Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How Should Obama Be Judged?

What Standards apply to judging Obama's performance?

Juan Williams has an excellent column on this subject in today's Wall Street Journal, and I’ll append it after my comments.

After listening to many on-air reporters and pundits claim repeatedly about how proud they were of the U.S. as a result of President Obama's inauguration,  it started to strike me as a left-handed complement (my apologies to any lefties).  It came across as if the only time that they can be proud of this country is when something that they approve of occurs, as opposed to being proud of the great arc of our history and the continuing positive role that this nation plays in the world.

I have always been proud of being an American citizen – every day of my life.  There have been some days when I’ve been disappointed in events that have occurred, but those events have always been engendered by individuals – not our country. 
I have been outraged over quite a number of events: racial prejudice witnessed in the South when I first went into the Army in 1967; Lt. Calley and My Lai;  Nixon and Watergate; Clinton & Monica, the FALN and Mark Rich pardons; Abu Ghraib; but each one of these and other events were the result of individual actions, not the nation's.

I am proud that in the U.S., as opposed to many other nations, we have the opportunity to change the leadership of our Government every four years, and that unlike many other nations, we normally don’t invest in a cult of personality around our leaders (although that is something that I’m not pleased about currently regarding many of our fellow citizen's view of President Obama). Yesterday’s event was really the continuation of normalcy for us, and for that I’m continuously proud.

I was pleased in witnessing yesterday’s event because it was a result of White America voting for Obama.  That’s is a very positive indicator of how far our culture has moved forward, and an affirmation of what many of us have known to be true for quite some time, but that has been purposely denied by many who are invested in maintaining the issue of racial prejudice in the US.

I applaud Obama’s successful run to the Presidency.  His campaign will be studied for years not only because of its excellence in execution, but also because of the biased role that the media played.

I took pride and pleasure yesterday in witnessing the continuation of our heritage of democratic processes, saluted President Obama in a waging a successful campaign, and applauded the reasonable and measured actions that he has taken up to this point.  However, I took no pleasure in seeing a man and a party that I disagree with receive the reins of government.  Hopefully our differences of opinion will be few, but when they arise, I will respectfully argue my position.
·         JANUARY 20, 2009, 11:31 P.M. ET
Let's not celebrate more ordinary speeches.
.......It is neither overweening emotion nor partisanship to see King's moral universe bending toward justice in the act of the first non-white man taking the oath of the presidency. But now that this moment has arrived, there is a question: How shall we judge our new leader?
If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.
Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.
This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.
During the Democrats' primaries and caucuses, candidate Obama often got affectionate if not fawning treatment from the American media. Editors, news anchors, columnists and commentators, both white and black but especially those on the political left, too often acted as if they were in a hurry to claim their role in history as supporters of the first black president.
For example, Mr. Obama was forced to give a speech on race as a result of revelations that he'd long attended a church led by a demagogue. It was an ordinary speech. At best it was successful at minimizing a political problem. Yet some in the media equated it to the Gettysburg Address.
The importance of a proud, adversarial press speaking truth about a powerful politician and offering impartial accounts of his actions was frequently and embarrassingly lost. When Mr. Obama's opponents, such as the Clintons, challenged his lack of experience, or pointed out that he was not in the U.S. Senate when he expressed early opposition to the war in Iraq, they were depicted as petty.
Bill Clinton got hit hard when he called Mr. Obama's claims to be a long-standing opponent of the Iraq war "the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen." The former president accurately said that there was no difference in actual Senate votes on the war between his wife and Mr. Obama. But his comments were not treated by the press as legitimate, hard-ball political fighting. They were cast as possibly racist.
This led to Saturday Night Live's mocking skit -- where the debate moderator was busy hammering the other Democratic nominees with tough questions while inquiring if Mr. Obama was comfortable and needed more water.
When fellow Democrats contending for the nomination rightly pointed to Mr. Obama's thin proposals for dealing with terrorism and extricating the U.S. from Iraq, they were drowned out by loud if often vacuous shouts for change. Yet in the general election campaign and during the transition period, Mr. Obama steadily moved to his former opponents' positions. In fact, he approached Bush-Cheney stands on immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperate in warrantless surveillance.
There is a dangerous trap being set here. The same media people invested in boosting a black man to the White House as a matter of history have set very high expectations for him. When he disappoints, as presidents and other human beings inevitably do, the backlash may be extreme.
Several seasons ago, when Philadelphia Eagle's black quarterback Donovan McNabb was struggling, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said the media wanted a black quarterback to do well and gave Mr. McNabb "a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve." Mr. Limbaugh's sin was saying out loud what others had said privately.
There is a lot more at stake now, and to allow criticism of Mr. Obama only behind closed doors does no honor to the dreams and prayers of generations past: that race be put aside, and all people be judged honestly, openly, and on the basis of their performance.
President Obama deserves no less.
Read complete column ....


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