Monday morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, reporter Cokie Roberts, when asked about the stand-off in Ukraine led with Vladimir Putin's belief that President Barack Obama is weak. This remark is representative of two things that we see and hear frequently in the media. First, lead with an opinion, in this case someone else's (did Putin actually say this or is this just another’s perception articulated?) And second, the constant refrain that Obama, America's President, is a weak leader. In this case - (this is not FOX News this is NPR) - we’re leading, not with the news, not with facts, but with politics.
There has been a widespread debate sense Watergate about the diminished power of the presidency. Obviously Nixon's crimes damaged our trust in the institution. Ford was, a steady, though clumsy hand, Carter another “weak leader” in that he preferred diplomacy to guns - sweaters instead of turning up the heat, Reagan, the exemplar for Republican's provided you don't look to closely - Iran Contra. Bush Sr. - read his lips, Clinton because what is is, and George W for basically outsourcing the job to Dick Cheney.
The Republican's have lost the last two presidential elections, because like it or not, the American people rejected what they had to offer. Not content to take their ball home and sulk, they decided to defame the new president from the start, declaring openly their desire and commitment to his failure. They set out to defang, declaw and ideally emasculate America's first black President at every turn. Obama tried moderation, even to the consternation of his own party, and the republicans rubbed it in his face with one debt ceiling crisis's after another until they shut the whole government down. So much for grand bargains, for immigration and tax reform. All the failures and near misses domestically need not be listed - remember that with the exception of the budget passed at the end of year their hasn't been a lot of legislation successfully moved through congress. The Republicans have been too busy voting nearly 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The lack of support this President has received from congress in the name of a political ideology shared by a small percentage of its people has not only damaged this country, it has diminished our standing in the world.
If Vladimir Putin thinks Obama is weak, I’m inclined to think he got the idea from watching American politics and our relentless media, rather than Obama’s backing off in Syria. Don’t get me wrong, the situation in Syria is tragic, but to have dismantled the largest cache of biological weapons in the world may have been the best compromise attainable. It was Obama’s threat to retaliate that lead to that compromise. Do all Americans need to be reminded again that we are just exiting our second war in in the last 14 years and that both Afganistan and Iraq still teeter on the edge of political collapse. Putin’s move in Ukraine as congress looks at extensive, and some would say much needed, cuts in the military budget offers us another opportunity to air our political dirty laundry.
Putin sees America as weak, at least since 9/11, because it has exchanged the value it once placed on political freedom and human rights in favor of democracy building and money making. The economic collapse brought on by greed, has hastened an equality gap creating have’s and have-not’s among and within countries around the world. With the exceptions of Iran and North Korea, Global economics means you lose when you chose not to do business with a country who doesn’t respect human rights. Visit Amnesty International’s web site or Google human rights violations and you’ll see America, with more of it’s people in prisons than anywhere else in the world, is no quite the country it claims to be. The weakness that Putin senses is not the result of one man’s actions, but rather the west’s preoccupation with profit over principles. He senses weakness in our use of technology to hunt terrorism; spying that has pit ally against ally. He senses weakness in America where greed for money and power along with racism and hatred have brought economic and political progress to a near standstill.
For some reason. American’s hate complexity unless it’s on HBO or Netflix. I guess it’s just too messy to not see everything in black and white. This binary perception is what gives the political minority in this country it’s edge. There has been much written about the slurs that have been spewed at and about Barack Obama from the halls of congress to Ted Nugent. In tolerating these, we as a people and as a nation have not only enabled the crippling of this President, but have further diminished the office of the President itself. The media needs to lead with the facts and leave the politics to the pundits. And when the country faces an international crisis, we all need to stand beside our President, not on the side lines speculating on the impact of his decisions on an election more than two years away.
Finally, assuming that the Republican are highly unlikely to win the office back in 2016, it will be interesting to see what they do should a woman become President. If they take that historic moment and treat it as they did the nation’s election of the first African American President, we can expect to see an America with even further income inequality. An America that grows weaker, in education, in infrastructure and in the innovation that is needed to provide jobs to maintain, not just our standard living, but America’s prominence in the world.