Barack Obama -- One Man, Two Narratives

It is no secret that conservatives aren’t enamored with the state of things in the age of Obama. But while the conservative base marshals against the president’s policies, many liberals are also not ecstatic about what they have seen so far from the president so far, either.

How could this possibly be? Because to date, the Obama presidency is a tale of two narratives.

The conservative narrative sees our nation's leader as a man from the ideological left who wants to make America more like a European social democracy.

As evidence, conservatives point to the recently passed health care bill, which is viewed as a government takeover which was rammed through Congress with the use of unsavory backroom deals. On top of health care, conservatives highlight the government takeover of Chrysler and General Motors and the more recent government takeover of the student loan industry as signs of increasing government interference in the private sector. And, finally, no conservative can forget the gigantic $787 billion stimulus package that hasn’t stimulated anything other than the rapidly growing national debt.

On the foreign affairs front, the conservative narrative on Obama does not improve. Conservatives view him as an appeaser, a weakling, or worse. Visually, this viewpoint is solidified by Obama’s unfortunate habit of bowing to world leaders and a photograph of a smiling Obama and Hugo Chavez shaking hands at a Latin American conference in April 2009.

But conservative disdain for Obama’s foreign policy is hardly just limited to a single image. The president’s support of Hugo Chavez’s man in Honduras during the Central American country’s constitutional crisis and Obama's annoying habit of apologizing for American behavior while in foreign locales also riles conservatives.

Conservatives were infuriated by Obama’s failure to boldly stand up for pro-democracy Iranians protesting in the streets of Tehran after the corrupt June 2009 Iranian election. They also resent his inability to somehow persuade the Iranian theocracy to give up its nuclear program. While the president plays soft with America's enemies, conservatives say, he has presided over a cooling of relations with traditional American allies like Israel and Great Britain.

When it comes regard to homeland security, conservatives are outraged by the Obama administration’s pledge to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities and his Justice Department’s attempt to try some of the worst terrorists, like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, in civilian courts rather than military tribunals.

In sum, many conservatives conclude that President Obama is Jimmy Carter II, or worse.

But if this narrative is correct and Obama really IS the reincarnation of a more radical Carter, why hasn’t he attracted enthusiastic praise from liberals?

Enter Narrative 2.

The liberal narrative sees President Obama as a progressive disappointment. He has let down the ideologues who voted for him by backing the policies they staunchly oppose and not fighting harder to pass policies they desperately want.

Sure, the president pushed through health care reform, but it wasn’t real reform, they argue. Obama gave up the public option  too easily and he never even tried to sell single payer health care to the American people.

The president may have signed a huge stimulus bill into law, but to many on the left, the stimulus wasn’t nearly significant enough. And though Obama vowed to fight global warming while he was on the campaign trail, nothing meaningful has been done as we, from their point of view,  apparently race toward extinction. The president has even opened up more of America’s coastline to offshore drilling.

Like conservatives, liberals also find little to cheer for in Obama’s homeland security policies. While the president promised he would close down Gitmo, it has been over a year and we don’t seem to be any closer shutting it down than when Obama first took office. Though the president has made a few cosmetic changes to America’s anti-terrorism policies, he has, with a few crucial exceptions, adopted the Bush anti-terrorism plan, which he once staunchly campaigned against.

In the most disturbing chapter of the liberal narrative, Obama more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He has not only continued to utilize unmanned drones against terrorist targets around the world, but he has authorized more drone attacks than George Bush did over the course of his entire presidency. Obama has even upped the ante by approving the extrajudicial targeting of an American citizen, the Al Qaeda connected Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

To the left, these policies are anathema to what progressives believe is just and moral. It is little wonder that subscribers to the liberal Obama narrative find the idea that our president is a socialist and a peacenik laughable.

So how does one square the circle? Some of the president’s supporters like to suggest that the competing narratives are proof that Obama is a pragmatic moderate without any entrenched ideology. This is hard to swallow.

In the end, we are forced to conclude that more than one year into the age of Obama, the president remains, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Jamie is a columnist for The North Star National. He can be reached through his blog,

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