WHAT ARE WE LEFT WITH? - AT 8:16 A.M. ET: If the polls are correct, the bloom is at least somewhat off Barack Obama's rose. (Of course, the notion of a rose blooming at all may be stereotypical, and lack multiflower sensitivity, but we'll let it pass.)
While Obama still retains an intense following among his base, that base appears to be narrowing. More and more Americans seem to be asking what we actually have, or don't have, in the current president.
Michael Gerson has written a fine piece in the Washington Post explaining that Americans are finally seeing the limits of star power, using the Nobel Peace Prize as a starting point:
It is a good thing, the argument goes, for an American president to be loved by foreigners, even if their sloppy display of affection is embarrassing.
But this point needs to be argued, not merely assumed. How does American standing translate into effective diplomacy? And what role does presidential popularity play in building national standing?
The first, most important, element of national standing is credibility -- the perception that a nation will act in its vital interests and do what it has promised.
And is Obama credible?
His initial decisions on Iraq and Afghanistan were generally responsible. His unilateral abandonment of missile defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic, his tolerance for engagement without outcomes, his dithering on Afghanistan policy, all raise serious questions on this score.
And Hillary Clinton now returns home from Moscow with, maybe, a box of chocolates, maybe a plastic pen with the hotel's name stamped on it.
A second element of national standing is reputation -- the general good will toward our country, which allows for American action in the world without constantly fighting suspicion and hostility.
And, despite all of Obama's apologies, Gerson argues, the U.S. has a humanitarian history - the Marshall Plan, AIDs assistance. We are generous.
But Obama -- focused almost entirely on domestic matters -- has yet to add any significant contributions to this humanitarian history. And his demotion of human rights issues in the relentless pursuit of engagement has left many human rights advocates concerned.
The Iranian dissidents have noticed. Obama will probably disappoint the Venezuelan dissenters as well. And look at our embarrassment in Honduras.
The final measure of American standing is the personal popularity of its current leader. Here Obama has achieved wonders, especially in Europe.
But there's an asterisk...
But this adoration does not indicate support for American policy views. According to Pew, these improvements are "being driven much more by personal confidence in Obama than by opinions about his specific policies."
...Former Republican Sen. Jack Danforth has described the practical effect of these European attitudes bluntly: "What it really says is we will follow the U.S. provided the U.S. doesn't want to lead anywhere."
Then Gerson correctly lowers the boom, explaining the strange, twisted nature of Obama's appeal:
What does it mean to "do the right thing in world affairs"? For Europeans, this essentially means pacifism. A recent trans-Atlantic poll asked if the use of force can ever be "necessary to achieve justice." Seventy-one percent of Europeans said "no," while 71 percent of American said "yes." In general, Europeans believe that nothing -- not peace, or freedom, or security, or the rights of the weak -- is worth fighting for. It is an attitude Europeans can afford to hold because America has chosen to defend them. But it is not a view that an American president can share, or ultimately appease.
Hard power is essential. Soft power is useful. Star power matters mainly in Oslo.
Ouch. I would modify that last sentence a bit, however. Star power is still hot on American college campuses and in the pages of some elements of the elite media. That's part of our problem in overcoming the Obama madness.
Great image, bad everything else. But don't sell Obama short. He can still remain for eight years unless there's a credible opposition in 2012, and that will take a candidate with a pulse and heartbeat.
October 14, 2009