Many a person has felt that he was in the wrong job at some point in his life. I wonder if President Obama is one of them right now. Perhaps he thinks he is in precisely the right place. If so, he doesn’t see his role as one of commander-in-chief. With his demeanor and approach to his responsibilities, he is more like the adjudicator-in-chief.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, criticizing Obama’s response to ISIS and they devastation they have wrought throughout Iraq and Syria, said “[the president’s] remarks on what America will do about it are insufficient, naïve, and just plain weak.” Jindal went on:
Here’s an idea — How about we offer these people death instead of justice? I understand that the President of the United States should not be prone to wild rhetoric. But this is ridiculous. “Justice” generally conjures up images of a courtroom with a government provided defense attorney. Here’s another way the president could phrase it, ‘we will hunt them down and kill them.’
I will pause for a second while we all wish someone like Jindal were president.
Back to reality: Obama seems to see his job as something like mediating aggrieved parties. Concerning the Israel-Hamas conflict, he regards himself as not the leader of the free world and the commander-in-chief of the military of Israel’s greatest ally, but as a parent dividing the last piece of cake for a couple of whiny children, or perhaps more like a mediator negotiating a divorce settlement.
Obama has a law degree and was the president of Harvard Law Review. Is it so difficult to believe that he continues to see the world through that lens?
But I’d propose an alternative theory that gives him more credit: Obama’s passivity stems from an idea. When Obama says Putin has placed himself on the wrong side of history in Ukraine, he actually believes it. He disdains realpolitik because he believes that, in the end, such primitive 19th-century notions as conquest are self-defeating. History sees to their defeat.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is one of Obama’s favorite sayings. Ultimately, injustice and aggression don’t pay. The Soviets saw their 20th-century empire dissolve. More proximally, U.S. gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were, in time, liquidated. Ozymandias lies forever buried and forgotten in desert sands.
In other words, Obama’s role, as he sees it, is, if anything, to facilitate justice, not to execute the laws of the United States and not to uphold the Constitution. In fact, his own election as president proves the existence of said “arc” that “bends toward justice.” Hence why the sea levels were supposed to stop rising.
Beyond his philosophy, his schedule and level of engagement seem better suited for a Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court is in session for about nine months out of the year, hearing cases for two weeks at a time, alternating with two-week recesses – in other words, about 20 weeks out of the year. Think of the golf Obama could play…
Yes, our current president is really more of a Supreme Court justice – and I don’t mean that as a compliment. He’s like a Warren court progressive, overreaching aloofly on his authority to hand down edicts that correct the antiquated views of the benighted public and elected officials.
The president, as the chief executive, is to see to it that the (constitutional) laws passed by Congress are carried out by the executive branch. President Obama is reluctant to carry out that duty when it involves executing anything other than his own unilateral pronouncements. He won’t even execute in full the health care legislation nicknamed for him.
Come 2016, it will be time to elect someone who takes the job of chief executive and command-in-chief seriously.
Let’s just hope that the arc of the moral universe bends toward giving us such a president.