When is it proper to root against a president? How many years into a bloody conflict without end in sight or the hope of success, of disappointing economic performance, and of policies devoted to a nihilistic political philosophy are required before one is justified in partaking of the most tragic of political sentiments: hoping that the leader of one’s country does not succeed?
When Barack Obama took office in 2008, it was one of the most divisive election results in modern American history. Though partisan animosities ran high and, deep in the throes of a recession, concerns for the country’s future were considerable, Americans displayed their characteristic combination of vocal fervor and civil restraint—expressing their views on the electoral results while respecting the process itself.
Amidst the memories of that turbulent transition period between the Bush and Obama administrations, one feature stands out in the mind of this author and bears witness to the country’s sense of political civility: the sight of Americans who could speak for hours of their utter disdain for the new president, his proposed policies, his philosophy, and his party, but who, at the end of the day, could conclude a scathing rant with the words, ‘But… let us hope he succeeds. Let us hope he does well in lifting this country up from its current state. I don’t believe he will. Everything I know about his policies runs contrary to what we know of what makes a healthy country and economy, but we can hope that he does well in spite of it all.’
That Americans (not all, but many of them) showed such capacity to see and appreciate the bigger picture and the end goal, to put country above party, is a monument in itself. Slowly, however, those hopes and aspirations were worn away by a series of disappointments that confirmed many of our worst expectations and eroded what benefit-of-the-doubt the president’s opponents could muster for him. Ultimately, the insistence of the president upon following an ideology that was antithetical to American values and our conception of government drove the wedge between right and left ever deeper, leading many to the conclusion that the president’s every policy victory meant a setback for the recovery, peace, and security of the United States.
The sentiment of Americans today reflects this. The precarious balance between utter disagreement with a president’s policies and the hope that he will still succeed was lost. Americans on the right can no longer say that they hope that the president will succeed in his policy initiatives. For this, they are derided by Democrats, who say that, overwhelmed by their spite for Obama and the left, Republicans are willing to condemn the country out of partisan rage. Setting aside the hypocrisy of the situation—how soon they forget 51% of Democrats hoping that Bush would fail—the left’s characterization ignores a crucial, basic fact: the will of a leader is not equivalent to what is good for the country.
The Founding Fathers recognized this. They so vehemently rejected the royal will of King George III as to revolt and wage a war for independence. Continuing in that belief, they labored tirelessly to devise a new system of governance in which the will of the executive would be strictly checked and balanced by the other two branches—and vice versa. The Constitution of the United States and our entire system of governance is premised on the idea that neither the will of the executive nor that of the majority is unlimited, but that both must be restrained by laws designed to protect individual rights. The implication that opposing the executive is unpatriotic would have been met with the most furious condemnation by the framers of our Constitution.
The left are incapable of fully embracing the framer’s view of power. Seeing government as unlimited and designed to involve itself in every area of human life, they do not relate to Washington’s meaning when he called government a “dangerous servant and a fearful master.” They do not appreciate the concept of a government both legitimated and limited by the rights of the individual. Rather, they see majority will as the government’s ultimate source of legitimacy. Thus, presented with the image of a popularly elected leftist president facing widespread opposition, they are unable to separate opposition to the president and his policies from opposition to America itself.
Thus, we return to the topic of this writing: when is it proper to root against a president? What is the standard for hoping that a president’s legislative and diplomatic agendas amount to a series of duds and misfires? The simple answer is that it is proper to hope for a leader’s failure when he has demonstrated his agenda and vision for America to be contrary to the well being of the country and its people. It is proper when the president adopts a policy of disregarding results, facts, economic principles, and the rights of Americans to pursue a nihilistic ideological agenda at the expense of those who he was sworn to protect. It is proper when the failure of the president’s initiatives means greater freedom, security, and prosperity for the country at large.
President Obama is not the United States itself. He is not even the United States government. His policies are not incontrovertible divine law. And as Americans are showing more and more in poll responses every month, his will is very different from their own. Criticism of the president and opposition to his policies is not un-American when voiced in the interest of preserving the country and the values on which it was founded. To the contrary: nothing could be more American.