The Alien in the White House
The distance between the president and the people is beginning to be revealed.
By DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, WSJ
The deepening notes of disenchantment with Barack Obama now issuing from commentators across the political spectrum were predictable. So, too, were the charges from some of the president’s earliest enthusiasts about his failure to reflect a powerful sense of urgency about the oil spill.
There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama’s pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents. Namely, a tone and presence that said: This is the Americans’ leader, a man of them, for them, the nation’s voice and champion. Mr. Obama wasn’t lacking in concern about the oil spill. What he lacked was that voice—and for good reason.
Those qualities to be expected in a president were never about rhetoric; Mr. Obama had proved himself a dab hand at that on the campaign trail. They were a matter of identification with the nation and to all that binds its people together in pride and allegiance. These are feelings held deep in American hearts, unvoiced mostly, but unmistakably there and not only on the Fourth of July.
A great part of America now understands that this president’s sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.
One of his first reforms was to rid the White House of the bust of Winston Churchill—a gift from Tony Blair—by packing it back off to 10 Downing Street. A cloudlet of mystery has surrounded the subject ever since, but the central fact stands clear. The new administration had apparently found no place in our national house of many rooms for the British leader who lives on so vividly in the American mind. Churchill, face of our shared wartime struggle, dauntless rallier of his nation who continues, so remarkably, to speak to ours. For a president to whom such associations are alien, ridding the White House of Churchill would, of course, have raised no second thoughts.
Far greater strangeness has since flowed steadily from Washington. The president’s appointees, transmitters of policy, go forth with singular passion week after week, delivering the latest inversion of reality. Their work is not easy, focused as it is on a current prime preoccupation of this White House—that is, finding ways to avoid any public mention of the indisputable Islamist identity of the enemy at war with us. No small trick that, but their efforts go forward in public spectacles matchless in their absurdity—unnerving in what they confirm about our current guardians of law and national security.
Consider the hapless Eric Holder, America’s attorney general, confronting the question put to him by Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) of the House Judicary Committee on May 13.
Did Mr. Holder think that in the last three terrorist attempts on this soil, one of them successful (Maj. Nidal Hasan’s murder of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, preceded by his shout of “Allahu Akbar!”), that radical Islam might have played any role at all? Mr. Holder seemed puzzled by the question. “People have different reasons” he finally answered—a response he repeated three times. He didn’t want “to say anything negative about any religion.”
And who can forget the exhortations on jihad by John Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief adviser on counterterrorism? Mr. Brennan has in the past charged that Americans lack sensitivity to the Muslim world, and that we have particularly failed to credit its peace-loving disposition. In a May 26 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Brennan held forth fervently, if not quite comprehensibly, on who our enemy was not: “Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is just a tactic. Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind, and as Americans we refuse to live in fear.”
He went on to announce, sternly, that we do not refer to our enemies as Islamists or jihadists because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam. How then might we be permitted to describe our enemies? One hint comes from another of Mr. Brennan’s pronouncements in that speech: That “violent extremists are victims of political, economic and social forces.”
Yes, that would work. Consider the news bulletins we could have read: “Police have arrested Faisal Shahzad, victim of political, economic and social forces living in Connecticut, for efforts to set off a car bomb explosion in Times Square.” Plotters in Afghanistan and Yemen, preparing for their next attempt at mass murder in America, could only have listened in wonderment. They must have marvelled in particular on learning that this was the chief counterterrorism adviser to the president of the United States.
Long after Mr. Obama leaves office, it will be this parade of explicators, laboring mightily to sell each new piece of official reality revisionism—Janet Napolitano and her immortal “man-caused disasters” among them—that will stand most memorably as the face of this administration.
It is a White House that has focused consistently on the sensitivities of the world community—as it is euphemistically known—a body of which the president of the United States frequently appears to view himself as a representative at large.
It is what has caused this president and his counterterrorist brain trust to deem it acceptable to insult Americans with nonsensical evasions concerning the enemy we face. It is this focus that caused Mr. Holder to insist on holding the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in lower Manhattan, despite the rage this decision induced in New Yorkers, and later to insist if not there, then elsewhere in New York. This was all to be a dazzling exhibition for that world community—proof of Mr. Obama’s moral reclamation program and that America had been delivered from the darkness of the Bush years.
It was why this administration tapped officials like Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Among his better known contributions to political discourse was a 2005 address in which he compared the treatment of Muslim-Americans in the United States after 9/11 with the plight of the Japanese-Americans interned in camps after Pearl Harbor. During a human-rights conference held in China this May, Mr. Posner cited the new Arizona immigration law by way of assuring the Chinese, those exemplary guardians of freedom, that the United States too had its problems with discrimination.
So there we were: America and China, in the same boat on human rights, two buddies struggling for reform. For this view of reality, which brought withering criticism in Congress and calls for his resignation, Mr. Posner has been roundly embraced in the State Department as a superbly effective representative.
It is no surprise that Mr. Posner—like numerous of his kind—has found a natural home in this administration. His is a sensibility and political disposition with which Mr. Obama is at home. The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world.
They are attitudes to be found everywhere, but never before in a president of the United States. Mr. Obama may not hold all, or the more extreme, of these views. But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him. They account for his grand apology tour through the capitals of Europe and to the Muslim world, during which he decried America’s moral failures—her arrogance, insensitivity. They were the words of a man to whom reasons for American guilt came naturally. Americans were shocked by this behavior in their newly elected president. But he was telling them something from those lecterns in foreign lands—something about his distant relation to the country he was about to lead.
The truth about that distance is now sinking in, which is all to the good. A country governed by leaders too principled to speak the name of its mortal enemy needs every infusion of reality it can get.
Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.