Sunday, June 26, 2011

The pragmatic President and the cowardly Congress

The vitriol directed at President Obama is well known. I do not think it is fair to chalk this up to racism. Nonetheless, much of the criticism of Obama is misplaced. Far from being a far-left radical--a "socialist" in the bankrupt lexicon of contemporary American politics--Obama is essentially a pragmatist. His essential characteristic is not a deep-seated hatred of all that is quintessentially American: it is his almost total lack of principles. When given a choice between two contradictory courses of action, the man seeks out a middle course based on political instinct. This is of dubious utility to our doomed republic, but it is far more interesting.

Obama provided us with a good example during the speech on Afghanistan he made last week:

Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America's engagement around the world. Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America over-extend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.

Faced with the neo-cons, who wish to make the endless wars of Orwell into reality, and the handful of doves in his own party, Obama decides we shall draw down some of our troops so as to maintain a via media. Whatever the political virtues of such a move, clearly this is not a coherent policy. It is only an attempt to refrain from making a tough decision, which, though it must be made eventually, can be postponed until after the next election. And so the wars continue, forever and always, until the day when economic reality compels us to admit that bankrupt nations have no business pretending to be Empires.

On a related note, the House of Representatives voted against the authorization of war with Libya--a war that goes on with or without the permission of Congress, the body which, according to the dead letter that is our Constitution, must go through the dreary business of actually declaring war. That same chamber proceeded to vote in favor of providing funding for that the same war.

The problem with our representatives is not that they possess convictions, which, if acted on, would bring about the ruination of the republic. The problem is that, if they possess any convictions, cowardice ensures that they may as well have none at all. Like the president, the chief objective of our representatives is to spurn commitment to anything which might lessen one's chances of reelection.

Mark Krikorian aptly quotes Edward Gibbon:

The senate of Rome, losing all connection with the Imperial court and the actual constitution, was left a venerable but useless monument of antiquity on the Capitoline hill.

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