Barack Obama

Obama's War at Home

Soft power for foreign policy, hard power for domestic affairs.

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Republicans have long complained that President Obama does not act like a wartime president. As Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put it shortly after the San Bernardino attack, America is "at a time of war" and "needs a wartime president."

Well, here's some good news: We now have proof that the Obama administration acts as though it were on a wartime footing. Bad news? It's acting that way here at home.

The New York Times reports that the administration broke the law when it used social media to gin up support for a clean-water rule. Through a campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and similar media, it tried to get people to share messages supporting the rule, a practice known as astroturfing (which generates fake, as opposed to real, grass-roots support). The Government Accountability Office, which investigated the campaign, concluded that the EPA engaged in "covert propaganda."

This isn't the first time the administration has tried to use psy-ops against the American people. In its early days, the White House Office of Public Engagement teamed up with the National Endowment for the Arts to encourage artists to produce art supporting the president's initiatives. HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius warned insurance companies there would be "zero tolerance" for criticism of White House health-care policies.

In foreign affairs, Obama has received considerable praise for emphasizing "soft power"—diplomacy, persuasion, "leading from behind." Indeed, a large part of his 2008 presidential campaign consisted of drawing contrasts between his own approach and the militaristic, trigger-happy approach of the George W. Bush administration. Under Bush, America was a "bully." Under Obama, things would be different.

And they have been! True to his promise, the president made a "new beginning" with Iran. U.S.-Iranian relations would "not be advanced by threats," he vowed, but by "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect." In another speech, the president emphasized the need to "respect Iranian sovereignty." And no matter how truculent, malicious, or deceitful the Iranian regime was, the president stayed at the negotiating table until a nuclear accord was achieved.

But here at home? "President Obama is pressing lawmakers to raise the federal debt ceiling and says he won't be drawn into negotiations," reported The Hill in October. At least he was being consistent: "President Obama on Monday reiterated that he will not negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling," reported the Washington Post in 2013. "The president's position is what it is and it won't change," said the White House press secretary.

Abroad, the president is committed to "the advancement of democracy" and sees "the rule of law as a strength, and not an inconvenience." Here at home, he declares: "Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation… that's what I am going to do." And so he has—unilaterally upending immigration policy, imperiously rewriting the Affordable Care Act to extend various mandates and imposing new regulations at a breakneck pace.

With regard to terrorism abroad, Obama insisted in February, "We know that military force alone cannot solve this problem." It requires "empowering local communities" and "lift(ing) up the voices" of moderation and working "with the private sector to develop social media tools to counter extremist narratives." And here at home? "To begin with," Obama said after the attack in San Bernardino, Congress should pass more gun-control legislation. Because when you're at war, disarming the hostiles is the first order of business, right?

Obama might favor soft power abroad, but his signature achievement at home, the Affordable Care Act, relies on hard power. The linchpin of the law is the individual mandate, which forces everyone to buy insurance, whether they want to or not—or face increasingly harsh consequences. It is, as many have noted, an unprecedented expansion of government power, and one that squeaked past the Supreme Court only thanks to the intellectual contortions of Chief Justice John Roberts, who concluded that the penalty is both a tax and not a tax at the same time. This year the average fine for not purchasing a policy will approach $1,000 for individuals and as much as $2,000 to $3,000—per employee—for business. And should you politely decline to cough up the dough? Best of luck to you, sir or ma'am.

At present, the Republican primaries are dominated by a neo-fascist who seems to think he can "Make America Great Again" by breaking all the rules of normal American politics and imposing his will on everyone else by whatever means he thinks most expedient. Democrats are right to be horrified by Donald Trump—but they should pause to ask where he could have gotten such an idea.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. iRepublicans

    That’s it. I’m selling my Apple shares.

  2. Calling a facebook share campaign “psy ops” is a quite a stretch.

    He sucks plenty on his own. You don’t need to make things up.

    1. I think he was referring to the EPA getting in trouble recently for employing a program called Thunderclap that triggers tweets/stasuses all at once as a way to get something trending and make it seem like its what “everyone is talking about”. The GOA did say that this was breaking propaganda laws and I think that is where the psy-op suggestion came from.

      1. Link: http://www.govtech.com/social/…..ganda.html

  3. And no matter how truculent, malicious, or deceitful the Iranian regime was, the president stayed at the negotiating table until a nuclear accord was achieved.

    Yeppers. The world’s superpower with dozens of military bases in the region threatened to ‘snap back’ economic sanctions the second that Iran doesn’t behave like an obedient little child, and it was Iran that negotiated in bad faith.

    1. I totally agree. Obama, Clinton and Kerry negotiated in bad faith, because contrary to what they said at the time, they obviously had no intention of ever penalizing Iran for breaking this farcical deal.

    2. Awfully nice of you to deliberately ignore Iran’s petulant demands of the US and their inability to “negotiate” for more than five minutes without screaming their intent to put every nuclear weapon they manage to build or obtain toward realization of their 12th Imam doomsday prophecies.

  4. Patronizing the arts is something aristocracies do.

  5. breaking all the rules of normal American politics and imposing his will on everyone else by whatever means he thinks most expedient

    File under “Me today, you tomorrow.” What Obama hath sown, the Trump shall reap.

    1. As bad as any of the Republican candidates would be, I would be positively giddy with joy when progs complain about what the GOP president does and I get to say, “but what’s wrong with that? Obama did it dozens of times!”

  6. I have to say, I don’t particularly like Americans either.

  7. This isn’t the first time the administration has tried to use psy-ops against the American people.

    But David Brooks told me that the government should softly nudge us toward desirable outcomes. It’s enlightened Republicanism. Who can be against a gentle nudge? Only a hardcore hater.

  8. “This year the average fine for not purchasing a policy will approach $1,000 for individuals and as much as $2,000 to $3,000?per employee?for business. And should you politely decline to cough up the dough? Best of luck to you, sir or ma’am.”

    Well not necessarily.

    The ACA law as written only allows the IRS to collect the penalty by taking it out of any refund due to the individual. If you haven’t overpaid your taxes and are not due a refund, they cannot make you pay it.

    1. Wait seriously? I guess it says something about how little taxes most folks pay that that is essentially the same thing.

      1. “…how little taxes most folks pay…”

        Right, as judged by the difference between gross and take-home pay, gas taxes, sales taxes, sin taxes, property taxes, utilities taxes, and all the various fees, fines and forms foisted upon an effete public by our leaders (local, state and federal).

        Pretty much everything you do or neglect to do is taxed these days, with the temporary exception of farting. But, thanks to sciencey-consensus on global warming, even farting will soon be taxed for the good of “all of us” (i.e., our leaders).

  9. unilaterally upending immigration policy

    With the support of many on Reason, natch…

  10. “But we’re at war, sir!” “Not with everybody.”

  11. Is Obama’s incessant campaigning for the ”Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015” an act of astroturfing or are a lot of americans really willing to (to paraphrase Ben Franklin) “sacrifice a whole lot of freedom for no real security”?

    1. I’m still waiting for an explanation of how that list was an unconstitutional, ineffective piece of bureaucracy when BOOOOSH was in office, but now that Obama is president, it’s a totally cool way to take away peoples’ natural and constitutional rights.

  12. Democrats like Obama are NOTHING like Trump. They’re so much more soft-spoken while they go about violating your rights than Trump could ever be!

  13. At present, the Republican primaries are dominated by a neo-fascist who seems to think he can “Make America Great Again” by breaking all the rules of normal American politics and imposing his will on everyone else by whatever means he thinks most expedient.

    Isn’t Obozo = breaking the rules of normal American politics AND the rule of law?
    Yes, Obozo is.

    Waged war without the consent of congress
    Claims he can kill any US citizen without a trial.

    And how can I forget ObozoCare?

    Look here – even Clown Stewart caught him lying.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AtoHdiPfnY

  14. Looking at Obama, do the above “revelations” come as real surprise to any sentient, thinking adult? I should think not, but then I’ve been wrong about one thing or another before.

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