Tipping points are events that establish major shifts in public attitudes and the culture, and what determines a tipping point varies from circumstance to circumstance. When the switch is flipped on public trust, a leader is done for, at least in a democracy. This is why, in a parliamentary system, prime ministers call for elections at such times, or even resign. It’s a tradition the U.S. might do well to consider.
The tipping point on the George W. Bush presidency was glaringly obvious: it was the botched handling of Hurricane Katrina, even though that particular fiasco was mostly an example of effective blame-shifting by New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. Bush had already accumulated many legitimate reasons to doubt him, but the traditional American eagerness to like and trust whoever holds the same job as Washington, Lincoln and FDR had kept his presidency afloat…until it drowned in Katrina. All was downhill from there.
Interestingly, nobody at the time argued that Americans should support the lousy response to Katrina because not doing so would cripple the Bush presidency going forward. But I digress..
Now it appears that the Obama proposal/decision/ argument—who knows what it really is?—to engage in a limited missile attack on Syria may be the public tipping point on Obama’s leadership, the moment when the veils fall and the nation reluctantly but decisively admits that the man it elected—twice—as its leader cannot be trusted. If so, it is remarkable this took so long, testimony to how much we all wanted our first African-American President to succeed. The tipping point for me was years ago. Following the Bush experience, I thought that the bungled government handling of the Gulf oil spill would clinch it, but no. Then came the Benghazi mess, with an ambassador and other Americans murdered without any decisive response other than deceptive spin and obfuscation to avoid electoral consequences—the I.R.S. tea party harassment (still being investigated, and looking worse all the time)—the NSA revelations, and the growing evidence that while the Affordable Care Act may not be the cataclysmic socialist disaster conservatives claim it is, it is also far from what the President promised. No tipping point though, until Syria, and the consequences flowing directly from the President’s undisciplined off-the-cuff rhetoric—a constantly repeated flaw in his leadership style.
Now, as tipping points do, this current controversy is resuscitating all of the past incidents, and serving as the catalyst for a reappraisal of Obama’s leadership. The looming conclusion is that he cannot be trusted.
Occasionally am beaten to the punch by a pundit or blogger who delivers an essay that says exactly what I was preparing to write, even as I was almost finished writing it. Such a pundit is Forbes contributor Merrill Mathews, who delivered an article on that publication’s website over the weekend, titled “What Happens When You Can’t Believe A Thing The President Says?” (My title was going to be “When Trust Is Gone”).
Some key quotes from the article:
- “I have come to the point that I cannot believe a thing President Obama says. That’s not quite the same as saying I don’t believe anything he says. When he speaks he may be telling the truth, he may not be, or he may be parsing his words to mislead. But it’s impossible to know: which is which?”
- “With respect to Syria, the president tells us there will be no U.S. boots on the ground. Um, would that be like:
If you like your health coverage you can keep it (Most people won’t be able to)….Health insurance premiums for a family would be $2,500 lower by the end of his first term in office. (They were actually about $3,000 higher)….The Obama administration was not responsible for proposing the budget sequester idea. (Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward challenged this claim and forced the administration to backtrack)….Money from the nearly $800 billion stimulus package would be spent on “shovel-ready projects” and unemployment would drop to 5.3 percent by the end of his first term. (The president later conceded the projects weren’t as shovel ready as he had hoped and unemployment was 7.9 percent)…. There was nothing Obama could do about Benghazi. (Subsequent revelations and congressional testimony have shown just how disengaged or disinterested the administration was)…. The Justice Department told a judge that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a “co-conspirator” and a security threat? (The DOJ later apologized and tried to make amends with Washington reporters)…. That Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t know about the Fast and Furious gun-running program? (Investigators have found documents confirming that he did have knowledge)…”
- “And when Obama or his team aren’t asserting something that is demonstrably false, they are frequently making claims that might be technically true, but are intended to mislead.”
I don’t agree with all of Mathews’ examples, especially the current criticism of his “I didn’t draw the red line” remark in Sweden. It should be very clear, to anyone not already convinced that Obama was lying, that he meant only that the absolute international ban on chemical weapons existed before he made his “red line” remark. However, Merrill hardly cited all the examples of the President’s deceptions, from the critical—saying in the third debate with Romney that he had specifically called the Benghazi attack a terrorist act when he had not, to the inexplicable—stating the the Supreme Court had never overturned Congressional legislation, to the trivial but telling—promising to get his children a shelter dog.
Has the tipping point on trust been reached at last? If so, any American who rejoices is a fool. With so much to be done and such daunting problems to face, no patriot or sane citizen should welcome three years being led by a President who has squandered the trust of the public, which is the presumption of competence, honesty and good will. But, as I said, I reached that point with this President years ago, for the evidence was there for anyone willing to see it.
Welcome to despair.