Obama As One Who Comes Before, Just The Herald, The Mere Emissary Of A Revolutionary Moment?

‘A week’s a lifetime in . . . ‘ and all that. But since January 2009 Obama’s rhetorical excess, stolid, workmanlike management and an objective external environment fracturing in fractal splendor presage a pre-revolutionary moment. How fitting that with all the ambient moral depravity AIG is the potential catalyst.

Dear Reader you know our AIG schtick. We worked with the president of a major AIG component company (it is organized on the Chinese trading house model) and his General Counsel. We’d take the Shuttle up to LaGuardia with their lawyer (he represented the President and First Lady across cable TV a decade ago every day) after meeting with Cheney’s son-in-law (in turn, General Counsel at OMB (and a nice guy, actually)). In the City we’d all discuss how the House would do X, AIG would deliver the Chamber on Y, OVP would get Z, Greenberg would pocket billions and if pleased beyond that invite people to join him on his private golf course. That was Zeus deigning to take villagers to his Mons Olympus private spa with ‘happy finish.’

Blah, blah, blah. We’ve also written erratically here and at STSOZ 1.0 that Microsoft might be the most mendacious corporate culture we’ve dealt with at CXO/VP level. Or AIG. Or a certain defense contractor. It’s always among those three, though. Even after Grassley’s cri de coeur beseeching AIG executive seppuku we still think it’s a close call. Startling upon reflection to reach that conclusion to be candid.



So AIG and all that. But the tectonic movements that generate political explosions ripping apart the Old Order are actually understood in the traditional framework of American political science (i.e., not the current Borders/B. Daltons manifestation). There are clinically observable, distinct tectonic shifts that appear across modern revolutions up through 1917 and even 1989-1991: (a) dashed generational expectations; (b) shattered social contracts; (c) social, cultural and intellectual leadership malfeasance; (d) fiscal calamity; (e) manifestly incompetent government; and (f) a public bungling of state coercive power (military, judicial, etc.).

The WaPo tells us that L’Affaire AIG – gasp- ‘saps Obama’s (note still not demoted yet to Boy King) political capital. The horror! We also pay the WaPo to tell us that the anger in America is ‘populist’ (and thus down market).

Based on our thumbnail tectonic outline above stolen liberally from the more nuanced classic J. Davies When Men Revolt and Why (Free Press, 1971) the Stiftung discerns tectonic shifts, plates moving off inertia. Three are obvious – fiscal calamity, shattered social contract (Wall Street/consumerist American self image) and complete elite failure to articulate the moment — the real significance of Jon Stewart taking down CNBC et al. What remain in play are dashed expectations, government incompetence, and the penultimate step, a failed demonstration of State coercive power in any particular arena, judicial, paramilitary, etc.

Obama is what keeps these three in check for the moment. He will eventually lose on dashed expectations no matter what. Boomers, Millennials and the rest have not internalized the gap between their vacant life expectations and reality. Obama teeters on the incompetence issue. Geithner is merely a poster child for the meme, the stalking horse. Still could go either way but the Administration needs to act and be seen acting fast. Failed State coercive power is almost always the last domino so we can pick events on the horizon to watch.

Obama appeared on the scene in a way too early to allow revolutionary zeitgeist to form. We were on the cusp of it under the Warlord but Obama’s promise of competence and Change tamped it back. How tragic if he were to end up being the transitional figure, the Herald for the Next Act.

Readers here know our love for and commitment to liberal democracy. And also our long standing concern that its veneer is not as deep or durable as we may wish it to be. But just know this is the template or prism by which we watch the various meme wars of such and such day. And we are rooting definitely for the President and all of us to succeed.


  1. Anon says

    Fareed Zakaria’s show on Sunday now – is excellent (compared to everything else on cable save McLaughlin)

    He has Elliot Spitzer on now – tearing into AIG’s Greenberg.

    IMO Spitzer would have been a terrible President (his real goal), but he was great going after wc crime. He
    always was inside the the tought-loop of the croooks.

  2. Anon says

    “Two of my great-great grandfathers, Cyrus Baldwin – whose family had settled in Virginia before the – and Thomas J. Buchanan, were rabid secessionists. As the Buchanan plantation in Chickisaw County was a slaveholding enterprise, the family must have viewed with foreboding the election of the radical Republican from Illinois.
    (In May of 1977, when Shelley and I drove from Birmingham northwest into Mississippi to try to locate some lost cousins, I mentioned to a lifelong resident of Okolona that I intended to visit the half-dozen Buchanans listed in the phone directory. “I don’t think they’ll be much help, Mr. Buchanan, ” the old lady said sweetly. “They’re all Negroes – but they’re very nice people.”)
    – Pat Buchanan, Right From The Beginning
    (Pat seems to miss the possible
    irony, or pretendsto in
    his pre-DNA analysis – Plus
    he had not yet developed
    his new meme that Lincoln
    posed no threat to slavery)

  3. Anon says

    That’s prob one of Clinton’s best phrases “strong and wrong” – along with “work hard and play by the rules.”
    It has the added virtue of being correct.
    Consider the deference the media still shows Cheney – even when they dis him at cocktail parties with MoDo.

    IMO – Obama is completely correct and well within his rights to pushback against this pernicious MSM desire to forget the Bush Inheritance, but he has to come up with better word formulations to endless remind people he inherited the mess, without seeming to be so obvious in saying it.

    re Volcker – we’ve been reading an old bio about him and it’s interesting to see how much Greenspan copied Volcker’s rhetorical strategy of tactical obfuscation. But he lacked the avuncular aspect and so his memes collapsed in the crisis.

    Volcker may have been a better Tres Sec – Though he may be a bit too old. Summers would have caused a different set of problems.

    Hey, Rubin has finally disappeared – For months he was still going on Money Honey as if he were some disinterested sage/elder

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Bill Clinton summed it up well trying to coach the Democrats in 2004 – people when scared will almost always choose a leader who’s strong and wrong over a leader who’s slight and right. Or some such. Geithner’s issue is his lack of charisma, pinhead demeanor, and the vacuum of leadership everywhere else across the Hill. All he had cruising for him was his rep for being competent. When he blew that, he’s buck naked with the fig leaf ‘hey Obama likes me’ — which probably is enough for now.

    If he unveils his bank plan with plausibility he should recover. The problem for the Stiftung is that the bank plan is the alpha and omega of our roadmap out of this mess. The budget, etc. are very much secondary in real important but have pride of place for optics and tradition.

    We also happen to agree with Buchanan — Obama would be unwise to do any more of those talk show ventures. He debases his coin and he will need to call in all his chips we suspect before this saga is through.

  5. Anon says

    Geithner is sort of a limbo state right now – like a Duke Lax player after the whore’s story feel apart, but before the media absorbed the turn in narrative.

    Krugman aside – so much of the attacks against him are image related (which is also how Slate.com attacked lacrosse players , in general)

    If he was like “Tall Paul” with a stoagie etc, none of this criticism would stick. His Irish name might not be helping – Prosecutors and journos, not financiers – according to the mostly harmless unspoken beltway prejudices

  6. Dr Leo Strauss says

    re they are fickle – well said. Although in a food court today at a local mall it was a surprise to overhear to texting teens mutter how much Geithner sucks. His ‘Q’ rating must be very low to reach that demo.

  7. Anon says

    Also – we think Geithner is correct to stress the need for more “stress tests” and time, before rushing into this or that

    Geithner lacks the Volcker-type gravitas, but he is new to public performance.

    All the shrill trendy Dowd types that run with beltway fashion loved Geithner when he was the new thing – Now they hate him, But they are fickle and will change if the economy turns – Then Tim will be genius.

  8. Anon says

    re Krugman – we think he wants to drive him some ideological points and get this Swedish plan or whatever – He may be right on pure merits, but the politics are very complicated and in flux and we can be sure that Obama is far more politically astute the Krugman and if and when he embraces Krugman’s idea he will have more GOP support (more than Holtz-Eakin) to carry the possible negatves.
    We have not read his latest and we are partial to Geithner (has he made mistakes? perhaps – maybe his AIG winking was error, in retrospect). It will take time
    to build the gravitas image – policy success will help.

  9. Anon says

    It wouldn’t surprise if La Noonan wanted to play Henry Higgins to “Joe” “The “Plumber” Doolittle.

    But the ideologues around Brent Bozell are just idolizing the “plumber”/simpleton-patriot. It’s kind of funnny. And sad.

  10. Anon says

    Just a note of seeming irony, leo YMMV – Is the right wing GOP embrace of “Joe” “The” “Plumber” an ironic manifestation of socialist realism aethetic taking over the supposed anti communist remnant?

    Joe is not actually a plumber – He is just a pure image of “worker” – He resembles Mr. Clean, as some have noted – He says nothing of meaning – his “speeches” make Bush 43 sound like a cross between Bill Buckley and Abe Lincoln, by comparison –

    Yet – they are enthralled with him and his “worker” image – apothotheosis of the plumber.

  11. Anon says

    “And how many divisions do the Dutch have?”
    ~Paul Volcker (1970)
    (Responding to Netherlands proposals
    to solve the dollar crisis)

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Avec cigar, too.

      Krugman seems a bit shrill re Geithner’s bank plan. It’s sort of like the New Left discovering in 1968 that Hubert was in the Johnson Administration.

  12. Anon says

    re La Noonan – Leo, do you think she ever read the I Berlin essay that popularized the old Greek Hedgehog/Fox? Or do you suspect that La Noonan was just pulling a cocktail quip or maybe mimicing Jerry Bremer invoking Cezanne?

  13. Anon says

    The Tucker Carlson/George Costanza comparison has some potential – but its a bit too flattering:

    Carlson is a pompous chump – long in need of continuous repeats of Stewart’s earlier humiliation of him. But Tucker is really a symptom of a larger beltway banality.

  14. Dr Leo Strauss says

    La Noonan, hilarious. Haven’t seen her overly emotive manliness worship sessions with Tweety in a while, thank goodness. Nuance is kryptonite to Real Men in La Noonan-land. So that’s two strikes against Napolitano.

    Great quote from Cayne. There should be some opportunities for good scriptwriters to find black humor amid the rubble. Bear, eh. The decision that appears to be far more consequential was Lehman.

  15. Aldershot says

    No one zings like Mom:

    “A month ago former FBI director Robert Mueller, in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, warned of Mumbai-type terrorist activity, saying a similar attack could happen in a U.S. city. He spoke of the threat of homegrown terrorists who are “radicalized,” “indoctrinated” and recruited for jihad. Mumbai should “reinvigorate” U.S. intelligence efforts. The threat is not only from al Qaeda but “less well known groups.” This had the hard sound of truth.

    Contrast it with the new secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, who, in her first speech and testimony to congress, the same week as Mr. Mueller’s remarks, did not mention the word terrorism once. This week in an interview with Der Spiegel, she was pressed: “Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?” Her reply: “I presume there is always a threat from terrorism.” It’s true she didn’t use the word terrorism in her speech, but she did refer to “man-caused” disasters. “This is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear.”

    Ah. Well this is only a nuance, but her use of language is a man-caused disaster.”


  16. says

    The filmstrip you created might help dispel my confusion… unfortunately, while the images look neat, I don’t get any audio. I am writing from Mexico and there are Draconian internet filters on my web connection from the office, so I’m pretty sure the problem is on my end not yours.

  17. says

    Fascinating response, Doctor. Thanks.

    I guess, as a newby here, I don’t have a good grasp of your basic philosophy. I’m having trouble deciding from your article whether you think some kind of rebellion/revolution would definitely unquestionably be a bad thing, or would it only likely be bad under these transitory circumstances.

    I disagree that the country as a whole was on the “cusp” of some kind of revolutionary thought towards the end of Dubya’s term. Except for Chalmers Johnson and a few far-left protesters and bloggers, it seems most Americans are still quite comfortable with the basic model of Imperialism. I suspect the majority of the country voted for Obama’s “competence and Change” only in the sense of, a return to those days when America won wars, the Dollar was strong, and the rest of the world paid us tribute. “competence” isn’t revolutionary in that sense. Reversing Bush’s course a couple of steps before the looming cliff is not the same as charting a new course. Hence Obama mostly keeps Bush’s “emergency” powers (even while publicly disavowing them), while throwing us a bone or two regarding the environment or the Gag Rule, and his staunchest defenders trust in Barry-O’s “character” that it’s OK for him to flatten any law, trample any right, hold any Iraqi bridge, so long as it brings us back to those old days when things went Right for America. You may recall that such was the basic appeal of the Dubya among his followers.

    In short, I think America needs a revolution, and that the financial crisis and the losing wars are signposts that say we can’t continue on our present course. Not without falling off the cliff. But despite some nifty infrastructure and transportation funding, it sure doesn’t look like Obama is in the market for a revolution. So the question I was trying to ask, at the end of my post, was more like: is Obama’s “tamping back” the revolution a bad thing? And if so, how can we nudge the necessary revolution towards the “good” side rather than the “bad” kind of revolution?

    • Dr Leo Strauss says


      Sorry the sound isn’t playing; you’re not missing much other than some music snippets. (Copyright with respective holders; inclusion under Fair Use and applicable law). The clip was just some accessorizing and not particularly pedagogical one way or another.

      As to your observation Obama, well said. He indeed was the ultimate in ‘restoration’ candidates to truly status quo ante. This blog has been devoted to defending liberal democratic and Enlightenment tradition from concerted efforts at rollback or repudiation. In that sense, Obama’s restoration fit our concerns that the Movement be halted, defeated and then routed.

      It’s also true as you note that his Executive is not willing to surrender most of its illicitly obtained swollen powers inherited from the Warlord. This, too, a predictable outcome not only in American history but the history of republics in their twilight (something we’ve discussed over the years here). We agree with you on his social agenda, too, and long argued that a focused, unwaivering, clear Progressive agenda was the surest inoculation against Movement revanchism. Not to be.

      An objective appraisal of American politics today leads one to conclude that electoral defeat aside (or because of it), the most organized, energetic and action-oriented sub-groups remain with the Movement strands if not further Right still. It is hard to see in this context how a Center, Center-Left, or Left-Progressive agenda would benefit from an Obama failure and subsequent revolutionary moment.

      Nudging revolutions is always the intoxicating, tantalizing vision nipped in the but by the historical truisms that revolutions almost always eat their children (and then populace at large). We prefer to stick with Obama and the dilapidated Republic.


      Welcome to our gang!

  18. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Aldershot and Anon – am checking out your links now. Got distracted playing with toys making the little clip. You may be right that one of Bremer’s isn’t bad, but my 16 year old niece who took classes at Glen Echo too blows in our opinion him away. And to her credit she, unlike our ex-Shogun, would never boast of her own . . . refinement. Breeding will tell, they say!

  19. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Hunter and Thomas (nice Old Skool Centurion!) —

    Yes, poorly presented thought above included the distinct possibility of foreign military ineptitude being one of the six precipitating events. Thomas you are definitely spot on re the Soviet example, and it is true across history — including the Kaiser in 1918 and the Tsar/Kerensky a year earlier. It happens.

    Th reason ‘tectonic’ is used above? To convey the notion of non-linear causality and ebb and flow. For example, history shows a tottering government can arrest or reverse pre-revolutionary periods by replacing unpopular/incompetent ministers, or even hide behind liberal social programs in exchange for autocratic legitimacy (Bismarck for example).

    And as with most things, timing really is everything. Counter-factual history is a nerdgasm for Newt and Harry Turtledove — so we should be wary. Yet consider this: Iraq happened as is up through 2006. Yet transpose the economic collapse then on top of Iraq and then add Katrina. We doubt the Warlord would have survived. And whatever succeeded him would be very different, even if not a Perot-esque “Man on White Horse”.

    To Hunter’s excellent questions, again I have to say it’s my fault for sloppy drafting. What I should have made more clear is State coercive power is an expression of any of the traditional ‘power’ ministeries of a government – the military, ministry of internal affairs/FBI/HLS, border control, and the judiciary, especially the latter in the American case. History teaches us that these ‘power ministeries’ are often perceived as integrated, disciplined, efficient and without recourse. Up until the exact moment when they fail, usually to the surprise of all involved.

    Here’s one example out of many. It’s 1991. A bunch of invisible, insignificant, unnoticed and heretofore irrelevent (even to their spouses) members of the Russian Federation Duma decide they are just sick of the bald guy with the liptsick smudge on his forehead. So they do a Haight Ashbury-like non-event of a sit in of sorts. The central regime, which has murdered more people than any other in history, calls on its Checkists, the KGB. These are the thugs who murdered, tortured and slaughtered tens of millions without question.

    The crack KGB Alpha Team is at the Russian ‘White House’. Their orders are to kill or capture the pinheads, including this fat energetic guy (and later President) standing on a tank talking to Mick Jagger (yes, it’s true, one can’t make this stuff up). And the Alpha Team, on its own, immersed in the scene, simply decided to disobey their orders. They refused. And that was the exact moment the Soviet regime exhaled its last breath. The later December doings just embalming the corpse.

    Now, as it happens the Stiftung was in and around Moscow during those days. And walked around the White House but no, we didn’t see a slavic Grace Slick calling for ‘marching to the sea’ and ‘revolution’. If you had asked me if the Alpha Team would go in, I wouldn’t have bet against it.

    Is that an analogy to America? No. Our idiom is different and we don’t have the blood soaked tradition Thank God in Heaven of repression, etc., etc. That’s why a judicial catastrophe, a border catastrophe, losing an American city, etc. is as if not more likely to signify lights out than tragedy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not that we are baiting folks here to play games and speculate. The whole essence is unpredictability/rigid inevitability in hindsight. Did or could anyone foresee getting people together on Parisian tennis courts would unleash the most death in history until the record shattered 1914-1918? Except for Chris Angel, I mean.

    To be blunt, New Orleans unintentionally died in our opinion so America might live. If it had been another metropolis wiped out say with the fierce blonde demographic of Fox News and no national shared covert passive aggressive jealousy for a socially liberal lifestyle — i.e., not black and ‘sinful’ — well, you see where our thought leads.

    But this post was not intended to throw specific speculative predictive spitballs or ask for them. Rather, here’s one political science template of overarching macro signifiers for our collective conversation. Simply, we wanted to share with the gang here our concern that three of the six warning lights on the dashboard are flashing red. One is yellow destined no matter what to join them. That leaves two green, with the anklebiting around Geithner in our view a heads up one of them could move to yellow absent visible action. A week’s a life and all that. So no worries, no panic in the bunker (let alone the disco).

    We want the President to succeed. The dashboard signal lights compel our support for Obama out of cold necessity. If more were green or even yellow we would be more comfortable with pedestrian day-to-day Washington political bs. Because, yes Timothy, I agree with you — absent Obama’s success even casual musings in Newt-esque counterfactual nerdgasm fashion immediately summon horrific images.

  20. Anon says

    We saw Gibbs live when he gave a sarcastic response to Cheney’s rather nasty interview – He was perfect in mirroring the kind of dismissive sarcasm that is Cheney’s typical modus – Then we were amused/disappointed by the shocked vapors (h/t Yglesias) that the media emitted — This so-called liberal media – So we think this is pretty good summation:


    These folks in the MSM definately got used to being masochists in the Cheney era – Yeah, they may vote for Carter over Cheney, but they just expect Carter to be treated disrespectfully by Cheney and Co (in part, because he is respected internationally)

  21. Anon says

    re Ross and Ezra – both improvements over say Stephen Hayes and Air America, but there is some clique boosterism going on

  22. Anon says

    re Truthers – They should play the Birthers in softball – and get Alan Greenspan to ump the game

  23. says

    [To Dr. Strauss and to Hunter] You don’t actually see the potential of our escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide the “failed demonstration of State coercive power in any particular arena”?? Like, for example, how the Soviet loss in Afghanistan contributed to the overthrow of the Soviet system. I’d argue the failure doesn’t have to be domestic, necessarily. In a vague, insufficient sense, it may have happened already!

    Americans are already uncomfortable and embarrassed to think about Iraq, because it’s smellin’ too much like a defeat even for the mouthbreather set. Obama might be pulling a buncha troops out of Iraq sorta-kinda, like he’s sorta-kinda repudiating torture — but he’s planning on leaving 50,000 troops in or near the “theater” plus tons of contractors. And the Taliban, whom we “utterly obliterated” eight years ago, is basically back in control of Afghanistan except for the capitol city.

    Obama’s boilerplate Neoliberal military commitments leave plenty of opportunities for the U.S. to revisit that famous picture where we abandoned the embassy in Vietnam, soldiers and diplomats hanging from the departing helicopter, as the building vanished under an angry tide of restless natives. If something like that happens, on top of Americans’ vague discomfort with the situation, then as you say, it’s another check-box on the list of conditions for revolution.

    Problem is, if the populace rises up against an [ostensibly] Left Democrat leader, will they put a far-right one in his place? And just how far-right?? Very worrying.

  24. Hunter says

    Maybe I’m young and naive… but what could failed State coercion possibly look like in this country? The power of the State has in my lifetime always seemed so absolute that I can’t even imagine its failure.

  25. Anon says

    McCain is being erratic again – railing on the Senate floor about AIG and the ban on Mexican trucks. McCain never formulates and argument or tries to make a case – He thinks he can just extol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge