- - Thursday, February 5, 2015

President Obama had a bad day at the office this week. His top advisers were leaving him in droves. His fourth nominee to be defense secretary was taking positions that betrayed deep disagreements over national security issues.

And a long line of Republican presidential contenders have begun lobbing a barrage of attacks on his policies that aren’t going to end until Nov. 4, 2016.

Ashton B. Carter, Mr. Obama’s choice to run the Pentagon, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that he was “very much inclined” to provide high-powered weaponry to the besieged Ukrainian government to deter Russian aggression.

“We need to support the Ukrainians in defending themselves,” he told Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee’s combative chairman, who has long criticized Mr. Obama for providing only night-vision goggles, body armor and other non-lethal supplies to Ukraine’s forces. In contrast, Vladimir Putin has been giving the Russian rebels tanks and other heavy weapons.

“I am inclined in the direction of providing them with arms, including lethal arms,” Mr. Carter told Mr. McCain.

That’s in sharp contradiction to Mr. Obama’s impotent, non-combat policies toward the Ukraine and what a senior aide to Mr. Obama told reporters Wednesday. The president hoped “to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. We do not see a military resolution to the conflict,” the official said.

No, but the Russians do.

Mr. Carter was refreshingly honest in his dispute with the White House line on how to repel Mr. Putin’s military drive into Ukraine. He went on to say that he was open to the notion of reconsidering American troop levels in Afghanistan, and expressed caution about releasing terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — clearly distancing himself from the administration’s myopic policy to shut down the entire facility.

At the same time, there’s mounting bipartisan support on Mr. McCain’s committee for arming Ukraine’s military. Republicans and Democrats held a joint news conference Thursday to urge Mr. Obama to abandon his opposition to sending weapons into Eastern Ukraine.

But things are suddenly getting hotter for Mr. Obama and his party here at home, too, as Republicans resume their political attacks in preparation for their 2016 campaign.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush kicked off his own campaign with a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, laying down his markers on the economy in a blistering condemnation of the Obama years.

His speech didn’t make the nightly news shows, but it laid out the early outlines of the GOP campaign on bread and butter issues dealing with jobs, incomes and opening up the economy to the people Mr. Obama’s impotent policies have left behind.

“Today, Americans across the country are frustrated. They see only a small portion of the population riding the economy’s ‘up’ escalator . Six years after the recession ended, median incomes are down, households are, on average, poorer and millions of people have given up looking for a job altogether,” Mr. Bush said.

You never or rarely hear the politicians talk about the rate of economic growth. But faster growth rates produce more jobs at higher salaries, he said.

“And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the U.S. should settle for anything less than 4 percent growth a year — which is about twice our current average. At that rate, the middle class will thrive again,” he said.

The last two years in office of any president — especially Mr. Obama, who did not run on achieving any serious, second-term reforms — usually results in a purposeless, empty presidency with no real core ambitions to speak of.

Ronald Reagan ran in his second term on overhauling the tax code, making it simpler and more pro-growth by erasing a lot of loopholes, exemptions and corporate welfare, and using the increased revenue to lower the tax rates. They said it couldn’t be done, but in the end, with the support of key Democrats, Reagan got his sweeping tax reforms that brought the top tax rate down to 28 percent.

With no big, challenging goals ahead of him — repairing roads and bridges somehow doesn’t qualify as an agenda — Mr. Obama’s people are leaving him left and right.

The latest is senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, one of his longest-serving aides, and White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri. Later this month, senior counselor John D. Podesta and Ebola strategy adviser Ron Klain will be departing, too.

Ms. Palmieri and Mr. Podesta are going over to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign, with more to follow, in what’s shaping up to be “The Exodus To Hillary Land.”

So many Obama advisers will be joining her campaign that some top-level Republican strategists are laying the groundwork for reusing Mr. Obama’s blunderous remark about the 2014 midterm elections that contributed to the GOP’s landslide election.

During a news conference, Mr. Obama noted that while his name would not be on the midterm ballot, “Make no mistake” my policies “are on the ballot.”

Will we be able to say that again in 2016? Throughout Mr. Obama’s presidency, Hillary never uttered a truly critical word of his economic policies, never complained of the long, painful recovery, the stagnant pay levels or the slow, 2 percent-plus economic growth rate.

Voters in 2016 will be reminded that while his name is not on the ballot, his issues and the people who worked for him are all part of Hillary’s Democratic campaign agenda.

It will serve as a gentle reminder just in case some of the voters forget how close these two Democrats have been, and still are.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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