President Obama has said many of the things that now cause consternation when Prime Minister Netanyahu says them. Why the different reaction? On the key questions, they both agree that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. They both agree that ISIS must be stopped.
A clue may be found in Obama’s “red line” – that if Syrian dictator Assad used chemical weapons, it would not be tolerated. Assad did just that, and now appears to have used them again. Yet the “red line” seems to have been drawn in disappearing ink. Obama did nothing, thus announcing to friend and foe alike that his threats are empty. Obama should have studied the presidency of Harry Truman.
Vice President Truman became president when Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, near the end of World War II. Roosevelt was an impossible act to follow. Roosevelt was eloquent and charismatic, while Truman was plain-spoken. But then 1948 came, and Truman had to run for election on his own.
At this critical time, Senators Strom Thurmond and Richard Russell left the Democratic Party, angry with Truman because of his push for civil rights. They took many segregationist Southerners with them, reducing Truman’s chances for election. A reporter asked Thurmond why he objected so strongly now, despite the fact that he had supported Roosevelt, whose civil-rights position was quite similar to Truman’s. The reply was revealing:
“But he really means it.”
Roosevelt talked a good game when it came to civil rights, but Truman meant what he said. In the end, Truman won the election regardless. But the lesson goes deeper. People may tolerate opinions with which they disagree, so long as the one expressing them doesn’t really mean what he says. But if he speaks frankly and intends to carry out his program, then the trouble starts.
In 1998, President Clinton declared that regime change in Iraq was necessary, because Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who had produced and used poison gas, had produced biological weapons, and had attempted to produce nuclear weapons. The call for regime change in Iraq passed the Senate unanimously, and passed the House 360-38. It was supported by leading Democrats and was signed by Clinton. The noble-sounding title was the “Iraq Liberation Act.” Yet nothing happened, and no one was liberated.
But then came 9/11 and our war to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2002, President Bush went to Congress for approval to use military force to overthrow Saddam’s brutal regime. Majorities of both parties voted approval, including leading Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Harry Reid.
But as the war dragged on, many Democrats turned against the war and condemned President Bush in the harshest terms. So what explains this stark difference? Clinton said the same things regarding Iraq that Bush said. But Bush really meant it.
In part, this is just politics. Politicians love to posture. Like actors, their success depends in good measure in how well they pretend to be doing something. In many cases, they can get away with the pretense, and never accomplish what they claimed to favor. Like skillful poker players, they sometimes can win by bluffing.
But what happens when another player “calls”? Then they have to put up or shut up. It can be embarrassing to reveal that you bet on a hand containing no good cards. Even worse, if you become known as a bluffer, it makes it harder to get away with bluffing in the future. Being revealed as a bluffer isn’t good for your political career. In the case of a leader, it isn’t good for your country, either. Remember the “red line”? You can bet that our enemies remember it well.
There are many examples:
● There are people who wear black robes and play the role of judges, even Supreme Court justices, but who decide cases according to their personal opinions, not according to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.
● There are people who wear trendy clothes and play the role of film makers, but who make films to further their anti-American, leftist agenda. (Consider “Syriana,” “Redacted,” “Rendition,” “In the Valley of Elah” “Lions for Lambs,” “The Hunted,” “Shooter,” the “Bourne” series, and many more.)
● There are people who wear clerical garb and play the role of clergy, but who preach pro-abortion, anti-family values based on leftism, not on the Bible.
● There are people who wear makeup and play the role of newscasters, but who slant the news to further their leftist agenda.
● There are people who carry press cards and play the role of journalists, but who continue to fill their newspapers with pro-Obama, anti-conservative “news” stories, despite declining readership.
● There are people who wear lab coats and play the role of scientists, but who base their global-warming reports on what will fit the “green” agenda and get them grants, not on what the data show.
● There are people who wear scrubs and play the role of doctors, but who subvert their professional organizations to further leftist, statist values. (Abortion on demand? Euthanasia? Assisted suicide? Bureaucrats deciding who lives and who dies? Sure, why not? The Hippocratic Oath is “obsolete.”)
● There are people who wrap themselves in the flag and pretend to “support our troops,” but who then claim the troops terrorize women and children “in the dead of night,” “kill innocent civilians in cold blood,” and act like “Nazis.”
But when such people are confronted by someone who actually means what he says, they become uncomfortable, even anxious. And what do you suppose happens when people are made to feel uncomfortable? They try to remove the source of their discomfort. Insincere people try to get rid of sincere people. Poseurs try to get rid of people who actually do something. People who claim Rev. Wright “brought them to Christ,” but who then miss no opportunity to bash Christianity, try to get rid of people who put their religion into action.
In economics, we have Gresham’s Law. Where solidly backed money circulates with less secure money, the bad money tends to drive out the good. We saw this happen when silver coins were replaced by coins made of cheap alloy. As soon as the change was announced, people began hoarding silver coins, which became rare even before alloy coins were widely available. People hung onto the silver coins, and passed along the alloy coins as fast as they could.
I believe there is a sort of Gresham’s Law of Sincerity. The insincere try to drive out the sincere. Poseurs try to drive out those who are genuine. Charlatans try to drive out those who mean what they say. People who talk a good game try to drive out those who actually go down onto the field and play it, win or lose. Monday-morning quarterbacks try to drive out those who make difficult decisions under stressful conditions. Hypocrites who talk about religion try to drive out those who use their religion to inform their decisions. Phonies who claim to support our troops try to drive out those who really do support them in word and deed.
And those who ostentatiously pose as defenders of democracy and allies of Israel boycott a speech by Netanyahu, who oozes determination from every pore. Such a man makes them nervous. Yes, he says things quite similar to the things they have been saying for years.
But he really means it.
Contact: email@example.com. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.