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vastleft's picture

I ventured one more post at DU, to frame how an Obama skeptic might look forward to / at the new presidency:

Why this Obama skeptic is mildly optimistic

Reasons to be optimistic:

1. Even for those of us who found little to like about Obama's candidacy, it's always been clear that he's smart. I like that in a president.

2. He's surrounded himself with Clintonian technocrats, who just might know how to roll back the last eight years of madness

3. The mother of all crises may motivate him to make real change and may force the Blue Dogs and Repubs to support it

The bottom line: if Obama wants to be the next FDR, he can.

Reasons for that optimism to be mild:

1. Many in Obama's "movement" remain timid about pushing him to be more progressive than he's otherwise inclined to be (how much that is is subject to debate -- "he hasn't done anything yet" -- but there are countless signals that progressives have something close to zero leverage over him).

2. He's surrounded himself with Clintonian technocrats. Turns out those promises of radical change were as hokey as they sounded to some of us. We need -- and the times justify -- a far more dramatic leftward shift than Bill Clinton ever accomplished. And Hillary has yet to prove that she can be a firewall against prevailing hawkishness.

3. The post-partisan bullshit persists. Gay/women/atheist-bashing Rick Warren on the dais, all that "Team of Rivals" horseshit, etc. Maybe once Obama actually takes office, he'll start building the Democratic/liberal brand, but he's been loath to do it to this point. As with Bill Clinton, it's the "one good Democrat" who's afraid to dis Reaganite "values." We can and must do better, or the myths of GOP fiscal prudence, moral superiority, respect for law and order, and unquestionable patriotism will persist and will lead to more death, destruction, and injustice.

The bottom line: if Obama turns out not to be a major-league progressive, we're screwed.

Reasons to be scared shitless:

1. Reagan's chickens are coming home to roost. The rot oozing from the Beltway -- crappy politics and equally crappy media -- could be the death of us all unless the change is real, rapid, and rational.

The bottom line: if Obama turns out not to be a major-league progressive, we're screwed.

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basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

Obama has no history of accomplishing anything of his own volition that serves others more than it serves him. Does someone who cheated their way through a primary and never in their life worked on behalf of others suddenly, at the age of 48, come to the realization that they must work for the common good? I doubt it.

No one can point to an instance in Obama's life where he saw a situation that was hurting others, and, in response, and of his own volition, used his resources to fix the problem. Believe me, if there was a single story along that line, we would have heard it told over and over and over again on the campaign trail.

As for the Clinton technocrats, I have no doubt they do know what to do, but I have no faith that he is going to allow them to do it. Obama doesn't seem to have a philosophy of governance - I mean, how could he? Bill Clinton did - Bill Clinton had a philosophy that was rooted in 12 years of governorship of Arkansas. So, the Clinton staffers, working with Clinton who already knew the territory inside and out, could turn in a very different performance than they likely will under Obama. For instance, Clinton was wonkishly well-versed on economics and could hold his own with any of his secretaries. Have we seen even a basic level of awareness out of Obama? No, we haven't.

Eleanor Roosevelt, very early in her dating relationship with Franklin, took him to see the tenements where she was performing her charity work. She told people that that was the moment when the two of them became a team. And from that point on, together they began tackling the problems that they saw. Bill and Hillary were out working as a team together as well. She moved to Arkansas, set up her legal aid clinic. He was off teaching school and all over Arkansas there are attorneys who will talk about the fact that Bill took his time off to tutor them and make sure they got through law school - and not just his classes. He got the ones who needed help with any class through. Then he takes office, and the two really do become a team. You simply have none of that with Obama. He wasn't required to keep hours in Chicago and you have no tales of him tutoring students to get them through. You have no tales, or legislative history, of him doing everything he can to push a solution through the Illinois state legislature year after year until it's fixed. It's never happened. He's never once demonstrated the ability to identify a problem, create a solution, adjust the solution to fit the situation, and get the solution acted up and the problem resolved. Other than his run for Congress, he's never failed either - think about that. People who have genuine accomplishments have failures as well. People who don't even try to get stuff done, never fail. The only tool he seems to have at hand, if you look at his history, is his willingness to use gimmicks and thuggery to win elections. That's it - that's Obama's sole history of accomplishment.

I doubt that Obama has any ability to see anyone besides himself - and there is nothing to obstruct that opinion. What I am expecting for the next four years is a Republican emphasis on solutions that benefit corporate America and wealthy Americans at the expense of middle class Americans - because Obama's personal wealth is best enhanced by pursuing their agenda. American business needs the economy in better order than it is now. to that end, I think things will improve though not nearly as much as they can. I was hoping the green jobs that will be created and will shore up the economy would be unionized and stable- that won't happen under Obama. In this auto industry crisis, he has no demonstrated no interest in the health of unions. On another note, under Bill Clinton, African Americans saw their lowest unemployment rate and highest wage rate in the history of this nation, as well as a falling incarceration rate. I don't think that will change in the next eight years. I think unions and low income Americans are in for a very rough time. he looked the other way at the tenants shivering in the Rezko's tenements in Chicago - I think he'll look the other way on the rest of us as well.

As for whether he is smart - yes, he is smarter than George Bush is now. But mostly, Obama is glib and slick. there is very little substance to his prattling. That's why the emphasis on "hope and change" because some "white, Holy Cross douche" can write about that stuff without having to study up and understand policy. Both Clintons ran on policy and could discuss their policy. Obama didn't and couldn't.

Sadly, I think our hope for the next four years lies in the fact that American business likes making money and needs the economy to function better than it is now in order to do so. Of course, as long as their profit is simply being handed to them by the US government to cheer them up, they won't push for constructive solutions. That will necessarily come to an end and they will need someone to do something. That falls to Obama and Obama has never once pursued a progressive solution in his life nor has he ever once demonstrated leadership on an issue of any kind, much less a difficult one. The fact that he has an IQ over 120 and has written two books about himself, while never once demonstrating that he actually reads and comprehends books written by others, simply isn't enough to give me hope. Everything else about him is incredibly depressing.

Let's pray MBNA Joe becomes a progressive Cheney to Obama's Bush.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Obama is a cipher. WDORW -- what does Obama really want, now that he got the gig?

I've speculated before that he wants to be a Zen-like figure floating above Mt. Rushmore. Whether he's prepared to do much of anything to deserve anything vaguely like that remains to be seen. The fact is, the opportunity exists for him to distinguish himself. But will he? His past performance provides few clues, since everything seems to have been calculated to get him to this point, and nothing more.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

I've speculated before that he wants to be a Zen-like figure floating above Mt. Rushmore.

And, much as with what basement angel said, that is where it seems to end if you look back through his history. There seems to be no one moment, not even a set of eiphanies, to bring him to where he is, today.

Apart from whether you or I personally like him, or not, this is what has bothered me about him. There is no one issue, or a set of issues, he's ever seemed to devote himself to. He's smart, but where is the focus?

To me there is a difference between being smart and being intelligent. Being smart is a naturally ability to get through things more easily than others when you face them. Being intelligent, to me, has much more to do with curiosity about the world, curiosity about how things work, why things work, and why things can't be like they ought to. While Obama is certainly more curious about our (human's) place in the world and universe than George W. Bush, he still seems to exert the minimal amount of his curiosity to get through things.

For me, Obama not "there", if you get what I' mean. There doesn't seem to be any there there. And, if some do mistake there being a there there, the "there" is hoarding glory...for himself and himself alone. It's not about us, solely, or even us, too/ as well.

You said it pretty well in another thread "I don't know how to love him." Well, for me, it's not only that, but I don't know how to hope for the best in him, when it seems that either, conciously or not, he doesn't hope for the best in himself, either. For me, he hasn't displayed that he's come to the station in his life where he's been able to get over himself, and I think that that personal flaw will greatly reduce his chances of being a great (or even good) president.

Even in those quiet and vulnerable times when his wife was being torn to shreds, or when he spoke of his deceased mother or his grandmother, it was always about him. The only time I ever saw him truly pissed was when someone said something negative and biting about him (i.e. think Rev. Wright, or McCain's "Paris Hilton" critiques, etc..).

It's hard to believe in him, when he has shown that he doesn't believe in us. If he truly believed in how far we the American people have come and how far we've displayed we want to go by electing him, he wouldn't be timid or hesitant about the things we've shown we want to change and change big (i.e. involvement in Iraq, health care, transportation, name it). It's hard for me to want to cover him, when he hasn't shown good faith in believing that we have his back.

If "we're the ones' we've been waiting for" why is he not only not leading us to where we've shown we want to go, but in effect, has actually been blocking us from where we've shown we want to go? You know why? Because he's never initiated anything; he's never paid anything forward. He's just shadowed everything he's ever co-opted before pouncing on it and slowing it down.

When does hope in him becomes an excersize in national futility? The movement he co-opted has given him all the cover in the world to exact the change he ran on. I simply don't see how a man that's ran out the clock on everything he's ever ran for or backed can be something to put any kind of real hope in. If somewhere in some quiet moment he finally realizes the true role of a president, a role beyond simply being a symbol, it seems to me it will have been by chance or accident.

His seeming disinterest in everything but himself isn't a's a feature.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I think it was Glenn Greenwald who mentioned something about Obama's post-partisn theory of politics. That is, to me, exactly what Obama/Axelrod are all about, a theory of politics, not a theory of government per se--you know, how you govern. We really have no clue what Obama's theory of government is, IMO. Much of what he's done since getting the election has been post-partisan posturing with very little way for us to have an idea of where he stands and what direction he will take the country.

I don't think we'll be able to evaluate Obama's theory of gvoerning until he's in office. The only thing I've been able to gather from reading Obama's bios is that political postering has been his political raison d'etre. In this light I see his appointments about choosing a team of rivals--or appearance of doing so--to appease the Village. Since he's never ever been in a position where the buck stopped with him we have no way to judge how even the bestest cabinet in the history of all cabinets ever will be worked with. He said he wasn't really about running the minutia so when disagreements in his cabinet arise, what will he do? Who will he side with?

BTW, didn't Bill Clinton lose congress because he a) raised taxes, b) signed an assault weapons ban, and c) tried to integrate the military, and d) tried to get UHC? Pretty liberal shit if you ask me yet progressives harp on him losing congress and then not being progressive enough. He tried, lost congress then had to work with what was left. I guess I'll never understand the inherent need of progressives to bash Bill. Its almost as if that's a requisite to get into the kewl kids progressive club. Glad I'm more liberal than progressive and don't have to worry about that.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

1. His presidency was better than any we've had recently, but well short of ideal
2. I expect that he would have had a better presidency now that the GOP brand is so deeply damaged. He would have had a lot more leverage to say no to Reaganism.
3. If he'd run this year, I'd have hoped he'd have done it more aggressively as a repudiation of the GOP brand; Obama ran as if it were 1992, which was incredibly stupid and insulting to the reality-based community. FWIW, Hillary was a cut above Obama in this, though she did start out her campaign as an aisle-crosser, as well.
4. His experiences show how badly we need media reform and high-quality citizen journalism; Hillary's experiences show how badly lacking we are in both... I can only speculate on whether Bill would have encountered the same, or if we could even project what would have happened if CDS weren't a well-entrenched value prior to this year

All told, I think the yardstick for Obama needs to be "much better than Bill" because:
a) The opportunity for true progressive reform is much greater
b) The need for true progressive reform is much more urgent

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

From the Washington Post article, "Obama's Cabinet lacks reformers:"

Peter Wehner, a former senior adviser to President Bush, warned that placing too much emphasis on pragmatism could leave the Obama team rudderless and without intellectual cohesion. "Pragmatism has its place, but there are limits, as well," said Wehner, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "If you aren't anchored to a political philosophy, you get blown about, and government becomes ad hoc and you make it up as you go — and if you're not careful, you begin to go in circles."

Although Wehner worked for Bush, I agree with him here: there needs to be an ideological core, which Obama seems to lack completely. During moments of crisis, it's all the more important to have an overall political, governing philosophy to navigate through choppy waters.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

"pragmatism" is being badly misused in such contexts.

Does pragmatism mean being sociopathic (I'm hungry, and the pragmatic thing is to eat my neighbor) or unfussy (decorum suggests that I dare not alert people of the fire in the building) or what?

Davidson's picture
Submitted by Davidson on

Pragmatism is used in that headline to be somewhat opposite of change, needed reform. I take it the paper means it to be what the Village prefers (think: the way they use "serious" to legitimize or delegitimize a person or issue).

With regards to the quote, perhaps he defines pragmatism as what seems politically feasible?

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Despite large Democratic majorities in both houses, a Democratic president, and a country clamoring for change, the only thing that's politically feasible is to pretend it's still 1982 or 2003.