Sunday, November 07, 2010

A President at Bay ...

Insightful article by on Barack Obama, from here:

A significant chunk of the American liberal intelligentsia completely lost its head over Barack Obama. They mistook hopes and fantasies for reality. Worse, the disease spread to at least some members of the White House team. An administration elected with a mandate to stabilize the country misread the political situation and came to the belief that the country wanted the kinds of serious and deep changes that liberals have wanted for decades. It was 1933, and President Obama was the new FDR.

They did not perceive just how wrong they were; nor did they understand how the error undermined the logical case they wanted to make in favor of a bigger role for government guided by smart, well-credentialed liberal wonks. Give us more power because we understand the world better than you do, was the message. We are so smart, so well-credentialed, so careful to read all the best papers by all the certified experts that the recommendations we make and the regulations we write, however outlandish and burdensome they look to all you non-experts out there, are certain to work. Trust us because we are always right, and only fools and charlatans would be so stupid as to disagree.

They were fundamentally misreading the mood of the country, the political situation, and the ability of the new president even as they claimed that their superior and universal wisdom gave them the right and the duty to plan the future of vast swatches of the American economy. They were swept away by giddy euphoria even as they proclaimed the virtue of cool reason. Voters could see this; increasingly, they tuned the administration out.

Another factor in the President’s political trouble comes from a failure of rhetoric and communication. Musing over the electoral setback, President Obama has spoken of a ‘failure of communication.’ It’s a strange failure for a President so enthusiastically hailed by the mainstream media as the greatest orator of the era. Over time, however, a weakness in President Obama’s speaking ability has gradually become clear. The President, for all his virtues, lacks the essential gift of a great orator: the power to persuade. If you already agree with Barack Obama, you will be inspired and uplifted by his ability to express your common convictions in dignified and patriotic terms. If you don’t agree with him, you are unlikely to be convinced.

Great speakers like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had the power to concentrate your awareness on the core of the argument, to force those who disagreed to re-examine their positions, and to sway the great moderate middle to their side by logical arguments eloquently expressed. This President is more like Woodrow Wilson: a great expounder rather than a great persuader. When he shares the national mood he can express it better than just about anyone — but he cannot persuade doubters to follow his lead. In that sense his rhetoric is an ornament not a weapon. It is a feather in the cap, not a sword in the hand.

The President’s problems are not all his fault. The American economy is passing through a painful transition; there is no simple path to rising wages, rising house prices and declining budget deficits from where we now stand. The core strategies that have guided both political parties and the mainstream establishment since the fall of the Soviet Union are not working very well. Globalization seems to be making too many Americans less well off and the international environment is becoming more contentious and unstable, not less. Neither neo-conservatism, liberal internationalism, neo-liberalism nor the Third Way worked as advertised. The ideas and the policies of American intellectuals left and right seem largely inadequate and even irrelevant to both our foreign and domestic problems. President Obama is not the cause of this systemic crisis in the American Project, but the public judges him by how well he copes with it.

Adding to the President’s problems are the frankly irrational underpinnings of American political culture. The President of the United States is not actually an all powerful wizard who can make the economy rise by saying the right spells. The President is no more able to control the tides than King Canute. Politically, American voters haven’t come far from the ancient Greek world Marie Renault described in The King Must Die: when the crops don’t grow it obviously means we have the wrong king; we must kill the incumbent and sprinkle his blood on the cornfields. Once that is done the gods will be appeased and the crops will grow once again. Repeat as needed.

But the President cannot lay all his troubles on irrational voter expectations and an inscrutable fate. He is to some degree the victim of bad strategic choices he himself made. He selected a stimulus program large enough to frighten the country, but not large enough to assure recovery. He left the design of that program almost entirely in the hands of members of congress who were more interested in carving pork than in crafting a bill that would deliver the greatest possible stimulus in the shortest possible time. Arguably, by not proposing a two year holiday on payroll taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) while initiating a serious national conversation about the future of entitlements, he missed the greatest opportunity in a generation to deal with the country’s single greatest long-term problem — while building enduring popularity for himself and turbo-charging the economy.

Without assuaging voters’ concerns about the economy he embarked on a health care reform that has only become more unpopular as people have thought more about it. Overseas, he unwisely believed the self-described ‘realists’ who persistently fail to grasp the most basic dynamics of the US-Israel relationship and pinned his credibility on his ability to extract more concessions from Israel than he could get the Israelis to make. Twice Bibi Netanyahu has made him look like a rube; Charlie Brown runs toward the football, and Lucy snatches it away. The President wrapped himself in transcendent robes of moral urgency and higher righteousness to announce his grand plans to close Guantanamo; the subject has slowly faded away.

Nobody made him do any of these things; these are the choices the President made, and now he, and we, must live with the consequences.

I continue to wish that the immensely talented and driven figure now in the White House had finished his term in the Senate, run for governor of Illinois and served at least one term there before coming to Washington. The painful lessons he has been learning on the national and international stage could have been mastered in a more forgiving environment and his presidency would have had much greater chances for the kind of historic success he so deeply craves.

But wishes are vain; I still wish that John McCain had done better in the South Carolina primary back in 1999.

Still, however we got here, and whomever should be blamed, President Obama’s current term is not yet half over. Senator McConnell can talk about the importance of ensuring that President Obama serves only one term; I am still interested in ensuring that the next two years unfold in the best possible way for the United States. Particularly overseas, I do not want this President to fail. I do not want him humiliated, frustrated, or in any way diminished–and neither should any American. The world is a hard and a dangerous place; there are many people out there who would like to do much worse things to this country than stick it with an unpopular health plan. Somehow, despite what is going to be an inevitably contentious contest between the two parties, this country still needs to stand behind our President when he faces the world.

As for President Obama, I would not count him out.  He may not be the liberal superman his delusional supporters thought they saw in January 2009; neither is he chopped liver.  He has had some painful and public lessons and beyond a doubt he is smarter, tougher, and more experienced now than he was two years ago.  Like other presidents who have faced the loss of part of the Congress, he is likely to turn more attention now to the field where the Constitution gives a president the most power and freedom: foreign policy.

Read it all here.  Surprise!   Walter Russell Mead (born 12 June 1952, Columbia, South Carolina) is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations[1] and was the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, and is recognized as one of the country's leading students of American foreign policy. Mead's father, Loren Mead, is an Episcopal priest in Washington, D.C., who grew up in several places in the South. Walter received his B.A. in English Literature from Yale University. He is an honors graduate of Groton School and Yale, where he received prizes for history and debate. In addition to his position at Bard, Mead currently teaches American foreign policy at Yale University. He is a Democrat, and voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential Election.


Dale Matson said...

"I do not want this President to fail". And that is the rub. Too many folks link the success of the US to his not failing while the other group sees stopping his agenda as what is best for the U.S. I am in the latter group.

Daniel Weir said...

If the President's agenda is not the right one to bring the country out of the worst economic situation since the great depression, what is? We have tried lowering taxes on the richest Americans in the hope that prosperity would trickle down. We have tried deregulation in hope that unfettered capitalism would benefit everyone. Should we try the same things and expect different results?

Anonymous said...

Slick talk is not a substitute for humility and truthfulness.

Obama wowed the audiences, made every promise to win the campaign, then stepped back to let the far left ramrod their agenda.

There is no need to worry about whether this president will fail - he has failed. He has failed to realize that he is the president of the entire country, not just those who swoon over him.

Comments such as "back of the bus" and "enemies" in describing where he sees his political opponents show his true outlook. He is one of the more intentionally devisive presidents of recent history.


Daniel Weir said...


Perhaps I haven't been paying attention, but I was not aware that the President had made such comments. Perhaps you will enlighten me.

Thank you.

Dale Matson said...

Fr. Weir,
I can confirm both comments came from the POTUS. He told republicans that they could ride in the back and he told a Latino radio audience that those who opposed his agenda were enemies.

Daniel Weir said...

Thank you. It is certainly not rhetoric that I would use, but then, I wouldn't have shouted "You lie" during the state of the union address either. I think politicians on both sides have become less civil during the past decade or so - as have news commentators.

Unknown said...

I was very surprised at the President's rhetoric during the campaign - he seemed to forget for several weeks that he is president for all the United States, not just Democrats. His rhetoric was appropriate for community organizing for a cause - but not as President of the United States. That he didn't know or understand this could be due to his lack of executive experience or perhaps terrible advice. I am still trying to figure out why his Chief of Staff and major player left before the election.


Anonymous said...

The Chief of Staff left to run for Mayor of Chicago, BB. I think it a good thing that he did, frankly. I have no particular inside knowledge, but my suspicion is that Mr. Emanuel had a lot to do with the President's missing the opportunity to put together a robust centrist political base. Emanuel is very much old-school liberal politics.

Although I am an old-school Republican of strong conservative bent, I found the President's rhetoric during this campaign rather mild compared to the general tenor of times. We have become an unfortunately shrill political society in recent times.


Andy said...

Tax cuts for the rich has to win the "strawman of the epoch" award. We're in our current straits as a result of an insane pattern of runaway spending, ecconomic policies of men like Frank and Dodd (Who should be on trial), and a national infrastructure that has been stretched to the point of breaking as a result of a border that's as watertight as cheesecloth.

Ironic, but this scenario was seen by Larry Burkett, a forerunner of Dave Ramsey back in the late 80's. Few believers paid any attention as they were being held sway by the "blabb-it & grab-it" preachers of the Prosperiy movement.

I believe that, in truth, we're watching the Fall of Rome being played out on a 24 hour news cycle. But with enough spinning, I suppose that event could be blamed on Pres. Bush too.

Andy said...

And too, I don't want theis "president" to fail, I want to see the tired and failed dogmas of Fabian Socialism/Western European progressiveism-socialism "fail". On the contrary, I want to see him fall on his face in repentance, learn from wise counselors and with God's help, lead this Country in a new "American Century".

Dale Matson said...

"I found the President's rhetoric during this campaign rather mild compared to the general tenor of times." It is up to the President to set the tone of the conversation as the leader of the free world. His comments sounded petty and partisan during the campaign. He campaigned as one who unites. Bait and switch. The words from his lofty bully pulpit come across much louder and harsher. I am continually reminded that what I say is speaking for the church as a priest and have to frequently repent.

Daniel Weir said...

The challenge for any President at mid-term is to balance the two roles - President and party leader. President Reagan campaigned for senate candidates with the appeal for the needed votes to confirm judicial appointments. I don't recall if his rhetoric was divisive, but the underlying message was that democrats couldn't be trusted to confirm. From what I have seen an heard from the campaigns - clearly limited given my living in Massachusetts - the President's comments were far milder than those of many of the candidates of both parties.

Two further comments. On the piece of legislation that seems to have hurt democrats most, the health care bill, I see it as being pretty much in line with the President's campaign promises. It has been criticized strongly by both liberals and conservatives, and there will be changes made in the next two years with bipartisan participation. I think, however, that there is little chance that the pre-existing conditions provision or the one that allows parents to include their adult children on their insurance will be repealed, to name just two that have popular support.

We seem to forget that the bank bail-outs were in place before the President took office. The bail-outs of the two auto companies may end up costing little or nothing. I am still convinced that a stimulus bill was a good idea, but it was probably too small. During severe recessions or depressions, it makes sense for the government to spend more money - just as it does in wartime.

Lapinbizarre said...

"....the tired and failed dogmas of Fabian Socialism/Western European progressiveism-socialism." Absolutely, Andy. No more of this "if thou wilt be perfect, go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor" Socialist heresy.

Andy said...

Lapinbizarre, This is a strawman.

The redeemed/reborn Christian heart says "What's mine is yours". The progressive/socialist says "What's yours is ours". The apostolic Church did so freely, we however, are being compelled to do so at the force of an armed, extra-constitutional agency known as the IRS.

Kevin said...

The GOP strategist will make the same mistake that the DNC strategist have made.

The elections of '08 & '10 were not elections for something, rather elections against something. The electorate did not suddenly become "Liberal" one year then two years later "Conservative" the next. They were not elections on platform.

August of '09 the midterm elections were the President's to loose, he had overwhelming majorities in Congress a 60% approval rating, more political power than any President since LBJ, but he misread the public.

Oddly it was the Daley dynasty which should have given him pointer, Daley Senior is reported to credit his lock on mayoral office by making sure the trash was picked up (meaning the electorate was very forgiving of all the other issues as long as basic city services functioned). By pushing Health Care instead of jobs, Obama put his pet project over what the electorate was concerned about, so he shot himself in the foot.

Oddly his '10 midterm campaigning actually gives '12 opposition some good ammunition, unless the GOP makes the same mistake and takes '10 results as a platform mandate.