April 1, 2012
Whenever you hear about a psychic being arrested, the natural question is: Why didn't she see that coming? Conservatives who raise dire alarms about what will happen in Barack Obama's second term face a similar problem. They need him to lose so their predictions will not be exposed as products of raging paranoia.
Rick Santorum says the defeat of Obama is imperative "so that future generations do not say about America, 'When men were free.' " After Obama was heard telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev he would have "more flexibility" on missile defense after he's re-elected, House Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of planning dangerous "unilateral concessions."
Former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen laid out "the Top 10 disasters that would befall America if Obama were re-elected" — notably defense cuts so huge that "America will no longer be a superpower."
But no one can match National Rifle Association official Wayne LaPierre, who in February warned that Obama's plan is to "get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom."
Oh, really? I usually agree with the NRA on gun issues, but when it comes to predicting the future, the organization is more useless than a Ouija board.
In 2008, it told gun owners Obama would "ban use of firearms for home defense," "pass federal laws eliminating your right to carry" and "mandate a government-issued license to purchase a firearm." Wrong, wrong and wrong again. In fact, the president has been so respectful of Second Amendment rights that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave him an "F."
LaPierre's fantasy of a second-term plot is no more believable than the first-term version. Obama, after all, didn't know at the beginning whether he would be re-elected — and still doesn't. If he wanted to eviscerate Second Amendment rights, wouldn't he have done it immediately? Wait four years, and the chance to pry our guns out of our cold, dead hands might be lost forever.
The critics seem to think that after this year, Obama will be free to liberate his inner radical and turn the United States into a more hellish version of North Korea. This scenario glosses over the president's cautious temperament and aversion to liberal crusading, which often cause Rachel Maddow to grind her teeth.
The doomsayers also assume that someone shrewd, unthreatening and adaptable enough to become the first black president would, at the age of 51, metamorphose into Huey Newton. It's about as plausible as Santorum undergoing a sex change or Newt Gingrich taking a vow of silence.
How can conservatives forget that Obama is a consummate politician who has never taken the path of high risk? The radical steps they expect would antagonize the vast majority of the electorate and banish his party from power for decades. No president would deliberately do that.
Thiessen apparently imagines that Obama will mothball the Pacific Fleet and melt down our nuclear missiles for scrap. Never mind that under him, defense spending has been higher, adjusted for inflation, than at any time under George W. Bush. It's also higher than the budgets of the next 17 countries combined. Obama's planned trims would be like taking a couple of feet off the Willis Tower.
If he wanted to scrap our missile defense plans in Europe, let me ask again: Why wait? Conservatives feared he would do it in his first term, but they were mistaken. In 2010, Obama threatened to walk away from a major arms control deal rather than meet Medvedev's demands on missile defense, and the Russians gave in.
His detractors forget that even if he were a crazed leftist, Obama has limited powers. He can't shred the Second Amendment, because the Supreme Court — dominated by conservatives now and for the foreseeable future — won't let him.
He can't gut the Pentagon budget, because Congress has the last word on spending. He can't sign Munich-like arms treaties with Russia, because the Senate wouldn't ratify. He can't bring about the demise of freedom in America, because ... oh, let's not be ridiculous.
Oh, and one more hitch: He hasn't shown the faintest desire to do any of these things.
Every day, these alarmists wake up, go outside and look up in surprise to discover that, despite Obama's presence in the White House, the sky has not fallen. If he is re-elected, they will get 1,461 more surprises.
Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman.
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