The Audacity of ‘Nope’

Fallout continues from the poorly calculated State of the Union Address that President Obama delivered last week. The general consensus seems to be that, on a number of fronts, the President has lost touch with reality. He took credit for things he had nothing to do with, such as increased domestic oil and gas production and falling gasoline prices. And he suggested a flailing U.S. foreign policy has made the world safer and more stable than it really is; here note Russia on the move in Ukraine, ISIS continuing its horrific advance, Iran ever closer to nuclear capability and consolidation of its regional dominance.

Another telling miscalculation was the tenor of Mr. Obama’s speech, one of petulance and desperation. After refusing to acknowledge that Republicans had just won a landslide electoral victory, Mr. Obama proceeded to lecture them about all the things he would not allow them to do with their new and newly enhanced legislative majorities, backing up his bluster with one veto threat after another. Mr. Obama is attempting to force Republicans into a defensive posture, hoping desperately that they’ll recalculate their priorities. One envisions Mr. Obama, in the non-stop campaign mode to which he has relegated himself, repeatedly spouting lines such as … Why do you keep sending me legislation you know I’m going to veto? Stop clogging up the works and send me something I can sign. Let’s get some work done for the American people … blah, blah, blah.

Unless he recalculates his own priorities, Mr. Obama’s reflex will be to oppose and chastise. He will ignore the fact that the party with a mandate from voters is not his own, but rather the one he purports to lecture. Rather audacious, this strategy of saying ‘Nope’ not only to congressional Republicans, but to the voters who sent them to Washington with a mandate – to stop Barack Obama in his tracks.

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A President Adrift

As he began his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Obama declined to congratulate Republicans on their recent election victory; something presidents traditionally do after their party has lost a mid-term election. But not Mr. Obama. He will not admit that he and his party just had their clocks cleaned. He acts this week as though he’s still in the driver’s seat, as if it were the ‘good old days’ of January 2009. But we’re now in the year 2015, and the balance of power in Washington has shifted. Mr. Obama cannot see that. There is a word to describe such a phenomenal lack of awareness.

The President went on to state, “this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” This is beyond mere hypocrisy coming from a president who recently subverted Congress and rewrote U.S. immigration law via executive order; the same president who unleashed the IRS to target and intimidate those exercising their first amendment right to criticize his policies. Now, suddenly, this president wants us all to “play by the same set of rules.” Seriously? There is a word to describe such nonsensical posturing.

Mr. Obama also suggested that America has been made safer under his stewardship. That would be flat-out laughable, except that it’s downright frightening. The threat radical Islamists pose to democracy around the world is existential. But Mr. Obama will not acknowledge it, name it or do much about it. Other democracies are aghast. And Mr. Obama wonders why House Speaker Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Congress and address our mutual concerns. Mr. Obama is stunned and suddenly concerned with matters of ‘protocol.’ There is a word to describe such incongruous thinking.

Which is worse … delusion or toxicity? Hard to say, but our president clearly suffers the former, and is well on his way toward the latter. That’s bad enough for him, certainly, but does he have to keep hoisting it on the rest of us? It makes America look bad. The world, after all, is watching. More and more, our allies around the world are worrying as well.

Terror in France Highlights a Hard Bargain

The horrific acts of terrorism that took place last week in France serve to heighten the current, violent chapter in a bitter and ongoing struggle between those, on one hand, who believe human beings are inherently free, and that our freedoms must be recognized, respected and defended; and those, on the other hand, who believe we should not and must not be entrusted to determine the courses of our own lives.

These two views are diametrically opposed. And the extremists who committed murders at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacking not only individuals, but freedom itself. For without freedom of expression there is no freedom of thought, and vice versa. These are indelibly intertwined human rights from which all others flow.

They also seem the hardest to honor, because one man’s undeniable truth is often another’s egregious insult. Tolerance of this difficult reality is part of the bargain. It is a hard bargain, indeed, yet one well worth respecting and defending.