American politics is suffering from impression of imaginary leadership

“When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.” — Dave Barry, “25 things I have learned in 50 years”

If there is a better summation of the American political landscape in the summer of 2010 I would like to hear it. Plenty of political figures fall into the category of thinking they have all the answers while being a few beans short of a burrito, but for our purposes let’s move straight to the head of the class and take a look at our commander in chief.

During his campaign and the first part of his presidency, the mainstream narrative was that Barack Obama was the smartest guy in the room. How smart? Well, unimaginably smart, so smart he wouldn’t even release any of his educational records or applications because we weren’t smart enough to understand them. As a result we elected a president who embodies a really brainy phrase from Winston Churchill: “A mystery wrapped in an enigma.”

But is he really that smart about America? Let’s review a few examples that may cast some light on the question.

During his campaign he mentioned that, “I’ve now been in 57 states — I think one left to go.” He also discovered another state during his travels, the state of Eau Claire, which he identified as a separate state during a speech in Wisconsin.

Geography not so hot. What about American history?

He said that he had an uncle who helped liberate the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Didn’t happen, unless his uncle was a soldier in the Soviet Army (wait a minute ...). He also thought Emperor Hirohito attended the Japanese surrender ceremony. Nope, never showed up on the battleship Missouri.

How about his own history? He made a speech stating how the civil rights march on Selma, Ala., helped bring his parents together, but he was born before the march.

In the silly department, he made a Memorial Day address about the country’s fallen heroes, which he said he could see in the audience.

Any of these statements would’ve been enough to cause media potentates to snort so loudly their monocles would fall out if Obama were a conservative. Just look at poor Dan Quayle and his misadventure with the spelling of potato.

We’re suffering from an impression of imaginary leadership and an expectation of solutions from a leader who is unfamiliar with our history, our traditions and his relationship to both. He doesn’t know who we are.

Because of this, he gets important things very wrong. One such thing is the United States Constitution, a topic he lectured on as a law school professor. You may recall he sees the Constitution as a document of “negative liberties” (a nonsense phrase that essentially means prohibitions) which “says what the states can’t do to you but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.”

This fallacy lies at the heart of our present circumstance. The Constitution is wholly consumed with describing the job of the federal government by setting up its branches and identifying their duties and responsibilities.

While the framers felt it clear that powers not specifically granted to the federal government were not within its reach, many believed certain rights were so special they should be specifically protected. These rights were included as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. This Bill of Rights does specifically limit the power of the federal government.

To those unfamiliar with the American impulse, the Constitution is a nagging obstacle preventing government from providing equality and protection for those ravaged by the free market.

Our president seems cut from this cloth and, after signing the financial regulation act just passed by Congress, he will have concentrated more power in the executive branch than has been allotted in 220 years. He fails to recognize that most Americans see such power not as protecting but as threatening, and vote accordingly.

Crazy? No. Smart? Maybe, but certainly a stranger in a land he does not know.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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