With Friends Like These . . .

October 9th, 2014

Any president elected to a second term should expect a few things to happen. First, he should prepare to carry out the entire agenda promised in the reelection campaign in the first two years of the new term.  This is important because the next thing that will inevitably happen is that the president’s party will lose seats in Congress in the midterm elections that follow.  After that, the president will become a lame duck and no one will really care much anymore what the president says or does unless it’s something embarrassing or illegal.

Also, through all four years of the second term, the president should pay close attention to the New York Times Bestseller List because that’s where all the president’s former colleagues’ memoirs will appear.

Typically, in order for a book to appear on this list the author needs to reveal some new or stunning revelation about the president or the administration.  After all, who wants to read a boring book that reads like a fan letter?  Then again, if the book is overly critical it makes the reader wonder how the president was elected in the first place and why the author of the book lowered himself to work for someone so incompetent.  If things were so bad, why didn’t the author quit?

In recent past administrations, most books which make the president look bad or foolish are written by clear administration malcontents.  Either they were demoted or quit under difficult circumstances. Those situations don’t invite a lot of happy talk in any written retrospective.

That’s what makes the recent books written by former high level officials of the Obama administration so interesting.

These are high level individuals who presumably left on very good terms. While different in many respects, these books carry one general theme in common.

Each of the writers evidently thinks the president is a boob.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration.  In fact, they’re all extremely careful in their criticism.  Each generally begins with what is supposed to sound like a huge compliment (i.e., the president is so bright that he’s “professorial”) then they bang the hammer down by saying essentially that he either doesn’t know what he’s doing or he’s incapable of doing what needs to be done.

For every book that’s come out recently, critics can reasonably offer some motive to the author that explains why he or she is being so tough on the president.  For Hillary Clinton, it’s that she needs to create some separation from the president for her own future presidential run.  With Robert Gates, it’s that he was a carryover from the Bush administration so he obviously holds some bias towards the president.

It’s a little harder in Leon Panetta’s case.  While he clearly has a profit motive to sell books and is close to Hillary Clinton, he’s also someone who’s always been fairly well respected by both sides of the political aisle.

Panetta claims that his criticism is borne out of a desire to see the president improve his performance these last two years.  Unfortunately, if he believes that publicly criticizing Obama will help him do a better job then he must know something about the president that the rest of us don’t since Obama has never struck the public as someone who welcomes constructive criticism.

According to Panetta, Obama is making the right decisions “two years too late.” That’s not particularly comforting.  At least we can all be thankful that Harry Truman and not Barack Obama was president in the closing days of World War II. Imagine what Obama would have done if he’d been forced to make a decision about dropping the atomic bomb. Based on Panetta’s analysis of Obama’s style, he would probably either still be thinking about it or would have simply eventually dropped the subject so that everyone could just assume the answer was “no.”

Let’s just hope with all of Obama’s current pondering and dithering that he doesn’t unwittingly lead us eventually into World War III.  History clearly shows that bad things happen when states act aggressively while others stand by and fail to act at all.