In many respects President Obama’s imposition of a federal mandate calling for free contraception and certain abortion procedures on demand – and the uproar it has caused – is emblematic of the problems inherent in the way he sees his role. It will be recalled that his election campaign was built around a mantra of change. Indeed, as soon as he entered office he sought to change the way the U.S. had conducted its foreign policy around the world for more than a century. He said that much of the discord in the world was a function of American arrogance and greed, and declared his intention to reach out to those nations that supposedly had received short shrift from America in an effort to bring them into the U.S. orbit. And of course he set out to redefine U.S.-Israel relations with a view toward improving America’s relations with the Muslim world.
Predictably, he fell flat on his face. Entrenched and thoroughly corrupt Third World leaders were amused by this newly elected Boy Scout confessing his country’s errors though they certainly were not interested in making nice to him just because he asked. If anything, they viewed his efforts as naïve and as signaling an opportunity to take advantage of a vulnerable, self-conscious American administration.
The point of it all was Mr. Obama’s profound belief in his vision and the efficacy of his ability to bring it about despite all the years of experience and tradition preceding his arrival on the national scene that suggested otherwise. Significantly, it was not too long ago in this country that abortion was illegal and contraception frowned upon. Yet Mr. Obama plunged headlong into those issues seeking to establish the availability of birth control as a matter of right – and free of charge to boot.
That his efforts in this regard ran against religious institutions opposing abortion and contraception as a matter of religious doctrine protected by the First Amendment only served to highlight the real issue.
Typically, President Obama was overtaken with his vision largely to the exclusion of religious rights. This is of a piece with his reshaping the American health care system, of which contraception and abortion issues are only a part. He has arrogated to the federal government the right to decide whether or not Americans will have health insurance coverage as well as the nature of that coverage. The notion that the competitive market would no longer inform products offered by insurance carriers represented a profound change in American domestic affairs and a breathtaking power grab by the federal government.
As we enter the presidential election season, some issues of concern readily present themselves. It seems clear that President Obama backtracked on the inclusion of religious institutions only because of the furious reaction from the Catholic Church. His first inclination was to ride roughshod over the rights the church enjoyed under the First Amendment. Indeed, he showed similar single-mindedness on the overall issue of health care reform when he was not concerned about an imminent reelection campaign.
In a similar vein, with a view toward securing a breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians that had eluded his predecessors, Mr. Obama came down disproportionately heavy on Israel regarding the settlements issue and the 1967 lines serving as the framework for negotiations – until key members of his own party revolted and expressed their fears for the 2010 midterm congressional elections.
Barack Obama seems to be someone with a revisionist vision for a broad array of public issues he is determined to pursue unless and until it turns out he cannot. One wonders what he has in store for the nation after November should he win reelection – a possibility that grows more likely by the day as the remaining Republican presidential candidates continue to underwhelm.