Obama And Political Man

Political man, like his mythical counterpart ‘economic man’ is not entirely a rational creature. How odd then that Obama’s campaign which so shrewdly catered to emotions and aspirational imagination should begin with reason and an inauspicious start.

We’ve been silent this week. We apologize. Frankly, there’s not much meaningful to say. Day to day tactical ankle biting before a stimulus bill goes to conference just doesn’t interest. Unless we are in the thick of it on the Hill. And we’re not.

Of course, there’ll be a stimulus bill of some sort. Tweety’s hot stroking is the embodiment of ‘ick factor.’ It’s going to happen. Nothing to see, move along. At the end of blah, blah? The bill will have far too much in useless tax cuts; the Administration’s premature flinch cum bet on enticing Republicans was based on rational inclusion calculations. Repaid with spite. The bill’ll also be too small in aggregate to jump start a U.S.-sized economy meaningfully. It will re-order some U.S. spending priorities for years to come. Not a whole lot for the Stiftung to get excited about.

Obama does get a valuable lesson. Change and politics are fundamentally not rational exercises. A change agent can never allow a self evident case to speak for itself. This is as true when turning around a start up or the leading the Executive Branch. Presiding and delegating – albeit with more detailed understanding than the Warlord — to toadies from the ancien regime on the Hill is a recipe for derailment.

Just as HRC made the wooden Obama a better candidate, Rush, Cantor and the rump Movement’s inspired Stand ultimately may make Obama a better president. A president as change agent above must be *engaged*. Rationality should underpin optimum policy choices. But the selling and politics of their adoption will require tapping into the penumbra of the irrational. We can be thankful these minor mistakes came early and will not affect matters greatly — the Stimulus Bill was a boondoggle from the get go. Perhaps Obama can internalize the lessons before he sits down with say, Vladimir Putin. For example, Obama should realize that one can talk about missile defense and Iran till one is blue in the face, but the real bond is how Vlad’s covert ABBA obsession can lead to some Momma Mia.


  1. says

    I have just been reading Norman Lewis’s The Honoured Society. A classic, especially on the fine line between the insurgent and the counterinsurgent. The Pete Sessions thing is remarkably telling in this context; like the Taliban, the Mafia’s special subject is waiting. We shall see if the Republicans can master it.

  2. DrLeoStrauss says

    Tbilisi, your worst case vision is spot on. I share it, too.

    One problem with slogan-led political zeitgeists is when the Status Quo hijacks the vernacular and renders it impotent. Much like office staplers and paper clips became ‘transformational’ 4 years into Rummy. One could see an intelligent and politically energetic Obama in 2 years swamped and defeated not only by a resurgent Movement but by his erstwhile Old Guard hacks in Congress piously tending his cult while destroying it both purposefully and more often than not, unintentionally. The netroots would be well advised to target and cull and weed the majority in 2010.

    We will be off tonight — got some new cybernetics in the Bunker and software upgrades to oversee. By 2009 one expects things to run smoothly, but as Pete Sessions reminds us, the Taliban are everywhere. If by Wednesday mid-day, this URL resolves in more gibberish than usual, please dear friends call The Greatest American Who Ever Lived David Petraeus and tell him to effort his ass and send a brigade or three. Either the Taliban have us pinned down or we are in a full central system nuclear exchange with ‘Chad’ in Bangalore.

    Strength and honor!

  3. Tbilisi says

    Comment, re McCain:

    I agree, it is pleasant to watch Obama in the White House, but if we’re going down anyway, certainly in the long term it would be better for a 21st Century Hoover to be another scumdog Republican rather than a hope-mongering Democrat? That was my take on this election – voting for him was literally voting for hope, but not much else.

    IMO, at best, Obama can hope to be a caretaker president, like Eisenhower, rather than a ‘transformational’ one, a la Reagan or FDR. At best, he’ll lay the foundation for another Democratic administration who will actually Make Change. In practice, this means doing whatever it takes to not let the economy totally collapse, constantly running against the governing class of both parties (how about ‘non’ or even ‘anti’-partisanship instead of ‘bi-partisanship’), and locking in some long term positive institutional changes (e.g. infrastructure, increased personal savings, lessening of executive power, etc).

    At worst, he believes his own hype, fails, America falls, and most likely we will be put back together again by a morphed version of the Movement (which, given its appeal to many Democrats, will probably be ‘bipartisan’ this time). This is the worst case scenario, to me.

  4. Comment says

    re Get Smart – Carrell is very talented and funny. But his Office (or what ever the name is) is over-rated and living off fumes – like season 8 and 9 Seinfeld.

    Carrell must know he failed because he spent his whole Daily Show interview praising Don Adams,

  5. Comment says

    Can you imagine a President McCain now? McCain whining about statistically meaningless earmarks – Getting huffy about bike paths or school construction?

    Comment respects the Elderly, but Ol’ Man McCain would have us in a depression withing weeks.

    Obama gives us a chance. Just a chance.

  6. Comment says

    Yes, Martin flubbed it and what is so sad that he must know it.

    Obama was refreshing tonight – in the sense that he was what you expect from a world leader. He was a normal person too. We always roll our eyes when people overpraise his poetry, etc. His true charm as a leader is that he speaks at a grade level that would be considered normal thru most American history.

    Bush used to babble and people got used to it. But it was not normal. Even his father – an admirable public servant , with a distinguished war record, had the bad habit of making babble seem normal.

    Obama has also managed to be liberal without Carter’s endless sanctimony, or Gore’s unctuousness. He has also conveyed Clintonian intelligence with limited lip biting BS. Indeed, he has RWR’s optimism and sense of command, but without the doubts that RWR carried about his own self-awareness.

    Yet, the job is very tough – as Putin noted – the banks lost more money in one year than they earned in rev in a generation.

    So we hope …

  7. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Back on topic, Obama did well tonight. How refreshing to have a president in command of facts, policy and reality. It’s a shock to realize how low we stooped the last eight years when presented so clearly. One wonders, however, how well Obama will wear over time — substance, facts and erudition soon turn to drone and annoyance for those becoming disgruntled that America You Have Talent is pre-empted.

    Now the fun stuff — sensed that ‘Get Smart’ was an Epic Fail as the hipsters say. Much like Martin’s desecration of the Sellers Clouseau genius. Or Michael Douglas’ vandalism of the Peter Falk classic “The In-Laws”. One wonders what Ferrell will do as he ages beyond his sole demo. Michael Myers and others never did successfully.

    Oddly, the funniest item we’ve seen lately is Alec Baldwin’s pitch for Hulu.com. ‘Because we’re aliens. And that’s how we roll.’

  8. Comment says

    Normally we share your taste – but Ferrell was a riot in this. It’s a cheap laugh – not something you would wanna watch over and over again.

    Lots of potty humor – some lame, but some funny. Ferrell is perfect in this role as an emotional retarded guy. Murray is too existential these days to go back to the dumb stuff.

    Yeah – it’s a dumb movie- but good-dumb. There’s a few too many cheap laughs aimed at the college stoner audience, but worth it overall.

    It’s On Demand – Incidentally it was much better than the Get Smart remake – THAT was a disappointment!

  9. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Will Ferrell is a puzzle. Thanks for sharing your take on Step Brothers. We’d given up on Ferrell years ago but are always on the look out for a good comedy. Our taste tends to run to the darker side like Heathers or Dr. Strangelove. In an age of Paul Blart: Mall Cop one can’t be too finicky. Still, we couldn’t see Ferrell doing a turn like Bill Murray in Lost In Translation (for which he deserved an Oscar).

    The two Blockbusters near us in the Imperial City just closed these last weeks. Looks like we are thrown back to succumbing to soul destroying broadband companies for On Demand or the MSFT/Netflix complex.

  10. DrLeoStrauss says

    Alas, poor Pauly-NATO! I knew him, Mr. Biden: a fellow
    of infinite yeows, of most excellent subtlety: he hath
    like, you know, totally borne me on his back in the pool;
    and now, how like messed up my head dude! I’m like ready
    to hurl.

    Here hung those tedious Brussels meetings that wasted
    all those empty years. Yo Pauly-NATO dawg, where be
    your munchies now? your whip its? your dudeosity?
    your flashes of flatulence, that were wont to desecrate any script?
    Not one now, to mock your non expeditionary non transformation, dude?

    Now get you to Hillary’s office, and tell her, let
    Ken Pollack rant some more, to this favour her Neocons must
    come; make her laugh at that. Prithee, Mr. Biden, like totally give me
    the 411 . . .

  11. Dr Leo Strauss says

    How disappointing (but predictable given his former NATO perch and he’s a Marine) for Jones to go to Munich and repeat the old Rumsfeldian nonsense that NATO must “become more expeditionary.” That’s like asking Pauly Shore to play Hamlet.

  12. Dr Leo Strauss says

    It makes more sense than subsidizing Comcast and Verizon to bring YouTube to prairie dogs.

  13. Comment says

    One idea that we think is worth doing is vouchers for homeowners to retro-fit plumbing and electricity. This is all in the national interest and it will employ the vast number of skilled tradesmen laid off from the housing boom.

    So many owners of apts and houses need to upgrade water systems and wiring. But they need the moolah. They are not liquid,

  14. Comment says

    The death of traditional liberalism is symbolized by the fact that liberals in the media seem to side with people who hate them.

  15. Comment says

    The bipartisan thing – Notice all the liberals in the media holding Obama to a higher standard than Dubya?

    Note that they all know that there is ZERO chance of OBama convincing GOPers from most red states to do anything.

    They all know that most of these GOPers are bitter right wingers and would not be amenable to Obama “reaching out.”
    Yet, they [Halprin etc] play the charade

  16. DrLeoStrauss says

    The American political leadership’s economic illiteracy is a fitting sign of the times. First, although some may knowingly posture, Obama’s high school reminder that spending is stimulus was a necessary rejoinder for many. Inhofe today still insists the bill “is 93% spending, 7% stimulus.”

    Moreover, even if one transcends that truism, it’s remarkable to note how few grasp the difference between a sunk cost expenditure and an investment with a ROI (return on investment). McCain’s call for greater defense spending a classic. Amazing that he was essentially tied with Obama through mid-September and the Wall Street collapse.

    We still subscribe to the view that the bill is too small to have its desired galvanizing effect given the diaphanous nature of the hollow American economy and its relative size. Even if Obey were to add some more to his original. Which makes all of the hype about ‘the largest spending bill in the history of the Republic’ etc. so much verbiage. Or the ‘catastrophe’ thing.

    Now media is pushing a cat fight narrative between Pelosi and Collins. It’s not a compelling visual if one goes there.

  17. DrLeoStrauss says

    A liitle Christian Bale would at least make the Senate debate watchable.


    The Warlord used to pick off just Zell Miller and claim bi-partisan and the media would go along with the charade. Interesting to see the different standard. If Obama learns from this mess it’s time well spent.

    Re Putin one could well imagine him dismissing shivering Europeans ‘That’s how we roll’. But then one can’t imagine Putin letting Kyle lecturing him that Yeltsin’s crony billionaire policies are the key to prosperity.

  18. Comment says

    We sadly agree with David Brooks on Charlie Rose tonight – that Obama has too many marquee DC insider names. Brooks called them “geniuses,” but we’ll just say insiders. Too many egos etc.

    Btw -we thinks Tarp is ok – and doing good over time and the gov will make money on some assets. But it’s hard to explain to some think people how a bill may have prevented worse from happening when so many bad things are happening.

    Mark Happerin on Charlie Rose – what a bore. Get that guy off tV. Establishment ass.

  19. Comment says

    Meant to say the GOPers do not understand that retrofitting Gov buildings is stimulus – Obviously it creates high paying construction jobs doing stuff that will be in the national interest for years to come. The just think it’s a hippies getting together with labor. So they hate it – Perhaps it’s similar to when leftists cannot give Bush props for anything he did in Africa because they are mad he gave some symbolic nods to religious concerns.

  20. Comment says

    Putin was a real Mack Daddy at the World Ec Forum – He gave the best speech of all them re the crisis etc.

    Obama, IMO, intentionally underwhelmed on the stimulus section because he is gonna introduce a phase 2 “surge” stimulus following the next quarter’s bad news. He did not want to do it all at once this time because he wanted to pay off Dem groups when he had the chance and so thesecond part can have an second psychological effect.

    Hopefully Obama listened closely to the hayseeds like Brownback and the small minded types like DeMint and others. They are his foils. McCain – IMO – really is not so wise. So many of the “pork’ things he complains about are good programs or small beer.

    The anti-NEA whining is always funny. We saw some people on BBC say it was “ghastly.” Oh well.

    Interesting that so many Republicans do understand that retro-fitting Gov. buildings is very stumulative and in the national interest. Very small minded.

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