The Obama Watch

The Maximalist

Obama’s thoughts on “dysfunctional” government.

By 8.13.14

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In 2011, President Obama, speaking before the National Council of La Raza, remarked that “I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own.” He acknowledged the appeal of dictatorial action, but he said “that’s not how our system works.” The crowd responded, “Change it” and “Yes, you can!”

He spoke of bypassing Congress as a temptation to which he wouldn’t yield. But he has, and it is clear that he regards America’s system of checks and balances as an odious obstacle to his conception of good government.

In a recent interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Obama pronounced that “our politics are dysfunctional.” What the Founding Fathers would have considered ordinary and commendable political resistance is akin in Obama’s eyes to Middle Eastern mayhem.

Friedman writes, “At the end of the day, the president mused, the biggest threat to America — the only force that can really weaken us — is us. We have so many things going for us right now as a country — from new energy resources to innovation to a growing economy — but, he said, we will never realize our full potential unless our two parties adopt the same outlook that we’re asking of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds or Israelis and Palestinians: No victor, no vanquished and work together.”

In other words, the great crisis facing the nation is the unwillingness of his opponents to submit to his agenda. By “full potential,” he means unimpeded liberalism. At times he has tried to govern America like a Middle Eastern ruler, advancing his ideology with “czars” and unconstitutional decrees. Yet he sees the Middle East, according to this interview, as a “warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”

An ideologically diverse America has never inspired Obama to moderate any of his plans. He is an expert at taking maximalist positions, accusing anyone who disagrees with him of waging a “war” on women, the environment, immigrants, and the poor. His administration prides itself on choosing hardline ideology over national calm. He has an attorney general who recently bragged that he is divisive. Eric Holder told the press that he welcomes the label of “activist.”

The example Obama sets for the Middle East is one of willful rule. When he finds democracy at home inconvenient, he calls for his executive pen. He hasn’t sought to compromise with Congress but to circumvent it. His defiant comments — “If Congress won’t act, I will” — indicates the depth of his impatience with democracy and his willingness to roil the country for the sake of ideological victories.

Obama’s problem is not with “intransigent” politicians but with the America people. Their lingering conservatism is an annoyance to him. His view of good government is a collusion between Democrats and Republicans against them. A good Republican in his eyes is one who doesn’t represent his constituents.

Accept disagreement, he tells Middle Easterners, even as he treats disagreements in his own country as an intolerable limitation on his power, so intolerable that he is entitled to skirt the Constitution. In the Friedman interview, he also expresses an un-democratic distaste for a diverse media and too much participation in politics by the wrong kind of people.

Friedman writes, “While he blamed the rise of the Republican far right for extinguishing so many potential compromises, Obama also acknowledged that gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics — the guts of our political system today — are sapping our ability to face big challenges together, more than any foreign enemy.”

What this essentially means is that Obama considers democracy at home a greater threat to the good of the country than tyranny abroad. He is more worried about the Tea Party than terrorists. His idea of democratic leadership is issuing tributes to deceased celebrities. “He arrived in our lives as an alien, but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit,” said Obama of Robin Williams, in between his statements on ISIS, whose members don’t appear to find the president very petrifying.

As Obama urges the Middle East to embrace multiple political parties, he seeks to narrow U.S. politics, reducing it to the priorities of an elite, whose supposed enlightenment entitles them to demand, in the very maximalist style he decried to Friedman, that America operate like a one-party liberal state.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.