Friday, July 3, 2009


The problem with winning a highly publicized election is that as soon as the vote count is final, you often have to pretend that the candidate was not really you. President Obama practiced even during the campaign with phrases like, “That’s not the man I knew.” His guinea pigs were other people, of course, usually friends and colleagues. Like so many candidates before him he is now disowning himself, or rather the man he once was.

This syndrome is not unique to Barack Obama, but many thought he was immune. Since he did convert from candidate to president, it’s worth comparing the two.


Candidate Obama originally voted against the troop surge, then said it had not reduced violence, and promised he would begin immediate withdrawal and finish in 11 months. President Obama decided the surge had worked, agreed to the Bush policy of gradual withdrawal with as many as 50,000 troops remaining for an unspecified time, abandoned his 11 month timetable, and recently congratulated the Iraqis on taking over security in their own cities.


Candidate Obama said he would build coalitions to work with us in places like Afghanistan. President Obama’s request for more troops from our NATO allies was turned down. He decided on a unilateral buildup. He and Sec. of State Clinton have declared the genocide in Sudan intolerable. They have failed to get either meaningful UN action or significant help from friends. The unacceptable genocide is tacitly accepted, or they are about to rewrite the definition of unacceptable. By the usual definition the situation has become less acceptable.

Candidate Obama said Pres. Bush had alienated other countries by telling them what they must do. President Obama, addressing the Muslim world from Cairo said 32 times what “must” be done and often what Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis “must” do. This might be just talk, however, since he is not promising to do anything if those countries do not do what he says they must do. His hero Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Obama has tweaked that to “speak loudly and carry a palm frond.”


Candidate Obama promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Act. He opposed a trade deal with Colombia. He has backed off on NAFTA and edged forward with Colombia, although in typical Obama style. After meeting with Colombia’s President Uribe, he said “I'm confident that ultimately we can strike a deal” but said he didn’t “have a strict time table.” In fact, that he has no time table and no clear guidelines for what “additional work” either country had to do. Perhaps in this case president and candidate are not far apart—still ambiguous, or should that be ‘nuanced’?

Candidate Obama campaigned against political pressure on scientists and political meddling in scientific reports. The position remains the same since in April, President Obama said that "the days of science taking aback seat to ideology are over." In action, President Obama may be acting like the man he criticized. On March 17 a career scientist at EPA requested that his report showing faulty data used in forecasting global warming be sent to the division that directs the climate change program. His superiors told him, “The administrator and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment [declaring data supported Congressional action on the President’s agenda], and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office." The scientist’s report said about research used to support the administration’s policy that it was "at best three years out of date in a rapidly changing field" and ignores the latest scientific findings. EPA forbid him to speak publicly about his findings.

Should we be optimistic about separating science from politics when President Obama’s report on global climate change cites several times Stephen Schneider who told Discover magazine, “we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have...each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest." To present the science Obama hired a California public relations firm that specializes in green causes.


When he was a candidate the solution was easy: put them on trial or return them to their home countries and in either case close Guantanamo. Now his own Congressional Democrats have refused to fund the shutdown of Guantanamo because Pres. Obama had no acceptable plan for dealing with the inmates. Today President Obama says that what to do with terrorists held at Guantanamo (and perhaps others yet to be captured) is "one of the biggest challenges" of his administration. Which means his present position is . . . ? Well, it’s not the candidate’s position.


Candidate Obama seized on numerous egregious scandals involving Republicans and promised a transparent, open and ethical administration with no lobbyists. President Obama tried to nominate to high positions several people who withdrew after disclosures of tax cheating. He did manage to get one tax cheat approved to serve as Secretary of Treasury and supervise the IRS.

Candidate Obama co-sponsored a bill requiring the president to give Congress 30 days notice and an explanation of cause before firing inspectors general. President Obama, confronted with an investigator detailing the corruption of a campaign supporter in misappropriating Americorps funds (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson), reacted by having his special counsel to the president for "ethics and government reform fire the investigator and give an hour to either resign or be terminated. The reason? If Johnson had not been cleared, the federal government would not be able to give his city bailout dollars.

Candidate Obama always held himself out as the candidate of change, and change he has. In fact, compared to other presidents, his inaugural speech mentioned hope and change far less than most, far behind Taft, Eisenhower, Johnson and Clinton. Now many voters are saying, “That’s not the man I knew.”

Conservatives said the same thing about George Bush as he expanded government, put tariffs on steel, enlisted Ted Kennedy to help him expand the federal government’s role in education, and created the gigantic corporate

welfare program that President Obama has gladly expanded.

In this era of candidate packaging and public relations I recall with nostalgia the motto of North Carolina where I lived for 39 years: Esse Quam Videri, To Be Rather Than Seem.

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