Tuesday, October 29, 2013



Perhaps the most damaging image in the whole sad NY Times piece on President Obama’s “policy process” on Syria,

which I wrote about a few days ago,

was this one: “Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.”  

This portrait of ostentatious Presidential disengagement confirms an earlier assessment of Mr. Obama by his long-time friend and White House den mother, Valerie Jarrett, who told Obama biographer David Remnick, “He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”

As scouts like to say of the latest athletic phenomenon, “Talent without discipline is worth nothing.”

A President who advertises his boredom during a discussion among this top advisors or an issue as serious as Syria is the embodiment of that principle.

First, let’s deal with boredom itself.  Boredom is an existential condition; not something imposed on the talented by boring people or boring subjects.  Boredom is a failure to engage.  For a President whose time is not only very valuable, but completely his own, to be “bored,” to “tune out” of, rather than direct or simply end an unproductive meeting is not just rude, but wasteful and irresponsible.

I’d give kudos to the President for rejecting, however passively, American military intervention in Syria.  But a national leader should do more than hunker down until the stupidities of his staff blow over.  He’s got better things to do, and guarding his time is one of the President’s basic responsibilities.

But Barack Obama is not a President anxious to assume responsibilities.  We saw that from the get-go when Mr. Obama deferred to Congress the responsibility for health reform.  What may have started out looking like a pragmatic political strategy, ended up looking like definition of character.  The Affordable Care Act did pass, and that’s probably a good thing, but a little Presidential vision and leadership might have made it a better thing. 

Now, “the President’s signature first-term accomplishment” is in trouble of its own making and Mr. Obama says, “Nobody is more frustrated by that than I am.” 

Sorry, Boss, but “frustrated” doesn’t cut it.  Here’s the word you were not searching for: “responsible.”

Say it after me, “I, President Barack Obama sit at the desk where the buck stops.  I am the head of this government, and when it fails as egregiously as it has on ACA, I am responsible.”

And, Sir, it gets even harder after that.  After you accept responsibility, you apologize to the nation and explain why it will be worth their while to be patient.

It seems the President is afraid, if he ‘fesses up, he’ll lose the American people.  But they can already see the egg all over his face.  The only way to keep their respect is to admit you failed, and to demonstrate you’re not just “frustrated,” but distressed, not for yourself, but for them, the American people you have let down. 

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be a fine person, but she let you and us down.  Like the President, the Secretary is also responsible for this mess, and she must be held accountable.  By her employer. 

Believe me; the American public is already making judgments. 

Must she be fired?  I don’t think so, but she and the public should be told her job is on the line. I believe she can accept the challenge, and I certainly believe ACA can and will be saved.  But in case you’ve forgotten, you appointed Gov. Sibelius, and therefore you are – here’s that word again – responsible for her performance.  You know the Democrat who runs to succeed you will have to answer for it.

As long as we’re talking responsibility, the cascade of catastrophes at the NSA also belongs to you.  The incredible breakthroughs in surveillance technology are mind-boggling, but appointing and overseeing a team to manage them, to use them wisely, selectively, lawfully and above all, honestly, is one of the most important tasks every President takes on.  When things go bad, he should show he knows it, and propose a plan to make things better. 

This President seems happy to accept the NSA’s assurance that he was never told about spying on allies like the leaders of Germany, Mexico and Brazil.  He shouldn’t be.  He should be mad as Hell if the NSA is telling the truth, or contrite as Hell if it isn’t.  Maybe he was contrite, on the phone to Chancellor Merkel, but she doesn’t pay his salary.  The President should be knowledgeably, specifically, humbly contrite that his runaway spooks not only gathered information from the dependable head of a friendly nation, but that they tracked far too many Americans’ phones, and computers and mined the data, in violation of law and well as common sense.

An embossed official NSA Certificate of Ignorance will not get the President off the hook. What will, is acting like he understands that it’s a major breach of trust for his top National Security agents to take such risks without telling him.  Especially when the risk was so unlikely to produce any significant reward, since targets like Merkel or Rousseff or Calderon can hardly be considered threats to American security. 

DNI James Clapper and NSA chief Keith Alexander should be fired, not allowed to resign, as Gen. Alexander has.  They have betrayed the strategic primacy of the Presidency and have broken the law by frequently lying to their so-called overseers in Congress and the FISA Court.  For the latter, they should be prosecuted.  No President should passively accept their performances.  Doing, saying nothing plays like Mr. Obama excuses his own marginalization and endorses perjury at the highest political and Constitutional levels.

Finally, Mr. Obama has for almost a week now been silently assenting to a serious suggestion that government should effectively repeal the First Amendment.  This shocking idea was broached by NSA Chief Alexander, who said of the revelations of his own, and his Agency’s foolish misjudgments and consistent criminality, "I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, … and are selling them and giving them out … We ought to come up with a way of stopping it.”  

If that’s not grounds for immediate, clean-out-your-desk-by-the-end-of-the-day firing, I don’t know what is. No President can accept such an attack on America’s most cherished Constitutional liberty, Freedom of Speech, and no President should employ, in intelligence no less, someone so ignorant of the facts of contemporary reality

Gen. Alexander, reporters are not “selling” secrets, and neither are their whistleblower sources.  They are not spies.  They are giving citizens free, and in a democracy, necessary access to the often embarrassing facts of what their government has been doing and lying about. It is this information reporters provide that allow citizens to judge how their elected officials are measuring up to their responsibilities.  

Staring at the ceiling, thumbing the Presidential Blackberry, acting bored by such fascistic crudities may give Mr. Obama some comfort, but to many of us, it is a signal of sympathy for the Generals, and abandonment of his Constitutional duties.

The President looks amateurish covering his own ass, and anti-democratic trying to bully the people who are covering it professionally.

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