Circus Maximus MMXVI: Oh won’t you stay just a little bit longer

14 04 2016

It helps to have low expectations of one’s president.

I think that’s a big part of why I’m not really into the Democratic primary: there’s nothing about either of them which leads me to think he or she would be an A-MAZING president.

I like Sanders’s focus on economics and that Clinton’s a hard-ass; I don’t know that Sanders would be that effective and I distrust Clinton’s instincts. That said, I think both would bring in good people to help compensate for their respective weaknesses. So, y’know, they’re both fine.

Still, like many others, I do think that a president can exceed expectations, and when that happens, it’s hard to say So long.

It’s gonna be hard for me to say So long to President Obama.

Oh, there are all kinds of policy decisions with which I disagree with him, and there are certainly disappointments—you probably have your own list—but man, this guy just gets presidenting.

It’s true that I prefer a cool to a hot temperament (not least because I run towards hot, so am unimpressed with it), but I also think a president has to have some kind of core calmness if he or she is to do the job. It’s an impossible job: the president has to make far too many decisions based on both too much and too little information and more often than not has to try to control situations which are not controllable. Thus, the person in that chair has to reconcile him- or herself to the absurdities of the powerlessness of the most powerful position on the planet if he or she is to have any chance at all at failing well.

And yes, he or she will fail, precisely because it is an impossible job. The only issue is will she or he fail well or fail miserably.

President Obama has failed well, exceedingly well. He has grown into his role rather than having been shriveled by it. He seems, against all odds, to enjoy being president, perhaps because he’s never much paid attention to odds.

I wonder if this is how Republicans feel or felt about President Reagan: that the job of the president just seemed to fit him.  That I hated Reagan’s policies meant I was never able fully to see the man’s political gifts, and as Bill Clinton (who wasted what gifts he did have) was the only Democratic president in my adulthood, there were few opportunities for wistfulness at the end of a presidency.

But yeah, I’m wistful. For all of his faults and for all of my disagreements, I’m going to miss Barack Obama in the White House.

I don’t think I’ll see in my lifetime another president who will fail as well as he has.

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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.





‘Cause I told you once, you son of a bitch

1 05 2013

The Dems need some sons-of-bitches.

I’ve been mulling this ever since the presidents-are-assholes post (which, honestly, was the wrong word to use. I was thinking arrogant asshole when I wrote asshole, but since asshole is now more associated with thoughtlessness and jerkish behavior than an annoying overflow of self-confidence, I should have pulled another term out of the ol’ noggin. Prick, perhaps: presidents-are-pricks. Yes, that works, doesn’t it? And it has a minor alliterative bit going for it as well.). . .  and, um, yeah.

Okay, sons-of-bitches. Since US presidents have to appeal to citizens, there are limits as to how ruthless they may appear to be. I’m of the opinion that to become president you have to be one of the most ruthless people on the planet, but while you can—must—offer flashes of ruthlessness, you cannot be only ruthless.

Hence the need for sons-of-bitches.

Machiavelli is, unsurprisingly, my touchstone for this. Not everything he advises for would-be princes holds up in a democratic system, but even back in the day he recognized the value of a good hatchet man:

When he [Cesare Borgia] took Romagna, . . . the province was a prey to robbery, assaults, and every kind of disorder. He, therefore, judged it necessary to give them a good government in order to make them peaceful and obedient to his rule. For this purpose he appointed Messer Remirro de Orco, a cruel and able man, to whom he gave the fullest authority. This man, in a short time, was highly successful in rendering the country orderly and united, whereupon the duke, not deeming such excessive authority expedient, lest it should become hateful, appoint a civil court of justice in the centre of the province. . . .

Of course, Borgia was himself a son-of-a-bitch:

And as he knew the harshness of the past had engendered some amount of hatred, in order to purge the minds of the people and to win them over completely, he resolved to show that if any cruelty had taken place it was not by his orders, but through the harsh disposition of his minister [de Orco]. And having found the opportunity he had him cut in half and placed one morning in the public square at Cesena with a piece of wood and blood-stained knife by his side. The ferocity of this spectacle caused the people both satisfaction and amazement.

(My favorite part of this anecdote? He ends by saying “But to return where we left off.”)

No, I don’t recommend public body-choppings, but Machiavelli’s basic admonition holds:

a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which make him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.

Note that such faithlessness has less to do with the people than with other rulers and political actors.

Not that he has much respect for the people:

to possess [virtue] and always observe them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. . . .

The people want to be well-ruled and to think well of those who rule them, so if you have to be faithless to maintain good order and lie about such faithlessness to maintain your reputation, well, that’s what effective leadership requires.

Given my antipathy toward moral consequentialism—the ends justify the means—you’d think I’d be appalled by Machiavelli, who is a consequentialist par excellence. And yet I am not, because the morality (if you will) of politics is not that of ethics; what is required for good governance of a state is distinct from that of good governance of a soul.

Anyway, the president-as-son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t work in contemporary American politics, not just because we want—Odin forbid—a “likable” president, but because he almost certainly couldn’t conceal his bad acts. No fingerprints, and all that.

Consider Nixon, a son-of-a-bitch if there ever was one, who was nonetheless dwarfed in his SOB-ness by his advisers. He could have survived Watergate had he been able to offload the responsibility on the execrable pack of hounds around him, but he couldn’t keep his beetle-brow out of it.

Compare that to Reagan. Does anyone truly believe that he knew nothing about the arms-for-hostages Iran-Contra clusterfuck? Sure, he was nodding off by the end of his term, but he wasn’t completely out of it when his henchmen were sending cakes to the ayatollah and offloading weapons to a scrum of fascists and opportunists camped in the hills of Nicaragua. His SOBs were colossally delusional, but they at least kept their duke out of it.

This is all getting away from me, isn’t it? “But to return where we left off.”

The Democrats need some sons-of-bitches because they are dealing with an opposition which leadership is itself too cowed to beat back the howling horde of feral paranoiacs which have overrun their party. The Dems—the Democratic president—needs their/his own pack of hounds (execrable or not) who are not only willing but positively gleeful at the thought of handcuffing the Republican party to the dead weight of the nutters and conspiracists, the young-Earthers and old birthers, the contraceptive-grabbers and ammo-clingers, and dragging the whole lot of them into the metaphorical sea. Only then will those Republicans who retain some faint memory of the necessity of good governance be scared into gnawing off their arms to preserve themselves and prevent their entire party from drowning in a roiling mass of incoherence and stupidity.

There’s another reason besides likability and  deniability to cultivate some SOBs: punishing the GOP will take time and real effort, and the president has his own shit to do. I always thought Rahm Emmanuel was overrated as an SOB—swearing a lot is no substitute for a well-cultivated ruthlessness—and while Anthony Weiner was a fine SOB in his own right, he had his own liabilities (besides the obvious ones) within his own caucus, and, in any case, couldn’t do it all by himself.

There are dangers to SOBs, of course, chief among them running off their leashes—which is why the president must himself retain his own ruthless streak and be willing either to yank them back into line or put ’em (metaphorically) down.

But he must appear sincerely humane in doing so.





They was a rapping the flat scat

11 02 2013

Since I only have small thoughts in my head right now, just a few quick hits:

On the pope’s smell-you-later:

Too bad he’s not stepping down as an atonement for the abuse scandals in the US. And Canada. And Mexico. And Ireland. And Australia. And Belgium. And. . . .

As for who comes next, pfft, more of the same.

On Chris Christie’s weight and Hillary Clinton’s age and (god help me), the 2016 race:

I won’t be voting for Christie for policy reasons, but, yeah, if he could be my candidate, I’d be concerned about his weight—just as I’ll be concerned about Clinton’s age if she decides to toss her bra into the ring.

While I think extra weight or extra years are not and should not be barriers to most jobs, the presidency is an impossible position, one which presses down on whoever holds it with tremendous force. All other things being equal, I think younger and fitter is better than older and unfitter.

Of course, all other things are rarely equal, and I’ll take a 69-year-old Hillary over a young ‘un like Marco Rubio—just as I’m sure Republicans would have voted for a fat Christie over a trim Obama.

Either way, I’ll have no influence on who the parties pick in 2016, so this is just so much spitballin’.

What the fuck is going on with Lindsay Graham and Benghazi?

Is it really all just about staving off a primary challenge from the right? Does he really think that THIS will protect him if some mouth-foamer decides to come after him?

Jeez. Get a better issue already.

Winter storms should not be named.

Call me a traditionalist.

Okay, back to weight:

I gained this fall and winter, and am now stepping up my workouts to try to wrestle myself back to trim.

The problem began when I hurt my back in October: While I was only out of the gym (biking, weights) for 3 weeks, I pretty much stopped my out-of-gym workouts. Yeah, I still managed to put in a few laps around Prospect Park on my bike, but I completely stopped running.

And then, y’know, holidays, and I was working at an office, and my mom sent me cookies and bars, and blorp: there it is.

So now I’ve added some at-home free-weight lifting, and I’ve started running again (which I prefer to biking), and I’m paying more attention to my diet—more veggies, fewer carbs—and not eating past full.

The problem, of course, is the usual one with any kind of change: I want to see results RIGHTNOW, and when I don’t,  I haz a sad.

Yeah, yeah, suck it up.

On changing my default from “stay” to “go”:

This has been good, and I’d like to do more. I’ve seen three (cheap) Broadway shows with friends, and I’ve drunk a lot of Guinness—good for the soul!

The downside? I’ve drunk a lot of  Guinness—not so good for the bod.

Yeah, whatever: no need to be a fanatic.





They say what’s up with him

31 12 2012

Presidents are assholes.

Too strong? Misleading, perhaps.

Allow me to clarify: asshole has come to mean something akin to douche or dick—I’ve used in that way when I’ve lamented my own assholish behavior—but there’s an older meaning, closer to prick, which might be captured by the phrase “arrogant asshole”, i.e., someone who thinks he’s all that, the one who’s better than everyone else.

I like President Obama, like seeing the pictures of him with his kids (or with anyone’s kids) or constituents, and there have been moments of his presidency in which I pumped my fist and hissed yes!

But I still think he’s an asshole.

How could he be anything but? He’s the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the world, performing an impossible job, with the only opportunities to be someone other than president tucked into those moments likes cracks in the wall of presidential responsibility. He has to be on, or ready to be on, at all times. He is never not the president.

Who else but an asshole could be president?

To believe that this is a job you could do, and do well, requires a scary level of self-confidence, the kind of calm self-regard that may—may—allow you to second-guess yourself, but only if it confirms your actions or moves you forward. You don’t look back, you don’t wonder what if; you make up your mind, and you do.

Because you’re the fucking president of the fucking Yoo-nited States, and if you can’t do it it can’t be done.

Remember when George W. Bush was asked about his mistakes, and he couldn’t really think of one? Or Bill Clinton’s refusal to admit his fling with Monica Lewinsky and his churlish apology for both the behavior and the lies? They were both so obviously and ridiculously wrong to any normal person—who doesn’t make mistakes? who does that hound dog think he’s fooling?—but normal people do not become president.

I saw a clip the other day of a Barbara Walters interview with the President and Michelle Obama, and there was some bit that Michelle was funnier. The president said, yes, Michelle is funny, but “I’m funnier than people think.”

Asshole. You’re the fucking president of the fucking Yoo-nited States, and you can’t let this one slide?

The president is rather famously competitive—the first lady noted elsewhere in the interview that she doesn’t like to play Scrabble with him because he’s “a little irritating when he wins”—so it’s hardly surprising that he’s going to want to be in it no matter what, but, jeez, man, let it go.

Except, of course, that presidents really can’t let things go. You run for president because you believe that you can catch the things the others let go, and we, the American people, vote for you because we expect you to catch those things and, occasionally, to sling it back out and past everyone else. You expect to win, and we expect you to win.

Is this a fault of the people who run for president, or of the people who vote for him? Both, probably, but even more to the point is the fact that the job is impossible. It is impossible to be president, and yet someone is, nonetheless.

You’d have to be some kind of arrogant asshole to believe you could do the impossible.





Follow up: the killer president

7 10 2011

No, no reason whatsoever about the hit on al-Awlaki, or the precedent set.

Secret panel can put Americans on “kill list’

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON | Wed Oct 5, 2011 7:59pm EDT

(Reuters) – American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

Read the whole damned disgusting thing.





Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends

2 04 2011

So it occurred to me that this guy. . .

. . . is simply this guy. . .

. . . with more hair and fewer prostitutes.