Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Left

For his entire adult life, Barack Obama has succeeded by offering himself as the perfect midpoint between others. As a mathematical function, not a leader. As an averaging equation, not a true believer.

Since he showed up on the political radar, he has marketed himself relentlessly as
Half black and half white...
Half American urbanite, half world-citizen...
Half wonk, half preacher...
Half Harvard Yard, half Back o' the Yards...
Half red and half blue...
And this bone-deep reflex -- plus his formidable intellect and ability to rise to the rhetorical occasion -- would have prepared him perfectly for the Presidency...if this were 1960.

But it is not 1960 -- nor is he dealing with Harvard Conservatives pals or Springfield Republican pols -- and being a results-agnostic "process guy" when the process is utterly broken no longer works.

Instead, the ideologically-lockstepping Right led by Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers have found in Obama their perfect patsy: the Democrat who seems constitutionally incapable of counter-punching, who can only feel comfortable while suspended between two opposing positions and who will, therefor, find a compromise between opposites even when he has to invent wholly fictional opposing views to which he can cede half the playing field.

From Paul Krugman:

Lacking All Conviction

Mark Thoma directs us to an appalling story — apparently Obama held a meeting after the midterm to debate whether our unemployment problem is cyclical or structural.

What I want to know is, who was arguing for structural? I find it hard to think of anyone I know in the administration’s economic team who would make that case, who would deny that the bulk of the rise in unemployment since 2007 is cyclical. And as I and others have been trying to point out, none of the signatures of structural unemployment are visible: there are no large groups of workers with rising wages, there are no large parts of the labor force at full employment, there are no full-employment states aside from Nebraska and the Dakotas, inflation is falling, not rising.

More generally, I can’t think of any Democratic-leaning economists who think the problem is largely structural.
In order to avoid wasting his presidency, squandering the opportunity we have given him, and letting the country spiral into a permanent corporate feudal pest-hole, Barack Obama must do the hardest thing of all: he must exceed his design specifications. This is not unprecedented, but like Franklin Roosevelt the capitalist-turned-social-Democrat or Abraham Lincoln the compromiser-turned-Emancipator, Obama must let go of a central pillar of his identity and embrace the brutal fact that our modern house divided against itself cannot stand.

That we cannot endure permanently half-Fox and half-free.

That we will become all one thing, or all the other.

And that this is your fight, President Obama.

This burden has fallen to you: it cannot be shirked and cannot be delegated.

If you take up this challenge, millions of us will have your back, Mr. President.

But if you cannot summon the inner strength to evolve past your reflexive need to compromise with people who want to destroy you, then we are all well and truly fucked.


Chicago Guy said...

driftglass-- You've described the problem and solution and the potential results brilliantly.

I don't think I've ever known ANYONE who has let go of a central pillar of their identity.

But that's exactly what needs to happen, even if the likelihood of it happening seems pretty slim.

Unfortunately, the only thing that I can see that would prompt that kind of shift is an event of such horror that not even the Koch/Murdoch power elite could sell it as being good for all of us.

Anonymous said...

AND! We will work our political asses off to make sure, Mr. Centrist, that you do NOT get a chance to sustain this bullshit for another 4 years.

Suzan said...

Good luck with that, huh?

If only we could believe in miracles (h/t Jefferson Starship).

And it's good to see that you are still in there pitching, Dg.

But you will be the more likely candidate to adopt such smart tactics.

Driftglass for President!


Jason said...

I couldn't agree with you more Driftglass except for the fact that I don't believe the office of the Presidency has the kind of power we attribute to it. At this point I think we can make a strong case for the banking institutions and other big business being the ones truly pulling the strings in politics. Obama is milquetoast and I'm even more disgusted with his post election behaviour (but he lost me once he decided not to rescind the warrantless wiretapping). I would love to see him lead from the left but at this point I wonder if any president could truly be progressive and live.

Anonymous said...

I love the guy, but I couldn't agree more. The right, including all the Republicans in Congress, will continue to accuse him of being polarizing, so he has nothing to lose, either.

KWillow said...

Obama is charming, charismatic. He gave the impression of being an FDR-like leader who would reverse the dangerous course our country is blindly following, who would restore sanity and sense.

Instead he directed his subordinates to go Full Steam Ahead- straight at that flaming iceberg/towering cliff/economic black hole.

And the man who would at least have tried to do the country some good was humiliated and disgraced and will never hold office again, because ... he boinked a bimbo. Jesus.

mark said...

Good thing Obama wasn't leading the civil rights revolution of the 50's and 60's. Blacks would be riding maybe halfway up the bus by now. And getting to sit at one end of the lunch counters, while conceding separate drinking fountains without being asked.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Dude, I admire your continued refusal to give up on Obama, but come on. The motherfucker decided completely sua sponte to freeze for two years the salaries of government employees. It's like he's participating in the Republican scheme to absolutely ensure that the economy doesn't recover any time soon.

smartalek said...

Oh, I know this game -- I LIKE this game!
Let's see now...
Completely change his entire being, from inmost, most quintessential self to most superficial of tics and mannerisms?
Or keep on keepin' on, in the same direction, and at the same rate, until acted upon by an outside force?
Whichever will it be, I wonder?
Lessee now...
Eenie, meenie, mynie, mo...

(And yes, I do in fact remember exactly how the original, un-Bowdler-ized (or would that now be un-Broder-ized?) lyric carried on from there)