I had a friend in college named David, a talented musician and a funny guy, who one regaled me with his new theory of how to be a success and eliminate anxiety and stress in the bargain.
“See, we make ourselves miserable and guarantee failure by setting our goals impossibly high,” he said. “The secret to a happy, successful, care-free life is to set one’s goals extremely low. Last week, I was depressed because I had aimed at attending all my classes, writing 50 pages on my thesis, and finishing my reading assignments. I didn’t come close to accomplishing this, and I was miserable and guilty as a result.”
“Then I had an epiphany! Today I set my goal, my only one, as putting on my shoes and socks,” David explained. “That was it, the whole thing. Look! I did it! And it’s only noon!” He laughed and skipped away, not a care in the world.
I’m pretty sure he was kidding. Yet the Obama Administration, and its increasingly zombie-like, denial-motivated supporters, appears to have adopted this approach to leadership.
In Congress this week, it was revealed by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter that the $500 million Congress approved in 2014 for the purpose of training 5,000 U.S.-backed Syrian fighters a year for three years as a key component of the battle against ISIS has accomplished the enlisting of only 60 Syrians.
That’s not just a failure, that’s an embarrassing, shocking, pitiful failure, and one that has terrible implications for U.S. defense and security, not to mention that of the Middle East. Meanwhile, a Democrat running for President let slip the inconvenient truth that all of the Obama Administration talk about economic recovery is smoke and mirrors, as many have been saying for months. Bernie Sanders said, echoing conservatives and non-spinning economists, that “real unemployment…is not 5.5%, it is 11% including those people who have given up looking for work and are working part-time. ” So it is.
In another area previously acknowledged as one of crucial importance, the debt, the U.S. continues to add to it at a staggering rate. No substantive steps have been taken to address the problem, and even as Greece and the U.S.’s own territory of Puerto Rico are facing bankruptcy by pursuing the same kind of reckless, irresponsible, profligate deficit spending as the U.S. but on a smaller scale, no acknowledgement of the long term dangers of letting the debt climb is in evidence.
U.S. Race relations, meanwhile, are in free-fall. Since urban police departments know that the Obama Administration will pile on any hapless police officer who shoots an African American, regardless of the circumstances, and focus the full animus of the media and community activists against them, they have stopped proactive policing, causing crime and murder rates to start creeping back to the horrific levels of the Seventies. Illegal immigration is out of control, but for the first time the government is sending signals openly that it doesn’t care, as opposed to past administrations, which just quietly did nothing. Yes, that was outrageous; this is worse.
Never mind all that icky stuff, though. The progressive media, Democrats and President Obama were taking victory laps last week, with pundits writing that Obama’s legacy was secure, and that two Supreme Court decisions had proven the complaints of his critics to be fanciful. Why? Because gay marriage, one more cause that Obama tardily leapt in front of the parade to lead after it was already well underway achieved a narrow Supreme Court victory that had been widely anticipated for two years, and because his incompetently drafted and carelessly passed health care law was saved from his own administration’s botches, a near-miss that it wouldn’t have faced at all had Obama’s appointees and political allies done their jobs. These two “victories,” the equivalent of my old classmate being able to put on his socks and shoes in the correct order, justified high fives, spiking the ball, victory laps, taunting political foes and hyperbolic claims that Obama is a “transformative” President.
Look, if someone wants to think, against all evidence, that President Obama is a whizzbang President, that’s their privilege. I’m sad for them, and sad for the country that such people warp our elections and retard our success, security and prosperity, but as my Dad used to say, “That’s what makes a horse race.”
However, leaders have an obligation to be honest with the public, as well as themselves. They have an obligation to make sure that the public understands priorities, and not to deceive them, to the nation’s detriment, about the nation’s crucial goals are, what constitutes success for the United States of America, what defines a successful policy, and what the President of the United States is duty-bound to accomplish before he can start looking for a space on Mount Rushmore.
Defining success down has been the hallmark of the Obama Administration. Trying to pass legislation has been cheered as good enough: in fact, a President must be judged on what he accomplishes, not the quality of what he would accomplish if he were more skilled. The Affordable Care Act has already been pronounced a great success on the narrow grounds that many previously uninsured American have insurance. Shoes and socks. Are the increases in premiums tolerable? Is the law bringing down health care costs? Will the system be sustainable? How many employers will cut jobs and work hours to avoid the employer mandate? What other time-bombs are in the monster that nobody noticed? The answers to these questions will determine whether Obama’s “signature achievement” is an achievement at all. Similarly, Obama’s Iraq policy is a success in Progressiveland because he withdrew the troops. Shoes and socks. If withdrawing the troops triggered a collapse of Iraq and prompted the ISIS surge, it’s not a success.
Defining policy success and competent leadership down isn’t just dishonest and intentionally designed to mislead the public. It is dangerous.
I am pretty sure my college classmate knew the difference between success and failure. In the case of Barack Obama and the Administration’s defenders. I am not sure at all.