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Rothman: Jonathan Chait Cheers Obama’s Impotence and Indecisiveness

Rothman: Jonathan Chait Cheers Obama's Impotence and Indecisiveness

“But can he lead?” the columnist asks. “No, and nor should he,” the president’s loyal supporter responds.

With President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address approaching, his supporters have come to the point where they have nothing left to applaud save what the president has not done. This is the unenviable position in which New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait finds himself.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer rained hot fire on Friday in a column castigating the president’s administration for alienating yet another ally by exhibiting a callous disregard for their national interests. He wrote that the president has now added Canada to the ever-growing list of America’s jilted friends.

Writing on the subject of the stalled Keystone XL Pipeline, Krauthammer charges the State Department and the White House with deliberate inaction. He notes that the multi-year environmental studies are complete, the environmental dangers and the threat to life posed by not constructing the pipeline is real, the perils of constructing the pipeline are imagined, and the issue is settled.

Further, the environmental argument against Keystone is undermined by the reality that Canada will extract and export the oil in its tar sands and ship them off – if not to the United States, then to Asia where environmental regulations are more lax. Canada has waited for America to act for as long as it can, and its patience has run out.

The only reason for Obama’s continued dithering – inaction which is now drawing vocal protests from America’s closest ally and number one trading partner — is his inability to perform his role as chief executive. Namely, to make tough decisions and suffer their consequences.

Obama will offend some or another constituency with one decision on Keystone. Two factions of the Democratic base, environmentalists and labor, are at odds over the pipeline. One of them will be insulted by the president’s decision. So what does Obama do in this predicament? Nothing.

Krauthammer’s is a convincing piece. So convincing, in fact, that the president’s allies apparently felt compelled to respond. Chait did so on Friday in the most facile and lazy way he possibly could, demonstrating a lack of command of the subject matter and disrespect for both his audience and the columnist to whom he was responding.

“Krauthammer’s argument completely subverts the point he is trying to make,” Chait contends. “He’s saying Canada will start pumping its oil if we approve Keystone, and it will also start pumping its oil if we deny it, and it’s waiting to find out which way to go.”

“The only way they won’t start pumping their oil is if we keep the project in limbo,” he continues.

Brilliant. The complexities and frustrations associated with dealing with foreign governments can be overcome if we just pretend as though their national interests don’t exist.

This level of solipsism is perfectly liberating. Chait has invalidated countless doctoral dissertations and made the entire State Department obsolete in one fallacious swoop.

He continues with a rather insulting passage that betrays the fact Chait does not think much of his audience’s intelligence or the subject matter on which he is opining:

Well, that’s the environmental solution, isn’t it? Don’t approve the pipeline, but don’t reject it, either. Every time Canada starts to get exasperated enough to start building other pipelines for its oil, then send out hints we might just let them build Keystone after all, which will rile up environmentalists and trigger more delays. Just keep jerking Canada around forever.

Either this is parody or painfully crude argumentation. Chait closes this post with a joke, so it just might be both.

Chait is an accomplished columnist and he can craft a convincing argument when he likes. This was not one of those occasions. By attempting to counter Krauthammer’s contention that Obama is demonstrating weakness and indecision by refusing to act on Keystone, Chait has accomplished the opposite of what he set out to do – he showed that there is no counterargument to be made.

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