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A Straight-Up Debate: The First 100 Days in Office

April 29, 2009

On January 28th 2008, during one of her debates with then Senator Obama, Hillary Clinton put her finger on one of the things that made him such a formidable and talented politician. Speaking with exasperation and frustration, she said “Well, you know, Senator Obama, it is very difficult having a straight-up debate with you, because you never take responsibility for any vote, and that has been a pattern.”

Interesting how well Senator Clinton’s words still resonate. For now, on the 100th day of his presidency, despite almost unrelenting press coverage that seems to wear him out at times, Mr. Obama remains a man who is too adept a politician with whom to have a straight-up debate. How does one debate someone who so freely and shamelessly contradicts himself?

The examples of  President Obama attempting to be a man impossible to pin down to many positions are numerous. He is, for example, an environmentalist. So much so, that he has practically threatened the existence of all traditional domestic energy production in favor of alternative, green energy. Yet he used 9,000 gallons of jet fuel – an amount that would take me 450 weeks to consume the equivalent of in unleaded gasoline in my soon-to-be-banned SUV – in one day. Earth Day, no less.

Soon after releasing the “CIA enhanced interrogation memos” and, after months of labeling those who performed such enhanced interrogations as torturers – acts that so undermined our national security that it is akin to treason – Mr. Obama visited CIA headquarters and gave such a rousing defense of intelligence gathering that a listener would think he was reading a James Bond novel. The CIA agents, whose job he made more difficult and whose lives he has endangered, were actually filmed giving him a round of applause after the speech (unless that was staged, as was his event in Iraq).

President Obama markets himself as a uniter. In fact, he came to national prominence at the 2004 DNC convention with a speech decrying the divisions in the country:

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America-there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.

Yet has there ever been a president more willing to divide us by race, economic status, and politics than Barack Obama? Was it not he who dismissed those in “conservative America” by portraying us as bitter people clinging to our guns, religion, and xenophobia? Or whose Department of Homeland Security portrayed conservatives and military veterans as potential terrorists? Or has done more to limit the legislative input of the opposition party?

The most revealing examples of Mr. Obama’s contradictions are in economics. His most constant refrain as a candidate was that he would not raise the taxes a single cent on households earning less than $250,000. But as president, he almost immediately raised the taxes on cigarettes and is pushing for an energy policy that would raise the taxes on the energy use – for even the poorest amongst us – by thousands of dollars a year.

As a senator, Mr. Obama was pro-NAFTA, even voting for its expansion. As a presidential candidate however, Mr. Obama was fiercely anti-NAFTA. But, a story soon leaked from the Canadian government, that Mr. Obama had reassured the Canadians that his anti-NAFTA stance was merely politics, that he was just making it all up to win primary votes. Then in the general election, Mr. Obama decided that NAFTA was no longer a ‘devastating bad idea’ but, rather, one in which he reopened for negotiation at a later date. As president he has said he would not reopen negotiations of NAFTA, essentially accepting it as is, except for his desire for expanding it to include Panama. As he said in Europe recently, his administration stands for free trade. However, he said this soon after slapping a tariff on Mexican trucks coming into the US, sparking a mini-trade war with Mexico. Try to keep up.

And of course there is the example of President Obama on deficits. He routinely criticized Bush for creating a deficit as a candidate and just as routinely laments the deficit he’s inherited as president. Yet, some of the first acts he performs as a fiscal conservative, anti-deficit president is to pass a stimulus bill that creates deficits far above and beyond any this nation has ever seen, and a budget that contained over 8,000 earmarks (despite claiming that he’d wouldn’t support any earmarks). However, although he is responsible for the creation of a budget deficit estimated to reach close to $2 trillion, he has ordered his cabinet to make $100 million in cuts. It may be equivalent of “paying off $1 dollar on $11,000 in credit card debt”, but at least it shows that he is serious about being responsible with the taxpayer’s money, no?

Notice also how far President Obama is above the most controversial statements of his own cabinet. When Attorney General Holder said that America was a ‘nation of cowards on the subject of race’, Mr. Obama said that those were not words he would have chosen. When Veteran Affairs Secretary General Shinseki suggested that military veterans be forced to rely upon private insurance to pay for the injuries they sustained in service, Mr. Obama was removed from the ensuing controversy. President Obama does not seem to agree with any of the draconian ideas of Steven Chu in changing America’s energy policy, but Mr. Obama did appoint Dr. Chu to be his Energy Secretary. And Mr. Obama carefully stood as far away from the “DHS right-wing extremist” memo controversy as possible.

President Obama’s ability to have it both ways, on so many issues, is due to his remarkable skill as a politician and orator, his popularity among the electorate, as well as his possession of an amazingly obsequious media. Conservatives like me see our current president as someone with socialist leanings and who is weak on national security. However, if a Conservative says this, he or she will be confronted by Mr. Obama’s trademark snicker and given examples that some would say demonstrates that he is anything but. To paraphrase now Secretary of State Clinton, Barack Obama is a man remarkably adept at removing himself from the consequences of his agenda, and that has been the pattern.

–DK

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