I liked W. We clashed quite often, and then, clashed some more over policy issues … but I liked the man nonetheless. He was a lesson in volition. And for all the pariah status that defined the former president in the latter years of his presidency and immediately afterward, it was no surprise all Barack had to do was be the anti-Bush to win a Nobel Prize in his first year in office.
But, with the honeymoon now long gone, Barack finds himself wistful for the happy-go-lucky days of candidate Obama. Back then, ignorance was indeed bliss. “We campaign in poetry and govern in prose,” Mario Cuomo once said; a statement which Barack now undoubtedly think has to be the greatest understatement in polity. (In an interview with Chris Wallace of 60 Minutes after the death of Osama Bin Laden, the president candidly stated there are times he feels he’s contented with just one term, and doesn’t want the hassles of a second.)
And, elsewhere, hundreds of miles across the pond, W. is waking up in one of the four bedrooms in his $3 million house in suburban Dallas, TX with a smirk on his face. But jolted by some electric discharge of humanity, he’s suddenly forced to feel some compassion for his fellow patriot in the Oval House – no matter the overwhelming sense of vindication he feels.
A sense of compassion Barack could very well use.
In the campaign season that led to the 2008 Elections, Barack could not caricature W. well enough to his liking: In speech after speech, he drew W. as a president so aloof and reckless, it was no wonder the nation’s welfare was in dire straits. Everything W. touch turns to worthless sand, he repeatedly claimed in more or less words.
But now in the thick of a debt-ceiling debate that threatens to swallow up his entire administration just two and half years into it, Barack could use a friend that has walked a mile in his shoe.
Nowhere is the need for such compassion made stark as in this debt-ceiling debate that has the president painfully pulling out his gray hair one after the other, as he ponders the possibility of the United States government defaulting on its debt for the very first time since the creation of the republic – under his own administration.
As a senator, he fussed and huffed about raising the debt limit under W. and ultimately voted against doing so. And now, he watches in perplexity from across the street through the many windows of the White House as Republicans in Congress give him a maddening dose of his own medicine; holding him and his administration hostage. But for all intents and purposes, he has since sought penitence and characterized his decision as “regrettable” and “a mistake;” but that has not coaxed House Republicans into calling off the dogs. This is high stakes poker, a fact he now well knows.
In his news conference of the other day, a president so visibly shaken and frustrated couldn’t help telling reporters he wished “Congress (insert ‘Republicans’ here)” had the intelligence of his 10 and 13 year-old daughters. Ouch! That has to hurt. But what is he to do – for now, this is the only dance in town and he must dance if his administration wishes to see tomorrow.
And yet, this is only the latest crescendo of the constant battles Barack finds himself fighting. He demonized W. so much; when he looks in the mirror now, he must momentarily find W. staring back at him and asking, “Why were you so hard on me, brother?” “I am sorry,” has to be his appropriate response.
For one, Barack fumed at the mouth when expressing the horror and outrage of Guantanamo Bay, where post-9/11, the Bush administration had detained terror suspects; at times for years without habeas corpus. He fervidly promised to close the facility in his first year in office, and even signed an executive order to such end in the opening week of his presidency. Two and a half years later, Guantanamo Bay is alive and well and nowhere is the open talk of closing it to be found. Barack has since realized the necessity of a place like Guantanamo Bay to national security, and has slowly but bravely backed off the ledge, which failure to do would have plunged the nation into a crisis that dwarfs or mirrors 9/11. Of course, his liberal base is seething and punching the wall with every passing day, but I’m sure his decision hasn’t come easy.
Remember, earlier, I did praise W. as a lesson in volition; unfortunately, in the summer of 08, Barack did not share my enthusiasm. He often berated W. for his Wild, Wild West ways. W., on so many occasions, gave members of his own party the middle finger, talk less of the opposing Democrats, and regularly sent them postcards with a clearly detailed map of how to go to hell. I liked the attitude; if a democracy is to be purposeful and progressive; a strong executive cannot and must not whimper at every threat from the legislature. I thought it was gangster, and gosh, I admired it – even the times when I disagreed with his decision. But Barack is a constitutional law professor and found my fondness for W. a total outrage.
So you can imagine my shock this past month, when Professor Barack, the constitutional law expert, told Congress where to shove its “War Powers Act.”
Republicans in Congress had shouted to high heavens the unconstitutionality of the president’s prolonged military engagement in Libya past the 6o-day threshold, after which the War Powers Act clearly states he must seek Congressional authorization. But Barack, claiming because there are no American troops on the ground; he is not involved in any hostilities – and in so doing, damned Republicans’ petty cries to be courted.
I was stunned!
Barack was going off the script. This wasn’t what he preached in the campaign. He has just cherry-picked what counsel he wanted to follow (just as W. cherry-picked favorable counsel in his decision over controversial enhanced interrogation techniques): Barack’s Defense Department lawyers have told him Congress was right and his State Department lawyers, he, was right.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the international intervention in Libya to stop mad Gaddafi from slaughtering thousands of Libyans was a righteous cause and still is – but the audacity of Barack to not be muddled in irrelevant rhetoric, into which Republicans and some Democrats seek to drag him, is assuredly one of his finest moments as a leader to date. It was an exercise in volition, à la W., and he did not shudder at looking like the predecessor he chided only years earlier for doing about the same thing. The man demands an ovation.
This is not to say there’s no daylight between Barack and W.; the former is left of center and the latter right of center – as evidenced by Barack’s doggedness to annihilate W.’s unaffordable tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
The trials of Barack and his handling of the trials showcase the evolution of the man – a man not transfixed to ideals or an insatiable political base. It is a window into the vexation ill-informed campaign promises often produce – which are often ignorant of political realities. Barack’s management of his hurdles, so far, highlights the importance of a leader not beholden to his own image or ego as to not adapt and dominate new developments and information. I presume the next time Barack shakes W.’s hands at some state function or charity event, more than at any other time, it will be a mutual admiration society, where Barack feels a sense of kinship toward W. rather than adversarial.