A Real Liberal
Will United States' defeat of Canada in hockey in the Winter Olympics convince Dick Cheney and Co. that maybe this country isn't quite as soft and weak and timorous as they've been suggesting? Some conservatives believe that the American defeat of the Soviet team on February 22, 1980 at Lake Placid-the "Miracle on Ice"-was a decisive blow in the Cold War, one that helped exorcise the ghost of Vietnam and presaged the Soviet defeat in freshly invaded Afghanistan. No doubt the Obama administration isn't looking to defeat Canada, but it does offer some consolation that perhaps the United States itself hasn't completely tanked and is capable of a comeback both at home and in Afghanistan. Perhaps some future audacious liberal historians will point to the latest miracle on ice as a turning point for the Obama administration.
Goodness knows that Obama could use it. His first year has been something of a fiasco. The grand health-care scheme has now been reduced to bite-sized morsels, while Obama seeks to bring on a few Republicans with his much-touted bipartisan domestic summit. At the same time, Republicans continue to pound Obama in foreign policy, with Mitt Romney suggesting that he's going to turn America into a twenty-first version of France. The annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) showed that the Right has rebounded from its paralytic condition a year ago.
Still, lusty opposition from the Right to a liberal president is hardly a shocking development, particularly when, on the one hand, he's trying to expand the reach and scope of government, and, on the other, to roll back tax cuts. As Time magazine's Mark Halperin suggests, the most ominous development for Obama may be that he is being disrespected by his own allies. According to Halperin,
What's more problematic for the President than the derision of his enemies is the waning confidence of his friends. Many members of the left (including some Democrats in Congress) and a solid segment of the media (including those who have consistently swooned over Obama since his earliest days as a national figure) are now assessing his Administration in the same gloomy way as those CPAC activists.
They regard Obama in the way that conservatives such as Bruce Bartlett regarded George W. Bush-as an impostor. Just as Bartlett deemed Bush a pretend conservative, so hardcore liberals see Obama as a pretend liberal-someone who capitulates to conservatives. They despise Obama for ramping up the war in Afghanistan and failing to fight for an even broader health-care bill that includes a public option. In short, they want a fighting faith, not a namby-pamby compromiser. In this regard, their criticism of Obama sounds a little like Dick Cheney, who has been drubbing Obama for being a . . . namby-pamby on national security. Except that Cheney thinks he isn't doing enough to protect America.
The only real defenders of Obama seem to be former-Secretary of State Colin Powell and General David Petraeus. Is Powell continuing his war with Cheney, first and foremost, or is he defending Obama? Actually, he may be doing both. Here's Powell on CBS' Face the Nation: "To suggest that somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration, I don't think that's borne out by the facts." On Meet the Press, Petraeus seconded Powell, remarking that torture is not a good thing:
I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we've perhaps taken expedient measures, they've turned around and bitten us in the backside. We decided early on, in the 101st airborne division, we just said, we decided to obey the Geneva Conventions.
Speaking of the Geneva Conventions, John Yoo (defended by Gordon Wood in a provocative piece in The National Interest) can breathe more easily now that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility essentially decided to punt when it came to the issue of his culpability for aiding and abetting CIA torture. Perhaps even Yoo will begin to soften on the Obama administration. At least he and Obama have one thing in common: they know what it feels like when everyone else is attacking you and trying to put you on ice. If Obama is really intent on bipartisanship, he should invite Yoo to the White House for a beer. Maybe they can watch reruns of the U.S.-Canada hockey game.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.