A lookback: Presidential rhetoric v. reality by Neil W. McCabe

I have a little game I play comparing a president’s campaign rhetoric to what he did in office.

In 1844, Speaker of the House James K. Polk ran for president with the slogan “54-40, or fight!” It meant that if the English did not hand over British Columbia to America, he would go to war. A quick check of the map shows that the people of British Columbia still have the English monarch on their money. But, that does not mean that Polk did not like to fight. Soon enough, he was at war with Mexico.
In 1916, T. Woodrow Wilson campaigned for reelection with the slogan: “He kept us out of war. Then, weeks after his second inaugural, America was at war in Europe—a war he then promised to end all wars.
President John F. Kennedy is memorialized as president, who recognized the dangers of the nuclear weapons arms race. Candidate Kennedy promised to protect America, he would build more nuclear missiles and bombers with nuclear payloads.
Four years later in 1964, Barry Goldwater was ridiculed by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign for his extremism. Goldwater claimed that Johnson’s management of the Vietnam War was about to spin out of control, the minority neighborhoods would soon be in flames and liberal attitudes about sex and drugs would infect the youth. Hmmm. Looking at America in 1968, you have to say, “Not bad, Barry.”
Did someone say Barry?
President Barack Obama campaign rhetoric in 2008 was all unicorns and rainbows. America believed him because they wanted to believe him.
In 2012, even as the mainstream press executed Operation Carry Barry, there was no way the president could get away with talk of Recovery Summers or “green shoots of recovery.” Obama needed to talk foreign policy.
Ah, yes, we all remember when the president claimed that former Massachusetts governor W. Mitt Romney was too anti-Russian and that electing him would throw away all the work Obama had put into the “reset’’ of our relations with Russia. Oh boy. If that is the case, either Obama is reading Romney’s campaign policy papers or Romney’s handling of Russia would be worse.
How worse? Hard to tell. But, given that the Russians warned us about the Boston Marathon bombers and the FBI lost the files, I doubt we will get that kind of heads up again.
Syria and Iran? Obama said Romney would be at war with both countries.
To be fair, Obama was only really pretending to bomb Syria, but he did make a great show of it. Some of our allies really believed it. But, I am sure Bashir Assad was told through back channels that it was all kabuki. Go ahead and Google: Cape Ray and her hostage crew in Spain.
Of course, Obama would never go to war with Iran. In the jumbled mess that is Obama foreign policy, the one thread that connects the dots is his indulgence of Iran. Still it was funny to hear, Obama claim all options were on the table unless Iran stopped its weapons of mass destruction programs—all the while, working on Capitol Hill to gut sanctions bills and then having the Treasury Department lift the sanctions with a memorandum.
Iran needed time to finish its program and Obama gave it to him. After months of pretend negotiations, the Iranians telling us to go fish. #whatever.
Our president likes to say he learned the lessons of Iraq. He made this boast big-time after he engineered the overthrown of Kaddafi in Libya.
I am pretty well-versed on our time in Iraq, but I do not recall any lessons about said we need to abandon our #Benghazi mission compound and our ambassador to Al Qaeda.
Maybe the best example of how Obama deals with the lessons of Iraq is the fact that he is rushing military supplies and perhaps personnel into Iraq to pull it back from chaos.
Like many Americans, I am stupefied as to how incompetent and wrongheaded our president is on foreign policy. Politics aside, there was a basic assumption that he would figure it out, despite his hollow resume.
In the next three years, we have to be vigilant not only to the next messes Obama is going to stumble in and out of, but also to the rhetoric of his potential successors, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
In the meantime, cross your fingers.

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