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Monday, January 23, 2012

How Not to Defend President Obama

Newsweek's latest cover story--a generous load of buls**t by Obamaniac Andrew Sullivan--has caused quite a stir, and for good reason. The article is provocatively titled "Why Are Obama's Critcs So Dumb?", an obvious jab at those who dare to call out our Dear Leader on his manifest incompetence/impudicity/hypocrisy, but it's the content of the piece that should really gall any right-thinking person.

Even-tempered conservatives have registered their discontent (I suggest you all read Joel Pollak's excellent column at, as have some of our more visceral brethren. If you're not familiar with Andrew Sullivan, then here's a brief primer. For years, he purported to be a conservative but in 2008 showed his true colors by enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama for president. In a particularly revealing display of malevolence, he called on Sarah Palin to produce evidence that she was in fact the real mother of her infant son Trig. (Trig Palin, you may recall, suffers from Trisomy 21 and was the subject of a vicious smear by people who ought to be flayed before a jeering crowd.) Unlike other so-called conservatives who made the mistake of jumping on the Obama bandwagon in '08, however, Sullivan has not acknowledged the error of his ways. Rather, he has doubled down on his mystifying support for this terrible, terrible president. This has led him to make some absurd claims and cost him credibility with virtually everyone whose respect is worth having, but his latest pile of tripe takes Obamania to levels not seen since 2008, and possibly ever.

Pollak's article covered a lot of what was wrong with the Sullivan piece. I would, however, like to offer my own analysis/critique of this so-very-inane attempt to make the case for re-electing a president with such an abysmal record.

Rather than launch right into a spirited diatribe, Sullivan hems and haws for a couple paragraphs before asserting that the attacks "from both the right and the left on the man and his policies [are] simply—empirically—wrong." I'm a big fan of empiricism; I'm all ears (or eyes, as this is a written article). In a rare bit of intellectual honesty, Sullivan discloses that he was "an unabashed supporter of Obama from early 2007 on," but in the very next sentence, he gives every reasonable-minded reader good reason to doubt his credibility, writing, "I did so not as a liberal, but as a conservative-minded independent appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture." (The first three were legitimate beefs with the former president, but to support a candidate who wanted to spend even more than George W. Bush did and continue waging the War on Terror makes no sense for someone who purported to be "appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture.") Sullivan had no credibility left with me to lose, so I kept reading. After making the prima facie over-the-top declaration that Obama’s "reelection remains ... as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008," Andy turned his attention to the right's criticism of his man-crush:  

The right’s core case is that Obama has governed as a radical leftist attempting a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life. Mitt Romney accuses the president of making the recession worse, of wanting to turn America into a European welfare state, of not believing in opportunity or free enterprise, of having no understanding of the real economy, and of apologizing for America and appeasing our enemies. According to Romney, Obama is a mortal threat to “the soul” of America and an empty suit who couldn’t run a business, let alone a country.

Sounds fair to me. Statistically, Obama did make the recession worse, and even now, more than two years after it supposedly ended, there are over 1 million fewer people working in this country than there were when he took office. He has expanded entitlement programs and increased government handouts while calling for higher taxes on the most productive members of society. One need look no farther than his speech last fall in Osawatomie for evidence that he doesn't believe in opportunity or free enterprise, and his entire political career is replete with examples of how he doesn't understand "the real economy," if Sullivan means by that what I think he does. The "apologizing for America" charge is not one that I have personally leveled against Obama, but it's a fair criticism of a man who during the 2008 campaign implied that we were no longer a great country and who on one of his first trips abroad as president told a throng of Europeans that "there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive." As for "appeasing our enemies," the fairness of that charge depends on who the person making it considers "our enemies." So what sounds like the lead-in to a straw-man argument is actually a series of perfectly defensible critiques of Obama's presidency thus far. Sullivan's response?
Leave aside the internal incoherence—how could such an incompetent be a threat to anyone? None of this is even faintly connected to reality—and the record proves it.
I think that first sentence was a rhetorical question, but it's so easy to answer that I'll indulge myself. When the awesome powers, duties and prerogatives of the American presidency are vested in an incompetent, that is a threat not only to our country but to the World. Moving on to Sullivan's bold assertion that "the record proves" that none of the aforementioned indictment "is even faintly connected to reality," he tries in vain to back this up with undisputed facts, but he can't even get those right:
On the economy, the facts are these. When Obama took office, the United States was losing around 750,000 jobs a month. The last quarter of 2008 saw an annualized drop in growth approaching 9 percent. This was the most serious downturn since the 1930s, there was a real chance of a systemic collapse of the entire global financial system, and unemployment and debt—lagging indicators—were about to soar even further. No fair person can blame Obama for the wreckage of the next 12 months, as the financial crisis cut a swath through employment.
"Economies take time to shift course," Sullivan insists. "But Obama did several things at once: he continued the bank bailout begun by George W. Bush, he initiated a bailout of the auto industry, and he worked to pass a huge stimulus package of $787 billion."

True on the bank bailout, but the auto industry bailout was also initiated before Bush left office, and the stimulus cost far more than $787 billion (even if you don't count the interest). So, when Sullivan said, "All these decisions deserve scrutiny," I took it as a minor concession on his part that reasonable people could disagree with his analysis of Obama's actions, but apparently, the "scrutiny" of Obama's decisions that Sullivan desires is not the critical analysis that's always warranted when a president makes big, consequential decisions. Rather, says Sullivan, people just aren't giving Obama credit for how great his decisions were. "[I]n retrospect," he writes, "they were far more successful than anyone has yet fully given Obama the credit for. The job collapse bottomed out at the beginning of 2010, as the stimulus took effect. Since then, the U.S. has added 2.4 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s far better than what Romney would have you believe, and more than the net jobs created under the entire Bush administration."

That last part was just a bald-faced lie. Whether you follow the seasonally-adjusted or non-seasonally-adjusted numbers, the cold, hard reality is that there were millions more people working in the United States when George W. Bush left office than there were when he was inaugurated. It's also beyond dispute that there has been a net loss of jobs in the U.S. since Obama took office. Yet, Sullivan preposterously declares that "the stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do," writing:

It put a bottom under the free fall. It is not an exaggeration to say it prevented a spiral downward that could have led to the Second Great Depression.
I think those two sentences are absurd enough on their face to stand alone. If, however, you think they might have a point, then I invite you to read my airtight debunking of the left-wing myth that President Obama's policies averted "the Second Great Depression."

From there, Sullivan just goes completely off the rails. In what is clearly a provocative statement with no basis in reality, he declares that Obama's spending record "is also far better than his predecessor’s." Granted, George W. Bush was no fiscal conservative, but listen to Sullivan's tortured logic in defense of the most fiscally irresponsible president since F.D.R.:

Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms. Under Bush and the GOP, nondefense discretionary spending grew by twice as much as under Obama. Again: imagine Bush had been a Democrat and Obama a Republican. You could easily make the case that Obama has been far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor—except, of course, that Obama has had to govern under the worst recession since the 1930s, and Bush, after the 2001 downturn, governed in a period of moderate growth. It takes work to increase the debt in times of growth, as Bush did. It takes much more work to constrain the debt in the deep recession Bush bequeathed Obama.
Suffice it to say, I don't know what the hell Sullivan is talking about, and I'm starting to think that neither does he. President Obama has already added more to the national debt in nominal dollars than any of his predecessors. Also, even if this was "the worst recession since the 1930s," which it isn't, it's only that bad because Obama and the Democrats made it that bad. Lest we forget (as Sullivan and his fellow Obamaniacs would like us to), the U.S. economy was booming before the Democrats took over Congress and a majority of state governments in 2007. Saying--or even implying--that Barack Obama is a fiscal conservative is even more inane than saying that Adolf Hitler was a tolerant, even-tempered humanitarian.

Then Sullivan comes to what he calls the "great conservative bugaboo" that is Obamacare. His attempt to defend this budget-busting boondoggle fell flat with me right away, as he chose to begin with the now thoroughly discredited claim that "The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it dramatically." As Republicans have repeatedly pointed out, the deceptive shenanigans and budgetary gimmicks in the health care reform bill that the CBO actually scored led to an inherently flawed analysis by the CBO that made it appear as though the federal budget deficit would have been higher in future years had Obamacare not been enacted than it will with the law in place. Sullivan's abject ineptitude as a pitchman is underscored by his choice to lead with this ridiculous and totally unjustifiable assertion, rather than any of the correct statements he actually followed it with. He correctly pointed out that Obamacare "is based on the individual mandate," an idea proposed and advocated in years past by conservatives. He is also right to say that the law "does not have a public option" and "gives a huge new client base to the drug and insurance companies." As if to try and subtly remind his audience that he purports to be a conservative, he threw in a reference to "the Clintons’ monstrosity in 1993," and he compared the final version of Obamacare to "Nixon’s 1974 proposal," just to show he's a student of history as well.

To his credit, Sully acknowledges that Obamacare "needs improvement in many ways," (an extreme understatement, to be sure, but more than one would expect from a die-hard Obamapologist like Andrew Sullivan) yet he makes the uncorroborated assertion that "the administration is open to further reform and has agreed to allow states to experiment in different ways to achieve the same result." It would be helpful if I knew what he meant by that; the reality is that the administration has spurned states' attempts to opt out of this costly chimera.

Sullivan's defense of Obamacare boils down to this: Obamacare is not as far-left a socialist boondoggle as the Left wanted, so it should be viewed as a centrist compromise. It's kind of like me claiming that I should have gotten an "A" on a final exam because I turned in a series of coherent sentences and didn't just take a s**t on the paper.

On foreign policy, Andy attempts to defend the indefensible by making absurd statements that have almost no basis in reality. He claims that "Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death." (I'm sure this "policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden" will come as a surprise to the thousands of individuals who worked for the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security under George W. Bush, especially those who collected the valuable intelligence that made the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden possible.) I will give him credit for this, though: he was prescient enough to realize how inane such a claim would come off to the learned reader and saw fit to blunt the shock of it by following it with the correct statement that "when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table." (He laid it on a little thick by adding that Obama "personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission," another dubious and uncorroborated claim, and he accused George W. Bush of "talk[ing] tough and act[ing] counterproductively" but didn't provide a scintilla of evidence to back up this outlandish charge.) In a rare display of brevity, I'll hold back from firing off a lengthy rebuttal of Sullivan's inflammatory rhetoric on this subject and borrow a tack from the Rules of Evidence: as the proponent of these claims, it's Sullivan's duty to back them up with evidence. If he doesn't, then I need not put on evidence supporting my rebuttal for reasonable minds to conclude that Sullivan's contentions are hogwash.

Staying on the topic of foreign policy, Sullivan turns his attention to the Left, who he says "is less unhinged in its critique" of the President (which of course they would be, as he is one of theirs). Here, the author tries a different vein: rather than mix a handful of truisms and justifiable assertions in with a big pot of crazy, he instead starts off with a series of agreeable statements (e.g., that "liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country" and decried "his too-small stimulus, his too-weak financial reform, and his too-cautious approach to gay civil rights.") and then descends into incoherent drivel.

In defending Obama to the American Left, Sullivan need not stick to truth or reality, as ardent left-wingers characteristically refuse to accept reality. Thus, he reiterates his ridiculous claim that a “depression was averted” and throws in a few more. “The bail-out of the auto industry was—amazingly—successful,” he says. (I’m not sure how he defines success, but I doubt it’s the same as Merriam-Webster’s definition.) “Torture was ended,” he declares, as if the U.S. had tortured anyone in decades. (For the record, I think having to suffer through an Obama-Biden administration is more than any decent citizen of this great country deserves.)

Touting the president’s record on “gay issues,” Sullivan, who is openly gay, rightly gives Obama credit for ending DADT and directing his Justice Department not to enforce DOMA, but he also mentions New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage, as if the president had anything to do with that. He similarly mentions the end of the War in Iraq, conveniently omitting that Obama opposed everything that allowed our valiant troops to wrest victory from the brink of defeat. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor; deal with it.) The rest of his pitch to the Left consists of reciting things that sound good to progressives and bad to the Right: obscene sums of public money spent on “noncarbon energy investments;” increased fuel-emission standards; the nominations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court.

Sullivan chatters and babbles for a couple of paragraphs before finally producing a couple of sentences I can agree with:
Obama was not elected, despite liberal fantasies, to be a left-wing crusader. He was elected as a pragmatic, unifying reformist who would be more responsible than Bush.
True on all counts. Unfortunately, rather than continue this rational prose, Sully returns to his crazy talk:

And what have we seen? A recurring pattern. To use the terms Obama first employed in his inaugural address: the president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider.
I'm going to cut that paragraph off right there. Again, I think any reasonable person should notice the manifest absurdity of that last sentence. I'll once more try to contain myself; suffice it to say that history is clear: Obama never extended the olive branch to conservatives, at least not in good faith. From the moment he took office, he cast himself as a partisan ideologue, intent on getting his way at all costs. The Republicans who were foolish or naïve enough to think he was sincere about wanting to build bridges soon discovered this. Those who stood up or dared to challenge him were to be castigated, derided and marginalized. In spite of all this, Sullivan has the gall to blame Obama's failure "to end Washington’s brutal ideological polarization" on "Republican intransigence." Recall that it was only after Americans registered their disapproval of the president's bridge-burning m.o. at the polls in November 2010 did that Obama began to pivot toward a more centrist approach. Query whether the president would have made this shift had the Democrats' Washington monoply remained intact.

The crux of Sullivan’s puff piece seems to be that the president's long game will, as Sullivan puts it, “outsmart his critics.”

This is where the left is truly deluded. By misunderstanding Obama’s strategy and temperament and persistence, by grandstanding on one issue after another, by projecting unrealistic fantasies onto a candidate who never pledged a liberal revolution, they have failed to notice that from the very beginning, Obama was playing a long game. He did this with his own party over health-care reform. He has done it with the Republicans over the debt. He has done it with the Israeli government over stopping the settlements on the West Bank—and with the Iranian regime, by not playing into their hands during the Green Revolution, even as they gunned innocents down in the streets. Nothing in his first term—including the complicated multiyear rollout of universal health care—can be understood if you do not realize that Obama was always planning for eight years, not four. And
Did you notice how Sullivan surreptitiously slip in an explanation for his hero’s unforgivably ham-fisted handling of the Iranian regime? Apparently, we’ve just misunderstood his “long game”: he was just playing it cool. Calling out the Iranian government for their flagrant human rights atrocities would’ve just been “playing into their hands.” I’m sure that sentiment will comfort the families of those who were slaughtered in the streets for daring to speak out against a brutal, backwards theocratic oligarchy.

I would be remiss if I did not commend Sullivan for one thing that impressed me about this article, and that his how he outdid himself when it seemed impossible. Despite all the foregoing absurdity, Andy managed to take his ludicrous pitch for Obama's re-election to a new level, postulating that an Obama victory in November would be "a mandate for an eight-year shift away from the excesses of inequality, overreach abroad, and reckless deficit spending of the last three decades."

Yes, let's reject "reckless deficit spending" by re-electing a president who has added more to our National Debt than any of his predecessors and who, should he get his way, would double that debt by the end of his second term. Sullivan then fully detaches himself from reality, weaving a tapestry of delusional prose, a tale so tall that Rod Serling would find it far-fetched. He calls himself a civil libertarian, despite having just defended the liberty-threatening, Constitution-defying power grab that is Obamacare. He once again brings up “torture,” reminding attentive readers that he has repeatedly used such a loaded term without once providing an example of the U.S. government torturing anybody. He calls Obama “a man of peerless eloquence,” while tarring his predecessor as “a tongue-tied dauphin.” (For the record, I don’t recall George W. Bush ever forgetting how many states there are or the age of one of his daughters, and while the former presidents propensity for malapropisms is well-documented, you won’t find an instance of him mispronouncing a simple word like “corpsman.”) He claims Obama “has offered to cut entitlements” (I must have missed that, though Sullivan rightly notes that the president “has already cut Medicare”.).

Andy concludes by admitting his bias, but insists that he is "biased...toward the actual record, not the spin; biased toward a president who has conducted himself with grace and calm under incredible pressure, who has had to manage crises not seen since the Second World War and the Depression, and who as yet has not had a single significant scandal to his name." I'm not sure what Sullivan considers "spin," but as I have made abundantly clear in this and other posts, I disagree that President Obama "has conducted himself with grace and calm". Similarly, I'm not sure what Andy considers a crisis, but I don't think the challenges this president has faced (to the extent they were not of his own making) were/are greater than anything seen since the 1940s. Is Sullivan not familiar with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. sat on the brink of a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R. for nearly two weeks? Did he forget about 9/11? Also, at what point does a scandal become "significant" in his mind? Evidently, Fast & Furious, Solyndra and the revelations of corruption within the Justice Department under Attorney General Holder don't qualify.

I am sure that Andrew Sullivan wants to see President Obama re-elected. He may even believe everything he wrote in this article (in which case, I'm surprised that he has the intellectual capacity to churn out such prose), but his failure--whether it was a concious refusal or just an inability--to base his case for returning this president to office in reality makes me think he knows that the truth is not on Obama's side, and his re-election hopes depend on surrogates like Sullivan disseminating their specious sophistry into our political discourse in the hopes of drowning out cogent arguments to the contrary. Then again, he may just have written this in the hopes of provoking guys like me so that our energy would be redirected from campaigning to replace Obama with someone who will actually know what he's doing, in which case I consider myself PUNK'D.

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