Recognizing Imperfection

Readers of these pages know about my strong opposition to the Iran deal on which this administration has been working. A year ago, I wrote about how the president’s insistence in forcing this down the throat of the American people, despite numerous opinion polls and nonpartisan analyses, was something that ought to trouble not only Jews who care for the security of our brothers in Israel, but all Americans.

Over the course of the past year, more and more events have occurred and statements been made by the Iranian regime that should have led those counting on Iran’s acting in good faith to reconsider their naïve stance.

And yet, they haven’t.

Last Thursday, at the Senate Democrats Issues Conference in Baltimore, President Obama once again defended his dialogue with the Iranians and warned those in attendance not to pass a sanctions bill to supplement his negotiations. According to The New York Times, the president told those in attendance that a sanctions bill “would undermine his authority and could derail the talks” at which point “international observers will blame the Americans, rather than the Iranians, if the talks collapsed before the June 30 deadline.”

What makes this so interesting is that the president wasn’t lecturing his political opposition, as he so often does. He was addressing his own party and many of his former colleagues, who had given him guidance and helped him familiarize himself with these issues when he first came to the Senate not even 10 years ago.

One of these senators is New Jersey’s senior senator Robert Menendez.

In the Times story (which was later confirmed by both the White House and the senator himself), Menendez reacted when the president continued and said that “he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain.” Upon hearing that, he stood up and, in an exchange described as “tense but respectful,” told the president that he took “personal offense.”

As well he should have.

First of all, while the president keeps on demanding that the Congress not “undermine” him as president, he seems to be forgetting one important thing. Congress doesn’t exist to execute his will; it so happens that the inverse is correct. As the president said about immigration back in 2011 (before his about-face on the issue), “Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws.”

So in demanding that the legislative branch subjugate its will to the executive, President Obama seeks to have unchecked power to do whatever he chooses. That isn’t how it’s supposed to work. The great thing about the checks and balances of American government is that nobody is supposed to have their power go unchecked.

But perhaps the most disturbing part about the president’s demand not to stand in his way is the value he assigns those who disagree with his position. As Council on Foreign Relations’ Elliott Abrams pointed out, “Americans have been debating Iran policy for years, indeed decades, and experts, former officials (including officials of his own administration), and academics often differ on what policies will be most effective in stopping Iran from getting the bomb. But Mr. Obama has no respect for those who differ with him, and attributes those opinions to pressure from donors ‘and others’ and the desire of politicians for ‘short term political gain.’ ”

But why would the president do that? Why would he not recognize that a man such as Senator Menendez can have a legitimate basis for disagreeing with him? As Menendez said on Friday to reporters, “I have a fundamental disagreement with the president; I believe in negotiating out of strength.” Is that really so hard for the president to grasp?

It is fair to say that this president, who has fund-raised more than any chief executive in history, has “evolved” on moral issues just to tap a donor base, and essentially ran his reelection campaign by tailoring a message (and positions) to his “donors and others,” should be a pro at seeing this in others. It’s just too bad that he and his allies don’t realize why.