Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Obama needs to Channel Jefferson

The irony, seeped within President Obama’s recent announcement that he will not wield the power of the Commander in Chief in Syria without the consent of Congress, is rich.  Congress, that bastion of do-nothings (or so the President has said time and time again)…the target of his “We can’t wait” campaign to usurp powers not delineated to the Executive by the Constitution….now, the President seems calcified to act urgently without the blessing of the branch he has so publicly vilified.  Rich.

Could it be, perhaps, that the President will go-around Congress, with his constitutionally questionable executive orders, only if he thinks there are votes to be had by doing so?  But now… now that 2/3 of Americans are opposed to military intervention in Syria, now that Great Britain has voted “no”, now that there are no votes to be had, Obama shrinks.  The winner of the Nobel Peace prize now contemplates truly unilateral military action with no clear objective but a plate of metaphors (“Send a signal”, “put a shot across the bow”…) with a consensus nowhere on the globe to be found.  I can only imagine how the press would howl if anyone but President Obama were in the Oval office.

Obama’s theory of leadership has three elements: 1) “lead” after someone else leads (e.g. Libya)  2) “lead” only when convinced that there are votes to be had and the mob supports his decision and 3) appoint a blue ribbon committee to ponder a tough decision and make recommendations (e.g. Bowles – Simpson). “Leadership approaches”, all of which allow for the glory to stick and the mess to slip away.

Our Founders entrusted the chief executive with awesome powers because they knew the life of the Republic might hinge someday on the vigorous and timely decision making only possible by a single, accountable executive.  As has been his record, President Obama punts the tough executive decisions to unaccountable committees.  If that’s what the Founders thought would best defend the Republic, the Constitution would have been so written.   President Obama seems to like the perks of the office but not the lonely accountability.  Playing cards during the raid on bin Laden?  Really?

Unlike GW Bush in Iraq, who had a coalition of 42 nations supporting military intervention, President Obama is alone. Alone with the bravado of a punk who never thought his bluff would be called; alone, without the fiber to face the tyranny of circumstances faced by every President since Washington; armed only with his teleprompter and staff notes and poll numbers; alone without the conviction and duty to support and defend the constitution of the United States.

Jefferson faced challenges to his ideology in his second term, similar to what President Obama now faces, and grew into the job of President to earn a spot on the face of Rushmore.  We sometimes forget that Jefferson was a more strident ideologue than even Obama.  But what will separate the two in history is one rose to the occasion – to the unexpected challenges of the office – and stayed true to his primary responsibility to support and defend the Constitution. 

Candidate Jefferson never would have considered buying the Louisiana Purchase from France – an act that effectively doubled the size of the nation and diminished the relative importance of each state.  President Jefferson, after much sole searching put nation first and ideology second and secured the Louisiana Purchase for a song.

Candidate Jefferson advocated a navy capable of only coastal defense.  President Jefferson dispatched Preble and Rogers to defeat the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean and forever ended the payment of tribute.

President Obama seems to view the tyranny of foreign policy to be such an annoyance… it interferes with so many of his other policy initiatives.  But , perhaps not so much of an annoyance as to interfere with his weekend golf….

We all wish the President the grace and vision and courage to act without contradiction … to support and defend the Constitution of the United States… that’s it.  That’s all I ask of our President.   You don’t need to reduce unemployment or save the environment or re-distribute wealth or tell our kids what to eat at school.  Don’t worry about that stuff.  Really… Just focus on supporting and defending the Constitution, consistent with the courage to set aside your ideology and your ego and perhaps a few votes and lead with the courage of Jefferson.

C Powers