The ultimate measure of a man
September 24, 2013
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ever since President Obama decided to take action against Syria over its chemical weapons attacks, Republicans haven't known which way to turn. They've never met a war they didn't love, but as long as Obama wanted to launch a military strike against Syria, they had to oppose it. Now that Russian president Putin may have brokered a solution, they are back in their comfort zone, criticizing the president for being weak. To them, the measure of a man is how many bombs he drops.
When the Syrian civil war started, many Republicans were pushing for Obama to do something. During the 2012 vice-presidential debate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., couldn't explain what he or Mitt Romney would do about Syria. All he knew was, whatever Obama wanted to do, he was against it.
On Sept. 10, 2013, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said, "It's a violation of every norm for someone to kill civilians, and I think Assad should be accountable…. I think if Assad's responsible, he deserves death for this…. I think if we bomb Assad, I think it will be more likely that the country becomes more unstable …Just about any bad outcome you could imagine is made more likely by U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war." Good to clear that up. The underlying idea, of course, is that Obama is weak on Syria.
Fox News has made its position clear. Tucker Carlson, Sept. 9: "This strengthens Russia and humiliates the United States." Sean Hannity, Sept. 9 "Now Vladimir Putin has filled the leadership gap." Stuart Varney, Sept. 10: "President Obama has just led us into a humiliating defeat."
They'll grab any opportunity to bash the president, no matter what.
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So with all this contempt being heaped on him, what's Obama's reaction? On Sept. 15, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" broadcast an interview with Obama. Stephanopoulos asked the president how he felt when he was criticized by people such as Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who claimed Obama was not comfortable as commander-in-chief. The president first said, "Keep in mind that my entire goal throughout this exercise is to make sure that what happened on August 21st [the chemical attacks] does not happen again."
He then made it clear that if this goal was accomplished and lives were saved, wounded pride was a small price to pay.
"I'm less concerned about style points, I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right."
Saving lives and American blood and treasure are Obama's primary concerns; a bruised ego is immaterial.
When George W. Bush left the presidency, he wrote a book about his time in office, titled "Decision Points," describing major events and his responses. In a Nov. 2, 2010, interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, Bush discussed his book.
During the interview, Lauer asked Bush about what he described as the worst moment of his presidency. For comparison, Obama's worst moment so far, by his own declaration, was the Newtown shootings. When Bush looked back on eight years as president, what did he consider his worst moment?
The 9/11 attacks happened during his first year. He invaded Iraq in 2003, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. For most of us, any one of these events would be considered pretty horrible.
After all these tragedies, what was Bush's worst moment? Was it the 2,996 dead on 9/11? Was it the 1,833 dead after Hurricane Katrina? Was it the 4,488 dead American troops during the Iraq War?
Here are his own words: "I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low." He was hurt because rapper Kanye West said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Bush even told his wife that was the worst moment of his presidency. That's it … 9,317 dead Americans were irrelevant compared to the horror of Bush's hurt feelings. And that tells you everything you need to know about the measure of that man. Compared to Bush and the Republican detractors who think name calling makes them strong, Obama looks like a giant.
Jeannette Strong's column appears every other Wednesday.