Last week MercatorNet published eight articles. Four of them were harsh criticisms of US President Barack Obama. Two asserted that lifting restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research was morally insensitive and scientifically unnecessary. Another argued that his education policy speech showed that he was in thrall to America’s powerful teachers unions. And yet another dolefully forecast that the expansion of the welfare state under Obama would further erode American religious fervour.
It was Mr Obama’s fault, really, that he got clobbered. He made two speeches on successive days on bioethics and education. He should have known that these are favourite MercatorNet themes. But, as editor, I worried that some visitors to the site would get the wrong idea. “We're not mounting a campaign against President Obama,” I reassured readers in MercatorNet’s bi-weekly email update last Saturday. “There is much about him to inspire respect and confidence and I'd like to highlight that at a later stage.”
This instantly provoked emails from readers. Take this one, for instance: “We would pay good money to hear what that is about Obama, a pig, a common lib/lefty prostitute, a hypocrite, that inspires respect and confidence. Please don't take too long to come out with that article.”
OK, here goes.
First of all, I do not share many of Mr Obama’s values, notably his views on abortion. As soon as he took office, he reversed the Mexico City Policy which banned US funding for abortion overseas. He is trying to boot healthcare workers who are conscientious objectors to abortion out of Federally-funded institutions. His minions at the United Nations are working for international recognition of reproductive health rights, aka abortion. I can’t excuse that. What is human dignity about if not the rights of the defenceless unborn?
None of this comes as a surprise. Mr Obama was forthright and unswerving in his support for abortion during the campaign. That’s why I couldn’t cast a vote for him. (I have an American passport, even though I reside Down Under.)
Still, he won the election by a solid margin and his popularity ratings are stratospheric. It’s time to focus on his good points. After all, he’s the only president we’ve got for the next four years. Absent Obama, we have President Biden. Absent Biden and we have President Pelosi. President Nancy Pelosi: I don’t fancy that scenario at all.
And there is much about President Obama to inspire respect and confidence. First and foremost, because he is our President. As President, he is the living symbol of the American people and of their political traditions and history. As a politician, he represents a political platform. As President, he represents American democracy. Disrespect for the president loosens the screws and bolts that hold the political system together.
I respect his life story. How many children of single mothers have achieved so much, let alone African-American children? He is self-made man, in a late 20th Century context, a genuine Horatio Alger hero.
I respect him as a husband and father. He is well married, with two lovely children. The peccadilloes of his Democrat predecessor sickened the country. This taint does not hang over Mr Obama. On the contrary, he has a right to use his own example as a call to young African-American men not to abandon the responsibilities of fatherhood and to stress the irreplaceable importance of parental responsibilities.
I respect him for his eloquence. No American politician in recent memory has been able to move people with his words as Barack Obama has. An Obama speech is an event, a cross between a civics lesson and a sermon. He can move his listeners to pride and to tears. But he also thinks about what he says. He wrestles with ideas; he thinks things through. He has been endowed with a remarkable gift.
I respect him for his civility. He treats everyone, or so it seems, with unfailing courtesy and respect, even his political opponents, even his bitterest rivals in the presidential campaign. He has attempted to reach across party lines in his appointments. He has reassured allies overseas. Of course, some of his conciliatory moves are mere political manoeuvring, as you would expect. But his personal civility shames his foam-flecked opponents.
Does the sum of these qualities make him a good president? Absolutely not. Andrew Jackson was boorish and uncivil and he was a great president. FDR was a philanderer but he was an effective, if controversial leader. Millard Filmore was born in a log cabin and became a non-entity. JFK was a great speaker, but middling as a President.
The Obama Presidency is a work in progress. We haven’t even reached the 100-day mark. He may yet turn out to be a scoundrel and a fraud, an incompetent administrator and an ineffective politician, a left-wing business-bashing populist, a weakling on the world stage. But fairness to him and respect for America demand that we wish him Godspeed.
The United States is now passing through a financial crisis which could be as severe as the Great Depression. Politically and socially the nation is under enormous strain. The world, too, is a more dangerous place than it has been since the Cuban missile crisis. In the midst of this tension and uncertainty, America needs a President who can rally and unite the nation, who can make its diverse and fractious people believe that yes, they can. If any man is equipped for this role, it is Barack Obama.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. He also admires Obama because he is politically incorrect enough to sneak the occasional cigarette.