"Islamists attacked the monastery, ransacking it and destroying everything. When Father Francois tried to resist, defending the nuns, rebels shot him."
-- Statement from the Custody of the Holy Land, a Franciscan order entrusted with Christian religious sites in the Middle East, about the murder of Father Francois Murad in Ghassaniya, Syria.
President Obama has reached that unhappy moment in which his best defenders are the cynics.
The world-weary porters of low expectations for political courage and reform are rousing themselves to the president’s defense, telling his detractors left and right to demand less of Obama.
Obama has always had his defenders against the impossibly high expectations he encouraged during his 2008 candidacy for the hopes and dreams of a frustrated electorate. Each broken promise wasn’t necessarily a failure, they argued, but rather a president of limited experience learning the ways of the world – conforming himself to Washington and political reality.
In Europe, the 2008 vision of Obama -- as Michael Knox Beran dubbed it “hero worship of a charismatic shaman” -- has been slow to die.
The idol of 2008, a healer of the Age of Oprah, dissolved faster in the eyes of the American people. The man who promised that we could “be the change” we wanted if we only could “believe,” had been mostly replaced by 2010 with a guy who often explained that things were much worse than he thought and that we could only “be the change” if Republicans stopped being so Republican-y.
In Europe, where the idea of a non-white president still sounds impossibly remote, the image of Obama as shaman was still somewhat intact. Until this week, that is.
Obama the drone warrior, Guantanamo Bay proprietor and Afghan War escalator was bad enough, but now it has been revealed that Obama’s surveillance agency has been spying on Europeans, reportedly including the very European Union government that itself serves as an empty vessel for the hopes and dreams of Continental liberals.
That tore it. Obama the secretive spymaster harvesting the online and telephonic lives of not just his own citizens but also of the citizens of his allies was too much. A guy who’s Department of Justice ransacks reporter records and eavesdrops on a scale far beyond the much-hated George W. Bush cannot any longer serve as the European ideal for an American president.
As much as Continentals approve of Obama for dragging Americans into their consciousness on universal health insurance and global warming, the pursuer of Edward Snowden can’t be their heartthrob anymore.
As the papers in Europe howl in outrage and frustration at Obama’s spying, Gideon Rachman scolds in a widely read piece in the Financial Times: “Mr. Obama was living in a real universe, full of hard choices. It was his overheated critics who lived in a fantasy world.”
Maybe so, but Obama has been sending them plenty of postcards in fantasyland.
As problems foreign and domestic overtake the president’s second term, Obama’s defenders are turning into apologists.
Yes, the IRS is a thoroughgoing disaster and the Department of Justice was out of line. And sure, nobody likes having Big Brother listening in. And of course, the Arab Spring is Islamist chaos. And who wouldn’t expect Syria to be an al Qaeda nightmare? And naturally, the Russians and Chinese are rubbing our noses in the NSA mess. And certainly, the implementation of the health law is a “train wreck.” And of course, every now and then a political appointee will be accused of sex crimes.
When things are this bad, the apologists argue, what choice does Obama have but to conform to reality?
But the bureaucracy is impossible, they say. And America’s stature in the world isn’t what it used to be, so the president is bound to get punked from time to time by Vladimir Putin. Republicans are impossible and implacable because politics today are “unworthy.” The guy is doing his best with a terrible situation, okay, so just give him a break.
The point at which defenders become apologists and the cynics hold sway is the point at which the central argument becomes that the task of leadership is simply impossible.
In the case of Obama, it is that the old-fashioned, muscular leadership role for the president is no longer possible. A subtler brand of leadership is what the fallen, complicated environments at home and abroad demand.
Watching rebels who kill children and priests gain the upper hand in Syria, a military junta waiting to return to power in Egypt and Putin taunting Obama on the world stage, it’s leadership so subtle you barely even know it’s there.
In Washington, his administration is creaking and groaning under the weight of misfeasance and malfeasance, and again the president plays at passivity. No cannon shots are ringing out to signal that the president is going to bring reform to the system. It’s the barely-there approach, again.
But when things are this bad, the apologists argue, what choice does Obama have but to conform to reality? And what choice do we have but to accept his conformity? And in a way, isn’t it really our own fault since Americans apparently did not really “believe?”
Maybe so, but it’s not a very happy argument to be making just ahead of the country’s 237th birthday.
And it’s also not one very likely to be tolerated by the American people, who have yet to be convinced to expect so much less from any president.
The Pew Research Center this week compared Americans’ one-word descriptions of Obama to those of President George W. Bush at this point in his second term.
The top rankings for both men were positive. The most respondents chose “honest” as their descriptor of Bush in the summer of 2005, similar to the number who said Obama to be “good” or a “good man.”
But the second-place finisher for both men? “Incompetent.”
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Mubarak was pro-American. He was an ally of ours, helped us in all kinds of ways. And Obama worked against him. Morsi represents a movement which is essentially, in their heart, deeply anti-American and deeply anti-democratic, and yet [President Obama] is neutral on this. This is a shocking position for a president to take.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he serves as the host of "Power Play" on FoxNews.com and makes daily appearances on the network including "America Live with Megyn Kelly," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." Most recently, Stirewalt provided expert political analysis during the 2012 presidential election.