Obama’s Inauguration 2013: Sometimes A Little Is Enough

Watching Obama move through ritual and choreographed set pieces yesterday, one couldn’t help but imagine it had things gone otherwise in November. That mercy alone validates another 4 years of tactical placeholding.

That’s not to say Obama’s post-November actions reek of the same political ineptitude and disengagement that marked his tepid first term. He’s beginning to show glimmers that he finally grasps his role is inherently political. That it is OK to win and be seen winning. His decision to spin off his electoral database/network into a 501(c)(4) for future political deployment is likewise encouraging. Could Goldilocks be a thing of the past?

Obama On The New, New Frontier
Obama On The New, New Frontier

Yet it’s still remarkable how feeble these steps are after the last 12 (30) years. Democratic triumphalism now is particularly disturbing. The underlying political incompetence of the Democratic party has not changed. Assuming temporary Movement narrative disarray will be permanent just an example. More damning, the sophomoric gloating of a permanent future majority on birthrates alone is utterly dubious.

Malthusian extrapolation of future generations based on 2012 demographic voting blocks is simply not professionally defensible. True, Republicans debate whether Obama represents a tectonic shift or a personality-led (read ‘black’ but not on their powerpoint slides) phenomenon. But to assume blithely that Latinos, etc. will bestow offspring genetically committed to Democrats is to squat on sand. Beyond a turnout machine, what have the Democrats or Obama really built?

Let Obama Be Reagan . . .

Sadly, not much. People too young actually to remember Reagan tell us Obama was ‘Reagan-esque’. Albeit of the so-called progressive bent. Those ‘progressive’ cable bloviators who do remember Reagan utter banal delusions that we should return to the Reagan era’s collegiately and bi-partisanship. That Reagan was a kindly grandfather who just had a fixation about the Soviets. Ignoring Iran-Contra, the Sandanistas, Bork, Zero Option and SDI.

All nonsense. First, Reagan’s election (and inaugural addresses) culminated the Movement’s first massive co-opting of the Republican Party. Not the converse like Obama. Aside from shared sentiment, there is little to suggest the Democratic Party as an institution is configured for such a political campaign.

Second, Obama has it backward. The Movement was already solidly entrenched, coordinated and linked by infrastructure before Reagan’s election. The Movement hit the ground running. For example, when Heritage published ‘Mandate for Leadership’, Morton Blackwell and many others had already placed key personnel on the Hill and provided troops to sweep into the Executive Branch. Case in point? Gary Bauer, who toiled over at the Education Department at an obscure junior level, believe it or not. And so on across the Administration.

Finally, the Movement as a coherent (if amorphous) collection of ideological strands was already a real local and state presence before Reagan won in 1980. The Movement’s strands may have bickered internally but all sure as hell knew the enemy, and all were dedicated to its destruction. And when they began in the 1970s, they were willing to work for a future triumph knowing it might be far off.

The differences with the Democratic Party 2013 or Obama’s GOTV apparatus clear. MSNBC, Twitter, etc. might compress the time required for replicating the Movement’s meme distribution ala Reagan. But cadre development and building institutions take time regardless. Certainly more than the year (year and a half?) available to Obama before 2016 overshadows all.

Obama’s campaign database might be a useful first step in that direction. A long term political realignment requires a more robust infrastructure intellectually and physically than one election’s volunteer mobilization and GOTV.

To seek a Reagan-like political alignment, Obama (note not the Democratic Party) would be bizarrely trying to do on the fly, upside down. It’s a shame because we urged the Democratic Party and ‘progressives’ to start this effort since 2005. Had that happened, much that happened yesterday would have profound and real impact. Today it’s just, well, hope.

Can Obama build a durable political transformation now, when he is already a lame duck walking? It’ll be interesting to watch a man so utterly disdainful of political engagement try.

Still, how pleasant to write this instead of witnessing November’s alternative lurching to life.

Happy New Year, Dear Readers

It could’ve been worse. Right? 2012 deserves a muted toast in fond farewell.

Collectively we held our breath waiting as 2012 began. Tout le monde was atwitter about the big issues of the day: would Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ blow? ‘John Carter’ destroy Disney? Who would win in a fight, Marvel’s ‘The Hulk’ or ‘Batman’? Was ‘Two and Half Men’ toast without Charlie Sheen? And we got our answers: yes, no, Hulk, meh.

You were supposed to wait for me!

One other less pressing matter clamored for some attention. Is live, unscripted television still a valid art form? Absolutely. Clinton’s galvanizing convention speech ignited apolitical viewers as surely as Obama’s soporific debates deflated them. Various Movement candidates immolated themselves on live TV opining on plumbing not their own. Finally, Karl Rove’s Fox meltdown should inspire comedy writers for years.

Oh yeah, and Romney lost, too.

Post-election it’s hard to see that we’ve moved the ball appreciably. Obama’s enablers expect a mere procedural outcome like an election ‘to settle matters’. Or even more heartbreakingly, the perky kids on MSNBC (other than the cranky old Catholic men) and at Daily Kos, etc., are anxious for ‘Obama unleashed’. They were kind of cute in election’s immediate aftermath. Their palpable shock that the Movement continues to embrace nihilism ultimately pathetic.

Remember in November Democrats and their talking heads declaimed the House would *have* to cave to Obama on the ‘fiscal cliff’? How the election ‘forced their hand’? Remember the feverish talk that the election would enable the ‘sane’ Republicans to retake their party? Exactly. Still, it’s fun to see the Rightist Wurlizter playing discordant fugues in counterpoint, even for a moment.

The Michigan Movement eviscerated unions after the elections, catching Dems by surprise. Apparently Movement leaders there said in public unions are not their top priority. And if Dems can’t rely on a Movement public statement, you know? Not like Dems had any earlier example, say Wisconsin. Or Ohio. A shame that unions aren’t important in winning local, state, federal and presidential elections. If unions were really vital to Democrats, they would be so there. Certainly, the tattered remains of the middle class can draw lessons from that episode.

2012 leaves as it came in, with at least some holding their breath. We’d advise just let it go and enjoy. Together we’ll remember the lessons of 2012.

Anyone want to bet if Iron Man III will be any good?

Status Quo – The Line Holds, For Now

Such relief to see the map turn blue. We’ve four more years with Obama as placeholder. Certainly more acceptable than the alternative.

How delightful to see our old good acquaintance Liz Warren triumph. She now sits in the body that refused to give her an up or down vote.

Last night the Movement’s despair and disbelief the finest wine. Watching Rove rage at Megyn Kelly so sweet. You probably have your own favorite story.

Obama Steps On A Bug, Barely

All acknowledge Obama’s technical mastery of the ground game. That advantage will be transient. Political techniques and technologies proliferate quickly.

It’s worth realizing that Democrats and the so-called ‘Left’ [sic] would have lost to Romney and Movement revanchism but for that transient advantage.

It’s worth recalling that Democrats and pundits sputtered about Romney’s shameless serial expediency. Neocons ran with it in 2002-2003. And in 2012 Democrats and non-Rightist media are still clueless. And call out ‘unfair’ to some non-existent referee.

It’s worth realizing that in November 2012 Democrats and the so-called ‘Left’ [sic] were stunned to see overt voter suppression. The Ohio Secretary of State or Rick Scott in Florida flaunted brazenly contempt for the Constitution. Sure, Democrats earlier launched scattered legal actions, but the outcomes left the Rightists free to suppress and Democrats unprepared narratively.

The Days Ahead

Obama’s victory offers some unalloyed bright spots. The Supreme Court won’t be radicalized and suborned. The Neocons are not running DoD, State and the NSC. Bibi will not write 100% of U.S. policy in the region.

For the Democrats, the question remains what have they learned from 2001-2012? They are still consumed with process. Movements evolve (by definition). Democrats have yet to demonstrate they can confront and defeat an opponent with purposeful ideological focus.

For Republicans, the Movement naturally circles the wagons. Scapegoats get attention. Today, we heard a lot about revenge on Chris Christie.

The notion of a new, ‘moderate’ Republican Party is implausible. First, realigning a Movement based on empirical data and rational analysis is antithetical to the very notion of the Movement. Movements expand or alter their shape and ideological content through new narratives, and enrolling people in that new line. If a Democrat doesn’t understand that by now, they should be fired for professional malpractice.

Who can start that narrative? Among the elected leadership there are no moderates. Those called ‘moderate’ by talking heads like Chris Christie are moderate only when compared to Paul Ryan. Perhaps one or two may seek to gain brand visibility by ‘going Maverick’. Changing a narrative, however, requires internal influence and control.

On the periphery, professional Republican operatives are furiously sending each other PPT slides and speadsheets and they may have narrative impact on the margin. Already they’re calling for a smarter, more agile Movement that retains its inherent nature but seeks to poach elements from Obama’s turnout on an issue by issue basis. Republican operatives, however, don’t determine primaries.

Any change in the Movement narrative requires infiltration into the thought generation centers and distribution channels. Fox is merely the most obvious. It’s a monumental undertaking, far more audacious and protracted than a 10 minute chuckle-fest with Mika and Joe. If any of our Righist friends embark on that journey we wish them well.

Four more years. They will go by quickly. May they treat each of you, Dear Readers, and everyone, well.

Maybe A Little Is Enough

The Boy King, resplendent as Beta Male, finally threw some sand back at Romney. Last encounter left Obama cowering on the beach, withering under Romney’s taunts. We doubt Obama’s new found spine will reverse matters much; perhaps it’s just enough to cling to the status quo.

Each a caricature of their Platonic forms: introverted, cerebral, passive ‘decider’ and hyper aggressive entitled bully. Romney unleashed his inner Al Pacino, chewing the town hall stage scenery with gusto. Mercifully he omitted a “Hoohah!” after walking over moderator Crowley or even Obama. Obama had a George McFly moment, finally deciding to stand up to the bully Biff.

Perhaps Obama can slink through Ohio and hold on to his presidency. If you are reading this, you already agree that a Movement Restoration remains too alarming to contemplate. Even so, who really looks forward to 4 more years of Obama’s weakness, timidity, compulsive compromising, detachment and judgmental disengagement?

Obama Debates Romney: “Can You See The Real Me? Can You?”*

We’re all social creatures in the end, responding to rational and irrational, often subconscious cues every day of our lives. Obama’s calamitous first encounter with a Mountain Dew-amped Romney a case in point.

We all saw the real Obama. It explains much about his tepid first term, his inability to engage in actual politics, his passive enabling of the Movement’s unnecessarily swift resurrection. In other words? Every single post here ever about him.

Let’s dispense with canards. Of course, Obama is rusty for debates. So too, sitting presidents are unaccustomed to challenge. The ephemeral opinion cycle (why bother calling it ‘news’ anymore?) minutiae offers other transient tidbits about Obama’s alleged debate’strategy’, etc. None really matter.

The True Obama Is Frankly Not Appealing

Obama as man and president doesn’t like practicing politics. Or deigning to talk with people to win their support. Obama has two modes: aspirational bromide salesman and the reclusive decider, judging other people and policy. Otherwise, he’s oddly more artificial than Romney.

People intuitively sense when someone wants to win their support with passion (Clinton, in a compulsively needy but successful way). Or even Romney. Last night, Romney came across as someone doing a well rehearsed offering roadshow. (We’ve done them with The Blackstone Group). He was selling. As they say in the movie, “Always be closing”.

We don’t respond well as social animals to being told it’s rational to do this or that. Remember that relative from Hell at a holiday dinner? Without aspirations, what does Obama really have to sell? Beyond he’s a good compromiser?

Mitt, It’s President Kerry On Line Two

One debate doesn’t necessarily an election make. Look at President Kerry. Obama is bright enough to be coached to better performances. As Lee Atwater famously said, “Once you fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”. We’ve a race over who’s the most plausibly inauthentic.

Will the debates matter? Only to the extent they alter the few battleground states. Romney’ll gain ground in both Ohio and Virginia at least. Both candidates fluctuate within 47% to 51%. We still think it’s Obama’s to lose but now with less margin for error.

What disturbed us most about Obama’s debate performance? What it means for Obama’s second term. We saw last night Obama unleashed. Feel the excitement?

Neither do we. But then, placeholders are rarely memorable.

* At maximum volume.

P.S. We’re loathe to remind the netroots and so-called progressives ‘We told you so.’ But we did. Daily in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Establishment Republican Fantasies Of Fall 2012

Dreams of returning to glory in 2016 on a wave of . . . Jon Hunstman-mania? More common than you might think, Dear Reader – at least in some benighted quarters.

Here’s the Cliff Note version: Establishment Republicans (what’s left of them) tire of feigning allegiance to the Movement to escape cannibalization. So the dream begins with a Movement-Romney car wreck in 2012. To pave the way for radical moderation in 2016. Moderation of course is relative. But that’s marketing.

Does every dream star Huntsman? No. But he’s a convenient reference. A placeholder for full throated moderation unleashed. That he failed so completely in 2012 is a minor quibble.

Republican Fantasies Require Democrats Do The Heavy Lifting

This dream’s highlights? Obama and Democrats (note the distinction) do all the hard, dirty work: absorb Movement punches, tire them out and stagger to be last man standing in 2012. These dreaming Republicans lack the spine and commitment to take back their party the old fashioned way, on the ground, from local to state and federal levels, think tanks, etc. They’re actually more feckless than their rootless Democrat counterparts. Which says a lot.

You might well ask how a militantly moderate figure could ever navigate base-controlled primaries. Or whether 2012 failure might merely further radicalize the Movement, excusing failure with Romney as convenient scapegoat. Can militant Republican [sic] moderation survive in a Citizens United world?

You’re right to wonder. We’ve posed the same questions. Already, for example, Scott Walker in Wisconsin is calling for “Let Ryan Be Ryan” and to Ryan-ize Romney. The blame game goes both ways.

Dreamers answer that their money-shot (if you will) is 4 more years of political and economic stagnation. Obama’s just a nice guy but a flawed political figure. Leaving the door open for Americans desperate for seemingly practical, across-the-aisles solutions. From ‘a uniter, not a divider’. As dreamers get more excited telling this tale, they imagine [Hunstman/Jeb/Your Name Here] surging through the primaries riding a tidal wave of agreeability and common sense. USA! USA! But with BMWs and Volvos.

The Script Needs Work

Implausible? We agree with you. The Establishment Republicans sound so much like the Bourbons in exile. They’re essentially passive. Obama will stop the Movement now. Events, fate, Providence then will deliver circumstances in 2016 ripe for them.

Establishment Republicans themselves do nothing. As they have since 1993. These dreaming Republicans are like lilies in the field (per Ecclesiastes). Worse, they have no ideas of their own. In fact, to hear their laundry list of what Republicans should campaign on, it’s often Newt without Newt. Simply because those ideas are already out there – national prestige programs are the rage, like the Moon again for some reason. Their own version of Prague Spring – Newt with a ‘human face’.

Complicating matters? Both Biden and HRC already embody the marketing space these Republicans dream about. True, fatigue with Democrats in 2016 is a real possibility, and a referendum on a third Obama term tricky. Yet they and other national Democrats can actually practice politics now and then.

We enjoy reading La Noonan’s latest catty column on the Romney campaign. Or Kristol’s despair. Car wrecks command attention. Although the election’s still close. But the long game? For these dreamers, 2016 is no longer idle salad fork chatter but now with the main course.

Why Political Alternatives in 2012 Don’t Exist

We’ve been talking to alienated political professionals lately. They’re either no longer welcome by their hyper-meme-soaked bases or alienated by them. Either way, they’re largely watching the football game from the stands. Their more practical (cynical?) colleagues join a team and bury their cognitive dissonance.

Politicians Must Stop Hiding Behind Process And Practice Politics

Why do marginalized political figures in the stands choose to sit there? The obvious excuse? Contemporary politics makes rational, empirical choice impossible. It’s true. But outcome determinative. A politician’s task is to change circumstances as much as adapt to them.

Goldwater, Republican, Ike

Alienated ‘moderate’ political figures and operatives, like Obama, elect to abandon actual politics. Thus no organized political activity to reclaim the Republican Party from the Movement. (Obama as incumbent has his party in a bind). Instead, the alienated political figures embrace the pose of process reform. Easier to appear on Morning Joe and blame congressional failure on needed rule changes or deficit reduction. Reasonable people like Mika after all prefer process. And process leads to the Avalon of compromise.

It’s sophistry, of course. And a convenient posture to be a victim. It’s also the perfect political analog for the intellectually bankrupt TED environment which peddles meaningless sloganeering and Newt-isms as knowledge. Unconnected factoids strung together to sound ‘wise’ in 140 characters.

What would actual politics look like? Let’s stipulate the Movement various strands’ are virulent, vindictive and irrational. Taking them on a daunting personal and professional challenge. Yet it’s not excuse. It’s been done successfully before. And we don’t mean post-1964.

American History Shows How Intellectual Movements Gain Influence

Before the Scopes trial, before The Organization Man, there was the Brandeis Brief. That Brief, which introduced science and empiricism into American law, itself rode the crest of a societal immersion in the scientific method, and Taylorism in manufacturing from the 1880s and 1890s. The sociology for how empirical thought gained widespread embrace is rich and detailed.

The Movement’s multiple successes infiltrating the Republican Party, mainstreaming itself and eventually devouring its institutional host yet another instructive model. Whether empiricism’s rise post-Civil War or the Movement today, neither advanced their cause by claiming process as the answer. Process served the political truth. To argue otherwise is to be another Wilkerson claiming if only the NSC had better paper flow he and General Jello could have beaten Cheney.

Could the current band of sidelined ‘moderate’ politicians and operatives carry a renewed empirical torch through a meme-drenched world? As the current process pose suggests, their political skills may be out of phase. Second, oligarchy collectively may prefer to withhold money, gaming further unravelling until a future, rump stabilization. Recent unsuccessful primary candidates do point to their failures as proof no one wants the message.

Yet it’s a duty to at least try. American history shows political movements culminate after decades of investment. It’s more than 1 or 2 election cycles. Or individual personalities.

To remain on the Acela to MSNBC, sigh, and lament the lack of procedural reform is cowardice.

Election 2012: Tyranny Of The Synthetic

We know no one energized by either campaign. We doubt you do, either.

Our simulacrum of ostensible politics doesn’t conceal any truths. The truth is that there isn’t any. We are stupefied by the brutal collage of jittering, meaningless sensation. That’s the truth. All of which we’ve discussed together here at length before.

That’s not embracing moral or even situational relativism. Our professional conservative friends echo what you, Dear Reader, noted long ago: a Romney ‘victory’ would be a poisoned chalice in any event. Few believe his capacity to govern or control an emboldened Movement.

In the end we happen to be optimists in one narrow sense. We believe a significant number of people yearn for — even if unrecognized — the return of actual Meaning to our culture, our politics and our lives. That we collectively both reject and embrace those rejecting substitution of the false, the symbology, the AutoTuned, the ‘meme’.

Existing politics, however diffuse, can not lead. And may not be able to follow, focus groups and micro-targeted opinion research aside. People craving granular truth are similar to what Apple once said about its customers and market research: they didn’t do any. Because people often don’t know what they want until they see it.

That choice doesn’t exist now. Whatever happens in the Fall of 2012, the synthetic will still be entrenched. Readers here noted that change may not necessarily (or even likely) arrive as a democratic one. The real question is whether anyone would notice.

P.S. Jaime at Blood & Treasure concisely deconstructs Romney, foreign policy, Israel, Palestine, imperialism, China, Thomas Kinkade paintings and the Corporal.

Democrats In Wisconsin Confirm Now Is Oligarchy’s Time

Democrat failure to recall Scott Walker presages a new phase of demotic politics: nascent oligarchical entrenchment. In the post Bush era, oligarchy until now is largely insurgent and opportunistic, feeding off astro turfed Tea Parties or knee-capping Democratic initiatives.

Walker’s success shows oligarchy is finally battle tested. It stood its ground and Walker outperformed 2010 tallies. The Rightist national activation reveals a functionally cohesive movement. Radicalism and divide and conquer tactics are viable tools to seize and maintain power.

By contrast, Democrats focused mostly on process. GOTV. Registration. Obama wouldn’t deign to get involved at any stage but wanted to test *his* state campaign ground game. Most of the newly registered voters went for Walker.

Oligarchy,Wisconsin Recall

Axelrod et al. complain about the money. As well they should. But tellingly national Democrats clearly lack the same philosophical commitment as Rightists about collective bargaining.

Last night in Wisconsin was lost years ago. As we predicted in March 2011. We all know, Dear Reader, Wisconsin was a battle over destroying collective bargaining. It’s the age old struggle between unconstrained capital and individuals lacking power except in numbers. Except Democrats forgot the reason for that story. Thus, national Democrats rallying to unions strikes a false note, a cynical posing – with the grating exception of Ed Schultz, who undeniably gets unions.

The time to defend unions and their socio-political purpose was 20 years ago. A healthy political coalition defends an ally under attack when the ally is still strong. One reason Rightists rise up at every perceived attack meme.

Democrats themselves threw unions under the bus just like the oligarchs. Oh, unions get lip service. But operationally? Ed Rendell told unions to shove it in Philadelphia, etc. Clinton famously sent them all to hell with NAFTA and GATT, for example.

All in service of essentially Rightist fantasy ideology in which ‘consumer welfare’ is the acme of wisdom. Easy to do when everyone’s standard of living rode the promise of a bubble economy. Democrats abandoned social philosophy for consumer atavism and are indistinguishable from Republicans except for flaunting lifestyle affectations. On the Acela clutching their iPad they might feel uneasy over Foxconn slave labor suicides in China – but not because of the inequities of wealth and life circumstances. The *suicides make them feel bad about their purchases*.

And now, with constricting life opportunities and prospects for consumption, these same Democrats are easy prey for oligarchical politics of envy. Why should *those* unions remain uncrushed when *you* can’t afford a new iPhone? Unions are an affront to one’s notion of consumerism, which is to say purpose.

In the 1990s a billionaire friend of ours asked to meet Newt. He was the real life person for one of the characters in Stone’s Wall Street. He over dinner tried to explain to Newt what passage of NAFTA and GATT would mean. People like him, he said, would become even richer, but capital mobility without constraint would destroy the middle class.

He made an eloquent appeal to a superficial dim bulb, but it was also the best argument against Clinton and that crowd, too. Something no Democrat made. Then or now.

Droning On And On: Obama, Alone

The Times’ piece on the drone assassination program reveals depressing and all too predictably sordid details about the routinization of murder 2009-2012. We also see another glimpse of Obama the political actor.

Sure, he’s exposed (again) as politically expedient, hiding his actual intent and practice behind empty rhetoric. He thinks he’s clever enough to fool us (the rubes) with vague slogans and govern otherwise. We’ve all known that about him. If you read this blog, since 2007 in fact.

Obama, Drones, Assassination

We once again see Obama needing to be ‘the decider’. He alone will sign off on specific assassinations (‘that was an easy one’). Most world leaders work hard not to have their finger prints on murder. Obama’s compulsions ensure the paper trail leads to the Oval Office. Perhaps we will be told Obama nobly sacrificed his ethics, values and country’s moral compass to forestall a coup by the military-intelligence-contractor complex.

The Times casually notes Obama prefers controlling bureaucratic process to working with Congress and passing legislation. He’s not unique; many presidents find Commander in Chief duties more enjoyable for that reason. Obama’s fixation on laborious (dubiously useful) arms control conversations with Medvedev another case in point.

Nonetheless, Obama’s abdication of the presidency as a political responsibility is unusual. He seems to have two preferred roles: campaign rhetoric guy and the decider. His post-partisan conceit lacks room to be leader of a political party or architect of domestic agendas. Thus he really couldn’t be bothered to respond to the Tea Party’s rise in 2009-10 or care if he lost the House. How ironic that the most ‘socially networked’ presidency in fact eschews political engagement when it matters.

No enrolling domestic vision or transformative legislation is ever achieved by Obama’s ‘decider’ model. Politics is people and people don’t usually cotton to someone insisting they’re always the final (and smarter) arbiter. Politics in the end is not about detached judging of others. The truth is out there for Obama to see. How many genuine friends and full throated supporters does he have now at his side?

He asks for four more years to decide things for us. Four more years of condescension. Four more years of palsied politics and empty rhetoric. Unanswered by the Times piece – where does Obama think he will take targeted assassination in four years? And when will it all come home to roost?