Monday, August 24, 2009

The Un-Reagan

I'm a bit sorry that Paul Krugman went with the Zombie meme in his most recent NYT column, All the President’s Zombies, because it distracts from the point of the piece.

The pattern of failure is clear in the Obama Administration. It started well before his inauguration, or even his election. Indeed it goes back to the early days of the 2008 campaign. Simply put, it is a lack of a political purpose for wanting to be president. He doesn't have any specific use for power so he doesn't value it. As I wrote from very early on, there was no cause, no clarion call, no political objective that drove Obama. The closest he's come (and I really, really wish this would become a full-on cause) is with his promotion of energy independence and green technology, which is a large enough endeavor to have a profound impact on other areas of government and social policy. Sadly, even if he wanted to, he has lost the momentum that could have made it a powerful platform.

Krugman captures the heart of the matter near the end of his article when he says:
But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.
It's even bigger than that. Reagan turned an equivocal election into a "mandate" by moving decisively to declare absolute victory and demanding that politics be conducted on his terms. Reagan was not merely a "great communicator" (i.e., knew how to deliver his lines well and look good on camera); he was a determined and consummate politician, understanding how to use power to gain more, and with an agenda the length of his arm. He generated results by recognizing and aggressively capitalizing on political opportunities.

That's what an effective politician does.

Obama is aimless upon the political seas, deeply distrustful of any overt display of power that might distance, anger, or irritate someone, somewhere. While the lunatics of left and right salivate over their snuff-film fantasies of guns near the President, the greater truth is the public is swiftly becoming indifferent to our hapless leader, resigned to more of the same-old, same-old from the monied interests. They don't bother to distinguish between the bank bailout and the stimulus plan because they feel the same - money for the well off, reduced living standards for the average Jane and Joe.

His approach is like a weak version of the most unkind caricature of Big Dog, too afraid of offending the Serious People, too much wanting love and approval to be decisive, to make hard choices,to draw lines in the sand, etc. It is as though he thinks we are in 1990, with Bush the Elder at the height of his Gulf War I popularity and before the recession hit, with Democrats entering the nadir of their Congressional power, and with a closely divided electorate, not in one of the most politically advantageous moments for Democrats since FDR. The current economic conditions are the direct results of decades of Republican malfeasance and voodoo economics, the foreign policy debacle is squarely in Cheney's lap, and the electorate has handed the Democrats yet another round of great election victories.

He has failed to present a clear vision of what Democrats are for, thereby defining an alternative vision to Movement Conservatism and letting the party know to move this way, not that. More damaging, he has not made clear, in unequivocal terms, the utter failure of the Republicans to make life better for ordinary Americans on any count. Bill Clinton even laid out the form of the argument in his convention speech:

But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.
This is the kind of argument you have to make to change the way people think. It isn't "failures in the past" but Republican failures. It is being willing to be hated by a fanatical rump group in order to be taken seriously by the majority.

The MSM wants to pamper and coo over its darling, which does nothing to counteract the unrelenting psychotic conservative assault on Obama personally and liberal political objectives in general. The coddling of the MSM may keep The Precious from suffering the personal violations the Clintons and Al Gore endure to this day, but it does nothing to quiet the right-wing noise machine.

The upshot? A lack of direction and a distaste for power (as opposed to adultation and celebrity) has resulted in a loss of the most precious commodity in politics - opportunity to redefine the terms of enagagement. Krugman ends his column with "[I]t’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn." Peter Daou, is more blunt (taken from Corrente as I will not link to HuffPo):

Vital Lessons from the Health Reform Wars
  1. The big banker bailout has been far more damaging than the White House can imagine. ...
  2. The anti-Bush moment has passed, and with it a huge political opportunity. ...
  3. Rumors of the GOP's death have been greatly exaggerated. ...
  4. Obama's campaign machine is not fungible. ...
  5. The old media machine is alive and well. ...
  6. The national debate is still conducted on the right's terms. ...
  7. We are a soundbite democracy and the right has better soundbites.
The terms of the debate have not and will not change until we have someone who can use a political opportunity to make change happen. Change isn't a campaign; it is a mode of political life. It happens because you want to change for a reason, and you fight tooth and nail to achieve your goal.

Obama explicitly sold himself as the next Reagan, but never understood what it was that made Reagan effective. Like the Whole Foods shoppers who confuse a marketing schtick for a political position, The Precious wanted to be like Ronald Reagan: The Movie! - the media image of an avuncular, slightly absent minded fellow who was loved by all - and not Ronald Reagan, the man who made the Movement Conservative wet dream of national power come true. In the process, Obama has made himself into the un-Reagan.

The other president Obama wants to be compared to is JFK. I'll have more about that in another post.



Shainzona said...

"It is being willing to be hated by a fanatical rump group in order to be taken seriously by the majority."

To be taken seriously by the majority AND GET SOMETHING DONE FOR THE PEOPLE - if it it meant you were only a one-term person of power.

Sorry to shout, but I am sick to death of the entire DC scene. And I hate to pat myself on the back, but I've known this from late in 2007 - Obama was, is and forever will be an empty suit. People gush over his "intelligence" but I have never seen it. He is a figurehead for old DC insiders - just like Bush was - and the results will be the same.

In my life I have never known a more important time for intelligence, shrewdness, strength and resolve in America's politics and we have surely lost that moment.

I have thrown my hands up in disgust and am now sitting this one out. I have withdrawn into my personal shell and find it quite comforting in here. I used to care for the general well-being.

No more. And it makes me so sad.

If you read despair in my words, you'll be correct.

arf isher said...

Re: mandates -- It would have been reasonable to expect in 2001 that after that extremely close election and Sup Court intervention that W would take into account the opposing party's positions, as Gore would have had he won the selection. Instead, W worked hard to erase any achievements of Clinton's presidency.

show me said...

I think he will be a one term president. No way can he recreate the 'Pepsi Generation'.

I would love for Dean to challenge him from the left but I don't think he will do it.

Historiann said...

"His approach is like a weak version of the most unkind caricature of Big Dog."

Surely you're not suggesting that Obama is anything like "History's Greatest Monster!"

Anglachel said...

show me,

Dean is one of the inside players who engineered Obama's election. I doubt he will offer any challenge.


Mike J. said...

I'm not sure that Obama doesn't understand what Reagan's source of power was. Reagan, after all, was someone who pushed a far right agenda while appearing (to the average voter, at any rate) to be a common-sense, middle-of-the-road, non-ideological fellow. Is Obama all that different? His actual policies, his gradual walking away from campaign promises on national security, his sudden willingness to trade away the public option, suggest he is a much more conservative politician than most of his supporters have realized.

The one miscalculation he's (or his team) made is that the GOP simply wants him to fail, and that no amount of policy give-aways will sway them. This is something his political socialization in Chicago has not prepared him for, a hard-core ideological enemy.

Anne said...

Indeed. Any discussion that paints Obama as able to do something besides read off a teleprompter and fuss over his publicity,is,imo, giving him too much credit.

One only has to look at the Obama history we are allowed to view to see he has always done nothing for constitutes or colleagues, while his $$$ backers happily smash and grab from his constitutes and colleagues.

For Obama, support of any kind is a one way street that flows to him, not from him. It would be hard to shake Obama from this course of non action, because it suits him to his core and because it has landed him at the Oval Office. You can't ague with "success". Any remedy that requires action on Obama's part is hopless.

As for Dean, if Dean was going to challenge Obama Inc, at all,one would have thought it would be during this summer of health care botch, a topic he knows alot about.

But far from a scream, we've had not even a peep. Expecting Dean to challenge Obama is like expecting the seed pod to take on the resulting plant. It's over for the seed pod.

Obama Inc and the Dems aren't the only ones to to blame and thank for messing up this health care industry money/ power grab....Okay, they let the industry write the hot mess called a bill, but the health care industry complex itself should be blamed for its missed chance. It has been so immovably greedy, it stupidly did not throw the public even a bone. The bill they wrote is all their way ,there isn't a speck of kabuki to help the Dems or the media in their spin.

So thanks, health care industry complex! I was hoping we could count on you!

During this summer of health care botch, it seems everyone thought everyone else would do the work of getting it over. Reading the articles lately is like listening to bickering burgles, who are arguing over who forgot the get away car after a failed heist.