Mar 21st 2013

Obama: Flailing

by Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni served as a Senior Advisor to the Carter White House; taught at Columbia University, Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, and is a University Professor at The George Washington University. He served as the President of the American Sociological Association, and he founded the Communitarian Network. A study by Richard Posner ranked him among the top 100 American intellectuals. He is the author of numerous op-eds and his voice is frequently heard in the media. He is the author of several books, including The Active Society, Genetic Fix, The Moral Dimension, The New Golden Rule, and My Brother’s Keeper. His latest book Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy was published by Yale University Press in the Spring of 2007. His regular blog is Amitai Etzioni Notes.

If you understand where President Obama is headed in his second term, pray send me an email. I like him, wish him Godspeed, and might well support where he is going -- if I could just figure out where that is.

I thought I got it during the inaugural speech. The president ran up the flag pole one, and only one, policy: climate change. As the New York Times reported, Obama's "Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage." I did not think it was an ideal choice, as the GOP, in collaboration with conservative Democrats, is most unlikely to support much action on this front, and there are sharp limits on what the president can do via executive order. Further, there is little we can do without global cooperation, and moving aggressively on this front might weaken the anemic economic recovery. But it is a worthy purpose, so I was all ready to suit up and see how one could help. However, this is more or less the last I heard on the subject from the president.

Next came the State of the Union. Climate change was barely mentioned. Instead, we got a long list of initiatives, some miniscule, some idealistic, and a very strong emotional pitch -- for gun control. This one really got me excited because I believe that greater restrictions on guns would save numerous lives, including those of children. Recently, however, this policy was left to Vice President Biden, a sure sign that the president has moved on. The president -- last week -- was out campaigning to promote his way of balancing the budget. So we are talking, again, about how much to cut entitlements (a very bad idea) and other government spending in order to get the Republicans to agree to close some loopholes in the tax code. The fact that we need to invest more in education, science, and critical infrastructure, all of which the president previously championed for very good reasons -- but which require more government outlays -- is becoming, again, an afterthought.

During his reelection campaign, the president evoked a vision I found very compelling. I call it thefair society, one in which -- as he put it -- "everyone gets a fair shot... everyone does their fair share, [and] everyone plays by the same rules." It was a theme into which one could fold many other specific policies that we must promote, including reducing inequality, ensuring that there are jobs for all, and creating a society that does not discriminate and where special interests at kept at bay. However, the post-election Obama turned very prosaic. I miss the visionary one.

The president is consistently sticking to his theme that the time has come for nation-building at home. I do not recall an inaugural address or a State of the Union in which foreign policy was mentioned as little as this time around. As Slate's Fred Kaplan put it, Obama, in his State of the Union address, "barely mentioned foreign and defense policy until 54 minutes after he walked into the chamber -- and even drew more of a vague sketch than a policy." I wonder if Syria, Iran, Pakistan, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the resurgent al Qaeda will play ball. I fear they will force the president's hand to be more mindful of what is happening out there.

Maybe it is just a post-election slump or a changing of the guard in the White House. Maybe others have divined where Obama is taking us. If you have, do your good deed for the week and let the rest of us know.


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Aug 8th 2020
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Aug 5th 2020
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Aug 4th 2020
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Jul 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The Chinese government has for years argued that its ‘nine-dash line’ of sovereignty over the entire Sea is based on centuries of maritime history, and that China’s claim is air tight. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has even asserted that ample historical documents and literature demonstrate that China was “the first country to discover, name, develop and exercise continuous, effective jurisdiction over the South China Sea islands”. "
Jul 23rd 2020
EXTRACTS: "Like many, I have long been critical of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union as a dysfunctional currency area. Notwithstanding a strong political commitment to European unification as the antidote to a century of war and devastating bloodshed, there was always a critical leg missing from the EMU stool: fiscal union. Not anymore. The historic agreement reached on July 21 on a €750 billion ($868 billion) European Union recovery fund, dubbed Next Generation EU, changes that.................Unlike the United States, which appears to be squandering the opportunities presented by the epic COVID-19 crisis, Europe has risen to the occasion – and not for the first time."
Jul 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "I cannot recommend strongly enough Anne Applebaum’s recent book Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends. Advancing her arguments with eloquence and personal testimony, Applebaum passionately decries the corrosion of liberal, open-society values in the last three decades. Her book is a practical reminder of what all democrats should have learned from reading Karl Popper’s magisterial The Open Society and Its Enemies, itself written in liberal democracy’s darkest hours during WWII."
Jul 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "Political motivations aside, Macron has said aloud what few others have acknowledged: NATO is experiencing “brain death,” owing to Trump’s dubious commitment to defend America’s allies. Given that the US drift away from NATO began well before Trump, there is little reason to believe that this trend will be reversed, though it may be slowed if he loses the November election. Unless Europe begins thinking of itself as a geopolitical power and takes responsibility for its own security, Macron argues, it will “no longer be in control of [its] destiny.”
Jul 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Uighur women in China’s Xinjiang province who have more than the approved number of children are being forcibly sterilised, forced to have abortions or having intra-uterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) inserted without their consent, according to reports that have emerged in recent weeks. The birth rate for Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority, has decreased significantly, according to a recent research report. These alleged practices are egregious violations of the human rights of Uighur women, and in my opinion, constitute genocide of the Uighur people."
Jul 18th 2020
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Jul 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "The greater lack of transparency that we can now expect will only serve to make Americans pay a greater price for the president’s worst characteristics. Trump has failed our country, utterly and contemptibly. He has spread lies and misinformation. He has displayed a stunning lack of empathy or concern. He has put his personal interests before those of the nation and has revealed an abject lack of leadership. "
Jul 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "The two-state solution is dead and buried. Whatever “solution” may be found in the future will emerge not from an orderly peace process, but from chaos, the precise nature of which is impossible to predict. It could be unilateral annexation. It could be a sudden violent Israeli disengagement from parts of the West Bank. Or it could be direct conflict. This is the iron law of unintended consequences at work."
Jul 15th 2020
EXTRACT: ".........countries such as China and South Korea have been able to successfully battle the virus, and why Morocco, which just started doing the same, now has a reasonable chance of beating the virus down. America is capable of doing all this but the politicization of the virus and silly interpretations of what freedom of action means under the US Constitution have prevented us from following their example. Yes, you are free to take your own health and life into your own hands by being stupid and selfish, but you are not free to do the same with someone else’s health and life. And that is what the “live free or die” movement and conspiracy theory believers among us fail to acknowledge."
Jul 9th 2020
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Jul 7th 2020
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Jul 5th 2020
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Jun 25th 2020
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Jun 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry."
Jun 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "There is only one way to repair America’s reputation, regain the trust of allies, and ensure that the US can act as an effective counterweight to China: address the root causes of the cracks that Trump’s disastrous presidency has exposed and widened. This is in line with the vision advanced in 2011 by two military strategists, Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby, using the pseudonym “Mr. Y.” Porter and Mykleby argued that national security depends not only on the capacity to respond to threats from foreign powers, but also – and perhaps more important – on the “application of credible influence and strength.” That influence, in turn, depends on America’s success in providing a “pathway of promise” for US citizens – and a model for the world."
Jun 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "The most critical question then is not how far Trump will go to promote his treasonous agenda, but for how long Republican leaders will silently accept and subserviently enable Trump to destroy the basic moral tenets and values on which this Union was founded, and which they swore to uphold and protect...............Of course, shame on us if we continue to be surprised by Republicans’ continuing silence, because as we all know, even when presented with overwhelming evidence that Trump committed crimes against the American people, Trump’s Republican stooges in the Senate exonerated him following impeachment almost unanimously...................The Republican leadership, to be sure, has made its bed. It has committed moral suicide. History will judge them harshly for their treason and betrayal of the nation, including all of those who have lived and died throughout our history to foster and protect our safety, integrity, and freedom."