However limited the president’s power and influence in Washington, they’re about to shrink. And that’s a good thing.
For Reason, Steve Chapman writes: About now, Barack Obama may be wondering why he thought it would be such fun to serve a second term rather than go lounge on a beach in Hawaii. Life in the White House has become a daily ordeal of pain and frustration. Nothing is going well.
“Presidents don’t scale back their ambitions because they want to; they do it because they have to.”
On the foreign front, he has to contend with an aggressive Vladimir Putin, an unsuccessful war in Afghanistan and his failure to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Domestically, he has to endure a Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, an underperforming economy, a health care overhaul whose ultimate success is in doubt, House hearings on Benghazi, and an inability to get Congress to do anything he wants.
“Obama is stymied on Capitol Hill because he lacks the political power or popular standing to get his way.”
In the international arena, as a news story in The Chicago Tribune recently noted, the president has been compelled to adopt a “measured, even incremental, approach to most foreign crises and challenges, from Iran’s nuclear program to Syria’s grinding war.” Instead of trying to do great things, he’s settled for a policy that his aides summarize as “Don’t do stupid stuff”—though they use a different word than “stuff.” Read the rest of this entry »
Excessive nationalism threatens the country’s potential
Steve Chapman writes: To achieve any ambitious goal, you have to want it badly enough to work and sacrifice. But there is such a thing as trying too hard. Overzealous pursuit of your heart’s desire can end up chasing it away.
The Chinese government may be learning that right now. China, a great civilization brought low by foreign powers in the 19th and 20th centuries, has long burned to acquire a global stature corresponding to its self-image.
Its transformation from an economic catastrophe to an export machine has made it a much bigger player in world affairs. But sometimes efforts to assert itself generate not respect and cooperation but fear and resistance.
The decision to establish an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea didn’t have to set alarm bells clanging from Seoul to Tokyo to Washington. Other countries have their own along their coastlines, and Beijing can make a reasonable case that it’s entitled to one as well.
But the Chinese didn’t make the case; they just proclaimed it. The change came in such an abrupt and surprising way as to make it impossible for anyone to cheerfully accept. China failed to consult with its neighbors in advance, took in islands long under Japanese jurisdiction and established rules beyond what other countries impose.
Everyone elected president comes into office modeling himself on some predecessor: Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan. But those who win re-election eventually end up wondering whether they should have emulated James K. Polk instead. Why? Because he promised to serve only one term, and he stuck to it.
Barack Obama is probably reaching that stage about now. Ten months after concluding a victorious campaign, he finds himself with a public approval rating of 44 percent. That’s down 10 points since December — and the same as that of George W. Bush at this point in his presidency. Read the rest of this entry »
Political trends come and go in response to events. Gun control was the rage during the Clinton administration, but over the past decade or so it became an obsolete cause. After the horrific crimes in Newtown and Aurora, though, it’s staging a comeback.
One thing hasn’t changed: The agenda includes mostly measures that will have little or no effect on the problems they are supposed to address. They are Potemkin remedies—presentable facades with empty space behind them.
This is something that supporters as well as opponents labor to conceal. Treating them as serious allows them both to posture for their own advantage.
So on Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled a raft of executive actions and proposed changes in federal law intended to prevent both mass shootings and chronic gun violence. A few are innocuous and reasonably promising, like improving databases for background checks and helping “ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.”
But the most notable ones fall into three categories. In the category of “useless” is the ban on “assault weapons,” which has been tried before with no evident effect. The administration is fond of demonizing a style of firearm that the gun industry likes to glamorize.
What they are talking about, though, are ordinary rifles tricked out and blinged up to resemble something else: military arms designed for the battlefield. The “weapons of war” Obama wants to ban do nothing that other legal weapons won’t do just as quickly and just as destructively.
Most criminals have no need of them. In 2011, reports The New York Times, 6,220 people were killed with handguns—compared to 323 by rifles of any kind, including “assault weapons.”
In the “probably useless” realm is a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which was part of the 1994 assault weapons ban. A mass shooter can overcome the restriction by carrying multiple magazines or multiple guns—as many of them do anyway. The notion that an attacker can be subdued when he stops to reload works better in movies than in real life, where it is virtually unknown…