War, what is it good for

11 09 2013

I’d long thought the whole Obama-as-master-of-11th-dimensional-chess gig was overblown.

One, all presidents engage in an insanely complicated matrix of gamesmanship, having to deal with the House, the Senate, governors, his own party, the opposing party, bureaucracies, the courts, monetary institutions, corporate institutions, the economy, interest groups, constituents, the UN, NATO, other regional and international institutions, international allies, international adversaries, nongovernmental organizations, and sundry other non-state actors. For starters.

Two, President Obama isn’t always, or even mostly, a master. He is smart and patient and willing to wait for whichever adversary to stumble, but it’s not as if his patience has always served him well (repeated attempts at compromise with Congressional Republicans), nor that he’s never stumbled (debt ceiling negotiations and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts). That he’s pretty good at recovering from his stumbles (and his opponents so terrible at recovering from theirs) has tended both to diminish the stumbles themselves and magnify his alleged mastery.

The situation in Syria seems to me a case of stumble-recovery. I didn’t think the drawing of the “red line” regarding  chemical weapons use was that big of deal, not least because there were multiple responses besides that of a military strike. (And as for the alleged loss of presidential/American credibility, well, christ, if actual air strikes on Qaddafi didn’t deter Assad, why would threats do so?)

No, the problem was with the immediate jump to the military option; all subsequent “messaging” problems flowed from the ill-conceived decision to bomb Iraq. That was the stumble.

Secretary Kerry also hasn’t been great in all of this, but whether his statement about Syria turning over his cache was off-hand or not, the fact that Syria and, more importantly, Russia, took him up on it, gave Obama the chance to recover.

Which he took.

We’re still in the midst of trouble,  of course, but there’s now the possibility—not the certainty—that those troubles will lessen rather than increase. The dread “optics” on all this have been lousy, but I’ll take shitty optics with a decent outcome over the reverse any day.





Hippy-hippy forward

2 08 2011

I will try to restrain myself from commenting any further on the debt-deficit-deal-debacle—but only after making the following two points:

1. Politics is not one thing. Yeah, Duh, I know, but in this debt bill there are two crucial pieces: the substance of the deal and the optics of the deal-making.

I am unenthusiastic about the substance, and am pleased that my representative (Yvette Clarke) and one senator (Kirsten Gillebrand) voted against it. I’m convinced by those who state that cutting spending during a time of low demand and high unemployment is a bad idea because such cuts will simply push the lows lower and highs higher.

Yes, I am effectively unemployed and no it’s not because this is hitting me, but I think a far bigger concern than the deficit is unemployment.

Get people to work, and those people start paying taxes on their paychecks. You may at some point need to raise taxes and/or cut spending to curb the deficit, but right now the emergency for tens of millions of people and their communities is unemployment.

Regardless of my unenthusiasm for the deal and small pleasure in Clarke’s and Gillibrand’s votes, I also understand why others voted for it. The debt ceiling had to be raised, most of the cuts are pushed back to 2013 and beyond, and, well, default would have been catastrophic.

Upshot: this is lousy on its merits, but it could have been worse.

On the optics, however, this is worse-er than merely lousy. Obama and the Dems could have dealt with the debt ceiling back when they were still in the majority, and, oh yeah, could have gotten in front of the budget issue in general.

Yes, Republicans were uncooperative before the 2010 elections and even less cooperative between the elections and the seating of the new Congress, but Obama, Reid, and Pelosi could have pushed forward a strong enough agenda that would have required the TeaPer-fueled GOP at least to have to fight for their “No!No!No!” platform. As it was, the Dems retreated before the wave rather than holding on and waiting for the wave itself to recede.

The Dems weakened themselves both in terms of not going hard at the Republicans and in not defending, much less advancing, their own vision for the country—probably because they seem to have forgotten that they ought even have a vision.

There are some good, tough Democrats out there, and yes, I’ll vote for Obama again in 2012, but beyond stopping the conservative onslaught, I have difficulty discerning what is the purpose of the Democratic Party.

Saying “it could be worse” is a truism, not a rallying cry.

2. The notion that Obama’s weakness in, ahem, “negotiating” this deal is due to the apathy of the left and/or the party base is false and infuriating because false.

I’ll give half-credit to those who note that people have to vote, and those who stayed home did failed in not taking advantage of one of few powers we have.

The other side of this, which goes unmentioned, is that it’s up to the candidates and the party to motivate them to vote, and the Dems did themselves no favors in the many months preceding the elections by not promoting what were, in fact, some solid accomplishments.

Again, telling us the other guy is worse ain’t enough.

What really flips my lid, however, are those who raise the FDR card: “The president told us to push him to do the right thing, and we didn’t do that.”

Mm-hmm.

Axelrod and Plouffe and the president himself looking for some hippie to smack when they were, in fact, pushed—how does fit into the whole “keep me accountable” gig?

Mocking and deriding as hippies those left-critics who you invited to speak does at least indicate that the president retains the ability to go after his detractors. Too bad he only deploys this ability against his own side.

Finally, when is telling people to “make me” do the right thing a sign of strong leadership?

Lead from behind, wait-and-see, blah blah—yeah, I get it: the president isn’t a bully and for the most part he dispenses with the pulpit.

But you can be cool without losing strength:

No, the president can’t do what Malcolm did, for all kinds of reasons.

But there’s no reason he can’t also lift his hand and point to where he wants us to go.





Just who is the 5 o’clock hero?

1 08 2011

What a fucking ridiculous day.

I almost said absurd, but that would lend it an ontological weight which it clearly does not deserve.

Yes, the job-not-job-but-maybe-yes.

Tch, I don’t even want to talk about it other than to say that my only error was in the initial excitement. Yes, it might still work out, but my eyebrow will remain raised until events prove otherwise.

And then our let’s-make-a-deal president who, apparently, thinks that  giving everything away beforehand is the preferred opening gambit. Nevermind he could have pushed the Dems to have done this while they were still in control. . . tch, I can’t even.

So a bit of good news: The Unexpected Neighbor has been granted premium status by Smashwords (which means it’ll be available thru Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo [Australia], Sony, etc.) AND managed to get through the EPUB verification system.

Had there been problems, I would have worked them out. But it’s nice that there were (at this point) no problems.

Tch, finally.





If I had a hammer

29 07 2011

President Obama is smart. Very smart.

You can see it in press conferences and prepared statements, his grasp of the whole of an issue and its part, its relationship to other issues, the uncontroversial and the contested pieces, costs, benefits, risks. . . the guy’s got it down.

All of that analytical might, however, does not translate into political savvy.

It’s not unconnected, of course: the man ran a highly disciplined and ruthless campaign against a very strong primary opponent (Hillary Clinton, who is not lacking in the candlepower department, either), was solid against a less-strong Republican opponent, and quietly brilliant in his patience as the economy blew apart: Where McCain flailed, Obama hung back, projecting an image of calm competence as he moved in concert with the White House, Treasure, and Congress.

It worked.

That’s good, at least for those of us who wanted Obama to become president. And I think he’s been pretty good: the Lily Ledbetter law, the Affordable Care Act, the end to DADT, the reworking of diplomacy—all good. I’m well to the left of the president, but as I knew that when I voted for him, I’m not particularly chagrined that he turned out to be the moderate I thought he was.

No, my differences with the president are less about policy (tho’ there are those), than with his tactics and strategy.

Strategy: Unclear.Would be nice if there were some stated positive purpose to the Democratic party in general and his presidency in particular.

Tactics: he has only one—hang back calmly, try to work in concert with the powers-that-be.

Yes, that worked in the fall of 2008, but it is the summer of 2011 and at least some of those powers are rather uninterested in working in concert.

You need new tactics, Mr. President. Holding out your arms and waiting for everyone to gather within them ain’t gonna cut it, now. You have one approach, and when that one approach fails, so do you.

(Oh, christ, did I just address the President? I hate that shit when columnists and commentators do it, and here I just did it. Can’t keep my inner pundit down, I guess.)

Anyway, to restate this in more analytical terms, all me to state (in all obviousness) that any successful leader needs multiple tools, implements, arms, routes—however you  to put it, you need more than one option.

And having a clear purpose might help, here, if only in creating some urgency in developing those new tactics. When he has a purpose—winning elections, passing ACA—Obama is willing to pull out more than one stop.

In any case, I get it: the president runs cool, not hot. His VP, however, can rile himself tying his shoes, so why not unleash the Biden? There are folks outside of government who’d really like to be allies who could rally and provoke and stoke all of those passions of which Obama is clearly leery.

He might prefer his passion furled, but people are rarely moved by reticence. And if you can’t move the House and you can’t move the people, then you can’t move the country, period.

This isn’t meep-meep or 11th-dimensional chess, but a mud-and-blood political fight. So the president doesn’t want to step into the cage himself. Fine, not his thing.

But he still needs those fighters.