by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
With Obama, there was always more than a whiff of the overconfident dilettante, so sure of his powers that he could remain supremely comfortable with his own ignorance. His express-elevator ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. president in the space of just four years didn’t allow much time for maturation or reflection, either. Obama really is, as Bill Clinton is supposed to have said of him, “an amateur.” When it comes to the execution of policy, it shows.
And yet this view also sells Obama short. It should be obvious, but bears repeating, that it is no mean feat to be elected, and reelected, president, whatever other advantages Obama might have enjoyed in his races. In interviews and press conferences, Obama is often verbose and generally self-serving, but he’s also, for the most part, conversant with the issues. … The myth of Obama’s brilliance paradoxically obscures the fact that he’s no fool. The point is especially important to note because the failure of Obama’s foreign policy is not, ultimately, a reflection of his character or IQ. It is the consequence of an ideology.
That ideology is what now goes by the name of progressivism, which has effectively been the dominant (if often disavowed) view of the Democratic Party since George McGovern ran on a “Come Home, America” platform in 1972—and got 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Progressivism believes that the United States must lead internationally by example (especially when it comes to nuclear-arms control); that the U.S. is as much the sinner as it is the sinned against when it comes to our adversaries (remember Mosaddegh?); and that the American interest is best served when it is merged with, or subsumed by, the global interest (ideally in the form of a UN resolution). …
… Above all, progressivism believes that the United States is a country that, in nearly every respect, treads too heavily on the Earth: environmentally, ideologically, militarily, and geopolitically. The goal, therefore, is to reduce America’s footprint; to “retrench,” as the administration would like to think of it, or to retreat, as it might more accurately be called.
To what end? “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” Obama said on the eve of his election in 2008. If Obama-Care is anything to go by, that fundamental transformation involves a vast expansion of the entitlement state; the growth of federal administrative power at the expense of Congress and the states; the further subordination of private enterprise to government regulation—and, crucially, the end of Pax Americana in favor of some new global dispensation, perhaps UN-led, in which America would cease to be the natural leader and would become instead the largest net contributor. The phrase “nation-building at home” captures the totality of the progressive ambition. Not only does it mean an end to nation-building exercises abroad, but it suggests that an exercise typically attempted on failed states must be put to use on what progressives sometimes see as the biggest failed state of all: the United States.