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: Continue reading