President Obama said some of the things that now cause consternation when President-elect Trump 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. They both agree that potential terrorists must not be allowed to enter the country.
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. 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 Truman really means it.
‒ Strom Thurmond, 1948
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, and went on to desegregate the armed services ‒ and in general accelerate the civil-rights movement. But the lesson goes deeper. People may tolerate opinions with which they disagree, so long as they believe that the one expressing those opinions 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. To call Clinton’s words baloney would be an insult to baloney ‒ it may be unhealthful, but it actually exists.
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, or even fabricate stories. (Recall Dan Rather’s forged documents on George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard.)
● There are people who carry press cards and play the role of journalists, but who continue to fill their newspapers with leftist, 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 will 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.” And what is more, they starve the military of resources until it shrinks to a dangerous level:
But when such people are confronted by someone who actually means what he says, they become uncomfortable, even anxious. And what 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. Theorizers try to get rid of people who actually do things. People who claim to “support our troops” try to get rid of people who actually intend to do so and appoint retired generals to help them. People who claim Rev. Wright “brought them to Christ,” but who then miss no opportunity to bash Christianity, and try to get rid of people who put their religion into action by speaking up for persecuted Christians:
They’re chopping off Christians’ heads in Syria, and they want me to have a nice tone?
‒ Donald Trump, 2015
Yes, Trump says some things quite similar to the things Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been saying for years: Supporting our military. Preventing Iran from obtaining nukes. Stopping ISIS. Supporting Israel. Preventing terrorists from entering the country. Encouraging energy independence. Promoting economic development. Improving the quality of our schools. Curing the deficiencies of veterans’ health care.
But Trump really means it.
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