Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Do Americans Know What We Want?

Today's papers carried news about the latest approval polls that show President Obama's slide in popular opinion. In response, White House adviser David Axelrod is quoted as saying: "People fundamentally like this president, and they believe he's smart and capable and strong and trying to do the right thing."

I think Axelrod is right. I just don't think those are the key things that qualify someone to be president over the other realistic candidates. Of course President Obama is likeable. He is clearly smart. He is capable of many things. And I have no doubt that he is trying to do the right thing.

But is that really the defense we want to reassure us about our president? Isn't every viable candidate likeable and smart and capable? Don't we believe in our hearts that McCain or Nader or Bush or Kerry or Gore or Sharpton or Perot or Biden or Gus Hall would have tried to do the right thing?

I am discouraged that many Americans - and the official spokesperson of the administration - seem to be satisfied with someone who is smart and likeable and wants to do the right thing. (Lest you think I am applying this only to the current administration, I winced during the previous administration when President Bush's defenders would respond to attacks with lines like "He is such a good man.") I just don't think that's enough. I believe that we have to look at two more things: What does the president believe and what does the president do?

My objections to Gus Hall's candidacy would have had nothing to do with how smart he was or how much he wanted to do right. They would have arisen because his ideology was abhorrent to me and, in trying to do what he thought was right, he would have led the country in entirely the wrong direction. I would have voted against him because of what he believed and what he would have done.

George W. Bush's failure, ultimately, was not in being unlikeable or not smart enough. (I know, some of you are chuckling because of his malapropisms, but even you admit that he is smarter than the average bear.) President Bush's ultimate failures were because his actions did not reflect what he claimed to believe. He claimed to be an economic conservative but led the nation in huge (albeit dwarfed by the current administration's) increases in government spending. He claimed not to believe in nation-buidling but embarked on a long and costly effort in Iraq that can be classified as nothing else.

Near the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore says, "It's our choices, Harry, that tell who we are, far more than our abilities."

This blog is not meant to gauge opinions about President Obama's policies. You believe what you believe, and I believe what I believe. My point is to say that I fear that too many Americans voted for a likeable smart guy without fully considering the consequences, and I am amazed that Americans now may be defending him on the grounds that he is a likeable smart guy who is trying hard. His job is too important for that. He should be defended - or not - based on his choices, not his basic skills.

I believe that President Obama is entirely honest. I believe he has done exactly what he said he would do, from his promotion of labor unions to his government intervention into the business of GM to his "stimulus package" to his health care initiative to his Supreme Court nominee. Those are choices that he has made. His abilities are admirable; his choices are not the ones I would have made.

I would hope that his defenders would have more to say than "he is likeable and smart and trying hard." I hope his defenders would defend his choices and his ideology.

I know that some of you do defend his choices, and I applaud you for your consistency, even if I disagree with the particular political choices. But I worry when the quote the White House carefully chooses to put out is the one that showed up in the paper today.

Is that what Americans want? Likeable, smart, trying hard to do right?

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