I still have one indelible memory of President Obama’s inauguration. While the “dignitaries” were entering to take their seats, I took notice of Rahm Emanuel’s demeanor. His wide smile as he entered the seating area reminded me of the Cheshire Cat. He held this Cheshire Cat smile while executing a celebratory “low five” hand slap on his way to his seat. His demeanor seemed more suitable for a high school locker room than a solemn constitutional event. Thus were the politics of 2009 kicked off, from my personal perspective.
The Obama administration’s first piece of major legislation came on the economic front – the so-called “Stimulus” bill. I have always felt the most succinctly apt label for this bill was the phrase radio talk personality Monica Crowley coined at the time: “trillion dollar crap sandwich.”
The Obama team allowed the Democratic leadership in Congress to lead the legislative process. As anyone could have predicted for something designed by a partisan committee of the congressional majority party whole - it turned into a gigantic Keynsian spending program. In the end the overall price tag was $787 Billion. The Obama administration told us it was necessary as an emergency measure to create and save jobs in the economy. The official unemployment number stood at 8%. If this is your justification, some of us asked ourselves, why is most of the spending back-loaded into the period 2010-2014? Another question was the burgeoning federal deficit, which was already hovering around $10 Trillion, and which candidate Obama had campaigned on reducing. Remember, the ultimate outcome of the TARP bailout Obama had inherited from Bush was still in doubt, representing another $700 Billion of taxpayer money then at risk of disappearing forever. How is this math supposed to work out - knowing health care reform and cap and trade are in the pipeline?
The sheer irresponsibility of the proposed spending was appalling to many Americans. This immediate spending binge, coupled with a growing awareness of what the administration’s priorities would be - based largely on a stream of news about controversial associations attached to Obama’s staff, appointees, and “czars” - contributed to the rise of the most extraordinary grass roots political movement I have witnessed in my lifetime; the TEA party movement.
I attended the April 15 Washington, DC TEA party in Lafayette park with my wife. There were a few thousand intrepid souls who came out on a bleak, rainy day. But the patriotic spirit was high, very high. All the TEA party patriots I met there were articulate, well-mannered, and driven by principle to exercise their First Amendment rights. Fresh in the news that day was Janet Napolitano’s moronic warning that the biggest threat to American homeland security is homegrown “right wing extremism.” The biggest guffaw my wife and I had that day was when we saw a well-dressed gentleman walking around with a giant home-made sign that had the words “right wing extremist,” and an arrow pointing down to him. We also laughed at the only left-wing counter-protest we saw. It was a few college-age stooges dressed up like the rich guy from Monopoly. I think they were trying to make the point that the TEA party patriots were rich, tools of the rich, or something like that. Mostly they were greeted by the TEA party patriots with the phrase “get a job” and dismissive laughter. I assume the Monopoly men were being paid by ACORN. Their suits looked too perfect. I also assume it was too rainy for anyone else who might have been available on ACORN’s payroll, which explains why the Monopoly men were so lonely. All in all, it was a fun day, really. But I digress.
After “fixing the economy” with passage of the Stimulus bill, President Obama’s other major policy thrusts in 2009 were health care reform, energy, and a complete reversal of Bush administration policies in foreign relations and national security.
As an executive, Obama made the same rookie mistake on this initiative he made on Stimulus – that is, he did not guide the process from the White House toward a bi-partisan solution. He instead allowed the Democratic leadership in congress to lead the entire process. By summer it was obviously a wholly partisan process, and worse, it seemed to be on rails headed downhill toward publicly funded socialized medicine. Democratic congressmen on summer break heard about it (to say the least) from their constituents at the Town Hall Meetings. I believe news coverage of the Town Halls – which simultaneously highlighted the power of public activism and the silliness of congressional fecklessness – was the tipping point of 2009. At minimum, it aided the further rise of the TEA party movement, as well as the organization of the 9-12 march on Washington (which I regret having missed).
I did make it to the emergency house call on November 5, conceived by Rep. Michele Bachmann. I spoke to patriots from all over the country; including a grandmother from Missouri whose big concern was the deficit her grandchildren would need to pay off. One personal “free association” moment occurred when I witnessed the grandchildren dashing against a yellow light on Independence Avenue, oblivious to their grandmother chatting up a taxi driver in the middle of the street. A patriot from Texas estimated the November 5 crowd to be 10% of the September 12 crowd; which places the September 12 crowd at maybe 200,000 in my mind. The next morning my wife and I had a huge guffaw over news reports my local congressman had panicked under the pressure of actually witnessing constituents in his office space. He tried to have an old lady arrested for assault (she touched his arm lightly to get his attention). When the house vote came down as close as it did, I thought to myself this train can be derailed.
I also attended the code red emergency senate rally on December 15. This time I took the step of carrying a homemade sign. For the front side, I focused on a recent news report which highlighted the confusion and rush in the administration’s process: “Obama HHS Predicts Insurance Death Spiral. WTF? Kill the Bill!” The back side poked fun at the very idea of the government running anything efficiently; jumping on breaking news of massive H1N1 vaccine recalls: “Big Gov Flu Vaccine? LOL. Big Gov Health Care? SSDD.” I left this sign on the bicycle rack in front of the Russell Senate office building. I fantasized about a swing-vote Senator encountering it, having an epiphany, and giving an historic speech on the floor to kill the bill. I was not surprised when it did not work out that way.
Things were moving fast by November/December. Soon there were reports that the Obama administration was shocked, shocked I tell you, that the official unemployment figure had reached 10%. News was also coming in at a steady rate casting doubt on official White House statistics about “jobs saved or created” by the Stimulus bill. The administration’s response was an empty one day seminar they called the “jobs summit.” The most salient idea that came out of this empty seminar was to raid the TARP funds finally being returned to the American people - for more Keynsian government spending. The bill became known as “Son of Stimulus.” Against all of his liberal instincts, my local congressman voted against the measure, citing the growing federal deficit, already ballooned up to $12 Trillion at the time of the vote. I took this as a ray of hope for the republic.
“Health Care Reform” narrowly passed the Senate along purely partisan lines, despite multiple polls showing the majority of Americans didn’t want it. The final version was written in a rush behind closed doors (so much for campaign promises of “transparency”). In early 2010 it will need to go to conference for final passage. There’s still a chance the Democrats will implode over the abortion issue - if the congressional caucus led by Bart Stupak stands tall on principle and the liberal wing of the party doesn’t come on board with abortion restrictions. We’ll see. If not, it seems likely there will be legal challenges to the constitutionality of the final bill. There has been talk of challenging the special Medicaid treatment afforded to Nebraska and a few other states in the Senate version. I’m not sure how much mileage this constitutional argument actually has - but it certainly highlights the sorry state of affairs on Capitol Hill for all to see (now that’s transparency you can count on). The individual mandate is more clearly unconstitutional under any reasonable interpretation of federalism, and surely overreaches the spirit of the Commerce clause. This issue is now pregnant with the possibility of a constitutional crisis in 2010.
Similar to the health care debate, this administration showed a willingness to defy public opinion on the question of Global Warming. (I refuse to use the focus group tested new marketing label “Climate Change.”) This administration acts on the belief Global Warming theory presents an existential threat sufficiently dangerous to take measures limiting economic activity – in a deep recession. The House passed a Cap and Trade bill in June. My local congressman unsurprisingly voted in favor, despite my eloquent fax informing him this was the last straw for me.
Then in late November, the Climategate email controversy broke out. It was a beautiful confirmation of everything I had personally concluded since 2007 about Global Warming, mainly from reading books by Dr. Fred Singer and Christopher Horner. I have an indelible memory of a perfectly pithy blog post I ran across in the heat of the debate: “Hurray for this year’s Secret Santa – the Climategate email hackers.”
Despite the legitimate uncertainty Climategate raised about the science underlying Global Warming theory, the Obama administration bored ahead with the UN-sponsored empty seminar on Global Warming in Copenhagen. Predictably the conference broke down; as the world’s kleptocracies were unable to successfully shake down the rich economies, China and India were unwilling to cripple their growing economies for unproven theories, and left wing activists rioted. After witnessing all of this, our President still flew over there to “save the day.” As it turned out, he crashed an eleventh hour meeting China/India/Brazil/S.Africa were trying to have without the US, and came out with an empty “accord” devoid of measurable targets.
Recent news reports suggest some Democratic Senators are calling for President Obama to drop the issue. I doubt he will. He has shown he is an ideologue first and foremost. Such people do not drop their ideas in the face of contradictory facts and developments – at least not without a fight. He even seems willing to unconstitutionally use the EPA to exercise enforcement powers not ratified by the legislative branch. This is possible constitutional crisis #2 for 2010.
The other element of this administration’s energy policy is a set of initiatives they’ve labeled “energy independence.” I can hardly think of a more unreal Orwellian label. In the name of “energy independence” they seek to double down on government investment in “green” sources such as wind and solar - which have failed to become economically viable after a 30+ years of subsidies already! Simultaneously they discourage expanding the nuclear power industry – which is perfectly “green” (i.e. zero emissions of green-house gases), is capable of scaling up to meet national demand (unlike wind and solar), and certainly does reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Then there is the most direct means of reducing dependence on foreign oil – drilling domestically for our own sources of oil and natural gas. While promoting solutions for “energy independence” they must know cannot scale to meet the need, this administration is dead set against domestic drilling for precisely the products we now import. How’s that again? This policy could ultimately have direct implications on national security. The places on Earth that supply us our oil are not exactly our closest friends.
Foreign Relations and National Security
This is the policy area that is most plainly the constitutional responsibility of the executive branch. It is also where we as a nation face the most immediate danger in 2010.
Mr. Obama opened his presidency by declaring Guantanamo bay would be closed by a date certain in 2010 - another rookie mistake. Declaring a measurable goal, for a complex problem, with no idea whatsoever how to attain it - incompetent executive work, plain and simple.
Guantanamo bay was (is) a perfect solution to a sticky problem. What to do with illegal combatants in a global war? Well, we just happen to have this naval base we acquired after the Spanish-American War, on an island 90 miles from the continental US. Perfect. Obama’s first official statement in foreign relations was to declare we would close this perfect solution for a solution to be named later. The solutions so far have included taxpayer-underwritten Bermuda accommodations for several Uighurs, plans to repatriate some number of the 97 Yemeni terrorists back to Yemen, and a plan to move the remaining prisoner population to a facility in Illinois. Obama’s rationale has been the negative image Guantanamo presents to world. How does a replacement prison in Illinois present a less negative image? And can somebody please explain to me how the tradeoff of Illinois for Cuba makes Americans more secure?
He also went on a global apology tour to declare to the world that America would be different under his leadership – more tolerant, or something like that. There was the ‘New Beginning’ speech in Cairo. The Islamic government in Iran was certainly intended to be a partner in this ‘New Beginning’. In response, the mullahs who rule Iran spent all of 2009 thumbing its collective bearded noses at UN demands to halt its nuclear weapons program, and ruthlessly putting down freedom demonstrations by Iranian dissidents.
There was the also the strange bow to the Saudi king. Why would the head of state of the United States of America – a nation founded with the words “We the People” – bow to a monarch? It made no sense. Later in the year, our President bowed to the monarch of Japan. Huh? The best I could come up with is he was trying to obfuscate the earlier bow. It doesn’t matter - bowing to any foreign monarch is never, ever, even remotely appropriate for an American head of state.
Then there was the decision to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several other 9-11 co-conspirators to New York City for civilian trial, complete with the full array of constitutional rights. These rights have never been extended to illegal foreign combatants in all our national history. The fundamental problem this decision highlights is the current administration’s misguided and dangerously deadly view that Terrorism is a law enforcement issue. The problem with the law enforcement approach is you have to wait for the terrorist act to occur before doing something about it. The eight years of relative safety under the Bush administration were made possible by the war footing it maintained in relation to radical Islamic jihadism. Under a war footing, you can go on the offense –find the enemy where he lives; kill him, or capture and interrogate him. To the extent we are still doing that in Afghanistan it is a good thing. Recent news suggests we will need to be doing more of it in Yemen if we intend to win this war.
On the cusp of 2010, this administration still seems to hold fast to the law enforcement response, despite an extraordinary series of events in 2009 amply demonstrating the will of radical Islamic jihadis to wage war on us. A simple enumeration: the Arkansas recruiting station shooting, Major Hasan’s attack on Fort Hood, the five Northern Virginia men who traveled to Pakistan to volunteer for jihadi service, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempted Christmas day airliner bombing.
Even as news now breaks showing Major Hasan and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab both took “spiritual guidance” from the same radical Imam (an American citizen named Anwar al-Awlaki who is operating out of Yemen), this administration cannot bring itself to say the words “radical,” “Islamic”, “terrorist,” and “jihadi” in the same speech; much less the same sentence or phrase. If you can’t speak the enemy’s name, you have no hope of defeating him.
A recent speech by Obama offered tepid words of support for the Iranian dissidents. This may show he is pivoting, however slowly, toward the side of freedom and away from the mullahs in Iranian relations. We’ll see.
I witness the progress made in 2009 by Iran and North Korea in their nuclear weapons programs and it doesn’t take much imagination to worry about the potential for biblical scenarios.
2010 is a dry tinderbox, and our current administration stands by with a blowtorch. I will try to find the time to blog some more as events unfold throughout the year. I definitely expect to meet more patriots at 2010 TEA parties.
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