Commentary: Obama has an ace in the hole
The off-year elections are looming and, fairly or not, they figure to be a referendum on the Obama administration. If the polls are even close to accurate, it looks as though the "Yes, We Can!" crowd could be in for a "That's What You Think" awakening.
Apologists for the president are quick to point out that he inherited one hell of a mess from his predecessor. No reasonable person would argue otherwise. But even though the janitorial service didn't make the mess they were hired to clean up, it's still fair to fire them if you don't like the job they're doing.
Besides, "inherited" is the precisely accurate verb to describe Obama's plight because it signifies a change in ownership. Just as LBJ's war in Vietnam came to be Nixon's headache and Hoover's Great Depression became FDR's problem, so too have the Great Recession and the interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become Obama's political property. And things are not going particularly well on any front.
In fairness, by the time Obama arrived, the wars were too far gone to pull out a big win in either one.
The ill-advised adventure in Iraq was doomed by the chaos that followed the fall of Baghdad. Prior to the invasion, the generals had called for a force three times the size of that actually deployed to topple Saddam's regime and maintain order during the aftermath of its demise. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blithely ignored their sage advice, and we now await the mutually unsatisfactory conclusion of his folly.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, we're presently fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong place for reasons that no longer matter. We initiated the campaign to eradicate the al-Qaeda operation in that desolate land. Because the ruling Taliban had allowed al-Qaeda to operate freely within its borders and rejected U.S. overtures to clamp down on the terrorists, they became a secondary enemy of necessity -- the reasoning being that the "friend of my enemy is my enemy."
Now, as Gen. Petraeus recently testified before Congress, al-Qaeda has withdrawn into the wilds of northwestern Pakistan while we're prosecuting a ground war in Afghanistan against a rejuvenated Taliban movement.
The Taliban are primarily Pashtuns who want to establish a strict Islamic regime in their homeland. Al-Qaeda is a predominantly Arabic terrorist movement intent on driving Western interests from the Middle East.
So, we're fighting Pashtun radicals in Afghanistan to deny Arab radicals a potential base of operations that they already have in neighboring Pakistan, which, incidentally, is a nominal U.S. ally. CIA Director Leon Panetta estimates that there are currently "between 50 and 100" al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan. We have 100,000 troops deployed to look for them.
If the administration's foreign policy woes weren't daunting enough, its domestic agenda has been dominated by continuing economic distress. The crisis that began on Wall Street has spread to public sector employees as reduced tax revenues have forced lay-offs and unpaid furloughs for governmental employees at the state and local level.
Though anti-Big Government sorts may take satisfaction in this development, it's really bad news for everybody because these people use their paychecks to purchase the same goods and services that private sector workers do. An already shaky recovery is thus further imperiled by diminished liquidity in the marketplace.
The deck would appear to be stacked against the president; but he has an ace up his sleeve: His Democratic allies get to run against Republicans. Given the influence of the Tea Party movement on the GOP base, that's an advantage you'd be foolish to overlook.
Consider a random sampling of Republican candidates from across the nation who seem determined to keep Congress in the hands of the Democrats:
In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to be destined for burial as a profile in courage. He was the principled statesman who sacrificed his career for the politically unpopular health-care program he believed in. No matter your opinion of Obamacare, you had to respect the guy's guts.
Harry's prospects for re-election were deader than disco -- until Republicans got around to fielding a candidate to run against him. The GOP primary pitted Sue Lowden (aka "Suicide Sue") against Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.
Lowden distinguished herself by a series of devastating gaffes, highlighted by her suggestion that people return to bartering with doctors as an alternative to federalized health insurance. Q: How many chickens for a kidney transplant?
Alas, Sue proved to be insufficiently nutty for Tea Partiers, and Angle won in a walk. The Republican hopeful is an extreme social conservative who is anti-Social Security, anti-Medicare, pro-nuclear waste storage and against legalized liquor sales. She seeks to represent Nevada: a state whose principal industry is gambling, where prostitution is legal in most counties and where the bars are open 24/7. Polls released July 16 show Reid back in the lead.
Texas Republicans elevated the nation's political dialog by sending Rep. Joe Barton to Capitol Hill. He became famous by kicking off congressional hearings into the Gulf oil spill disaster by apologizing to BP. Joe was "appalled" that Obama would "shake down" the corporation on behalf of citizens whose livelihoods had been destroyed by the mishap.
He subsequently recanted his apology, and then later partially recanted his recantation, thus evoking memories of Charles Barkley's claim that he'd been misquoted in his autobiography.
In Missouri, Ed Martin seeks to unseat Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan in the 3rd Congressional District. Ed raised eyebrows recently when he appeared on KMOX radio and accused Obama and Carnahan of thwarting his chances for eternal salvation.
"When you take a government," he said, "and you impose, and you take away all your choices, one of the choices you take away is to find the Lord, and find your Savior." Well, that clears that up.
On the national level, embattled RNC Chairman Michael Steele has stepped in it again. He'd just about recovered from the revelation that the family values party had been partying at a lesbian bondage strip club in California on the RNC tab when he announced that the war in Afghanistan was now "Obama's War." His statement, though accurate, outraged the party's hawkish base.
Meanwhile, GOP pin-up girl Sarah Palin has launched a campaign to encourage "Grizzly Bear Moms" to protect their cubs by voting Republican. Her anthropomorphically mixed metaphor appeals to the key voting bloc of women who consider themselves to be grizzly.
The electorate's infatuation with all things Obama has obviously cooled. It's tempting to dismiss the romance as a one-night stand but given the alternative, it may turn into a marriage of convenience.
M.W.Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.