One of the Democrats’ chief criticisms of the Bush Administration, one that sometimes had merit, was that it refused to alter its strategy or message in the face of new facts. In foreign affairs, that meant it took us three years to react to the Iraqi insurgency in a manner beyond “staying the course.” On the domestic front, that meant allowing several appointees to serve far longer than their records justified (Gonzales, McLellan, Powell, Rumsfeld) and establishing a bunker mentality in response to press criticism.
The Obama Administration struck at this central failing of the last regime by promising pragmatism and common-sense straight from the “reality-based community.” No longer would partisan bias cloud the White House’s response to the nation’s challenges. Spin would be replaced by transparency. Facts would drive policy, not the other way around.
But one year into the politics of hope and change, and we are seeing a pattern develop about how this crowd handles inconvenient facts. All summer, the economic facts rolled in that the stimulus bill had done little to create jobs or improve the economy, and that the “shovel-ready” projects so urgently needed were figments of the Democratic imagination. Rather than change course and respond with an alternative strategy, Joe Biden repeatedly claimed that the stimulus was working, and that things were better than they would have been. Only recently, when the Administration wanted to pass a new stimulus, was it willing to acknowledge the grand failure that was spending $787 million billion for 2.5% fewer jobs.
When the mullahs of Iran bungled its election fix this summer, the Obama State Department first abetted it, then ignored it, then begrudgingly decried it before returning to full appeasement mode. Iranians were left to shout a remarkably Bushian line at our President – “Obama, are you with us or are you against us?” But the answer was clear — the White House was choosing to ignore a pro-freedom Iranian revolution in hopes for a deal with the despots. Even so, deadline after deadline was ignored, deals were cut and then broken, and Ahmedinejad continues to promise death to Israel. All the while, Team Obama has refused to acknowledge what even France has acknowledged — Iran is just playing out the clock while it builds a nuclear bomb.
On the eve of the global warming summit, stunning revelations about the science underlying the alleged global-catastrophe-in-waiting should have led a pragmatist to take a step back and review the facts before committing a country in the red to billions more in federal aid. A pragmatist might have also postponed announcement of a sweeping regulatory decision based on that same science, which threatened to impose billions more in environmental compliance costs on a seriously wounded economy. In an Administration committed to “restoring integrity to U.S. science policy to ensure that decisions that can be informed by science are made on the basis of the strongest possible evidence,” one might expect that getting the science right would be of the utmost concern. Such an Administration, and such a pragmatist, is not in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, however.
Public doesn’t want Guantanamo closed? Ignore them and do it anyway. Released terrorists are returning to the war on terror? Deny the war, release more terrorists. Health care bill doesn’t bend the cost curve, which you required of any bill you’d sign? Say it does anyway, and deny you ever required it to do that. Islamic terrorists attack the U.S. three times in one year? They’re lone wolves – we’ve got it all under control – but please stand in line another hour at the airport, just in case.
Carol Lee of Politico goes into greater depth about the P.R. tactics the White House has used to ignore the facts that threaten their worldview, but I’m more concerned about the worldview itself. We have a president who ran exclusively on the idea that he was no ideologue, that he had no dog in the partisan fights that plague Washington, and that his Administration would rise above the pettiness and do what was necessary to reform and protect America. Given these facts, the pragmatist in me says there are only two ways to react to Year One of Obama: either our President is a lying ideologue, or he’s very, very bad at knowing what is necessary to reform and protect America.
The facts themselves are clear, however. The President will be judged by the voters in November based on how he responds to the hard facts in Iran, the muddled half-truths of climate change, the plain facts of a falling dollar, a rising debt, and a nation out of work. Rhetorical flourishes cannot change them. I just hope our political leaders are prepared to face them.