Oz Behind the Curtain

The public is no longer buying what U.S. presidents are selling.

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Toto tugged aside the curtain in a corner of the room and revealed "an old man...pulling levers and speaking into a microphone." The "Great and Powerful Oz" was just Professor Marvel. Now, Dorothy wondered if she'd ever make it home to Kansas.

Last night, President Obama's tentative call to arms as a response to Syria's use of chemical weapons fell flat. Reactive and predictable, his speech was not only mixed in its message – we must act and we must pause – but also indicative of the deeply diminished legitimacy of the executive office. Simply put, the imperial presidency has lost its allure.

According to a recent CNN/ORC International survey, "only four in ten approve of the job Obama is doing on foreign policy, with 57% of those questioned giving the president a thumbs down."

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Even more disconcerting to those who agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney about a "robust executive," the latest Pew Research poll shows that "the public, by roughly two-to-one (61% to 30%), believes that Congress – not the president – should have final authority over whether the U.S. conducts airstrikes in Syria." The people want Congress – that widely derided institution of gridlock and polarization – to check presidents.

Americans don't seem to be buying what presidents are selling any longer.  But really, who can blame them? Just look at the last decade.

Rhetoric: Saddam has "weapons of mass destruction" and "yellowcake from Niger."


Reality: Never found cache or evidence of nuclear material. [See a collection of political cartoons on defense spending.]

Rhetoric: "Mission accomplished" in Iraq.


Reality: Stayed for a decade. Rhetoric: We're fighting for American "values" (democracy and freedom) abroad.


Reality: Abu Ghraib prison. Rhetoric: Guantanamo Bay will be closed.


Reality: Still open. [See a collection of political cartoons on President Obama's drone policy.]

Rhetoric: Al-Qaida is "back on its heels."


Reality: Not exactly. Rhetoric: Americans are neither spied on nor attacked by drones.


Reality: Americans have been spied on and killed by drones. Americans have heard more and endured more than most can stomach. Those paying attention know that it has been a bi-partisan snow-job that's been underway since that horrifying and tragic day exactly twelve years ago.

We've grown as a public – hopefully wiser, possibly cynical, but surely more circumspect. That's why we've turned away from the elites in Washington. That's why Oz is no longer very "great" or all that "powerful." And what we've just realized is that the way home has been our feet the entire time. Kansas is on the horizon and America seems set for a rebirth.

  • Read Leslie Marshall: Obama's Still Going to Have to Deal With Assad Eventually
  • Read Peter Roff: Obama's Syria Speech Too Little Leadership, Too Late
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad