Obama tells Repub­li­cans, and the world, his vi­sion is right

Can’t re­sist needling Trump over­seas

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

Fac­ing re­jec­tion of his world­view on both sides of the At­lantic, Pres­i­dent Obama dou­bled down last week on the dan­gers of pop­ulism and de­clared that Don­ald Trump’s sup­port­ers don’t re­al­ize how good they’ve had it for the past eight years.

Declar­ing, “My vi­sion’s right,” the pres­i­dent said Mr. Trump won the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by ex­ploit­ing con­ser­va­tives’ “trou­bling” rhetoric to play on Amer­i­cans’ skep­ti­cism of glob­al­iza­tion and di­ver­sity. He ac­cused Repub­li­cans of fan­ning flames of “anger and fear in the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion” over eco­nomic un­cer­tainty to help Mr. Trump win, and warned that sim­i­lar forces are threat­en­ing the Euro­pean Union.

“You’ve seen some of the rhetoric among Repub­li­can elected of­fi­cials and ac­tivists and me­dia,” Mr. Obama said at a news con­fer­ence in Athens, Greece, with Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras. “Some of it [was] pretty trou­bling and not nec­es­sar­ily con­nected to facts, but be­ing used ef­fec­tively to mo­bi­lize peo­ple. And ob­vi­ously Pres­i­dent-elect Trump tapped into that par­tic­u­lar strain within the Repub­li­can Party and then was able to broaden that enough and get enough votes to win the elec­tion.”

Asked if the elec­tion of Mr. Trump and British vot­ers’ de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union amounted to a re­jec­tion of his world­view, Mr. Obama pointed to his rel­a­tively high ap­proval rat­ings and re­torted, “Last I checked, a pretty healthy ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple agree with my world­view on a whole bunch of things.”

It was a re­mark­able dis­play of cock­i­ness for a pres­i­dent whose fa­vored can­di­date just lost the elec­tion to suc­ceed him and who failed to per­suade British vot­ers last spring to re­main in the EU.

Nile Gar­diner, di­rec­tor of the Mar­garet Thatcher Cen­ter for Free­dom at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said Mr. Obama was dis­play­ing hubris and a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the anti-EU forces ris­ing in Europe.

“He is a pres­i­dent re­ally in de­nial with re­gard to the sweep­ing changes that are tak­ing place both at home and abroad, es­pe­cially across the At­lantic,” Mr. Gar­diner said in an in­ter­view. “The big­gest de­vel­op­ment in Europe in the last few years has been grow­ing sup­port for sovereignty and self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. He con­tin­ues to lec­ture Europe and Euro­pean politi­cians about the right path for­ward. I think it’s a mes­sage that is stuck in a time warp.”

The lame-duck pres­i­dent, whose legacy ini­tia­tives are im­per­iled by an in­com­ing Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and Repub­li­can­led Congress, said Amer­i­cans will re­al­ize even­tu­ally how danger­ous it is to fo­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race or re­li­gion. He said it’s a les­son that Euro­peans who fa­vor break­ing up the Euro­pean Union should heed as well.

“My vi­sion’s right on that is­sue,” Mr. Obama said. “It may not al­ways win the day in the short term in any po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stance, but I’m con­fi­dent it will win the day over the long term.”

Af­ter eight years of deny­ing that he pays at­ten­tion to polls, Mr. Obama pointed to his job ap­proval rat­ings (57 per­cent in Gallup) as proof that there was a “mis­match … be­tween frus­tra­tion and anger” among Mr. Trump’s vot­ers. He spec­u­lated that vot­ers sim­ply felt a “need to shake things up.”

Mr. Obama also pushed a theme of “You’ll miss me when I’m gone,” pre­dict­ing that vot­ers in the U.S. and Bri­tain will even­tu­ally re­al­ize that he was cor­rect in his as­sess­ment of the po­lit­i­cal forces at work. He fore­cast that Mr. Trump’s sup­port­ers will grasp soon, prob­a­bly be­fore the Repub­li­can faces re-elec­tion, how good things have been dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Time will now tell whether the pre­scrip­tions that are be­ing of­fered, whether Brexit or with re­spect to the U.S. elec­tion, ends up ac­tu­ally sat­is­fy­ing those peo­ple who have been fear­ful or an­gry or con­cerned,” Mr. Obama said. “I think that’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing test, be­cause I think I can make a pretty strong ar­gu­ment that the poli­cies we put for­ward were the right ones, that we’ve grown faster than just about any ad­vanced econ­omy. The coun­try is in­dis­putably bet­ter off, and those folks who voted for the pres­i­dent-elect are bet­ter off than they were when I came into of­fice, for the most part. But we’ll see whether those facts af­fect peo­ple’s cal­cu­la­tions in the next elec­tion.”

He said he has pushed an agenda for eco­nomic equal­ity over the past eight years but con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have blocked him.

The pres­i­dent’s 52nd and final for­eign trip was not sup­posed to be­come a post­elec­tion au­topsy. It was planned be­fore the elec­tion as part sight­see­ing tour — Mr. Obama had never been to Greece — and partly to of­fer a fond farewell in per­son to Ger­man Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Mr. Obama counts as his clos­est part­ner over his two terms.

Mr. Trump’s de­feat of Hil­lary Clin­ton changed all that. Now Mr. Obama is trav­el­ing on a mis­sion to re­as­sure anx­ious Euro­pean al­lies that Mr. Trump will keep the U.S. com­mit­ment to al­liances such as NATO and will largely pre­serve the con­ti­nu­ity of U.S. for­eign pol­icy.

Mr. Obama praised Greece as one of only five NATO mem­bers that spends the ad­vised 2 per­cent of gross domestic prod­uct on de­fense, de­spite its heavy debt bur­den and aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

Thou­sands of Greeks protested Mr. Obama’s visit. Riot po­lice fired tear gas Tues­day night at demon­stra­tors march­ing a few miles from the pres­i­den­tial man­sion where Greek lead­ers were host­ing a state ban­quet for Mr. Obama.

About 7,000 peo­ple, among them many hooded pro­test­ers and mem­bers of the com­mu­nist-af­fil­i­ated group PAME, marched through the streets of cen­tral Athens hold­ing ban­ners read­ing, “Un­wanted!”

Po­lice clashed with the pro­test­ers af­ter they tried to break through cor­don lines to reach the par­lia­ment build­ing and the U.S. Em­bassy. Some demon­stra­tors threw two gas bombs at po­lice be­fore dis­pers­ing into nearby streets close to Athens’ main Syn­tagma Square.

In a sep­a­rate protest in the north­ern city of Thes­sa­loniki, pro­test­ers burned a U.S. flag.

Mr. Obama was vis­it­ing two days be­fore the an­niver­sary of a bloody 1973 stu­dent re­volt that helped top­ple a mil­i­tary junta that took power in 1967 with U.S. gov­ern­ment sup­port.

Be­fore Mr. Obama left Wash­ing­ton on Mon­day, he con­ducted an hour­long press con­fer­ence at the White House, hop­ing that ques­tions about Mr. Trump’s elec­tion wouldn’t fol­low him over­seas. They did.

A re­porter for NBC News re­minded Mr. Obama of an in­ter­view he con­ducted in Jan­uary with “To­day” show co-host Matt Lauer, who had asked the pres­i­dent if he felt re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for Mr. Trump’s can­di­dacy. At the time, Mr. Obama replied, “Talk to me if he wins.”

The NBC re­porter asked the pres­i­dent Tues­day if he felt re­spon­si­ble for Mr. Trump’s vic­tory.

“I still don’t feel re­spon­si­ble for what the pres­i­dent-elect says or does,” Mr. Obama said. “But I do feel a re­spon­si­bil­ity as pres­i­dent of the United States to make sure that I fa­cil­i­tate a good tran­si­tion and I present to him, as well as the Amer­i­can peo­ple, my best think­ing, my best ideas about how you move the coun­try for­ward.”

Mr. Obama warned that “we are go­ing to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of na­tion­al­ism or eth­nic iden­tity or trib­al­ism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’”

“I will never apol­o­gize for say­ing that the fu­ture of hu­man­ity and the fu­ture of the world is go­ing to be de­fined by what we have in common as op­posed to those things that sep­a­rate us and ul­ti­mately lead us into con­flict,” he said. “Take Europe. We know what hap­pens when Euro­peans start di­vid­ing them­selves up and em­pha­siz­ing their dif­fer­ences and see­ing a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween var­i­ous coun­tries in a zero-sum way. The 20th cen­tury was a blood­bath.”

Mr. Gar­diner said Mr. Obama has no real un­der­stand­ing of the forces re­shap­ing Europe.

“I think Pres­i­dent Obama re­mains a fig­ure of tremen­dous hubris who does not re­ally un­der­stand the changes tak­ing place across the world, and whose ad­min­is­tra­tion has been in­cred­i­bly weak-kneed in terms of pro­jec­tion of Amer­i­can in­flu­ence and power,” he said.

“For a pres­i­dent with such an em­bar­rass­ing for­eign pol­icy record, Pres­i­dent Obama’s been an ex­traor­di­nar­ily self­con­fi­dent fig­ure. His record doesn’t match his ar­ro­gance,” he said.

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama showed ar­ro­gance in Greece de­spite elec­tion losses of his suc­ces­sor and of his cam­paign to keep Bri­tain in the EU.

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