t remember that they supported and/or voted for it. No one wants to be seen on the campaign trail with the president. Republicans can be counted on to remind voters that their local Motor Vehicle Bureau is government’s performance model for health care service.
The Trivia President. Devoid of achievement or competence in areas of real consequence, Mr. Obama has turned to highly publicized media events like the Concussion Summit of recent days – convened to address the incidence of concussions among players of amateur and professional sports. Mr. Obama made a big deal of identifying with young athletes by relating how he probably suffered concussions when he played football as a young lad. Once again, it was all about him – although even his media acolytes gave the horse-laugh to his claims of playing football and having a “ringing in my head…” (Some wondered if that ringing was still going on.)
Elsewhere across the fruited plain, Mr. Obama has dispatched his wife to drop the hammer on school lunches by banning the potato, sugared soft-drinks, sweets, and anything else that kids might actually want to eat. School administrators are complaining that the new “healthy” lunches are going into garbage cans instead of kids’ tummies. The resulting uproar is seen as a political success, however, as it has drowned out any media coverage of the numerous failures of the Obama administration. This week I heard a radio talk-host say, “This is not serious governing…” It’s hard to disagree.
As the November elections approach, look for renewed emphases from Mr. Obama on free contraceptives, income inequality, gay marriage, bullying in schools, and a blitzkrieg to force the Washington Redskins to abandon their “racist” nickname. (Local wags have suggested changing the team’s name to simply “The Redskins,” since many find the name Washington extremely offensive…)
To quote Yakob Smirnoff: “What a country!”