EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 8, 2013

Column: It's time for Obama to explain himself

Ann McFeatters
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — How ironic: President Barack Obama, lauded as a great speechmaker, increasingly turns to others to “explain stuff,” as he put it.

The Bushes — former President George W. Bush; his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Jeb’s two sons — are rallying forth on the need for immigration reform, one of Obama’s chief objectives.

Former President Bill Clinton is front and center touting the merits of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” the president’s signature first-term achievement.

Now comes Robert Gates, a Republican and former defense chief under George W. Bush and Obama, to explain why Obama must take military action to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons to kill hundreds of its own people.

Beleaguered by two wars, economic collapse and environmental and manmade disasters, Obama has had a full plate throughout his presidency. But he has dumbfounded us by not explaining his actions to the satisfaction of other politicians or to the American people.

With implementation of health-care overhaul days away, millions of Americans are still terrified of it, don’t know what it will cost and applaud the House for voting 40 times (all moot) to repeal it.

So the White House has sent Clinton to reassure millions that they will benefit from the new law, that it will not raise the cost of getting sick and that it isn’t a government takeover of health care. Obama joked that a suggestion he make Clinton secretary for “explaining stuff” sounded like a good idea. And Clinton is more coherent on the health-care plan than Obama has been.

As for immigration reform, Obama has talked himself hoarse about fixing the broken immigration laws to find a way forward for the 11 million people living and working in the United States without proper documentation.

But the public remains unconvinced, and prospects are not bright for House passage of any immigration measure — let alone the comprehensive package passed by the Senate.

Re-enter the Bushes to bolster Obama on the need for immigration reform, which George W. Bush tried unsuccessfully for two years to pass. Jeb Bush may or may not run for president in 2016. In the meantime, he is touting his new book, “Immigration Wars,” and making the case for fixing the system.

Not to mention that the nation is increasingly Hispanic, and that Republicans are in desperate need of Hispanic votes. But for the Bushes, growing up in Texas, the battle over immigration also is personal. Jeb’s wife is from Mexico. And the Bush children grew up with a Mexican housekeeper, described by George W. as “like a second mother.”

On to Syria. After the Obama administration said it ascertained without doubt that the government of Bashar Assad sprayed chemicals to kill its people, Obama said it is time to “send a shot across the bow.” He wants congressional authorization to use cruise missiles against Syria’s military installations to punish and deter future chemical attacks.

Obama insisted this won’t be another war. “This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan.” But after the lies told before the Iraq war during the Bush administration, the American people, who have been at war for more than a decade, don’t believe him. Some lawmakers after top-secret briefings on Syria fumed that the administration’s case for war mainly amounted to “spasmodic moral outrage.”

Thus the respected Gates stepped forward to urge Congress to back Obama. He warned that a White House defeat would be scary. He said: “I strongly urge the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to approve the president’s request for authorization to use force in Syria. Whatever one’s views on current U.S. policy toward Syria, failure by Congress to approve the request would ... have profoundly negative and dangerous consequences for the United States not just in the Middle East but around the world both now and in the future.”

Obama is tired. The problems thrust upon him are overwhelming, and too many Republicans have shirked their governing duties seemingly just to thwart him. But Obama asked for this job, and part of the task is “explaining stuff” to the rest of us.

Scripps Howard News Service columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.