Obama’s in­dis­crim­i­nate charges of cyn­i­cism

Amer­i­cans have good rea­son to doubt the pres­i­dent’s good in­ten­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By James Bo­vard

As his poll rat­ings sink, Pres­i­dent Obama is ratch­et­ing up his de­nun­ci­a­tions of cyn­i­cism. How­ever, Mr. Obama’s cru­sade to rid the na­tion of cyn­i­cism is go­ing badly. A pres­i­dency built on restor­ing faith in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is in­stead dis­il­lu­sion­ing a new gen­er­a­tion to­ward Wash­ing­ton. At a re­cent Cal­i­for­nia fundraiser, the pres­i­dent com­plained that “the fact that since 2007, [Repub­li­can sen­a­tors] have fil­i­bus­tered about 500 pieces of leg­is­la­tion that would help the mid­dle class just gives you a sense of how op­posed they are to any progress — has ac­tu­ally led to an in­crease in cyn­i­cism.” This was Mr. Obama at his best — brazenly dis­sem­bling while com­plain­ing of dis­trust in politi­cians.

The Wash­ing­ton Post awarded Mr. Obama “four Pinoc­chios” be­cause there have been fewer than 140 fil­i­busters since 2007 for any leg­is­la­tion or nom­i­na­tions. The Na­tional Jour­nal la­beled such as­ser­tions as the “stray volt­age” tac­tic, where Mr. Obama in­ten­tion­ally mis­leads lis­ten­ers in or­der to em­bed ideas that ad­vance his agenda.

Mr. Obama has al­ways milked cyn­i­cism like a prize Hol­stein cow. In 2004, he de­clared that he was run­ning for the Se­nate be­cause “we’ve got too much cyn­i­cism in this coun­try, and we’re all in this to­gether, and govern­ment ex­presses that.” In 2007, he an­nounced that “my ri­val in this [pres­i­den­tial] race is not other can­di­dates. It’s cyn­i­cism.” At that point, few people re­called that pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ge­orge W. Bush in 1999 had promised Amer­i­cans “a fresh start af­ter a sea­son of cyn­i­cism.”

Nowa­days, Mr. Obama in­creas­ingly por­trays him­self as a vic­tim of cyn­i­cism. At the Grid­iron Club din­ner last year, the pres­i­dent be­wailed that “main­tain­ing cred­i­bil­ity in this cyn­i­cal at­mos­phere is harder than ever, in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing.” Last Novem­ber, he told at­ten­dees at an Or­ga­niz­ing for Ac­tion din­ner that the “fil­ter through which people see and re­ceive in­for­ma­tion about govern­ment ... is tilted to­ward cyn­i­cism.”

Mr. Obama is es­pe­cially mor­ti­fied that mil­len­ni­als have lost faith in him. In a 2012 col­lege com­mence­ment speech themed to his re-elec­tion cam­paign, he told Barnard Col­lege grad­u­ates that “when­ever you feel that creep­ing cyn­i­cism ... the tra­jec­tory of this coun­try should give you hope.” Last year, he ex­horted Ohio State Univer­sity grad­u­ates to be­ware the “creep­ing cyn­i­cism” and people who “warn that tyranny is al­ways lurk­ing just around the cor­ner.” Mr. Obama did not seize that op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain why be­ing pres­i­dent en­ti­tled him to au­tho­rize the killing of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens based solely on his own de­cree.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion blames ev­ery­body ex­cept it­self for the plum­met in trust in govern­ment since 2009. White House deputy press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest told a press gag­gle on May 10, “I think the thing that breeds a lot of cyn­i­cism about the po­lit­i­cal process are those out­side groups that don’t dis­close their donors.”

Ap­par­ently, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s peren­nial re­fusals to dis­close how it is us­ing the power it seized is ir­rel­e­vant. Are Amer­i­cans cyn­i­cal be­cause they ex­pected Mr. Obama to honor his prom­ise to be “the most trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory”? Are they cyn­i­cal be­cause they thought a for­mer con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor would not au­tho­rize per­va­sive il­le­gal spy­ing on aver­age cit­i­zens? Are they cyn­i­cal be­cause they thought a pres­i­dent should honor his oath to faith­fully ex­e­cute the laws — in­stead of is­su­ing end­less ex­emp­tions to sal­vage Oba­macare?

Nor can Mr. Obama blame cit­i­zens’ loss of faith for some of his big­gest flops. It wasn’t cyn­i­cism that caused the Oba­macare health care ex­changes to be one of the big­gest de­ba­cles in In­ter­net his­tory. It wasn’t cyn­i­cism that caused the mas­sively sub­si­dized Solyn­dra so­lar-panel com­pany to go bank­rupt. It wasn’t cyn­i­cism that caused the federal debt to soar by $6 tril­lion since Mr. Obama took of­fice.

While the pres­i­dent still re­tains some of the “ide­al­ist saint­hood” the me­dia con­ferred upon him in 2008, his rhetoric is in­dis­tin­guish­able from pre­ced­ing grafters. “I re­ject the cyn­i­cal view that pol­i­tics is in­evitably, or even usu­ally, a dirty busi­ness,” de­clared Pres­i­dent Nixon on April 30, 1973, the day his top White House aides re­signed over their role in the Water­gate scan­dal. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton an­nounced in Jan­uary 1997 that people can “make [Amer­ica] bet­ter if we will sus­pend our cyn­i­cism” about govern­ment and politi­cians. This is the Peter Pan the­ory of good govern­ment: Govern­ment would be won­der­ful if only people be­lieved that it has mag­i­cal pow­ers.

Politi­cians hate cyn­i­cism the same way that bur­glars hate Brinks alarm sys­tems. Cyn­i­cism about politi­cians, though, is akin to fi­nan­cial mar­kets for govern­ment debts, which rou­tinely mark down bonds to junk sta­tus be­cause traders doubt that rulers will pay up. It is un­for­tu­nate that there is no way to sim­i­larly pre­cisely gauge politi­cians’ cred­i­bil­ity and to mark them down to “junk” af­ter they re­neged once too of­ten.

Does Mr. Obama think that Amer­i­cans who dis­trust him vi­o­late his pres­i­den­tial pre­rog­a­tive? It is not cyn­i­cal to have more faith in free­dom than in sub­ju­ga­tion. It is not cyn­i­cal to have more faith in in­di­vid­u­als vested with rights than in bu­reau­crats armed with penal­ties. It is not cyn­i­cal to sus­pect that gov­ern­ments that have con­nived so of­ten in the past may not be deal­ing straight to­day.

Un­til we reach the golden age of hon­est rulers, mod­er­ate cyn­i­cism can pro­vide a brake on po­lit­i­cal power grabs. In the mean­time, the best hope for the sur­vival of free­dom is that Mr. Obama will re­ceive ex­actly the amount of trust and def­er­ence that he de­serves. James Bo­vard is the au­thor of “At­ten­tion Deficit Democ­racy” (Pal­grave, 2006) and “Lost Rights” (St. Martin’s, 1994).


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