Begin The Long Retreat (Revised)

History will record the brief American intoxication with the Obama Audacity Campaign a reckless gamble. Strategically, the Campaign had two components necessary for success. The first was to overwhelm and penetrate Republican/Movement ranks with the power of personality to seize control of American government in 2008. The second, assuming opponents’ psychological surrender, was to govern by verbosity, intention and situational accommodation via the existence of a wholly undefined ‘new politics’.

That Campaign failed. Its second phase rout fueled the seemingly impossible: Obama re-energized, strengthened and then mainstreamed the most radical Movement elements. From being mere marginalized ghosts gnawing on themselves in the shadows 3 years ago Obama planted their radicalism firmly in the center-most heart of American politics. It is a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions.

When Winning Is Not What It Seems

The Audacity Campaign’s core failure is that its second phase, successful control of government and validation through re-election, was non-sensical from the outset. The entire venture’s success would be possible only if its opponents agreed to cooperate, stand down and join the so-called ‘new politics’. Audacity meant Obama never controlled his victory conditions, nor his future (and the Nation’s).

The importance of this ‘new politics’ to the Audacity Campaign is almost always overlooked by political pundits. In phase two Obama did not intend to govern as a traditional political figure. But neither he (nor his advisors who asked for more crises) thought to ask why would political opponents so recently defeated cooperate in their further eclipse? Naturally no contingency plans laid out.

From its earliest beginning the Audacity technique eschewed traditional Democratic institutions, process and Republicans. Relying on semi-autonomous, independent networks, the Campaign acquired speed, improvisational organization and agility in sharp distinction to ‘establishment’ entities like the HRC campaign. Implicit in the organizing meme of Audacity was the notion of ‘new politics’. Shapeless and content free, hope and change were the perfect battering rams for the time of economic and governmental crisis. Audacity explicitly channeled energies tapped by its non-tradtional identity to the individual rather than party or affiliation.

Long time readers of this blog immediately recognize in the above some superficial resemblance to Audacity’s eventual Movement foe. Unlike the Movement, however, the Audacity Campaign avoided firm commitment to ideological orthodoxies. As noted, its reliance on personal brand mirrored the Latin American examples of caudillo. The ‘new politics’ were to be discernible by the actions and mostly words of the Obama brand persona. His lack of sustained accomplishment becomes an asset. He’s a bi-pedal blank slate. From today’s vantage point? Those projecting their own neediness onto that emptiness might feel both hoodwinked and deserved shame now.

Initially an Audacity Campaign proved its mettle. Victory over HRC appeared to validate the Audacity technique. The semi-autonomous networks game Obama the flexibility to out fox the comparatively lumbering HRC construct. Her COIN, if you will — too little, too late.

The 2008 general election seemingly re-confirmed the Audacity Campaign approach. Key warning signs, however, were ignored. Separation from McCain began really in mid September and only after McCain’s own erratic behavior (suspending his campaign, resuming it, etc.) and the Lehman bankruptcy. In other words, after 8 years of a now (2008) universally despised Administration, 2 failed wars, global economic collapse and perhaps the worst candidate since Bob Dole, Audacity alone was insufficient. It required McCain, his implosion and economic disaster to boost Audacity to the finish line. Astute observers noted at the time this actual vulnerability. Obama thus entered his governing phase and his ‘new politics’ weaker than he seemed. ‘New’ or ‘post-partisan’ politics might not have so accommodating foes.

Two Key Points

We know what happens next. Two key points should be made. The first is the Obama Administration inexplicable decision to disarm unilaterally after the election; terminating active cultivation of its semi-autonomous networks tossed away its core political strength. This would come back to haunt them. This decision also rendered promulgation of the ‘new politics’ even more problematic. Second, the Obama Administration failed to compensate for this self-negation by fashioning alternative deep and lasting connection either with institutional allies on Capitol Hill or its typical ideological base. Its political isolation entirely self-imposed.

The Audacity Campaign became a paper tiger. The political novices around the Administration (with the exception of one congressman, etc.) remained oblivious.

The corporate astro-turfing in February-March 2009 should have sent a strategic warning that the Audacity Campaign was in the balance. The Movement declared in essence there would be no new politics, or post-whatever American Man (Woman, Child, Zygote). By August 2009 the now coalescing Movement launched its first major counter-attack, disrupting nationally Democratic majority incumbents’ town halls. The now fully channelled passions of fear, anger, resentment and rejection the clearest signal yet that Audacity’s serene detachment and the premise of a new kind of politics hare brained. Moreover, the Movement studied the Audacity Campaign and attacked its key (and now only) asset – the personal brand. The significance of the Movement’s achievement is underscored by the fact that many complaining of developments focus on the ‘Tea Party’ not realizing how radicalized the so-called traditional conservatives have become.

This would be a new kind of political warfare. With mass institutional resources deploying wedge issues loaded with emotional C4 this new kind of campaign would be a test of will and commitment. Unlike the diaphanous serendipity of an Audacity Campaign’s rhetorical flourish, the Movement aligned mass formations inside and outside government to wear down their opponent. Only then, then the issue appears to be exhausted (or a deal falling apart) will the Movement unleash fresh radicalism to exploit the breakthrough, roaming into the Obama (and all non-Rightists’) strategic depth. Health care taught the Movement how to play defense. Nov. 2010 allowed them to switch to the offense.

Astonishingly, the Obama Administration’s strategic intelligence utterly missed these clear signs. From Sept. 2009-October 2010 Obama as political actor largely disengaged from role as leader of a political party. His Press Secretary openly laughed about ‘the House might go’ in the Summer and Fall 2010. On the day-to-day issue matters, Obama governed as if his hoped for ‘new politics’ existed, agreeing to compromise and accommodation. At no time did Obama seek to create and nurture the tectonic political allies and forces necessary to meet the Movement’s innovations.

Surveying The Wreckage

The Movement’s trap for Obama over the manufactured debt ‘crisis’ clearly marks Audacity in defeat. Going forward, Obama’s personal brand is in tatters. (He’s done more to undermine himself than the Movement itself, actually). A recent volte face to reach out to former ad hoc grass roots networks yielding so far tepid returns. Willing (as opposed to dutiful) institutional allies on the Hill and elsewhere are scant. All this apart from the optics imposed by economic circumstance. His billion dollar re-election is “Obama sucks less”. Meanwhile, Obama shows no signs of being able to stem a resurgent radicalism determined in its furthest imagination to repeal the Enlightenment and liberal democratic pluralism.

Any non-Rightist would be concerned. Fighting a skillful mobile retreat is one of the hardest military operations to conduct. Little reason to *hope* Obama in retreat is any better as field marshal. Often an advancing foe will over extend themselves or otherwise make a mistake. (Think Winter 1943 and Kharkov). We should avoid the temptation to plan on that hope. Avoid the Audacity Campaign’s mistake. Make our own fate instead.

We need to begin thinking through and planning for the post-Obama world. With whatever is left. Starting now.


  1. Dr Leo Strauss says

    re path forward, post is to come. Have been distracted by fooling around with potential multi-media concoctions to share here.

    Time sinks. Have to just say no. One may eventually appear. It is/was an animation using the old Star Trek figurines. Kirk, Spock and the Gorn.

    We’ll see you when we see you. The server discussions ongoing. Nothing finalized yet. Will keep the gang informed so we can decide what makes sense together with plenty of advance of notice.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    re Jon Stewart — Here’s a skit idea:

    A sure sign of doom was when people cited Obama’s running the Harvard Law Review as executive experience. We ran a . . . let’s call it *very similar* . . . publication (one of the Bluebook four) largely by default (coup?) back in the day.

    Aside from coping with faculty and Academy egos and desperation for publication/tenure, getting a Cub Scout Pack to a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party takes more managerial acumen. (n.b., we’ve been cited in the Harvard Law Review for what it’s worth (not much)).

    Samantha Bee would be great in that Law Review Cub Scout Chuck E. Cheese skit. Or maybe she could report *from* Chuck E. Cheese.

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Sympathize with frustration in the linked item. Would disagree on causality for Democratic defeats, i.e., pre-meditated intention. For Obama do agree his ‘new politics’ was always in the end about triangulating everyone as he led to something ‘post-partisan’ (whatever that is).

    Calls for an American Tahrir are understandable but premature. Public theater is a powerful force in our meme drenched society. Tahrir, however, shows the limits of spontaneous public theater lacking cohesive organization to magnify, support and act concretely on events. Those calling for an American Tahrir may think of early Spring 2011, but ignore the bitter failure of non-organized street demonstrations to obtain change since.

    Will expand upon this on an upcoming post picking up where this one left off.

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    A certain path for disappointment is Ezra Klein “To govern like a Democrat — or even just to govern responsibly — you need to negotiate like a Republican.”

    Missing is understanding how tectonic array of political forces devoted to protracted conflict pre-condition and establish initial frameworks. To the extent that Klein is saying don’t prematurely cave even then, sure. A necessary but not sufficient response.

  5. Comment says

    Though we’re notorious Obama apologist on this blog we really hope this will finally be a “teachable moment” for Obama – Btw picking a fight with cops is especially stupid when you’re technically correct, as O was when he was upset that skip, his upper middle class friend, was slighted.

    Obama’s inaugural address was an early warning side that his Audicity brand was being tossed. Now he will get blamed for taxes he never raised and will be blamed for the contracting economy once the austerity budget he caved to is implemented.

    If he can prevent Romney or Huntsman being nominated – he’ll be re-elected.

  6. Comment says

    Last night Stewart really summed up the Obama problem with a just a few clips of Obama in December waving away the debt plot by citing Boehner’s good faith.

  7. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Agreed re discipline and withdrawal. No change in concept, at least so far.

    The Republican Party as traditionally understood has been consumed from within. Internal mau mau against moderates reached a heretofore new crescendo in 2010. The new cadres further diminish the now marginal influence and independence of the host entity.

    Contrary to Gloria Borgia on CNN there are not 30-40 Republican moderates in the House — as traditionally understood. There might be closer to 3-4. And that’s not snark. If one remembers where the goal posts were before they moved.

    Moreover, the Tea Party faction exerts gravitational pull, no question. But the Tea Party as cited in the media is only a part of the overall Movement. Remaining so-called Republican elements are so far removed from where the party was even 5-6 years ago.

    When politics are transformed into ideological combat control of language becomes vital. “Moderate”? Compared to what? When?

  8. anxiousmodernman says

    A thousand times the discipline is required in retreat.


    Doc, are you revising your theory that the Movement is depleting the Republican host?

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