Stop Barack Obama…

…Unless you want Jimmy Carter II…

We are about a week away from the Iowa caucuses and the presidential primary season.  You didn’t ask for my view on the candidates, but here it is.  In three words.  Stop Barack Obama.  Who am I to opine, a person whose only experience in politics was as an aide to Al Gore in his presidential run many years ago?  I am a Democrat (still) and believe that the Party when it chooses the right candidate is better suited to run the country.   As a Democrat, I believe we run the risk if we choose Obama of actually winning the presidency!  Then, we are likely to have a failed, one-term president, and be banished as a party from the White House, like we were for 20 of the last 28 years since Jimmy Carter was elected.

The parallels with Carter are striking.  Americans, probably more than any other people, have a tendency to project their hopes and dreams onto a blank slate and elect a charismatic, nurturing person to the highest office in the land.  This tendency can become acute after what is perceived as a failed presidency (e.g. Nixon, W), underscored by an unpopular war, domestic scandal and economic malaise.  Americans yearn for a savior at this time.  This tendency is driven by America’s religious and even messianic impulse.  This is what happened when Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere in the 1976 election, promising the electorate, I will not lie to you, and did well in the Iowa caucuses.  Carter’s let’s-bring-people-together theme (sound familiar?) was the antidote to Watergate, Vietnam, price and wage controls, and economic stagnation.  Americans projected on this unknown, soft-spoken, smiling man all their hopes and dreams.  We believed we could be good, caring, idealistic Americans and also the most powerful, respected nation on earth, opposing such evils as Soviet Communism and dictatorship.

Jimmy Carter was a failed president. He presided over an even worse stagflation than his predecessor.  He stoked Americans’ pessimism about the state of the economy and our powerlessness to deal with it.  And, his perceived weakness goaded the Soviets to invade Afghanistan and the ayatollahs to take over the US Embassy in Teheran.  It was not unlike JFK’s perceived weakness, coming on the heels of the respected and feared Eisenhower, that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Recently opened Soviet files suggest that Krushchev put the missiles in Cuba because the Kennedys were viewed as weak.  Krushchev clearly misjudged.  But Barack Obama (as well as Jimmy Carter) is no JFK.

Why is Obama so attractive to Americans yearning for a savior?  He is everyman.  He is black.  He is white.  He is from Kansas.  He is from Chicago.  He went to school in New York City, studied foreign policy there, and tried out and rejected working in finance.  He was born in Hawaii, grew up in Indonesia, his father is Kenyan.  He gets along with Muslims.  He speaks like he’s from the Midwest, but also sometimes like he’s a southerner.  He is a lawyer.  He is a community activist in the inner city.  He’s a man who recently found Jesus Christ.  He is married to a career-woman whose career has taken a back seat to his; he has two young kids.  He will not lie to us the way we think Hillary and Rudy will (and we believe W did).  Despite the criticism of what Joe Biden said about him being the first “clean” African-American candidate, Barack Obama is a black man that white Americans can feel comfortable voting for because they view him as not “too black.”  He is no Jesse Jackson.  It’s like the way Jews used to say someone is “too Jewish.”  He makes many white supporters feel color-blind, open-minded, good about themselves, less guilty.  He will comfort us and make everything better again.

This is a dangerous impulse Americans have.  The world is a complex, dangerous place and the next president will have to face very difficult challenges:  an Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons, a rising China, a deteriorating Pakistan with nuclear weapons, a resurgent Al Qaeda, a muscle-flexing Russia, and global financial conditions that are currently in a precarious state.  We want someone who will make us feel good, but also someone who will, and whose team will, confront these problems realistically.  For this reason, Barack Obama is a dangerous choice for president.

Remember, the lesson from the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran which came out recently is that it was a tough US foreign policy (underscored by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq) that convinced Iran to slow its acquisition of nuclear weapons.  Sure, the Bush administration botched the subsequent diplomacy.  But the answer is not to elect a president who won’t be credible with America’s adversaries.  During an Obama administration, I believe the Iranians will be more likely to accelerate acquisition of the bomb, while talking up a storm with the new more reasonable occupant of the White House.

Barack Obama lacks experience and he seems to me to lack strong personal roots or a definable sense of self (who is he, really?).   His voting record, speeches, policy pronouncements and war plans are populist and naïve.  Whether it is his plan to sit down with Iran and Syria at the same time as we push them to give up terrorism and WMD; to withdraw US forces immediately from Iraq; to attach labor and environmental standards to free trade agreements (that would hurt impoverished third world allies); to blame the financial crisis we’re in on lobbyists; to support ethanol production to get votes in Iowa even though it aggravates global warming and hurts poor people whose groceries become more expensive; to prevent US corporations from opening up operations overseas; to talk to China about Taiwan (what about self-determination of peoples?) but hit them with tariff threats; and, to oppose any efficiency review of federal spending programs, Barack Obama has proven himself to be a left-leaning populist, only one-upped in this regard by John Edwards. 

I know everyone hates W.  He has botched American diplomacy.  But to choose someone because he/she can’t be worse than W is wrong-headed.  I know people don’t like Hillary too much either.  She definitely suffers from the political phenomenon of too much being known about her.  Her rhetoric is often not unlike Obama’s in its win-the-votes populism.  Yet on the Democratic side (and perhaps among all the candidates), Hillary is the best choice, unless by some miracle Al Gore gets in.  The argument for Hillary hinges on the fact that the Clintons are a known quantity, that they are “success-oriented.”  She will do whatever it takes to get re-elected in 2012, including, believe it or not, making good policy.  Bill changed course after the 1994 mid-term debacle and embraced welfare reform and other sound policies.  He appointed top-notch economic advisors and backed free trade and other market-friendly policies, while still retaining the Democratic heart when it comes to wealth redistribution and the social safety net.  Hillary, at core is as left-leaning as Barack (maybe not quite), but I am convinced she will be a Mrs. Thatcher in her first term.  She will tell the enemies of America not to think that the first woman American president can be pushed around.  We all know she has more moxy than her husband.  She will have “West Wing” ideals with moderate pragmatism.

Unlike most of my Democratic friends, I don’t rule out voting Republican, especially if Barack is nominated.  Giuliani has warts but his calm under fire during 9/11 represents tested leadership I do not dismiss easily. Mitt Romney’s alleged politically-motivated flip-flopping on abortion and gay marriage shows me that he is a pragmatist.  This coupled with his proven executive abilities suggest a potentially effective president.

Not that I am against all Baracks…or Baraks.  But I would rather see Ehud Barak lead a country than Barack Obama.  Ehud Barak, the left-of-center Labor leader and Minister of Defense of Israel, has learned from his mistakes.  Allying with Bill Clinton in 2000, he endeavored to give away the store to the Palestinians at Camp David, which still didn’t satisfy Arafat’s lust for violence and maximalist goals.  Ehud has learned from that very expensive mistake (both in terms of lives lost and expectations risen in the Arab world) and has become a tough, but reasonable leader willing to negotiate realistically and to knock heads together as needed. 

Are we prepared to give Barack Obama the on-the-job training he will need to turn into an Ehud Barak?  Or will this be too expensive for us and for the world?  I think so.  Wouldn’t it be cheaper to pay for an Executive MBA for him?  Maybe with more time and experience, he can prove that I am wrong and he is not Jimmy Carter II.

Thanks for indulging me.  If you agree with this, pass it on to people in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.

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