What Obama's nakedly political moves say about our screwed-up polity
In today's America, we seem to value transparency over virtue
We all lie to each other. Often, it's out of courtesy ("Of course you look great in that dress, dear"). This is good manners, and should be expected in polite society.
We used to have this sort of understanding with our politicians, too. They would pretend to write us personal letters asking for money, and we would pretend they sat down at a typewriter and wrote it just to us. They would put on a charade about being a stand-up family man, and even if we knew deep down that this was BS, we kind of appreciated the effort. We were very polite.
Somewhere along the line, though, politicians stopped going to all the trouble, and so did we. Even as politicians became evermore guarded in hedging their language on certain issues, and avoiding clear stances on others, they started being nakedly honest about certain political motives behind some of their actions. Like this:
And that brings us to President Obama, who seems to show little shame when it comes to shielding us from some of his political calculations. And I don't mean hot mic moments like Obama's comments to then-Russian President Medvedev in 2012: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility."
More and more, the president seems uninterested in even trying to hide the fact that he is making policy moves based on political considerations — in confessing he has to act one way until after the next election, at which point he can act another way. The most obvious example was the administration's decision to delay immigration action until after the 2014 election — for admittedly political purposes.
As Politico reported, "President Barack Obama will delay plans to issue an executive order on immigration until the end of the year, heeding the warnings of Democratic senators who feared a voter backlash ahead of the November elections."
Obama isn't even pretending that he's decided not to pursue a politically unpopular move, only to coincidentally have a change of heart after the election. He's explicitly postponing something for political purposes.
The ObamaCare website is also getting in on the action. "Enrollment on the Healthcare.gov website begins Nov. 15, or 11 days after the midterm vote, and critics who worry about rising premium hikes in 2015 say that's no coincidence. Last year's inaugural enrollment period on the health-care exchange began Oct. 1," reports the Washington Times.
Might politics play a role in the timing regarding the naming of a new attorney general? The LA Times notes that "a White House official confirmed Monday that the president would delay the decision. Senate Democrats, who are struggling to hold control of the chamber, had expressed concern that the decision, depending on the nominee, could become a campaign issue."
It seems that the closer we get to an election, the more the Obama administration tamps down on any negative news. As The Washington Post recently reported, the lead investigator in the Secret Service prostitution scandal claims he was told to "delay the report of the investigation until after the 2012 election." Ann Coulter mocked this sort of posture in a Wednesday column under the headline "We'll tell you how dangerous Ebola is after the election."
How does Obama get away with it? (And to be clear, Obama is hardly the only culprit. Lawmakers on both sides engage in this behavior.) Perhaps the reason is that as a people, we prioritize transparency over virtue. Like Holden Caulfield, phoniness is the one sin we really despise. You can see this in the way we have pounced on Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' pathetic attempts to parry the question of whether or not she voted for Obama. Partisans on both sides agree: No matter how unpopular Obama is in red Kentucky, it was foolish of Grimes to try and evade questions about whether she voted for him. Better to admit an uncomfortable truth than cover it up with a disingenuous excuse about the sanctity of the secret ballot.
The message seems clear: We all know how cynical our leaders are. And they know we know. So what's the sense in hiding it?