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Doubting Obama's Resolve to Do Right

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Source: Consortium News


President Barack Obama participates in a Memorial Day wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

An article in the Washington Post on July 6, 2010, reported me standing before the White House, announcing a new epithet for President Barack Obama: "Wuss -- a person who will not stand up for what he knows is right."

The report is correct -- and so, I believe, is the epithet. And after the sleight-of-tongue speech given by the President of the United States at the National Defense University on May 23, I feel I can rest my case. (Caution: my wife insists that I mention at the outset that I've been angry since I listened to the speech.)

The day after Obama's speech I found myself struck by Scott Wilson's article on the front page of the Post, in which he highlighted the "unusual ambivalence from a commander-in-chief over the morality of his administration's counterterrorism policies."

And someone at the Post also had the courage that day to insert into a more reportorial article by Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller a hitting-the-nail-right-on-the-head quote from Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings: "To put it crassly, the President sought to rebuke his own administration for taking the positions it has -- but also to make sure that it could continue to do so."

Call me naive for putting the wish before the thought, but two days later my hopes zoomed when I saw that page A5 of the Post was dominated by a long article by Glenn Kessler, the Post's normally soporific "fact checker." After the first seven words of the banner headline -- "Red herrings, dissemblance and misleading statements ..." -- Kessler had me, so to speak.

You will understand my disappointment, then, when I read the rest of the headline: "... from the IRS's Lerner," not from Obama.

And so I read Obama's speech again, initially with the thought of doing Kessler's job for him. But the lies, half-truths and pettifoggery are legion and the task truly Herculean. Besides, many readers will decipher Obama's new "transparency" as transparently self-serving, without any help from me.

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Hooray! Obama "Gets It"

Some progressive pundits have noted, correctly, that Obama's speech shows that he does "get it" when it comes to the many constitutional problems with his preferred violent approach to meeting external threats and his infringement on civil rights at home.

But it seems to me that this now-open sensitivity-to-the-problem is to be applauded ONLY if he also summons the courage to change course. One gets the idea from Obama's words that he may indeed wish to, IF only this, or IF only that. ... Have we not tired of applauding Obama in the subjunctive mood? I certainly have.

He has now been unusually candid about the dilemmas he faces. But lacking is any real sign -- there is just hope -- that he will change character. From his speech we know that he understands he needs to change course in order to discharge his duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

But I, for one, see little basis for hope that he will go beyond the carefully crafted all-things-to-all-people rhetoric in his speech. In my view, this makes him even more culpable -- an even more transparent flouter of his oath to defend the Constitution.

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Ah, but what about the oft-expressed hope that Obama will be freer to act more responsibly in his second term? The four months we have witnessed thus far in his second term bring to mind Samuel Johnson's quip that a second marriage is "the triumph of hope over experience."

We have had four years and four months of experience with Obama. Those of us who care about the Constitution and rule of law now need to be guided by experience and to stop cutting him still more slack.

Presidential Whining

The whiny tone of Obama's speech offended me as much as his faux transparency and disingenuous words. I asked myself, are we supposed to find reassurance that, while our President is a wimp, he is an empathetic one?; that from time to time he experiences a pang or two of conscience when ordering people killed by drone?; that he claims that being responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians will haunt him for as long as he lives? Can we feel his pain?

"I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States," the President reminded us. "I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen -- with a drone or a shotgun -- without due process," says he -- the day after the Attorney General admitted that this is precisely what happened to New Mexico-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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