GUEST POST: IF THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, THIS IS NOT IT

(The following commentary was submitted by regular commenter HoosierPoli. Aside from being generally interesting – albeit considerably longer than you're used to on this site – it is relevant to the current BP situation among other Obama-related issues. As inexperienced bloggers stand to benefit the most from feedback, I'm sure that the author would appreciate your reactions. Without further ado, I present "Barack Obama Is Not Your Personal Fucking Santa Claus.")

Lately, there has been an undeniable trend in the medium of modern discourse in which I find myself writing. I lack a better term for it, so I am forced to call it the “Self-Righteous Liberal Bitch-o-Sphere” (Actually, I take that back; that IS the best term for it). Anyway, since you’re here, reading this, you know what I’m talking about: an endless procession of what passes in the US for leftists, saying at every turn how Barack Obama is actually a secret conservative Clintonite triangulator who’d just as soon sell out his dead mother to cash in on the old Washington games; a golden-tongued huckster who sold us on a Utopian ideal and then delivered more “business as usual”. I’m not sure what’s more distressing; that so-called educated and informed people have swallowed right-wing narratives hook line and sinker, or that they’ve convinced themselves that it’s actually of their own devising.

This “movement” seems to consist of a number of readily-identifiable groups. You’ve got your standard neo-hippie cranks, for whom any economic or political event only serves to further validate their Glenn-Beck-in-hemp-underwear eschatology, to the point that they will ignore actual facts and burn heretics at the metaphorical stake for DARING to suggest that perhaps man’s hubris and disregard for Gaia may not be, at this immediate point in time, destroying civilization as we know it. You’ve got your political idealists, whose first exposure to American politics in its most unfiltered form was the Obama campaign, and who, as a result, have a view of government functionality that can only be described as wildly hallucinogenic. You’ve got your lazy liberals, who feel that if they hit FireDogLake AND the Daily Kos in one day, they’ve done their part to make the world a better place. And you have, here and there, a smattering of people who either know what the fuck they’re talking about and/or actually get off their asses and help improve the world, one small piece at a time. This last group is so tiny that they really don’t fall within the scope of this criticism.

But what all these people have in common is this: They all view George W. Bush as something approaching the purest embodiment of evil in history, and if not, then he’s a close second to Ronald Reagan. They blame everything from Katrina and Abu Ghraib, to 9/11 (in various forms) and the current Gulf disaster on the Bush Administration, sometimes shorthanded to just Bush. Either way, in their minds, Bush was personally involved in or responsible for almost all of the terrible decisions and policy disasters of the last two presidential terms.

I certainly understand the allure of this narrative; in fact, I admit that I fall prey to it with more frequency than I’d like. However, this narrative is misleading, and I’m not here to defend George W. Bush, but to show how it is distorting people’s ideas about what Obama is, or should be.

There are two fundamental errors in the Bush as Antichrist mindset:

The first mistake is assuming Bush had anything to do with the disasters attached to his name.

Bush and Ronald Reagan were very different people, with very different backgrounds and ideologies. It’s easy to forget now that Bush was a born-again and Reagan barely even WENT to church. But their administrations served remarkably similar priorities, and this stems from their most important commonality: They were both absolutely STUNNINGLY incompetent executives.

Neither of them had any idea what their various appointees were doing, or even necessarily who they were. The picture that has emerged of the Bush administration since its merciful departure has been not one of calculated malevolence, but one of almost pitiable impotence. Bush and Reagan were both quite personable campaigners who couldn’t administer a government if their life depended on it. The consequence of that is that when they took power, the people around them who actually knew the score had a very easy time doing pretty much whatever the fuck they wanted with no consequences whatsoever. Reagan had his Ollie North, Bush had his Donald Rumsfeld, and these guys are not exceptions. The Minerals Management Service was not a case of the foxes watching the henhouse; it was a case of NOBODY watching the henhouse and the foxes just walking right in and doing whatever they pleased.

You can certainly argue that Bush bears MORAL responsibility for what happened on his watch, but that doesn’t really mean jack shit at this point. He had no idea what people were actually up to underneath him. They simply gave him some marginal decisions to make, he would Decide them, then kick back feeling good about himself while they kept doing whatever the fuck they wanted. Just look at the financial crisis. When the shitstorm hit in September of 08, if you listen to the people that were there, Bush had literally no idea AT ALL what was happening. Not only did he not expect it, he didn’t even understand it. And when it came time for him to be The Decider, who was it presenting him with the decision? The former head of Goldman Sachs, a man that I guarantee you Bush did not personally select to be Treasury Secretary, but rather was a name selected for him by some Undersecretary of Buttfucking the Taxpayer, which he signed off on and gave a nice speech and then kicked back with a nice run and an evening of reflecting on how history will validate his Leadership. So Mr. Paulson shows him a plan to give tons of money to banks and Bush says “OK, whatever you think, Mr. Smart Suit-Wearing Guy”.

The point I really want to be stressing here is that at no point is one person in charge of all these terrible fucking decisions. It’s a bunch of different people, all of them assholes, most of them on the take, doing whatever the fuck they please. There’s nobody at the top, not even Cheney, and CERTAINLY not Bush. The second mistake is thinking that if Bush could get what he wanted, and Obama can’t, then Barack Obama must either be a worse executive than Bush or he must be a secret conservative.

This is a well-worn tale: “Bush got trillion-dollar tax cuts with only fifty votes in the Senate! He got the Patriot Act and gutted regulations, etc. He knew how to bring the hammer down to get what he wanted, and so if Obama can’t get (the public option/financial reform/energy bill/whatever) passed, he must not actually want it”.

This is a steaming crock of bullshit and it should be obvious why by now. At no point during his presidency did Bush ever get a single thing he wanted. The closest thing I can think of to an actual idea that started with Bush would be either No Child Left Behind or possibly the Mars program, and he actually got neither; neither was funded, neither has had any noticeable impact, both were basically DOA. Recently Bush claimed that he believed that oil should be phased out and wind energy is the wave of the future and, call me crazy, I think he’s telling the truth. If so, then it should be pretty fucking obvious that W was not the one calling the shots in his administration.

No, what Bush got was what OTHER PEOPLE wanted. Massive tax cuts for the ridiculously wealthy were, I promise you, not Bush’s intellectual baby. It was an idea that one of his advisors said would be a good thing, and a bunch of Congressmen agreed, and Bush signed off on it. Every major piece of legislation Bush signed was something he AGREED to, not something he specifically TRIED to get. In other words, the 8 years of Bush’s presidency, that long national nightmare, was really nothing more than bland acquiescence to an murderous and insane status quo. I expect that the outcome would have been identical if there had been no President at all.

A note about the Sympathetic Fallacy.*

The sympathetic fallacy is the very human tendency to attribute human characteristics to non-human things. It is the source of our unshakable belief that our computers can understand us when we curse at them. It is (probably) the source of belief in God (but let’s not go there today). But, most relevant to our topic, it is the reason that we insist upon attributing human characteristics to governments, which may be made up of people but absolutely do not make decisions or in any way operate in the way that a person does. We like to say that the government “wants” this or that, but a government cannot “want” anything, because it is not a person. Unfortunately, this fallacy is really more on the level of a basic psychological illusion: even if we know about it, it won’t go away. And because it is so pernicious, it even demands a face to go along with that personality, and today, the face of the Government is none other than Barack Obama.

And so we come back to our Criticism-From-The-Left Obama haters. I have culled just a few comments from a comment section at Unnamed Liberal Blog (see if you can recognize it!), which I have deemed to be representative (of course, the reader is free to make their own judgments):

"I've sadly come to regard Obama as a Rockefeller Republican, but maybe he's further to the right than that"

“It seemed clear to me during the campaign that Obama was more conservative than most of my acquaintances thought, and I think his actions since the election demonstrate that. He talks nicely, but he's just not comfortable with radical solutions to anything (with 'radical' defined in terms of "sudden, dramatic changes of course")”

“News flash folks — Obama is to the right of Clinton, and HE was to the right of Eisenhower.”

I could do this all night, but you get my point. It started very early on, grew to an absolute fever pitch during the health care deba(cle)te, and has stuck around like a 4pm wine-and-Jagermeister hangover. If Obama is synonymous with “socialist” on the right, on the left it’s synonymous with “sellout”. On everything from Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to immigration, Obama is seen as, at best, a total pussy, and at worst, a JAP (Just Another Politician).

But let’s be brutally honest with ourselves: Our last President showed us what the status quo is. Bush, by being essentially a rubber stamp (don’t let anyone get it backwards; in the 2000s, Congress did the pushing, Bush did the rolling over), demonstrated what our modern Federal government, left to its own devices, will get up to. And yet, whenever the CURRENT Federal government comes up with something that looks unpalatably familiar, the blame is instantly and unthinkingly heaped at the feet of Obama, invariably with some intolerably clever comment involving either “hope” or “change”.

Now I’m not here to be an Obama ballboy, but I do know this: Barack Obama is not a king. Barack Obama does not occupy 535 Congressional seats. Barack Obama’s opinions and beliefs about the way this country should be going, how we should be handling gay rights and global warming and Social Security, these count for EXTRAORDINARILY little when it comes to the governing process. Forget that tripe you learned as a kid about “the most powerful person in the world”; the President has got very little power beyond the ability to nominate judges and pray that he can get the head of the Ways and Means Committee to go along with his budget priorities. Our eight years of Bushanoia have given us an incredibly distorted view of what a President can actually accomplish; we just assumed that it was Bush at the wheel, when in reality he was passed out drunk in the trunk of the car. And so insofar as our government has accomplished anything even REMOTELY progressive or positive (and, in case you’ve forgotten, it has) in the past year and a half, the credit belongs to the incredible energy and discipline Obama has instilled in his administration, both directly and through his appointees.

Of course, I can already hear the (and I borrow humbly the term of the excellent Al Giordiano) poutrage machine beginning to stir from its slumber. “Fucking Obamabot” it will begin, its wit as sharp as ever. “You’re so stupid as to believe that Obama actually wants to change things. In reality, he WANTS offshore drilling, and he doesn’t want to help out gays. He wants a weak energy bill, and a crippled healthcare bill, and watered down token ‘progressive’ legislation while he bails out the bankers and screws over the working guy. He’s just another, differently colored cog in The Machine”.

To which I say: You could certainly be right. I mean, given all the layers of abstraction and sausage-making machinery between Obama and the rest of us, there’s really no way for us to tell. But if you make that argument, you have to make one conceit. If you actually believe that Barack Obama personally supports everything the Congress and Federal government have done so far in his presidency, you really have no choice but to admit that Barack Obama is the most talented political leader to ever walk the Earth. Because for an executive to always get what they “really want” on every single issue would be an absolutely unprecedented miracle of governance. If that is the case, then Barack Obama is playing some 11th-dimensional chess on a scale that has never before been witnessed.

Or, if you’re like me and you prefer the more likely explanation, Barack Obama is probably a fairly progressive person (if you pay attention to what actually comes out of his mouth, especially before he ran for president, this seems reasonably probable) and, more than anything, a highly talented executive who has managed to wrangle an mind-bogglingly huge bureaucracy, based on a frail and nearly-obsolete Constitution, chock-full of ideological opponents, massive egos, fabulously wealthy interests, and just plain antagonistic assholes and backwoods idiots, and managed to do more good with it in eighteen months than anyone in the past forty years. And on that point, the record is mercifully clear.

So next time you start to go on a tear about how Obama wants this, or Obama did that, or Obama is ignoring the netroots, or Obama is defending this or that Bush policy, please remember the sympathetic fallacy. The government is not a person, and Barack Obama is not your personal fucking Santa Claus.

*I have borrowed this section in part from a much smarter and more insightful commentator than I, but unfortunately I can no longer remember the source. If anyone could let me know who I’m ripping off here, I would like to add a proper citation.

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73 Responses to “GUEST POST: IF THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS, THIS IS NOT IT”

  1. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    My feedback:

    Probably too long for a blog post, but the last few paragraphs were awesome. A-fucking men.

    "He'll sit here and say 'Do this! Do that!' and nothing will happen. Poor Ike…it won't be like the army."

  2. RosaLux Says:

    I agree that the shrieks among the progressive community that "Obama is a sellout/Bush-all-over-again" are idiotic and hyperbolic. They fail to grasp the diffuse and complex power dynamics of Washington. And, I also believe that at the end of his first four years, Obama will be able to point to some major legislative successes.

    HOWEVER, I think you're not being fair to us progressive whiners if you assert that our complaints about Obama derive simply from an unfulfilled expectations that he would be some kind of New Deal-esque messiah. Not all of us believed that he was fucking Santa Claus.

    1. It IS legitimate to critique Obama for failing to proffer bold progressive policies that he all but promised he would during the campaign. This comes down to a breach of trust. Obama represented during his campaign that he would craft and fight for bold policy solutions – sometimes specifically, sometimes with his soaring rhetoric. What happened? He more or less punted on health care and financial reform and, in doing so, colluded in the watering down of these reforms. He suddenly seems averse to bold proposals.

    2. Even if you think that Obama privately supports legislation more progressive than he proposes, it IS legitimate to critique Obama for foolishly pursuing a strategy of incrementalism and bipartisanism. It didn't work – the verdict is clear. Yea, Obama doesn't control all three branches of government. But Democrats do control the legislative and executive branch. You would think they could have passed a health care bill passed that wasn't a hollow shell of reform, that didn't leave Big Insurance dancing in the streets. Think progressives are still bitter about health care? Oh yeah.

    3. I would quibble with your claim that the Constitution is "frail and nearly-obsolete." First, I don't know that a legal document can be described as "frail." What, does it have arthritis? Is it on its last legs? As far as I know, the prospects for the Constitution continuing to be the "supreme law of the land" are very good. And "nearly-obsolete"…I suppose you mean that it is "outmoded" or "out-of-date." I happen to think that it holds up damn well. Is there a part of the constitution you find outmoded? Article I? Article II? The Second Amendment, I grant, is a bit aged. The Art. I congressional power to issue "letters of marque" is totally outmoded. But most of the Bill of Rights is remarkably responsive to the felt needs of citizens today.

  3. daphne Says:

    you (the poster, not this post's commenters) sound very…young.

  4. HoosierPoli Says:

    Thanks for all your feedback guys, I really just wanted to spark a debate on this subject in a community with slightly higher intellectual standards.

    I know it runs a bit long, but I wanted to take you through a whole line of thinking, rather than just say "It is so because I say so". I only intended it to be about 1000 words and it came out at over 2500.

    In response to Rosalux:

    1. Going too progressive too early is a recipe for failure. Let's say he came out with his own strong single-payer plan, or even just a strong public options. He still needs all 60 Dems (at the time); if even ONE balks at it, the health care bill dies and all his political momentum goes totally out the window, probably never to be recovered.

    2. Speaking of those Dems, at this point "bipartisanship" means getting the Blue Dogs AND Bernie Sanders. There are a few Dems that are essentially Republicans and basically won't do anything worthwhile without political cover. These are the guys that will HAPPILY filibuster their own President over corn subsidies. They're basically insane people on the top of the clocktower with high-powered rifles, and the best way to deal with them is not offend their sensibilities.

    3. I was referring to the fact that, for example, the 4th Amendment was written in a world where a telephone would have been considered black magic. I think it no longer serves the modern world properly, and the amendment process is too cumbersome for a populace that worships it like a holy text.

  5. HoosierPoli Says:

    "you (the poster, not this post's commenters) sound very…young."

    You flatter me.

  6. ZenPoseur Says:

    Not to berate a budding wordsmith, but I'm so fucking sick of this weak tea bullshit. Hey, you know what's more annoying than liberals whining that Obama isn't liberal enough? Liberals whining that other liberals are whining too much about Obama not being liberal enough.

    You know what else? This doesn't help. As little as the FDL crowd are helping, this helps even less.

    No, Obama isn't my Santa Clause. And yet I'm not going to stop asking him for shit that I want in as whiny a voice as I want (like, say, that we not destroy the planet — I'd kind of like that for Christmas.)

    You know why? Because, in American politics, whiners get stuff. Look at healthcare. Whiners on the right nearly sank it, while the left was busy formulating rational strategies and building bridges. Whiners on the left threatened to sink it too, in what in hindsight was a misguided attempt to push it leftward, but when it looked like it really was going to sink, what did those same whiners do? Well, most of them turned on a dime and started whining to keep it afloat, and brought it back from the brink when every sensible person thought it was dead and buried. It was phone calls and threats from whiny leftists that did that. So you see, IT'S NOT A BAD THING FOR DEMOCRATIC POLITICIANS TO FEEL UNEASE ABOUT THEIR LEFT FLANK, GODDAMNIT.

    Look, we're not going to have majorities like this anytime in the foreseeable future, so we need to work hard for our priorities right now. If that means a bunch of bitchy, irrational criticism from Obama's left, then so be it. Once we've been trounced in the November elections and we're no longer capable of pushing our agenda forward, we can all join hands around the campfire and sing Kumbayas and laugh about how glad we are that Bush is gone and McCain isn't president and boy we sure dodged a bullet there.

    Until then: push, pull, or get the hell out of the way.

  7. Qmmayer Says:

    I think the sympathetic fallacy might apply best to the notion that the Democratic Party is ever exercising control over either house. And I'm genuinely curious, what specific progressive campaign proposals has he neglected?

  8. J. Dryden Says:

    Academic chime-in: The "sympathetic fallacy" is, I believe, simply a variation of the "pathetic fallacy," which is a concept coined by the Victorian critic John Ruskin. (The general consensus is that when he used it, he was calling 'bullshit' on an artist for the creative cop-out of anthropomorphic projection.) OK, now put your notes away–pop quiz time!

  9. HoosierPoli Says:

    ZenPoseur: My point is that Obama is not the person you need to be whining to. Even if he does want to help you, it's usually not in his power.

    Congress and industry groups are the ones you want to be focusing on.

  10. joel hanes Says:

    I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the ideas in the post if Obama showed a detectable interest in staffing the executive branch with his own appointees.
    Yes, the Republicans in the Senate are obdurate and irrational, but that's no excuse for not even nominating anyone for many many empty positions.

    Salazar at Interior was an enormous mistake.

    And I'm sorry, but the Rahm's meddling in state elections to ensure that Blue Dog incumbents win their primary fights against actual progressives just sets my teeth on edge. Rahm is Obama's creature, and thus Obama is ultimately responsible for these decisions. Fuck Organizing For America; I want Howard Dean and fifty independent state Democratic grassroots organizations back.

  11. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    While it is good to break the usual cycle of blame Bush, Reagan, or some name(for lack of a better term) for everything, this basically states the obvious and also uses semantics to ignore a few issues. For example, I am one of the leftists who never fell for Obama; not even for a second. Of course many of these liberals complaining about him now are just butt-hurt, but they have only themselves to blame as many of them attributed to Obama progressive credentials he never claimed. That is to say, you cannot fault a man for betraying values he never espoused, breaking promises he never made.

    Perhaps the "Obama-as-personal-fucking-Santa-Claus" term is adequate to describe the Obama of the liberals' imagination. That is to say, and I am repeating myself here, they attributed to Obama values that he never espoused, and then got disappointed when he "broke promises" he never made. Whatever someone's pet issue was, they acted as though Obama was going to make their dream come true. Yet in many cases Obama's own words actually contradicted what they hoped for. The thing that is most annoying about such people is that they will most likely bitch all the way into the campaign season in 2012, after which they will all fall in line because we can't let Palin, or whoever win. Then they will be disappointed and indignant all over again. Fool me once…

    Also it gets a little semantic with the thing about people or governments getting what they want. Ok it has little to do with what Obama personally wants. For all we know, Obama may have wanted universal health care. He travels and has access to all manner of experts and statistics which show that universal health care is just plain better. But he is, as you point out, part of a system, and so he was never going to push that. It has little to do with what he wants. But as to the argument that republicans get what they want well I think you have to stop looking at party lines and look at class.

    Put simply, what is good for ruling class interests, corporations, white collar workers, banks, etc. gets passed, usually with approval of both parties. What is good for the majority of people, does not get passed. Party is irrelevant.

    The problem with this article is that it can't help but come off as sounding like a rather impassioned defense of the indefensible, i.e. Obama. Though that wasn't your intention upon closer inspection, it's inevitably going to seem that way.

  12. ZenPoseur Says:

    You know, you have a point.

    Except for being the head of the democratic establishment and therefore able to make or break individual democratic legislators, having the ear of anyone in Washington pretty much anytime of the day or night, nominal control of all executive departments and the accompanying privilege of crafting and enforcing regulations, the ability in practice to draft legislation and the further right to keep congress in session if they don't deal with his priorities, the de facto responsibility of setting legislative priorities for every session of congress, and the unique ability to sway both the public and congress by being the singular face of the American government, the modern president's job is mostly ceremonial.

    Look, I'm not a twit. I understand that the president can't wave his hand and make things happen. But he is the most powerful single force in American governance. He sets the agenda. His approval and support is a proxy for that of the party in power. The party in power gains legitimacy and political capital for their agenda based on the force of his presidential campaign. Yeah, most things are not his call. But he has the people whose call it is on his motherfucking speed dial. He is the head honcho big kahuna power broker in a city that's all about power brokering.

    It is therefore not unreasonable to hold him accountable for the success, failure, or nice-but-not-ambitious-enough performance of his party's agenda. There's a reason why a president's priorities are often acted upon to some degree, even when faced with a hostile congress (see Clinton, Reagan, Eisenhower, etc.) Yet here we are sitting on majorities in both houses, complaining about how impotent we are! (And yeah, for the record, I whine at Harry Reid, too. A lot more than I whine at Obama. A sentiment that I expect is common among the sort you're railing against, not that anyone notices.)

    It's funny, because I can't remember any liberal ever denying the president's power in Washington between the years 2001 and 2008. On the other hand, I knew several conservatives — unhappy with the war on terra and the incursion on civil liberties — who had opinions not unlike yours, during those years. I wonder what they're thinking now.

  13. Comhradh Says:

    I have to respectfully disagree here on the overall sentiment of this post, even while agreeing with some of the core support for the argument.

    Obama's not Santa Claus, I get that. He's just not nearly as effective as he could be. He came into office with miles-long coattails, and then proceeded to let the Right control the narrative. He was *nowhere* on healthcare. He said "Do it!" and then sat on the sidelines unhelpfully calling out a progression of arbitrary deadlines while Congress took his initial campaign suggestion and turned it into crap. And when finally pressed on what he actually wanted, he delivered a watered-down shadow of what was initially proposed. A year later, he'd blown all that capital and we got (according to the right) the Nuremburg Laws or (according to reality) a few extra people covered by insurance in 2014. Talk all you want about who's to the right of Clinton or Eisenhower, I wanted to see Obama-as-LBJ, demanding to the 59% of the Senate a reckoning for getting them into that amount of power. He did nothing of the sort.

    Sure, there were other things going on in the world, like his expansion of dubiously ethical Bush-era military programs (drones, detentions, etc), and there was that whole Israel Loves Gaza To Death thing, but healthcare was his big ticket. He let Glenn Beck tell the story, left Congress in charge of writing the thing, sat on the sidelines waiting for it, and then called garbage a victory, which no one really believed.

    He's grabbed power in places he said he wouldn't, and refused to exercise it in places he said he would. No, he's not Santa Claus. He's the Grinch. I wanted a fight on Healthcare, and I wanted it from Obama. There was a fight, alright. The Right won it the second he let them run the narrative. The rest of his presidency has been similarly defined.

  14. comrade x Says:

    What Aslan said, plus:
    Is this " Obama- Is- Not- Santa- Claus" meme the latest DLC talking point? Because I heard virtually the same argument coming out of the mouth of another Obama apologist in a discussion about the Gulf of Mexico disaster this weekend.

  15. HoosierPoli Says:

    "It's funny, because I can't remember any liberal ever denying the president's power in Washington between the years 2001 and 2008."

    It is something like the central thesis of this piece that they were all wrong.

  16. HoosierPoli Says:

    "Is this " Obama- Is- Not- Santa- Claus" meme the latest DLC talking point? Because I heard virtually the same argument coming out of the mouth of another Obama apologist in a discussion about the Gulf of Mexico disaster this weekend."

    I dunno, I wrote this piece several weeks ago actually, and thus didn't really have the whole Gulf thing in mind. That whole dustup does point out the rather troubling desire for SUPERFICIAL action on Obama's part. People want stuff they can see, sound bites and speeches and visible emotion, rather than something that may be as effective as possible but totally invisible. Not that I'm gonna say that Obama's handling of the spill was as effective as possible.

  17. HoosierPoli Says:

    "Except for being the head of the democratic establishment and therefore able to make or break individual democratic legislators, having the ear of anyone in Washington pretty much anytime of the day or night, nominal control of all executive departments and the accompanying privilege of crafting and enforcing regulations, the ability in practice to draft legislation and the further right to keep congress in session if they don't deal with his priorities, the de facto responsibility of setting legislative priorities for every session of congress, and the unique ability to sway both the public and congress by being the singular face of the American government, the modern president's job is mostly ceremonial."

    The point that I wasn't able to make clearly enough in the piece was that so many of these supposed "powers" impinge on so many other people's turf that to view them as the exclusive privilege of the President is a dangerous oversimplification. It's something that I hope to deal with in my academic writing, because it's something that requires a lot more research and in-depth analysis than this format will really allow.

    Suffice it to say, though, that individual legislators can break a President too. And there are 535 of them, and only one of him. The Bully Pulpit is a licence to harangue, but most people, especially people as egocentric as career politicians, don't take very kindly to that sort of thing. And no amount of political pressure is going to get a West Virginia congressperson to vote against the coal lobby unless you give him something more valuable in return. I can certainly be accused of stating the obvious here but sometimes things bear repeating.

  18. anotherbozo Says:

    Having read your blog, HoosierPoli, and seen a quote from my own past statement in it ("Rockefeller Republican"), I thought I'd have to spend an hour or so crafting a response. Happily a response has been made for me. ZenPoseur, RosaLux, Comhradh and even daphne (yes, you did sound young, and that's not necessarily a compliment) have articulated the basic points. It's Obama's continuing apologists (give the kid a break! it's hard! really hard!) who sound whiny to me.

    It's impossible not to develop at least a working theory to understand why the Obama administration is behaving so much like Bush's. My own current one is that Obama's temperament really is as a conciliator ("There is not a red America and a blue America…") and with progressives on one hand and TeaPartiers on the other he's tried to officiate evenly, a ridiculous exercise. This in the context that the center of gravity of American politics has shifted radically to the right in recent years, a fact which no one denies.

    But the big picture is even more depressing, and watching Obama doesn't get you much past the People Magazine level of government. Being close to 70 I can't help a perspective that has seen the corporate stranglehold on government tighten perhaps irremediably over the past decades. Corporations own this country and there's little wiggle room. (Corporate wisdom, lest we forget, means maximum profit in the short term, and damn the future) In fact the only ray of light I've seen lately is the questionnaire I got from MoveOn.org yesterday, which tacitly acknowledged the problem and proposed various correctives. This stranglehold has probably dictated everything from Iraq to the crippled form of health care reform we got, and for my money can't be talked about too much. It may be too late for talk, but it least it's healthy to acknowledge the salient levels of reality.

  19. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    As Neustadt says, the President's primary power is the power to persuade. Presidents can't "make" things happen. They have to convince other people to go along with them (Congress, executive agencies, the mass public, etc).

    It seems to me (and my source for this admittedly is my own butt hole) what we've seen is a decline in the President's "power to persuade," not because Obama is particularly incompetent at it, but because the advent of the fractured media market has made it more difficult to reach a mass audience. It also means that individual members of Congress can more easily communicate with their own partisan constituents, making them less reliant on Presidential or party support. And, most of them are in safe seats anyway, thanks to gerrymandering and the incumbent advantage. Then, you combine that with increased party polarization in Congress and the willingness of Senators to filibuster at the drop of a hat (and Ted Kennedy dying), and it seems to me that the office is weaker now than it has been for some time, at least on the domestic policy front. So, again, what the hell is Obama supposed to do? It would be nice if he could, like Johnson, bully and buy his way to a new Great Society movement, but it seems to me that those days are over.

    (source: my butt, 2010)

  20. Elder Futhark Says:

    Completely irrelevant to J Dryden: Sympathetic Fallacy is a variant of Affective Fallacy: accepting the logic of an argument by being emotionally influenced by it. You are correct about Ruskin. The Pathetic Fallacy is about anthropomorphizing. Points off to Hoosierpoli for at least not using U of Google degree.

    As to Hoosierpoli (telegrammed for lack of time). Error 1) Bush, no engagement, no competence, no blame. Therefore Obama, blameless. Wrong. Reason. Sin of omission. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. See: Unjust World, Type II Stupidity.

    Error 2) where? Don't see it listed. (I know it's there, but unless you list, I won't tell you what's wrong).

    Give you a B. Concentrate more next time.

    (Putting away red pen).

  21. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    Why would Obama doing something visible automatically be "superficial"? Is it reasonable to assume that an effective solution to this problem, or any of the problems in question, would probably be highly visible and publicized?

  22. John Says:

    Although I never subscribed to the Obama-as-personal-jesus line of thinking that some people did, and never had particularly high hopes for what he was going to accomplish, I think there's one event that can really put a point on the major problem progressives have with Obama.

    When that congressman stood up, in the middle of a speech Obama was making before congress, and shouted "You Lie!", nothing serious happened to him.

    That kind of open, flagrant disrespect for the man in the supposed highest office in the land should have seen him utterly destroyed on the spot. It would have, under almost any other president. Of course congress doesn't have the power to force him out of his seat or anything of the sort — that lies with the voters — but they literally just gave him a mildly-disapproving slap on the wrist. Obama just sat there and took it, and there were almost no consequences for it.

    That kind of helpless acquiesence; that willingness to just sort of sit there and take such a display of utter lack of respect for him — that's the problem a lot of us have with Obama.

  23. Burple Says:

    You make many good points. But do you expect me to believe that the President of the United States does not have the ability to set policy priorities at the Justice Department? Why is Eric Holder's Justice Department fighting to keep Mohomed Odaini at Guantanamo eight years after the US government itself first concluded that he was mistakenly detained (at 17) and innocent?

    Why did Holder's Justice department argue that a permanent resident of the US arrested with a small quantity of marijuana should be automatically deported — an argument so extreme that the US Supreme Court disagreed *unanimously* yesterday?

    Why did the Obama Administration urge the Supreme Court not to hear the appeal of Maher Arar, the innocent Canadian of Syrian descent who was abducted by the US gov't in 2002 at JFK and sent to Syria to be tortured for 10 months? The Canadians had a full investigation and the Canadian PM personally apologized to Arar, yet the Obama administration still fights to keep Arar from embarrassing the US gov't. Why? You don't think Obama has the power to direct the executive branch?

    There's lots more: Obama's presidential assassination program targeting US citizens abroad, of which the White House is "very proud." (!) There's the Obama administration asserting the right to detain innocent people indefinitely without charges. There's the continuation of the program of extraordinary rendition — that's the one where people are kidnapped and sent to secret prisons around the world, without any due process or judicial review. Obama the candidate said he would stop renditions if elected and indeed could stop them today by a simple executive order.

    Did anybody hold a gun to Obama's head and tell him it was a great idea to escalate the war in Afghanastan? That was his decision, was it not?

    So you know what? Go fuck yourself with this bullshit.

  24. HoosierPoli Says:

    I think many critical comments here are derived from an incorrect understanding of what I was trying to say. I certainly take the blame for that, it's my responsibility to get the point across, but the reason I spent 3/4ths of the essay talking about George W Bush was to hopefully prove a point about what might be called executive latitude or room for maneuver. My point as it relates to Obama is not "Don't criticize the President, he's doing his best!", it was more like "You are probably expecting too much out of the office of the President in terms of progressive action, regardless of who is actually occupying it".

    Again, criticism helps! It lets me know where I need to emphasize points and where my arguments need strengthening. Of course, egos always prefer more of the "constructive" and less of the "criticism", but I didn't ask for this to be posted up to stroke my ego.

  25. anotherbozo Says:

    @John: Don't forget that Joe Wilson was a fucking HERO in some quarters, and raised–what was it? $100,000?–in campaign contributions as a result of his yahoo behavior. Are we sure that Obama, even together with cooperative Dems in Congress, could have "destroyed" him?

  26. HoosierPoli Says:

    "You make many good points. But do you expect me to believe that the President of the United States does not have the ability to set policy priorities at the Justice Department?"

    I'll admit that administrative law is not my strong suit, but I'm pretty sure that the President doesn't have the authority to interfere in the operation of the Justice Department. I would expect that to be obstruction of justice. Not that it doesn't happen ever, but that it's not a statutory authority.

  27. Burple Says:

    Riiight. The question is "should the Justice Dept continue to push real hard to expand and build on Bush-era presidential powers involving a bunch of extremely illegal and secretive shit that even this Supreme Court is incredulous about, or should it back the fuck off and stop trying to defend this kind of illegal and criminal bullshit?" And you're suggesting that it would be obstruction of justice for the president of the united states to set the overarching policy that the DOJ should stop trying to defend illegal and criminal bullshit.

  28. Keifus Says:

    Oh Christ, not here too. Well, you beat the hell out of the Santa Claus theory. Those readily-identifiable groups must be reeling.

    Not that I don't speak for the dirty left, even if I have fallen among them. (That's probably why we fail.) What this comes down to is that there are a series of policies that I'd like to see supported, centered, broadly, around oil/agricultural/environmental policy, economic/business/labor policy, military policy, and civil liberties. I can give you a score on Obama, if you like, based, as others have just suggested, how much he's fought for these things, on which parts of his campaign he's heatedly pursued or ignored. My thought is that he's generally started from a compromised position, and then bargained from there.

    I mean, it's all about the power structure in this country, as you say, which has been crudely optimized for various corporate concerns. So is Obama, as a sober leader, incapable to thwart those powers arrayed against him, or is he, as a successful politician, already a representative of those powers? It seems naive to go with A, although I'm sure it happens from time to time. And frankly, if these are the only two choices, then you'll perhaps forgive my disinclination to enthusiastically support Obama or any of these motherfuckers, even while I remain concerned with the process.

  29. Keifus Says:

    (Sigh. Should read, "Not that I speak for the left…" or anyone besides myself.)

  30. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Holy cow. I'm not sure that I can add very much. I think I tend to agree with people who wish Obama utilized the Bully-Pulpit a little more (with audacity? is that how I can use that word?).

    Since I am crazy for urban planning I would just point to a policy that few people have noticed out of the Executive Branch of government. The Livable Communities policy is a new concentration on smart growth and transit oriented developments for DOT. Additionally it has begun a partnership with EPA-HUD&DOT, something that should have occurred years ago. Living and building housing near transportation stops dramatically increases the likelihood that residents use public transit and therefore decreases our carbon footprints. Of-course this has not been supported by the legislative branch yet, but its good stuff (call your Senators to support the Senate bill 1619 – Chris Dodd's Livable Communities Act – at the moment its in his committee and will probably die when he retires). My favorite Cabinet member at this point is Ray LaHood.

  31. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    I agree with Grumpygradstudent's opinion. The media's disperse nature of the new media means Obama, or any other President can't really utilize as heavy a Bully Pulpit as he once did. Remember how Bush won in 2004? It wasn't general moderate positions like it was in 2000, it was appealing to churches to talk about voting for Bush and recruiting ministers or other people from churches to make sure all friends and family voted for him. Bush capitalized on the Balkanization of America. Do we think Obama/liberals could do the same thing in 2012? I doubt it – liberals are too fragmented around too many different topics to unite around one thing (abortions for conservatives). But then again the broad policies centered around oil/agricultural/environmental policy, economic/business/labor policy, military policy, and civil liberties that Keifus has are probably things that we can agree on.

  32. grendelkhan Says:

    Qmmayer: And I'm genuinely curious, what specific progressive campaign proposals has he neglected?

    Without looking anything up, I can tell you that Guantanamo is still open, and even if it had been closed, the same kind of legal limbo exists at Bagram now. His administration is quite arguably worse on civil liberties than the previous one, and has been cracking down on whistleblowers, contrary to claims that the government would be run in a transparent and accountable manner.

    Greenwald, as always, has more. It's less about Obama and more about the party as an island of suck in an ocean of shit.

  33. BK Says:

    I think a lot of us have missed an important point and it's not one being debated here, but at some level I find it so central to the analysis of Obama that it needs to be said…

    There are huge differences between what Obama actually said and what all the volunteers, pundits, proxies and staffers said he would do – especially during the election.

    Go back and read the speeches and the campaign position papers.

    We are getting what we elected, it's just different from what a lot of people other than Obama told us were getting.

  34. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Dear HoosierPoli,

    WORD.

    Hugs and Kisses,
    Parrotlover

  35. yellow juan Says:

    Wow. You guys are a bunch of dicks. I think that is all of you, and not HoosierPoli, who sound quite young (regardless of how old you actually are). Like a bunch of children, honestly. I see little difference between your purity bullshit and that of tea baggers.

  36. RosaLux Says:

    Responding to Hoosier:

    Okay, now you're being specific. It is the 4th amendment and the amendment process that are outmoded.

    1. The 4th amendment: Sure, the framers may have thought that telephones were black magic, but today the 4th amendment protections against illegal searches and seizures are applied to all sorts of things that the framers never envisioned: automobiles, for instance. The key concept in 4th amendment is protecting our "reasonable expectations of privacy" – and this concept is capable of evolving with time, as it has. The Supreme Court hasn't every single time interpreted the 4th amendment as I would hope, but they've got it right more times than not and the protections the amendment guarantees are every bit as effective and vital as they were 200 years ago.

    2. The amendment process: There's a good argument that the amendment process SHOULD be slow and difficult to accomplish. Just as there is a value in allowing for change, there is a value in protecting against the extreme whims of certain times, or certain leaders. The mechanism of government is designed to be more ponderous than the given desires of any one party or time. I think this is a good thing. Particularly, when you notice that the Amendment process has allowed for the abolition of slavery (13th amend.), black suffrage (15), and women suffrage (19). The constitutional mechanism for correcting itself eventually worked in these cases. But then we also got prohibition (18th amendment), which might suggest that the amendment process was too easy rather than too difficult.

    I would suggest you give the constitution a good, close read before you declare it "nearly-obsolete."

  37. Oblio Says:

    I… I… I have finally read what my feeble mind has been trying to illucidate, yet has not been able to, until now. Sure, I have the same tack and scanning observations as the guest poster, but too many of my family and friends, both Left and Right, are so very intrenched in their hatred for this mere mortal Barack that they are unable to grasp the complexity of what he's trying to do.

    For the Righties, Barry is the embodiment af all they fear, and therefore all they hate as well. He is the usurper, 'the other', the one they have been warning their barely-educated kids about, all while they nod approvingly at whatever drivel Mark Levine and Rushbo and Glenn decide is the 'Barry-hating flavor of the day'.

    For the Lefties, Barry is the big letdown, the one who promised the moon and can't even deliver that! He's not liberal enough, not progressive enough, too willing to comprimise, can't even stand up for the ideals they thought he had. Too bad, so sad.

    I keep telling all these folks that we vote in the politicians who run for office, because they are running for office, but they aren't different than any of us except for their choice to be pilloried by us all. The vote-getters are us, every single one of them, and sometimes they are crazy or stupid or insane or weak or crazy-smart or professorial… but nevertheless, THEY ARE US.

    When did we become so morbidly uninformed that we have forgotten how to use critical thinking when casting our ballot? Did the Cheetos and Mountain Dew and KFC Double Downs clog our brains as well as our arteries? WTF?

    The group I am most a-feared of is the raving Christianist Red-Staters who think open-carry gun laws will save our country, that Biblical teachings are FAR SUPERIOR to anything taught in college, that the Wild West ethic will cleanse us of doubt and put us right again. AND THEY MEAN IT, TOO.

    Meanwhile, I will calmly and succinctly keep telling anyone who will listen that Barry has the worst job in the world, that he's making the best of it, and that he is NOT OUR FUCKING SANTA CLAUS. That last one is now my favorite line, and I will use it at every opportunity. BTW, I tried the 'Jesus: Santa Claus for grown ups' one but that got a Christian Jihad placed on my bald head, so I gotta watch out who I piss off for a while.

    Many, many thanks for this posting. As usual, BRILLIANT.

  38. Nunya Says:

    From The Onion:

    Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job

    November 5, 2008 | ISSUE 44•45
    Article Tools

    WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation's broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, "It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can't catch a break."

  39. Burple Says:

    @ yellow juan — Hey, I don't want purity, nor do I disagree with Hoosier that many progressives expected a more progressive administration than was possible regardless of who occupied the Oval Office. All I want is a return to a constitutional form of government. Am I a dick for parting ways with Obama over presidential assassinations of American citizens? You have got to be fucking kidding me.

  40. Liebchen Says:

    Santa Claus, hell, I would hope to see a President who does not actively seek to violate basic constitutional rights, such as imprisonment without charges, monkey trials ('scuse me: military commissions) where there's a chance that a real trial might acquit, targeted assassination orders, etc. All of this is, I believe, within the President's EXECUTIVE PURVIEW.

  41. Nunya Says:

    @Burple – Presidential assassination program? Where, exactly did that little nugget of wisdom come from?

    This blog is known for its excellent commentators who respectfully argue their positions and occasionally drop the F-Bomb but your style indicates a lot of anger and, frankly, ignorance.

    You may want to bop on over to the Fox and Friends forum. It's more your speed.

  42. choada777 Says:

    It's funny that this was brought up. Glenn Greenwald opined just yesterday arguing the exact opposite of today's post:

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/06/21/obama/index.html

    I tend to agree with Glenn on this.

    I do see the writer's points regarding Sympathetic Fallacy. Government these days is stocked with tons of self-interested, former-industry characters and Bush's incompetence & stupidity allowed existing problems to fester. But

  43. choada777 Says:

    Whoops, accidentally submitted before finishing. Anyway:

    Obama's actions, to me, convey that his only motivation is getting elected next term, and how better to get elected that to have the largest donors in your corner (Big Pharma, Oil, Wall St., DoD). That best explains his tepid regulations and lop-sided compromises.

  44. Burple Says:

    @ Nunya:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/world/middleeast/07yemen.html?hp

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040604121.html?hpid=topnews

    http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/2010-4-28-ACLULettertoPresidentObama.pdf

    Yes, Nunya, I'm angry about it… should I not be?

  45. Eeyore Says:

  46. choada777 Says:

    I'm also pretty sure that "Obama is backstabbing Progressives" is not part of the right-wing narrative. That's actually coming from people, who voted and campaigned for him, that feel they are being stabbed in the back.

    The Right's narrative is more along the lines of "HE'S A SOCIALIST!!!!" or "IT'S LIKE GERMANY 1939 ALL OVER AGAIN!!1!". Granted, I don't scour Drudge or listen to Fox, so maybe I missed that one but that's new to me.

  47. Nunya Says:

    So you'd be fine with this program if it only targeted foreigners? Maybe you'd like to expand an open war with Yemen?

    From your NY Times link – "As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country, and officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the list of targets. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford. "

    I'm not a fan of Guantanamo and believe that every person deserves the right to a trial but I think the nation has a right to protect itself from individuals who have proven their aim to provide material support to terrorists even if they're American citizens and even if they're operating from a foreign nation. I would prefer the local police of the hosting nation to arrest them and extradite them to the US to be tried but some nations are less likely to cooperate with the US than others.

  48. Burple Says:

    Nunya,

    "So you'd be fine with this program if it only targeted foreigners? Maybe you'd like to expand an open war with Yemen?"

    Um, no and nope. You're grasping at straws here.

    "From your NY Times link – "As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country, and officials said that was the standard used in adding names to the list of targets. In addition, Congress approved the use of military force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford." "

    Right. This is the official justification for the idea that the president can order a US citizen killed, far from any war zone, without any judicial review. Did you read the ACLU's take on that? Maybe check out what Jonathan Turley has had to say about it?

    "I'm not a fan of Guantanamo and believe that every person deserves the right to a trial but I think the nation has a right to protect itself from individuals who HAVE PROVEN [my emphasis] their aim to provide material support to terrorists even if they're American citizens and even if they're operating from a foreign nation. I would prefer the local police of the hosting nation to arrest them and extradite them to the US to be tried but some nations are less likely to cooperate with the US than others."

    The whole point is that the guy the White House says the CIA can kill hasn't been *proven* to have done anything. There's no due process at all, no judicial review. The president just reaches out and has him whacked, and if it becomes public, he says "The guy was a terrorist" and that's the end of the story. You really OK with that?

  49. Nunya Says:

    I would prefer that the leaders involved in creating war were the ones involved in fighting it. As far as targeting suspected terrorists outside of an active combat zone is concerned, yes, I believe it is a legitimate tactic and should be pursued when necessary.

    Without a credible fear of being pursued in nations outside of a combat zone, we simply give them another safe basis of operation where they can continue their operations. I'm sure you're aware of what led up to the war in Afghanistan. I would much rather have ended that little adventure with a strategic missile attack than to fight a long-term, destructive war that costs the lives of thousands.

    I love the ACLU and send them money every year. They really do fight the good fight for universal freedoms but in this case, I'm inclined to disagree with them. Sometimes the fine points of philosophy become a bit dulled by war. It may be hypocritical but I prefer my wars to be as small as possible.

  50. HoosierPoli Says:

    Hey guys, I just wanted to say thanks again for being so open to this. I think some people here agree with me, some of you misunderstand me, and some of you just plain disagree with me, and that's all I could hope for really. But you've really helped me identify some areas where my argumentative style is a little bit weak, and having an environment where I can get my ideas out in the open is really helpful.

  51. comrade x Says:

    Nunya, maybe such executive power as Burple is worried about may not be abused by the current president ( well, not much), but who's to say the next one will use such restraint?
    The war in Afghanistan had a lot more to do with controlling a Central Asian pipeline and its access to the Indian ocean than fighting terrorism ( Clinton and Dubya hosted Taliban leaders in DC to discuss running a natural gas and oil pipeline through their country). Now throw all that recently " discovered" mineral wealth in the mix and the current administration will find all kinds of reasons why we have to stay there.
    Oh, and one more thing… who decides the target of the assassination is a terrorist and enemy of the U.S.?

  52. Elder Futhark Says:

    Sometimes you can have the right people do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time and place… and the situation still takes a big giant shit on you.

  53. Burple Says:

    I think Nunya articulates a popular, if incoherent, viewpoint in the Democratic Party. And so, we arrive at the nub of things: the proposition that the President of the United States ought not be allowed to order extrajudicial executions and kidnappings has become a far left position, outside the mainstream of American political discourse. This is in large part because President Obama — not Congress — has institutionalized, made bipartisan, and extended the Bush Administration's theory of executive power.

    I suppose that is why my hackles were raised by Hoosier's original essay. He wrote "Barack Obama is not a king." How strange that he has successfully arrogated to himself several powers once enjoyed by absolute monarchs, but which — I was taught as a child — have no place in a constitutional republic.

    As Al Gore said in 2006, "Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture [notice he does not mention assassinate, because even the Bush Administration did not go that far], then what can't he do?"

    I don't always agree with Glenn Greenwald. But I agree with him when he says that if you're going "argue that this is all justified because Awlaki is an Evil, Violent, Murdering Terrorist Trying to Kill Americans, you should say how you know that. Generally, guilt is determined by having a trial where the evidence is presented and the accused has an opportunity to defend himself — not by putting blind authoritarian faith in the unchecked accusations of government leaders, even if it happens to be Barack Obama. That's especially true given how many times accusations of Terrorism by the U.S. Government have proven to be false."

    Nunya, you say that you prefer your wars small as possible. I invite you to consider whether the program we've been talking about — let alone the current president's decisions to expand the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the resulting deaths of many innocent men, women, and children in those countries — really further that aim.

    Returning to Hoosier's original essay, on one hand, there is a reasonable argument to be made that liberals and leftists in the US should not be too disappointed in the Obama Administration's domestic policy record thus far, because the president is contending with many interests and forces beyond his control. That much I am willing to agree with Hoosier.

    But I would like Hoosier to concede that there is also a reasonable critique to be made from the left, of the Obama Administration's appalling record thus far on executive power, civil liberties, and the war in Afghanistan. As Nunya noticed, I am angry about it — and there are good reasons to be angry about it. Being angry about it does NOT equate to believing that Obama is my personal Santa Claus, and it doesn't make me, and others who share my deep disappointment in him personally on these issues, a bunch of starry-eyed idealists or whiny crybabies.

    Finally, I will vote for Obama again in 2012. But unlike Election Night 2008, when I shed tears of joy and relief for the future of my country, this time I will do it with a much heavier heart.

  54. Nunya Says:

    Burple – I rescind my comments about Fox and Friends. You have a well thought out argument and have refrained from telling anyone to go fuck themselves for several posts. Your restraint both admirable and appreciated.

    Not to drift too far from your comments, I ask what proof is required before we launch a missile on a village suspected to be housing an Al Quaida operative or what kind of judicial oversight it present when we lob artillery shells into a group of men that have never been read their Miranda rights?

    The truth of the matter is that war is the most perverse invention man has ever devised and I would like to see it used as little as possible. On this basic premise, I prefer to attack the leaders of the opposing side before escalating to a massive armed conflict. I understand that this is philosophically flawed and may extend unchecked power to the executive branch but if the end result is a preservation of the larger peace, my calculus deems this to be the fairest course of action.

    Make no mistake, civil liberties in America have taken a beating during the last ten years. As a society, we seemed content to give them up in order to be "protected" and I would love the Patriot Act to be abolished from the law.

    There is a great deal of damage to be healed and I believe Obama is doing as much as he is capable of in the short time he has been given. I don't pretend to know the extent of his intentions in Afghanistan or Iraq but I believe suspending the targeting of specific leaders in terrorist organizations is not high on the list of priorities.

    I also agree with your disillusionment in our government. I assumed that two unjustified wars coupled with massive unemployment, evidence of corruption at all levels of business and politics and the wholesale destruction of the middle class would have motivated the public to press for real reform but instead, we're pointing fingers and trying to drag down our neighbors simply because they're the only ones who will listen.

  55. Monkey Business Says:

    Honestly, I just want to know what the career path is for becoming the Undersecretary of Buttfucking the Taxpayer. That just sounds like fun.

  56. Burple Says:

    Nunya, I appreciate your comment. In my defense, I thought that a GFY was sort of in the spirit of Hoosier's original essay, which has an F-bomb in the title and no less than 10 in total — one of the things I did like about it, by the way.

    And I agree with Monkey Business…

  57. ZenPoseur Says:

    The point that I wasn't able to make clearly enough in the piece was that so many of these supposed "powers" impinge on so many other people's turf that to view them as the exclusive privilege of the President is a dangerous oversimplification.

    And no amount of political pressure is going to get a West Virginia congressperson to vote against the coal lobby unless you give him something more valuable in return. I can certainly be accused of stating the obvious here but sometimes things bear repeating.

    I would advise you not to leave this experience with the belief that you just weren't clear enough. Your problem is that you're racking up a strawman. Your problem is that people disagree with you on the merits of your argument. Those are your problems. You're being perfectly clear. We think you're wrong.

    Listen, we know that it's hard to get what we want. We get that we're probably going to fail. We get that it might even be impossible (although we do not believe that's the case because we're not political nihilists — yet.) We know that we're lucky to have gotten what we have so far. Most of the whiners get that. Please dispense with the notion that we don't get that, because it's fucking annoying.

    But, when faced with a very difficult road, we feel the appropriate course of action is to push harder (which, in American politics, means whine harder — because you might have noticed that whiners in American politics get stuff.) And we want the president to push harder. And we want the Senate to push harder. And you know what the corollary to the whiner rule is? It's that people who are happy with what they have don't get anything else. Why would they? So I refuse to be content.

    Your feeling, when faced with a very difficult road, is that we should… Well, actually I'm not sure I understand what your feeling on the matter is. You mention going after congress (which we're also doing, so that's a borderline strawman) and industry groups. But the president is the most powerful single force in D.C — more powerful than any single congresscritter. You get the most bang for the buck by convincing him that something's important, because he's the power broker and he sets the agenda (and that's not even taking into account his constitutionally granted powers, which you rightly point out are not as extensive as most people believe.)

    And there are things that he could be doing. He could be threatening recess appointments. He could be wielding the EPA as a bludgeon on climate legislation. He could be doing more to shame republicans on the national stage over their anti-jobs, pro-Wall Street, pro-filibuster abuse, and anti-immigrant behavior. He's the only single person who can do all of these things at once, but he's not going to do them if he's more worried about his right flank than his left.

    And as for trying to convince industry groups… Are you serious? If I thought I live in a world where it was futile to whine to the president, but effective to whine to the oil industry, I'd shoot myself in the fucking head. Is that what you want? Do you want me to shoot myself in the head? You must, or you wouldn't have said that. You see this, everyone? He's trying to get me to shoot myself in the head!

    Monster.

  58. Nunya Says:

    @ZenPoseur

    I think he meant only to do this:

  59. RosaLux Says:

    I'm with Zen.

    I appreciate the effort Hoosier, but I wish there was a function whereby I could edit this post line by line with a red pen. Because it seems that nearly every sentence contains either an overstatement, or a wild speculation, or an outright error.

  60. ladiesbane Says:

    With you on the Left who are frantic that Obama broke some mythical promise to cure cancer or something, but please don't make Bush out to be a complete puppet! He appointed a slimeball cabinet who ran amok carrying out his policy, but not against George's wishes. Hell, he just said he'd waterboard all over again. He may be sincere when he espouses energy independence, too, but he still appointed Gale Norton and her deputy, Griles, to the Department of the Interior. His actions speak for themselves. The appointment of attorneys from Christian Cow Colleges, lobbyists, elite donors, corporate shills, and nutty extremists (Dr. David Hager, I'm looking at you!) was not some accident. Elaine Chao didn't wander in to get out of the rain. Bush thought they did a great job and said so.

  61. yellow juan Says:

    HoosierPoli, I think the lesson to be drawn is that if the readers of this blog don't know you and you don't pay enough lip-service to standard left-wing boilerplate bullshit, they are apparently willing to tear you to shreds.

    When someone seriously puts forth arguments as stupid as:

    The war in Afghanistan had a lot more to do with controlling a Central Asian pipeline and its access to the Indian ocean than fighting terrorism ( Clinton and Dubya hosted Taliban leaders in DC to discuss running a natural gas and oil pipeline through their country)

    And expects to be taken seriously, I can only shudder at the future of the left. Are we taking our marching orders from Michael Moore now?

    So, Comrade X, were the Bushies just waiting for September 11 so that they could have their chance to seize control of the vast Lithium deposits (which by the way, are not financially feasible to access).

    Burple at least has a specific, narrowly focused, and logically coherent argument.
    What is up with the rest of you….

  62. one of the rest of you Says:

    I'm not sure Juan, but at least my sense of irony is intact.

    I mean fucking Afghanistan. So the correct answer was what? Revenge? Bloodlust? Kickass practice? Justification of the military budget? Too many cold war intervention arguments still not sufficiently flogged? Profit? Maybe, but those don't seem like they should've sustained a whole decade in that place, and they're nothing to be proud of, especially in hindsight. But you know, jumping into war and all, who could have guessed? At least pipelines and minerals are a rational explanation.

    As for me, the problem is that Obama doesn't represent my concerns as well as I'd like. I don't care if he's hamstrung or if he's sold out, really. The process selects for people that are highly indebted to the architects of last week's series of graphs. I don't think clapping louder is going to forestall an oil shortage or send a higher fraction of corporate profits to wages and benefits or prevent extralegal detentions. Etc..

  63. ZenPoseur Says:

    Juan's just jealous that no one bothered to tear HIM to shreds.

    You know, if you add up the demeaning false characterizations and the histrionic laments about how "you people are ruining the ENTIRE LEFT!", from both sides, here and wherever else this stupid argument takes place, I think the numbers are pretty telling. And take a look at how very tame the comments from whiners that HoosierPoli presents are, compared to his and others' characterizations of said whiners. Which side is supposed to be the melodramatic ones, again?

    Yeah, things got a little heated during the healthcare debate. Although I never heard any such thing, perhaps there really were bloody screams about betrayal and purity and fascism on Kos and FDL. But if you check those sites now, they're really quite calm.

    They somehow managed to get the fuck over it.

    Some people, however, never did.

  64. daphne Says:

    Hoosier: it wasn't intended as flattery, as you surely realized.

  65. Mike the Mad Biologist Says:

    HP,

    It's very well written (I like the style), but I'm not sure I agree (and I was never in the bag for Obama, so I'm disappointed, but not 'betrayed'). Obama does have considerable say over some things, such as reappointing Bernanke (didn't have to do that), many of the civil liberties infringements, doubling down in Afghanistan, and still being in Iraq (just to name a few).

    Those failures provide a context for pushing for other parts of his agenda (e.g., imagine if the war spending weren't being spent on war). His administration also has doesn't understand the value of 'strategic losing', which can be used to pressure Congress into acting (others on this thread have noted the bully pulpit–he could do that too). And as de facto head of the DNC, he has considerable power to pressure vulnerable congresscritters through purse strings (e.g., Lincoln on derivatives).

    Finally, to some extent, it's Obama's decision who is in the position to make certain calls–Reagan and Bush picked oddballs (to be kind about it), but Obama doesn't have to. To the extent that he did, that's his fault.

    So while he's not Santa Claus, he's not as impotent as you make out either.

  66. Mike the Mad Biologist Says:

    I forgot: Obama also doesn't have to use conservative/Republican talking points either: why is Social Security even being 'debated'?

  67. yellow juan Says:

    Hey ZenPoseur,

    I provided an actual quote from a reader of this blog responding to this post, I was not just making shit up. The quote I found represented moronic conspiratorial thinking.

    I could go through and find several more, but honestly I don't have time.

  68. Chief Says:

    Here is a representative sample of why this liberal/progressive is disappointed with the performance of President Obama:

    Dawn Johnson. POTUS nominated her to be in charge of the OLC (Office of Legal Council). Then he let her nomination languish for 14 months before she withdrew. First, he did not fight for her and, second, he did not make her a 'recess' appointment.

    Why did he nominate her, if he wasn't going to fight for her?

    Second: the Public Option. POTUS could have advocated for that from the beginning. But it wasn't even on the table.

    Third: Instead of getting the US out of Afghanistan, he tripled the number of troops there.

    So, basically, even though you have raised some seemingly valid points, the think your post is pure BS and a waste of ink.

  69. Monkey Business Says:

    The reason the Left has to come hard at Obama is because it lacks any sort of real representation in government. The Right has the GOP, the moderates and centrists have the Democrats, but there is no really, truly Left party in the United States.

    Ultimately, the Left is burdened with trying to drag the ignorant mouth breathing masses into the next century, which depending on which set of mouth breathers you're talking about, is either this one or the last one. Yet there are precious few people in Congress that are willing to take on some of the Left's pet projects, because they'll whip the crazy Right into a froth and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their ilk will start foaming at the mouth like mad dogs.

    Basically, it's tougher to be Liberal in America than it is Conservative. If you're Conservative, there's no rule that says that you have to move forward. You can just dig in your heels and refuse to move. If you're a Liberal, you can't just move yourself forward. You have to lasso the Conservative behind you that's just standing there like a four year old in the toy department throwing a tantrum and drag him forward with you.

  70. jazzbumpa Says:

    Hoosier -

    I haven't read the comments, and there are so many, I might not. But since you were kind enough to quote me without attribution, I'll add my penny and a half. Regarding Bush, you are mostly right. He is a blundering buffoon who fucked up everything he ever touched. And this over his whole life, not just the presidency. Seriously, I believe he was irrelevant to his own administration. The only thing he was ever good at was executing convicts. OTOH, I think you misunderestimate Cheney.

    And you're pretty much on track with your assessment of the non-power of the presidency. Johnathon Bernstein had a series of posts about this recently. Here's one of them.

    http://plainblogaboutpolitics.blogspot.com/2010/06/presidency-and-national-security.html

    Re: Obama, you seem to be presenting some false choices. I stand by my comment that he is to the right of Clinton, and Clinton to the right of Ike. I'm thinking mainly of economics here. Look at tax policy during those administrations. Look at the level of regulation. Look at Ike's words about Social Security and the Military-Industrial complex. On economics, Obama cut taxes, kept most of Bush's econ team, and is buying into the right-wing meme that austerity is the best course of action in a demand deficiency depression. It's as if Keynes never existed.

    In foreign policy, Obama has fully embraced in Afghanistan what was called THE SURGE in Iraq. Another thing Ike warned against was getting involved in a land war in Asia. You can see how right he was. You can see how Obama's foreign policy is very little different from W's foreign policy.

    I'm not a disappointed Liberal, feeling buyer's remorse for the Obama choice. I knew I was getting a right-of-center, corporatist, highly competent pol. Among Democratic contenders, he was my 5th choice, only ahead of Hillary (I really don't like dynasties), and behind anyone who could genuinely be considered progressive. I don't think he's timid or wishy-washy. I think he is legitimately a moderate (at best) conservative. In a world that made sense, he would be a Rockefeller-style Republican. But the current Repugs are fucking insane.

    None of this makes me an Obama-hater, and I resent your careless misrepresentation of me. My point was that Obama – the lies of the McShame campaign notwithstanding – NEVER was a progressive with a strong commitment to a liberal political agenda. I've certainly thought about my position longer and harder than you have.

    http://jazzbumpa.tumblr.com/post/54408970/anti-partisanship

    You have to look at these things in historical context. Liberalism has eroded since the Reagan admin, while the country moved several steps to the right. There are damned few real progressives in govt. Bernie Sanders, Byron Dorgan (retiring), Ted Kennedy (dead) maybe a handful of others. Definitely not Obama.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  71. Pictorial Says:

    Ed; this post sounds like it was written by a 16 year old. Please don't subject us to this again.

  72. Aslan Maskhadov Says:

    Time to salt the earth. Tom Tomorrow just happened to release a comic about this:

    http://www.salon.com/entertainment/comics/this_modern_world/2010/06/29/this_modern_world

  73. cheap ugg boots Says:

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