Jonathan Chait And Battered Pundit Syndrome

Seeking perhaps to maximize page views and SEO optimization (the boy’s gotta eat), Jonathan Chait goes contrarian and affirms the Boy King’s Rooseveltian greatness. He condescendingly diagnoses the ignorance of Obama’s critics thusly:

Part of the reason for liberal dismay in [sic] an ahistorical understanding of how progress works. In the liberal memory, political success is bathed in golden-hued triumph. In reality, it is a grubby, stop-and-start process that looks pretty ugly up close . . .

A second reason for liberal despair is the cult of the presidency. Few people follow the arcana of Congressional debate. They attribute all political outcomes to the president, and thus when the outcome is unsatisfactory, the reason must be a failure of presidential willpower.

The Stiftung, we submit, suffers from neither affliction. Long time readers know our hands on experience creating change in Chait’s stop-and-start process. Drafting bills, working through Senate and House committees and mark up, chamber passage, dogfights in conference and finally on to presidential signatures. Under both parties. And our work across the Executive branch. We’ve put our markers down the presidency 20 plus years ago – on separation of powers, intelligence oversight reform, worked on FISA, CALEA, Clipper Chip and encryption export controls.

We ask rhetorically whether Mr. Chait can claim similar experiences. Sat in front of a blank computer screen, begun typing and see it through to receive red line copies and invitations to White House signing ceremonies? The actual “grubby, stop and start” of which he writes?

Our disillusionment with Obama has nothing to do with Maddow’s immature and superficial enthusiasms. That’s a strawman in any event. Under Chait’s formulation of starts-and-stops, Clinton surely would be a president of titanic liberal legislative achievement.

To us, in many key respects, Obama is Bush-Lite. And not change we believe in.

First, not only has Obama done almost nothing to repeal the expansive extralegal Executive created by Addington et al., the lawlessness has actually grown in some respects since 2008. Torture? No accountability across the board. Whitewash. The Administration actively worked to shut down inquiries. Yet, in 2010 Americans abroad even in a non-combat situation now can be assassinated. Gitmo? Promised by a sitting president (not candidate) to be gone in a year. Still there. Afghanistan? Barry actually expanded the war but characteristically waffled with then obviously ridiculous deadlines for the tasks assigned. Oh, and Holder wants to roll back Miranda.

Now SOCOM activities expand into new countries beyond contemplated by Bush (in normal parlance that’s called ‘expansion of the war’). The continued use of contractors and their unaccountability rolls on. In fact, using almost every meaningful metric, Obama is in ways large and small continuing the hyper-militarized Bush agenda. (The Iraq drawdown was set out under Bush). Blair’s firing is due to many reasons. At bottom? Obama’s refusal to support and impose real intelligence reform and change within the Executive.

It’s true Obama is a pop star abroad. The U.S. is more rational with BMD in Eastern Europe. The Russians are at least climbing down from their ladders. (Yet they continue to seek consolidation within their self-declared spheres of interests). They and China are playing slightly nicer at the UN. No one can quibble that Obama gave good speech (with rhetorical knee pads) when he picked up that Nobel thing, waxing eloquent about the need for violence in world affairs. It is cited as a ‘realist’ speech yet there is little indication it has been internalized so. Frankly, in retrospect it looks more like failed domestic inoculation on his Right. He bowed a few times in various capitals.

At home, the health care fiasco was largely due to his detachment, refusal to engage, set priorities and otherwise act. As a result, the Nation endured the agony of listless drift, the needless galvanization of the Right, and for all that, a lowest common denominator outcome. No serious observer of Wall Street can say the ‘financial services reform’ is anything more than the same – lowest common denominator that will in fact change nothing nor do anything to prevent a recurrence of recent disaster.

Kagan is increasingly revealed as a careerist and political opportunist with almost no defined jurisprudential philosophy. She is a signal to the cadres of the Obama Brand.

Chait’s construct supporting Obama as incremental inheritor of FDR’s mantle is ultimately meaningless. Why? Because when Obama underachieves, punts or sells out, to Chait it’s explained away as a tactical retreat victory, part of the hoary old ‘the New Deal wasn’t built in a day, you know’. Under this rationale, Obama can not be held to any meaningful standard. What would Obama have to do to fail under Chait’s formulation? If it feels oddly familiar, the Weekly Standard et al. turned the cant into an art form for Bush.

And then we get to the Gulf. It’s clear now Obama never had any executive experience. He is adrfit. If Barton hadn’t bailed him out, his laughable ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’ riff from Oliver Twist via the Oval Office would hold center stage this weekend. People have forgotten he made the speech already. *That* speaks volumes.

The Stiftung could care less about the Democratic Party per se. Or Republican. What we seek is a stable liberal democratic republic with functioning law-based governmental institutions. We seek healthy intermediary participatory governing bodies between the citizen and the federal government. Above all, as a necessary precondition, we seek a roll back of the lawless Permanent National Security State and the corrupt socio-economic engine behind it.

Under Chait’s formulation, if the recent census is deemed a success, than we all should be happy. It’s a building block to [insert your goal here]. Any further expectations are either from ignorance how Congress works and change comes (starts and stops again) or infatuation with the presidency. “After all, [insert another New Deal macro here] in a day.”