- - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

THE BRIEF AGAINST OBAMA: THE RISE, FALL & EPIC FAIL OF THE HOPE & CHANGE PRESIDENCY

By Hugh Hewitt

Center Street, $19.19, 234 pages

Hugh Hewitt is a successful radio talk show host, a prolific columnist and author, a lawyer and law professor. In his new book, “The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency,” Mr. Hewitt invokes the trial lawyer’s mantra that if you make promises in opening argument, then the jury will pay attention to whether you deliver what was promised.

Mr. Hewitt has penned a “brief” in which he undertakes to measure President Obama’s promises against what his administration has delivered. The book’s 25 chapters are organized under three broad headings: Domestic Policy Failures, Foreign Policy Failures and Leadership Failures. Each chapter addresses a different issue, leading with quotes from the president’s promises or representations about the administration’s policies. Mr. Hewitt then argues that the promises have not been kept, generally with detailed citations to press reports, excerpts from articles, interviews and the like.

This approach works well. In the first chapter, for example, Mr. Hewitt takes on “Obamacare.” As one might expect, he opens with the president’s now famously false statements that Americans can keep their health insurance and their doctors if they wish, and that “you’re not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making.” He then proceeds to discuss how the law itself belies these promises, and criticizes its likely impact on a variety of grounds — from “transparently impossible-to-keep claims” about cost controls to the fact that “fifteen unelected bureaucrats will in fact decide the health-care futures of all Americans.”

He does much the same with a chapter on government spending, reminding us of Mr. Obama’s campaign attack on President Bush for “driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents” to “over $9 trillion.” Mr. Obama denounced that as “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic.” Now, under Mr. Obama, the national debt has increased by a similar amount in half the time, and unless the Federal Reserve can “keep interest rates near zero forever,” our unsustainable spending habits will be catching up with us quickly and in a painful way.

Mr. Hewitt also walks us through the president’s energy policies. This administration has been held in contempt for illegal regulatory orders blocking private-sector domestic oil production. At the same time, federal funds have been funneled to campaign donors and cronies with firms such as Solyndra, whose executives have “pled the Fifth Amendment” in a congressional investigation of their now bankrupt company, refusing to identify “the company’s customers or talk about its contracts” because the “topic would likely be the subject of investigation and possible litigation.”

There is also a chapter on the president’s attacks on “Catholics, Congress, and the Constitution.” This is valuable because it touches on the Obama administration’s disrespect for the rule of law, its willingness to nullify valid laws (such as the Defense of Marriage Act and, more recently, the immigration laws) “by executive decree and without the benefit of judicial review.” Curiously, aside from a taste of “Fast and Furious” and a chapter on border control, Mr. Hewitt does not devote much attention to the politicization of law enforcement in the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

On the foreign affairs front, Mr. Hewitt reminds us that Mr. Obama called on the Iranian government to respect the rights of its people to freedom of speech and assembly, then looked the other way as those very rights were trampled. Worse yet, the author recites how the Obama administration “has systematically defunded the expatriate voices of the Iranian people.” Iran has read Mr. Obama’s position as one of “weakness,” and “responded with contempt.”

The book covers an array of additional issues. One chapter in the section on “Leadership Failures” reviews a number of the president’s unilateral actions using “executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities.” Unfortunately, at least early on, some in the media were “aglow with praise” for the president’s “bold appointments and willingness to bypass the traditional constitutional structures.” How things do change from a time of concern about executive overreach. And, as the author notes, “Americans have to ask themselves: If this is his love of unchecked power in a first term with a re-election campaign looming, what will he do if given a second four years?”

Mr. Hewitt has done an admirable job addressing many important issues. Of course, as a lawyer he also knows that politicians and election campaigns are not subject to rules like those that constrain parties in litigation and limit their abilities to distort and mislead. An informed and alert electorate is vital. We can hope that some candidates (and radio talk show hosts) will focus intently on the facts on the record in the months ahead.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.