Thursday, June 7, 2012


I just read this at TPM. I print it in its entirety:

Your reader “JM” offers a counsel of despair, one that very honestly I rather expect from Democrats (especially the most liberal Democrats) during times of political adversity.
I expect Democrats to be unreflective about their own failures, utterly convinced that history is something that just happens to them, terrified of Republicans, and resentful that Republican misdeeds are not repudiated by the public without the need for any coaxing from Democrats. I expect liberal Democrats to partake fully in the great American national vices, self-admiration and self-congratulation, without sharing in the compensating American virtue of faith in the country and its institutions. I expect liberal Democrats to react to adversity in ways Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman would not recognize.

You know enough political history to recall that Roosevelt generation of Democrats hung the name of Herbert Hoover around the necks of their political opponents for a generation after 1932. Reagan-era Republicans did the same, for a shorter period of time and less dramatically, with the name of Jimmy Carter after 1980. It’s not the Republicans’ fault — or the product of any Republican “strategy” — that the President who was more unpopular for longer than any President since the invention of modern opinion polling was allowed to vanish without a trace by January 22, 2009.

George W. Bush’s invisibility, and the profoundly Bush-like Mitt Romney’s lack of any public identity as a “Bush Republican,” were the product of Democratic choices. So was the inadequate stimulus package at the beginning of 2009 that ensured a crushing recession that began under a Republican administration would not draw an effective government response under a Democratic administration. So was the disappearance from memory of the politicized, demoralized Justice Department of Alberto Gonzales, and the inept, crony-laden FEMA leadership that had let New Orleans drown.

So was the expanded, hope-centered military commitment in Afghanistan, doubling down on a bet that the Bush administration had already lost. So was the Obama administration’s surrender to the financial services industry on regulation in wake of a monumental market disaster for which that industry was largely responsible. So was the administration’s negotiating with itself on health care reform. So was the Democrats’ embrace of the rot pervading Congress as an institution: the abandonment of oversight, the casual acceptance of corruption, the inability to pass even one appropriations bill on time when Democrats had majorities in both the House and the Senate. So was President Obama’s immersion in permanent campaign culture, fully as great as Bush’s had been and aptly symbolized by the regular use of electioneering hands like David Axelrod and David Plouffe as administration spokesmen on serious, substantive issues of national policy.

Choices made by Obama and his Democratic allies were what they were. It is perhaps evident that I regard most of them as mistakes with respect to policy substance, but for our purposes here what matters is that they were political mistakes. In the simplest English I know: the United States does not make a black man President of the United States unless Americans have decided a huge change from what they had before is necessary.

The ill repute George W. Bush had earned for the Republicans was what made Barack Obama President: not his “story,” not the “hope and change” schtick, not that community organizer business, and not his army of self-consciously self-admiring campaign consultants. That’s the political asset Obama and the Democrats cast away, by choice, right from the beginning.

As you know, Josh, I’m not a Democrat. What sympathy I have for Barack Obama and the staggering burden under which he labors is due to his being President, not to any partisan feeling or particular ideological affinity. Beyond that, though, I just see a lot of Johnny Fontaine in your party: facing political adversity during a very difficult time for the country, talking about being terrified for the future, head in hands and complaining about cleverer, more powerful men who won’t give them what they want. ”I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.”

You can be a man.

Yeah, sounds a lot like me, lately. Other than the flip last lines, there's a lot to contemplate. I'm inclined to agree with the guy about much of what he said. On the other hand -- taking it personally -- I've never claimed that Obama and Ds bear no responsibility for the fact that they're in trouble; I've been pretty critical, in fact, I'd say. Whatever the reasons, though, it's not just wailing and moaning to note that Rs are being dishonest about their plans, are presenting budgets that, in addition to not coming close to their claims of balance, are certain to devastate the most basic needs of a twenty-first century country.

Feeling despair for the future based on an open-eyed view of the sort of campaigns that are being run on both sides doesn't necessarily imply failure to see the causes; nor does drawing the conclusion that a huge portion of the electorate has been made incapable of thinking beyond slogans suggest hiding one's head in the sand. To note that Rs are succeeding in creating a version of Barack Obama to run against that bears no resemblance to the real one is not a retreat into"unreflective" behavior. Quite, in fact, the opposite: it's reality-testing.

I'd also point out that, unlike today's R party, the Ds are a very disparate group, with many in Congress labeled as D being much further to the right than some of the good old days' moderate Rs. So whereas Rs speak the same handed-out talking points without batting an embarrassed eye, and vote consistently en bloc while explicitly deriding the very idea of compromise, Ds are all over the fricking place; and without their cooperation with the previous administration, nothing Bush proposed, including his tax cuts, would have passed.

By the way, I guess the writer means Johnny Fontane, not Johnny Fontaine (I had to look it up). If I knew what "being a man" meant in this context, and if, as the writer suggests, that's all it would take to make a difference, I'd guess the lines would be long to sign up, testicles in hand; or sold to those waiting, because Ds' are so small, in packets of four. Meanwhile, I give money, and I write.

And, yes, I despair.

If I thought the election were going to be about the real issues and what's really at stake, I might feel better. If voters really do want to increase defense spending and lower taxes even further on the wealthy; if they really do agree that the way to pay for that is drastically to reduce spending on education, health care, the environment, research, infrastructure and more; if they've put on their green eyeshades and looked carefully at the Ryan budget and concluded his non-existent numbers (click it, PT; it's your guy) really do add up and can specify how (or, more realistically, have explicitly concluded they don't care if they don't); if they recognize the multiple disasters Bush left to Obama, but still think the economy is Obama's fault because they either think he should have spent more on the stimulus or less, lowered taxes on the middle class even more than he did, or not at all; if they recognize the bank bailouts were Bush's baby; if they think we should still have troops dying in Iraq; if they think belligerence is the best foreign policy; heck, even if they made a conscious choice to vote for Rs because they consider marriage equality a more important issue than all of the preceding -- if all of that were the true reflection of the voters, based on careful thought and considered deliberation, well, I guess I could no longer blame the steady stream of lies and propaganda that issues nonstop from their pocketed media.

But I wouldn't find a lot of pleasure living in a country like that, even knowing it couldn't exist for much longer in the aftermath of those choices.


Frank Drackman said...

Ahhh my fave part from Godfather-1...
well maybe not as good as the Horse's Head in the bed part, or Al Pacino blowing away General Ripper from "Dr. Strange-love", Or Luke Brazzia getting strangled...
But hey, don't feel bad, your(:(!)guy lost in Wisconsin, but the Dem's gave it their(!:)best shot, Union Intimidation, Ill-legitimate Baby Rumours(great album BTW), and best of all, The President, pressing the flesh, meeting the voters, CHANGING HEARTS & MINDS, as only He can do...
President Clinton I mean, EICOTUS wouldn't touch that loser Barrett with a 99 1/2 foot pole*...


*"The Grinch who stole X-mas" 1965

Anonymous said...

Dr. S:
Even if you are ideologically a Democrat, do you really believe Mr. Obama was qualified and experienced enough to be President?

I'm not asking if he is smart or a good person or born in the US. Did he have the job experience needed to be an effective President? He did not, and his missteps underscore that lack of preparedness. (When a patient needs a complicated operation does he seek a surgeon who has done 5 cases or 500 cases?) So why did he win?

From the TPM post: ". . . the United States does not make a black man President of the United States unless Americans have decided a huge change from what they had before is necessary."

A huge change? How is electing any MAN a huge change? If Americans had wanted a "huge change",Hilary Clinton would have been nominated and Americans would have had to choose whether they wanted a qualified, experienced woman President (Clinton) or an unqualified, un-experienced woman (Palin) a heartbeat away from being President.

Obama is proof that gender equality has not yet arrived in the the Land of Opportunity where anyone from anywhere can be anything...unless you are a woman.

At times, I am not sure why you are so alarmed at the prospect of the election of what is status quo: a rich white man who lies. How different can that be for this country?


Anonymous said...

The modern Democratic party is the equivalent of the Washington Generals. They're not there to win so much as to make the opposition look as good as possible. Which for the Globetrotters is pretty damned awesome, and for the current iteration of the Republican party is enough to make a buzzard gag. But to be fair to the current crop of Democrats, the FDR generation didn't have the confluence of money, Faux News, Citizen's United, AND the public relations (propaganda) industry arrayed against them. And the Depression had the effect of focussing public attention on the problems at hand.

The current battle was lost when Obama decided to ignore Santayana and look forward and forsake looking backward, the better to ignore where the steaming pile of excrement he was standing neck-deep in came from. A steady stream of hearings would have helped the media cover the misrule of the Bush years and the existential issues we should be grappling with instead of the trivia that we currently find ourselves obsessed.

I understand and share your despair, but not for the reasons you state. Voters don't really want those things. They're just amazingly mis-informed. (This is your cue, Frankie. Don't be shy.) And the level of our political discourse is so shallow as to make our founding fathers despair as well. These were guys who read Hume and Locke and Montesquieu. Can you think of a single political actor or commentator today with a similar level of political sophistication?

Looks like it's gonna have to get a lot worse before the body politic will take the cure.


Chuck Sigars said...

Please forgive my eyerolling on your blog, Sid. First, the idea that anyone is more "qualified" to be President than somebody else is entirely subjective and avoids history. Truman? Lincoln? Or our supremely "qualified" Hoover and Buchanan? I would have gladly voted for Clinton in 2008, but I have no idea how her administration would have differed from Obama and neither does anyone else. Personality, timing, staff, health, habits, and mostly historical perspective are how we define qualified in our presidents. Sorry; I just despise this "no experience" theme. It's the one who fights the bull, etc.

Otherwise, right on. Obama isn't holding his head in his hands, it's his party, and mostly the ones who don't hold office. Still fighting the Hillary wars, still grieving the public option, still feeling righteous, still saying "I don't agree with everything he's done" as if, y'know, we thought you were a sycophant and an idiot (not you personally, Sid. Although you could stop saying that) and you need to clear that up. Obama might be a middling President, a failed one, or a great one; how would I know now? Was he a better option than McCain/Palin? Sure. Better than Romney? Yup. So figure out how to reelect him, and stop with the wringing. Or sit it out and snipe. Hey, it's a free country.

Sid Schwab said...

I assume much of your comment is directed at DD, Chuck, to whose question I chose not to respond since (s)he answered it as if not wanting to know mine.

Romney lately claims only business people are qualified to be president; like his R predecessor, I guess.

To the extent you were addressing me, I meant this post to reflect my conflicted soul: despairing but not giving up. Agreeing with the writer I quoted, but rejecting the argument, too.

Mainly, it's the evidence that the election will not turn on real issues, of which there are many really important ones, but on money, lies, propaganda, and ill-informed voters.

I feel -- without being able to prove it, of course -- that whereas it's always been thus to a significant extent in our politics, Rs have taken it to heretofore unseen levels, obliterating the chances for legitimate debate and careful consideration of the incredibly impactful choices.

Chuck Sigars said...

Yeah, I was addressing DD, not you, sorry. And not really commenting on your post, either. I share your despair, which is a new feeling for me. I do think the enemy is us an awful lot (or at least "us" in you and me. And actually not specifically you and me, because we are pretty perfect. The rest of them, the bums). I imagine the Obama team will run a hard, aggressive campaign; they're good at that. I also imagine Obama will clean Romney's clock in debates. I imagine they'll be plenty of places to find the truth and discussion of the issues. Just not sure the electorate will be interested.

Sid Schwab said...

Agree. Especially with the perfection part.

Anonymous said...

Re: Chuck's comments
Agree in part. Subjectivity is built into politics and history. The public's opinion of Lincoln in his time (at least in the South) surely differed from history's definition of him as heroic.

I thought Mr. Obama would be a transformative leader; he seemed to understand the American experience and articulated well his vision for the country. There were Great Expectations around him; maybe too great. Saying he "lacked experience" is an excuse by a disappointed voter. However, his place in history is secured even if he is not re-elected.

Dr. S. I did not intend to exclude a response from you. I had astutely gleaned from this blog that you admire and support Mr. Obama (in a non-sycophantic way) and hope he is re-elected, so I assumed your answer.


Anonymous said...

To quote Will Rogers "I'm not a member of an organized political party, I'm a Democrat"

CSM - just South of the middle of nowhere.

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