Writings and observations

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Count me as one who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he inspired a sense of hope that he could lead this nation towards more comity among its conflicting interest groups, inspire partisans to set aside partisanship for a consensus regarding the national interest, and set a tone for civility and respect that would restore faith in the legislative and executive branches to work together to solve the vexing challenges the future held.

Count me now as disappointed in much of his record, back on the fence and more than willing to see if the Republicans can offer a decent alternative.

There are three major areas where he has fallen below expectations.

First, President Obama has failed most of the fundamental tests of leadership. Specifically, he should have acted swiftly and made clear what he would do as soon as he heard rumblings that the Republicans were going to make an issue out of raising the debt ceiling.

A real leader should have recognized how further damaging to the world economy the mere debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling would be to the marketplace and what a corrosive impact on the fragile recovery such a move would be.

He should have had House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell down to the Oval Office and told them flat out he would invoke the 14th Amendment which he believed gave him the power to raise unilaterally the nation’s debt ceiling, and that if he heard another peep he would do it. And then made good. Push the envelope until someone pushes back hard.

Also under failed “leadership” is his inexcusable failure to put all the prestige of his office behind the well-thought-out, well-crafted set of compromises the Erskine Bowles/Alan Simpson Commission had worked out to address the nation’s spiraling deficits with a balanced plan of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue enhancements. Instead he left a solid, responsible plan dangling in the wind.

Secondly, he is rapidly losing, and rightly so, traction with many of the nation’s Roman Catholic voters. In a well-received speech at Notre Dame during his 2008 campaign he pledged to respect the Church’s right to conscientious objection as demonstrated by protecting the ability of Catholic-run hospitals to refuse to perform or have performed on their premises abortions, or dispense the “morning after” pill from their on-premise pharmacies, or not accelerate end-of-life procedures inconsistent with Church teachings.

It made for a fine-speech, and the public at-large has long recognized the importance in a democracy of protecting a minority view against the so-called tyranny of the majority. In our checks-and-balances system ensuring the rights of the few are not trampled on by the many has long been a sacred and inviolable element. Most people recognize vigorous public debate over complicated and controversial issues would be seriously damaged and lead to anarchy if conscientious objection was stripped from public discourse.

In practice, though, President Obama’s nominally Catholic secretary of Health and Human Services, former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius, has spearheaded a series of incremental policies that seriously erode minority rights and views of Catholic hospitals. Using the big stick of withholding federal funding for critical things like Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement unless all rules and regs are met is forcing many of these privately run facilities to contemplate closure rather than sacrifice principle.

The public is the ultimate loser as its ability to choose between public and private facilities disappears. The Conference of Catholic bishops is disturbed enough to have taken up the question privately at its recent meeting in Baltimore of how to challenge the President’s violation of his pledge without appearing to engage in partisan politics. Somehow, though, one knows that the people in the pews will soon learn about this perfidy.

Third, the President continues to play fast and loose with one of the largest, best organized constituencies in the nation: the millions of gun-owners who to a person view the Second amendment as absolutely inviolable. Most of these owners belong to the National Rifle Association which views any appearance of the diminution of the right to keep and bear arms to be the beginning step of a downhill slide into government confiscation and banning private ownership.

President Obama did recognize this constituency’s power by signing legislation which permits an individual to carry a loaded weapon in National Parks (like many Park Rangers do). He has, however, remained silent on various city initiatives to limit gun ownership and has said nothing about federal legislation that would force one state to recognize the validity of a concealed weapons permit issued in another state.

As it stands now, the state of California does not recognize any such permit issued by any other state, making travelers from other states who do bring weapons with them at a minimum scofflaws not to mention if caught, facing potential jail time and hefty fines.

Even moderate gun-owners (those who support 3-day waiting periods, oppose sale of cop-killer bullets and don’t believe children have a right to assault weapons) harbor justified suspicions about how strongly this president really respects gun-owner rights.

I have of course listed three items of importance to me personally, and as I weigh them against some of the President’s positives I can’t help hearing that old baseball refrain in my head about “three strikes and you’re out!”

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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