Monday, January 4, 2010

Passing the Buck

As Barack Obama's approval numbers have fallen from their unsustainable highs of a year ago, more and more of his apologists have insisted that his decline is due to racism or right–wing lies — or anything else that was not his fault or the fault of someone in his administration.

But the unsuccessful attempt to blow a Northwest Airlines flight out of the skies on Christmas Day showed how ridiculous those assertions are.

Actually, a lot of things have been contributing to a generally unsettling impression about this president that is reflected in his downward spiral in job approval surveys. Some of his supporters still prefer to believe that this is because of things that are beyond his control, like the color of his skin or the partisan venom of his detractors, but the truth is that the unemployed have been increasingly nervous as they have watched the jobless rate mushroom into double digits. It's hard to argue convincingly that this was the result of racism. Ronald Reagan experienced the same thing in the early 1980s.

(I'm not saying there isn't an element of racism in the opposition to Obama, but it is simply wrong to dismiss any disagreement with this president as racist. That is the refuge of scoundrels who prefer to beat up a straw man rather than deal directly with troublesome issues.)

And, now, air travelers should be concerned that it took the president several days to acknowledge that, contrary to his Homeland Security secretary's comments immediately after the incident that "the system worked," the system did not, in fact, work.

Criticism is something every president must deal with at some point. Harry Truman was familiar with that fact. He left office with an approval rating that was lower than George W. Bush's was a year ago when he handed over presidential power to Obama.

But Truman, to his everlasting credit, didn't blame others for his own shortcomings or those of the people who worked for him. Today, he is remembered by most historians as one of the top 10 presidents in American history. His candor had a lot to do with that. And it was neatly summarized in the sign he kept on his desk.

It is convenient to blame the previous president, and some of Obama's supporters have sought to do that very thing, but that's a tough sell. It is a scapegoat they should avoid.

If the Democratic administration and Democrat–controlled Congress have not revised and updated security policies and procedures after nearly a year of being in charge, that is their fault, not the fault of a former president who left Washington nearly a year ago.

And I believe Obama's failure to encourage job creation is not the product of racism or right–wing vitriol. I'm more inclined to believe it has been his obsession with health care reform that has prevented him from encouraging job creation. And I believe that will haunt him and the Democrats on Election Day later this year.

Voters do neither their leaders nor themselves any favors by making it easy for them to pass the buck.

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