CONDITIONING

Whether we end up doing a postmortem on the Obama presidency in 2012 or 2016, the diagnosis will be identical barring a dramatic and unforeseen change in governing style in a potential second term. Rather than bickering about individual decisions he has made or his ideological tendencies, I think the biggest single factor in his current low standing with the American public stems from his baffling but complete lack of passion. As people like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton understood, the presidency is about that nebulous concept of "leadership." Leadership is an emotional quality, an ability to inspire confidence in people and make them want to follow you. It's the ability to make people turn to you in a crisis and trust that you will have things under control. You have to project confidence, competence, and vision.

What Obama has most clearly failed to do, for lack of a better term, is to show some fight. To have a core principle other than "compromise is good." To draw a line in the sand occasionally and stand up for something. To propose something and not immediately back down from it. Instead of a president who commands respect, we have a situation in which every two-bit hillbilly freshman in the House feels free to take shots at him because he knows there will be no consequences. We have an opposition party that effectively controls the entire Federal government because they know he'll back down every time some AM radio host or group of yokels make loud noises in condemnation of him.

What Barack Obama really needs to do is to get angry, and that is why he will never succeed. He has spent his entire life preparing to fail in this position, because for a half-century Obama has worked hard to master the art of not coming off as the Angry Black Man. No matter how much he or the nation might benefit from a "Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!" moment, it's just not going to happen. No matter how much it would help to get eye to eye with Eric Cantor and say, "Let me explain what happened to the last guy who tried to fuck with me," it's just not going to happen.

While the idea that race is a factor in his lack of success is not novel, I don't think it is a factor in the way most often assumed. He isn't failing because Americans are racist (though they may be) or because the nation "isn't ready for a black president" or something like that. He's failing in part because, since childhood, he has seen the pathway to success defined by the expectations of (primarily white) people in positions of power. And the message has been reinforced hundreds of times over: do not scare the white people. Do not start yelling and pointing your finger and going off on the twisted history of race in this country. They'll treat you as a threat like Malcolm X or write you off as a hysterical demagogue a la Jesse Jackson. Rick Perry can yell and scream all he wants and he will be "passionate"; but the black guy can't do the same and expect to be applauded for it. Always be calm. Always be in control. Always be measured and rational. Never raise your voice.

Throughout his life Barack Obama has taken careful note of what happens to the ambitious, intelligent black men before him who failed to remember this cardinal rule. They were marginalized and he wanted to succeed. Being the Nonthreatening Black Man has been the only pathway to success for someone like Obama. Note that it doesn't entail "acting white", because white people are allowed to get angry in public. It entails acting like white people expect you to act. I'm not making excuses for him, but merely pointing out that he lives between a rock and a hard place. To be the president Americans want, occasionally one must throw down. To be the black man Americans will accept, he has to be nonthreatening.

Maybe he's wrong about that, and a majority of the country would like it if he got pissed off and threw a folding chair at the refs. But as someone who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s and internalized all of the race-based expectations of rural America, the Ivy League, and the political system, I doubt anyone could convince him to try it.

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49 Responses to “CONDITIONING”

  1. Noskilz Says:

    I've tended to suspect the notion of being able to frame every struggle as a victory of some sort has been incredibly destructive to modern politics – so many politicians don't seem to want stand fast for fights they can't be sure of winning or know the votes aren't there for, neglecting to consider that struggles like that are a way to publicly cement what sorts of issues and stances they're about.

    Is there any sign this momentum crap is worth the breath wasted on it? As long as your opponents don't feel like rolling over and are determined to screw with you any way they can think of, polling numbers and whether you got the last bill passed by whatever means seems as irrelevant as which side came up on the last coin flip.

    I have no idea why he isn't scrappier, or why someone in the administration still seems to have hippie-punching on the to-do list, but I don't think going on three years of GOP-outreach has given him much to show for the effort.

    I can think of all sorts of ways to be unpleasantly combative that don't involve swearing theatrics, and I'd assume that if Obama cared to, he could as well.

  2. Trina Says:

    This is why I read this blog everyday. Great post.
    Where are the coffee mugs??

  3. wetcasements Says:

    I dunno. I don't think you need to read too deeply into Obama's character re: "not wanting to be Al Sharpton." It's simpler than that, really — he's a company man.

    Community organizing and so on was just good business for a potential junior senator from Illinois.

    The presidency was not really a calculation until Hillary looked beatable.

    All of that said, he's better for us than Palin/McCain. That's worth remembering.

  4. jgalt Says:

    @wetcasements: A company man, bought and paid for.

    The scales lift from your eyes, and all is made clear, once you embrace the notion that he's trying to lose.

    Yay, team elites!

  5. Middle Seaman Says:

    Bush and Clinton never showed anger. Clinton was always smiling, after all he had his flawed background. Arkansas, single mom, poverty and tons of extra sex aren't well accepted by our white male society.

    Bush had his direction. He was mule stubborn. Clinton with his huge intellect knew almost always what are his chances; he let Newt close the government. Newt was toast.

    Obama is "the man without qualities" (Robert Musil). He brought nothing with him to the presidency, therefore, we will get nothing from him.

  6. uri Says:

    he might just have been born a laid-back person. these things happen.

  7. Hawes Says:

    Really? Bill Clinton is a man of principle now? The guy who abandoned all his campaign rhetoric to follow Rubin's deficit reduction plan? The Era of Big Government is over guy? The welfare reform guy? The guy who repealed Glass-Steagall?

    The EXACT same criticism was made against Clinton – "What does he believe in?" – as you make against Obama. Perhaps instead, being fueled by pragmatism rather than ideology leads to compromises and decent governance.

    As for "getting angry", we are starting to see "Candidate Obama" re-emerge. Again, Democrats – who care about functioning government – are hemmed into a need to actually govern. Now that the campaign is met, he's not trying to make the compromises that lead to DADT repeal or UI extension or keeping the US government from turning into the Greek government.

    I guess my broader question is: Do you want Obama to get angry because it will be better for him or make you feel better?

    Maybe Christie will get in the race to meet your need for a candidate who leads with his spleen.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    Thank you, I'be been trying to make this point for years of other sites.

    You did it much better that I have – naturally.

  9. Keith Says:

    I recall a poignant moment during the 2008 campaign when Obama visited the senate floor and confronted Joe Lieberman. I'm not sure we know what transpired between the two senators, but Obama appeared aggressive and emphatic on camera, and it made me think he had a spark of passion that he keeps well hidden in public. I'd be interested to know how and what was said on that day. All of Obama's actions since that day have been exactly as Ed describes.

    And Hawes makes a good point above. Arguably, Obama has modeled his presidency on Clinton's example of capitulation. It worked well enough to earn Clinton two terms, so perhaps that's Obama's measure of success. Fuck good public policy, just find a way to get 50 + 1.

  10. ladiesbane Says:

    There is also his age. Young presidents are supposed to make up in zeal what they lack in experience. We wanted another Clinton, another Kennedy; we wanted Teddy Roosevelt running roughshod all over Cap Hill, forcing the pace, making the establishment guys pop a sweat.

    Instead, we got someone with the mien and measured tones of a law professor, who may be setting himself up for a post-presidential career as a lobbyist or consultant to big business. If I said that to his face, I don't even know if his response would be, "How can they think I'd do that?" or "Uh-oh, they're on to me?" I just don't know what he's thinking. How can I place my faith in a guy whose motives and methods are an utter mystery?

    The key factor of leadership is earning the trust of your team. Trust = confidence. When those boys charge up that hill, they are not doing it because they have all had a chance to review the orders and agree that the plan is wise; they do it for the Lieutenant. A leader who inspires his team can get them to do anything, be it dangerous (like fighting fires) or bad (like robbing banks) and feel really excited to take on the job. A bad leader has a team that constantly questions his decisions, refuses to comply, complies maliciously or with mental reservations, and otherwise can't accomplish anything.

    I often think of huckstery politicians with rabid fans as "confidence men," the thieves who gain your trust and then abuse it. A good con man keeps his marks coming back. I liked Bill Clinton — I'd vote for him again — but he was a confidence man of the first water. Obama isn't just a bad politician or a bad leader. He gained people's confidence, and then abused it, but he didn't make them like it. Which is worse: to be a con man, or to be a con man who is BAD at it? He's an embarrassment to the Chicago machine, really.

  11. squirrelhugger Says:

    Life isn't black and white, at least outside of reactionary minds. All of the above.

    If I had to give one reason I voted for Obama, it would be his early opposition to the Iraq war. This was not a small point. I've been looking for that man ever since. I assume that like so many before him, ambition consumed his principles when he smelled glory after the 2004 convention. My next presidential vote will be for someone whose progressive consistency is proven through political adversity.

  12. Ravi M. Singh Says:

    It seems you're on a bit of a cynical streak lately and I honestly can't blame you for that. I agree that the President often shows little nerve or spine, and an unwillingness to fight for those who elected him. I think Hawes is right that we do on occasion see the candidate Obama emerge, but too often out of a need to appear as the adult in the room, we see him back down.

    Perhaps as far as politics and electability goes, this attitude is better for him. Then again, he claims he has no problem being a one term president, so it would be nice to see a no-guts no-glory on occasion.

  13. cat Says:

    I voted for Obama and will vote for him again in 2012, but his failure as a president aren't because of the reasons your racist post laid out, its because he's actually a socially liberal moderate republican and their policies are terrible.

  14. skyskier Says:

    Or, it could basic political calculus. Picture a spectrum, left to right, and place every voter on it. If the other guy plants his stake at the 9/10 point, somewhere around "Crazy Wingnut" territory, doesn't it make sense to put yours at the 8.9/10 mark and hope you get everyone to the left of it while the other guy collects everything to the right of his? Seems to me basic math. BTW, don't tell me governing is not linear blah blah. It's just an illustration of the point.

  15. Sad Iron Says:

    I love this blog but this post is way off, especially "He isn't failing because Americans are racist (though they may be) or because the nation "isn't ready for a black president" or something like that. He's failing in part because, since childhood, he has seen the pathway to success defined by the expectations of (primarily white) people in positions of power." Please. He's failing because 1.) We don't have a responsible media 2.) We, as people, are largely stupid and vote Tea Partiers into office and actually vote for Governors like Scott Walker and 3.) He's a politician who cares about getting elected, which means you win or lose. For goodness sake, Russ Feingold lost to Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. Ron Johnson. Did I mention Ron Johnson? Please, it isn't about blackness–it's about Americans who, as much as they say they will, won't sacrifice an ounce of Chinese plastic in a Happy Meal toy. "Angry Black Man" psychology? Please. He's failing because we're failing.

  16. Southern Beale Says:

    Obama has worked hard to master the art of not coming off as the Angry Black Man.

    Yes but there's a reason for that. It's the ol' double standard. Remember during the 2004 election when Democrats were deemed by Villagers "too angry" to get elected? And again in 2006?

    ANY liberal is going to have this problem, and of course it's worse for Obama because he's black and the whole "Angry Black Man" syndrome strikes a fear chord among the yokels, it's a nice little code for "lock up the white women," but it's really a problem ALL Democrats face.

    I remember when the Teanuts started rallying with their guns strapped to their hips and their threats, marveling out how the left could never EVER get away with being that angry. We NEVER can.

    And the other thing is, no matter how calm and Zen-like Obama is and no matter how peaceful liberals are, we will ALWAYS be framed as the angry left. Obama was framed as the angry black militant with a deep-seated hatred of white people from day fucking ONE. It doesn't have to be true, it just has to strike a chord with people. And every time there's a liberal protest, no matter how peaceful, the first thing the media does is mentoin whether it's peaceful or not, because of course if liberals congregate we turn violent.

    We can't win for losing. We're either out of control anarchists busting up store windows or we're too soft on terrorists, offering therapy and granola bars to Al Qaeda or some shit.

    This is how framing works. There are narratives out there, the media is still stuck in the 60s, and we will forever be tarred with these labels until we learn how to address it publicly. Every single Democrat who gets in front of a microphone needs to address it, whether they are talking tax policy or foreign policy or climate change, the first words out of their mouth have to be addressing these deeply-ingrained false narratives, or we will ALWAYS be battling this issue.

    This is not Obama's problem. This is the Democratic Party's problem. This is liberals' problem. And we've had it for a long, long time.

  17. wetcasements Says:

    "setting himself up for a post-presidential career"

    I'd be willing to be he ends up on the SCOTUS, eventually.

  18. J. Dryden Says:

    @ cat: Merely discussing race and its effect on the professional demeanor of public men and women does not equal racism. Talking about racism does not make one a racist. The fact is that Obama has worked hard to present a consistent image of himself–no shock there, most public figures do, especially if they themselves are the 'brand' they're selling to purchasers/voters. (I'll leave others to speculate as to which category he falls into.) And Obama's black. That matters to some people. How many I can't say, but those people are potential voters, and therefore their opinions, from his perspective, matter. His name does not help assuage such people–looking at the list of names of American presidents is like playing an incredibly easy game of "One of these things is not like the others."

    There is absolutely no question that being a minority in an election in which the electorate is casually reactionary is, if not a hindrance, then at least a factor that must be addressed by anyone hoping to win an election. Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, Women, and those whose religious beliefs fall outside Mainstream Protestantism must all face the wall of skepticism that their "unfamiliarity" raises between them and their overwhelmingly white Christian electorate.

    It's different for local elections, of course–Barney Frank is openly gay. Good for him. But Barney Frank clearly never wanted to be president. Obama did. He had to play to a much wider audience, an audience that includes the South, the Southwest, the parts of the Bronx where the n-word is still common parlance. And, more saddeningly, the large numbers of white people who don't think of themselves as racist at all, but who still aren't quite comfortable having a conversation with a black man in a bar, or in the next cubicle, or at the PTA meeting.

    And Ed hits the bull's-eye when he says that Obama doesn't "act white"–no more than Will Smith, or Denzel Washington, or Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordan. But like those men, he needs–to succeed–to win over a crowd in which racism, deep or shallow, vitriolic or laconic, is part of the equation.

    I don't know how much of his necessary public image has to do with the failure of his policies. But it sure as hell hasn't helped. It's not that Obama isn't "free to be black"–it's more that he isn't free to be human. Part of that is because of what being human while being black means to some voters. Part of that is, as you say, the quality of his policies. But Ed's focused plenty on the latter. And it's not racist to consider the former, so long as we never forget that it's only a sad part of the larger equation of a smart, capable man who seems incapable of using his strengths to succeed in office.

  19. Da Moose Says:

    Since we're discussing style, I have to say that the faux "street cool" inflection he uses when delivering a speech is quite annoying. No doubt many others think so. He'd be wise to drop that because he's hard to take seriously when he inserts it into an impassioned speech.

  20. Chicagojon Says:

    I have to disagree. My view is that his belief system and passion is around compromise and he feels that it's the only way out of this 30-year Reagan mess of red vs. blue, us vs. them. It takes a ton of courage to try to find common ground with a bunch of whiney individuals that don't want to play nice together, but he believes that it is the correct way forward for the country and I happen to agree.

    I hate playing the 'what do you expect' game but really…if he was at the top of his game in passion and excitement from day 1 and had a pile full of the most progressive legislation the US has seen since FDR do you really think he would have gotten any of it passed? I'm sure he could have fought for better deals, but every time that he fights harder for something he's admitting that compromise is impossible in the 2 party system and that the color in power needs to push to get its way. We know what that will lead to — more inactivity on long term issues while the sides quibble over small disagreements and the nation collapses because both sides agree on not taxing rich people and on overspending for military and entitlements.

    Is there any theoretical set of laws or actions that could have been passed in the first 300 days that would NOT have resulted in people saying "he had both houses of congress in his control and wasn't able to get anything done". I don't think there is one – he was doomed to fail because the economy was screwed and the economy was screwed because of decades of growth-through-spending, tax reduction, and no long term planning. Thanks Ronald.

  21. Lord Corwin Says:

    An interesting grab bag of reactions. "Middle Seaman" has it right for my money

  22. Lord Corwin Says:

    An interesting grab bag of reactions. "Middle Seaman" has it right for my money—Obama is an enigma, a person without qualities, a blank. Any other president at this point had a clearly defined persona, one that could be instantly recognized. Oh, how typically Bush! Oh, how just like Clinton! one would say—with Obama one only says it about compromise and starting from the weakest possible negotiating position. Ed may have a point that America's vexed race relations encouraged or even created this personality, or lack thereof, but it hardly matters politically. If Obama wins, it will not because people are voting for him, but rather away from the other side. As to Middle Seaman's other point, that no successful president could be "the angry president," agreed: Ed, because he's a ranter, always goes hyperbolic, and talks about how African American men who want to be successful can't safely express anger (which seems obvious); but the point might have been better said about aggression more generally. Again, I don't know if it's caused by racism—it might just be supported by it—but certainly Obama has had trouble projecting a sustained assertive, aggressive and positive agenda. He has been largely reactive and passive. He would rather moderate than lead.

    cat, I fail to see why a post that delineates the pervasive effects of American racism, including those on the psyches of African-American men and women, is racist.

    Wetcasements: no bet. That would make all kinds of sense.

  23. deep cap Says:

    cat sees racism here for the same reason that any criticism of Israel is considered anti-semitism. If you talk about it, you're racist.

  24. deep cap Says:

    Also, Southern Beale is spot on:

    This is how framing works. There are narratives out there, the media is still stuck in the 60s, and we will forever be tarred with these labels until we learn how to address it publicly. Every single Democrat who gets in front of a microphone needs to address it, whether they are talking tax policy or foreign policy or climate change, the first words out of their mouth have to be addressing these deeply-ingrained false narratives, or we will ALWAYS be battling this issue.

  25. SeaTea Says:

    @cat – calling this blog entry "racist" is way out of line, IMO.

  26. PWL Says:

    The only thing I'm not sure about is whether Obama's character is a product of race, or whether that is the way he is, regardless of his color. I incline to the latter view, myself. I mean really, there's not much difference between him and Harry Reid, is there?

    He doesn't have to spit nails to be effective, either. FDR managed to tell the right-wing to fuck off in his day, but he had a very civilized way of doing it. (Gotta admit, I'd love to hear Obama say "I welcome their hatred," rather than "What can I do for you today?") Or there's the LBJ way–be polite and deferential in public, but crack spines and bust heads once the cameras stop rolling…..

  27. EIPolitics Says:

    I am a long time lurker and its time for me to lose my posting virginity.

    When I started reading this post I began to get frustrated as I thought you were dismissing the "angry black man" scenario as bullshit and not a real factor. After reading further I realized the opposite. Let me just say that as a black man the "angry black man" issue is very real. Shit, I'm not even POTUS and I feel it. If I get some passion going about something I get strange looks versus white counterparts. Now this could be because of ABM syndrome or because I am might be crazy, but I think its the former. This is a known in the black community. You will rarely hear black people criticize Obama for not pounding on the podium and getting mad, even when they want him to. We know why he doesn't. White people don't have this "built-in" notion of never get to "froggy" in front of a certain race. If you don't believe that it is real I would suggest that you try the following. Go back and re-watch his speech on race during the campaign. Great speech and no anger was shown. Then re-watch the right's reaction to it. This is from a speech that looked at race from both sides of the isle. He wasn't even allowed to talk about race in a calm manner. Do you really think he can yell at John Boehner about jobs? Really? I think Obama, if he returns in 2012, will have a different outlook on the presidency. I am not saying FDR style change, but less willing to compromise.

  28. blahedo Says:

    @wetcasements: my jaw drops at the obviousness of it, but yes, yes, yes. What was the Taft quote? "The greater honor by far"?

  29. Dave Says:

    I mean, I get it, but this line about Obama Can't Get Angry Because BLACK just seems far too simple to put to an entire career, an entire life.

    I think Obama won't get angry or bash Republicans too hard not because he's looking to please white people, but because he's looking to please "Independents." In other words, stupid white people. In that sense, he's just like most other presidents and politicians: timid, calculating, cowardly.

    If, however, one must hew to the line that Obama's after white people approval and so won't go appropriately angry, well, maybe one should blame white people, and not Obama. Fuck white people, anyhow.

  30. punkdavid Says:

    I'm gonna just go with what Hawes said above.

    I think Obama has made mistakes in his presidency, but I don't think they are the result of long-standing character flaws. Plus, ever since the UI/Bush tax cut extension compromise last fall (when I damned near gave up on the man), he has EVERY TIME quietly rolled the GOP into the absolute best deal the Democrats could have hoped to have achieved. I've read all the analyses by the hysterical and the loyal and the measured, and the sober post-game analysis always comes down on the side of "Obama got more out of that deal than the GOP thought they were giving up".

    Now that he's in campaign mode, I think you'll be seeing more of the fighting Obama WE all want to see (because it makes us feel good). If we're lucky, we'll get a re-elected President with a more Democratic Congress, and NO REASON to compromise with a faltering GOP in his second term.

    I don't believe in 11th dimensional chess, but I do believe that Obama is smarter than just about all of us, and has a long term plan for everything that he doesn't show until it's time to make each move.

    Everybody calm the fuck down. He's GOT this.

  31. squirrelhugger Says:

    What I saw in 2000 and 2004 was not "angry left", but this: 1) outrageous R lie. 2) indignant D denial 3) Rs ignore D response and move on to next outrageous lie. 4) public sees nothing but constantly defensive Ds. Defensive implies weak, and Americans scorn weakness.

  32. krissy Says:

    he may compromise too much but with all the yelling crazy hysteria and misinformation, its nice to see the democrats keeping calm. I think it helps with the insane rhetoric… Republicans are becoming more and more estranged from reality so having some sane grownups is a good thing in politics. I miss weiner's rants at times like this.

  33. Ben Says:

    Obama's compromises are got getting "the absolute best deal the Democrats could have hoped to have achieved". Fuck no. He could have pushed for a bigger stimulus. He could have gotten the people behind health care. He could have pushed through more appointees. Obama has won a number of victories, but they have come at the cost of losing control of the battlefield.

  34. mm Says:

    I would say that President Obama has tried during his entire life to make people like him. He was always an outsider (black in a white world — super smart in a dumb world — fatherless — a mother who had a fascinating life, but who wasn't the everyday definition of a mother).

    He also would like to be the one who turns the deep divide around.

    I think this explains much of the way he acts as President.

    Also with the Republican party absolutely batshit crazy, he is getting as much as possible through Congress. All the sane Republicans are blue dog Democrats.

    And because of the media machine of the Republicans and the self-censoring of most reporters, his options are limited. Nixon could go to China because he had paid his dues as a right-wing zealot. Obama can't leave Afghanistan or lighten up the security theatre at airports because he'll be attacked by the Villagers and the Republican noise machine and even the Presidential Bully Pulpit can't stand against that.

    People forget that President Carter was marginalized by the media. "More Mush from the Wimp" newspaper headline. ABC's "Nightline" started as a nightly program covering the Tehran Embassy hostage taking. Every night they'd announce "Day 200" or "Day 300" and Carter hadn't gotten the hostages out. He tried a ballsy Delta Force rescue, but when it failed he got nothing but grief. And the Reagan campaign negotiated with the Iranians to keep the hostages there until after the election. (As did the Nixon campaign which sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks by convincing the South Vietnamese that they'd get a better deal from a Nixon administration).

    Yes. It's OK if you are Republican. (IOKIYAR).

  35. My Says:

    Hrm. In the vein of all this, Obama kind of reminds me of Gen. McClellan of Civil War "Can't do shit with insurmountable numbers/odds against all the best leaders leading a passionate yet foolish opposing force" infamy. Why is there not a Phil "Scummiest Scum that ever Scummed" Luntz on the Left? Oh, that's right, the Left ™ is essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of the Right (now with EVERYthing!).

    Mostover in the same vein as what, heretofore, has already previously above been said and whatnot, this hit me right where it used to (and I hope one day does again before my sons die) feel good, too: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/whatever-happened-to-the-american-left.html
    That photo alone boggles me, as when I used to go there I couldn't imagine that kind of gaggle/throng all being emotionally and intellectually invested in what most of my parents' and my own generation are too ignorant/lazy/spoiled/distracted/jaded/et al to realize they should give a fying fluck about…

  36. baldheadeddork Says:

    Read this: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/what-makes-obama-run/Content?oid=889221

    I stumbled across this during Obama's run for the Senate in 2004, and if this passage isn't a Rosetta Stone for the man, I don't know what is.

    ""In America," Obama says, "we have this strong bias toward individual action. You know, we idolize the John Wayne hero who comes in to correct things with both guns blazing. But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations."

    In an interview after the class, Obama again spoke of the need to organize and mobilize the economic power and moral fervor of black churches. He also argued that as a state senator he might help bring this about faster than as a community organizer or civil rights lawyer.

    "What we need in America, especially in the African-American community, is a moral agenda that is tied to a concrete agenda for building and rebuilding our communities," he said. "We have moved beyond the clarion call stage that was needed during the civil rights movement. Now, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, we must move into a building stage. We must invest our energy and resources in a massive rebuilding effort and invent new mechanisms to strengthen and hasten this community-building effort.

    "We have no shortage of moral fervor," said Obama. "We have some wonderful preachers in town

  37. baldheadeddork Says:

    FYWP.

  38. baldheadeddork Says:

    rest of the post:

    —preachers who continue to inspire me—preachers who are magnificent at articulating a vision of the world as it should be. In every church on Sunday in the African-American community we have this moral fervor; we have energy to burn.

    "But as soon as church lets out, the energy dissipates. We must find ways to channel all this energy into community building. The biggest failure of the civil rights movement was in failing to translate this energy, this moral fervor, into creating lasting institutions and organizational structures."

    Obama added that as important and inspiring as it was, the (Chicago mayor Harold) Washington administration also let an opportunity go by. "Washington was the best of the classic politicians," Obama said. "He knew his constituency; he truly enjoyed people. That can't be said for a lot of politicians. He was not cynical about democracy and the democratic process—as so many of them are. But he, like all politicians, was primarily interested in maintaining his power and working the levers of power.

    [b]"He was a classic charismatic leader," Obama said, "and when he died all of that dissipated. This potentially powerful collective spirit that went into supporting him was never translated into clear principles, or into an articulable agenda for community change.""[/b]

    That was Barack Obama in 1995. He ran as a charismatic leader in 2008 but he's governed like the man in this story – and that's driving people nuts.

    But as painful as it is to live with now, I think he was right. The institutions of Washington outlast any president. Obama could fight like so many want him to do, but it's not going to make Max Baucus, Mary Landrieux or Ben Nelson vote for his legislation, and it's not going to move the Villagers to stop rewarding them. Obama could lead like he campaigned and January 2013 or 2017 he would go, the Villagers and Blue Dogs would dismiss anything he did accomplish, and we'd start looking for our next superhero.

    Tell me I'm wrong.

    It's painful, it's infuriating, but we are learning how to fight for what we want. Not how to explain how our beliefs are superior, we've got that down cold. We're learning how to fight, which is something liberals haven't done for decades.

    We'll never forgive him for it, but if we can learn how to fight without destroying ourselves it will be Obama's greatest political legacy.

  39. Shane Says:

    I must say the "Time to Kill" quote caught me by surprise.

  40. Nickzi Says:

    The verdict on Obama's first term ought to be: as usual, the left failed to organize, didn't even develop a game plan and were roundly thrashed by the GOP in consequence. Rather than facing their own responsibility, they decided it was much easier to ignore the reality of American politics and blame a president who they elected and then failed to support adequately. As long as the left subscribes to the notion that it can take midterm years off and relax into complacent slumber when it holds the White House, so long it will continue to be punished.

  41. Arslan Says:

    "The verdict on Obama's first term ought to be: as usual, the left failed to organize, didn't even develop a game plan and were roundly thrashed by the GOP in consequence. Rather than facing their own responsibility, they decided it was much easier to ignore the reality of American politics and blame a president who they elected and then failed to support adequately. "

    Bullshit, pure, uncut 100% bullshit. WTF do you mean the left failed to organize? Were you even aware, just to use one small example, that advocates of single payer heathcare were SHUT OUT of discussions of Obama's healthcare plans from the beginning? And what the fuck is this retarded nonsense about "failed to support him adequately". Is THAT why he eliminated the public option despite a congressional majority? Is THAT why he went to insurance lobbyists to create a joke of a heath care bill which benefits them? Is that why he expanded the wars? Is that why he extended the tax cuts?

    Sorry, but your little party is done. It's time to vote "against all."

  42. Arslan Says:

    Don't ever try to blame the left, the real left, for Obama's continual subservience to the ruling class.

  43. Nickzi Says:

    Arslan – the failure of the left to organize even remotely adequately is the reason we are wasting time discussing Obama's personality in such hyperbolic and unhelpful terms. Obama can't personally give a majority of votes in the House or Senate. He can't force an obstructive GOP minority to cooperate. The left hasn't developed anything like an adequate set of pressure groups, much less a disciplined coalition. Until it does, we shall waste time going round and round this particularly unrewarding mulberry bush. You can throw as many insults as you like – and twenty years later you'll still be sitting on your ass, wondering why President X has betrayed you. Fail to organize = guaranteed loss. Sanctimonious whining and sitting on ass = failure to organize. End of.

  44. Arslan Says:

    "Arslan – the failure of the left to organize even remotely adequately is the reason we are wasting time discussing Obama's personality in such hyperbolic and unhelpful terms."

    The problem is that the "left" organized behind Obama.

    "Obama can't personally give a majority of votes in the House or Senate."

    He HAD a majority at one time, and he squandered it. Did you forget something that happened just TWO YEARS AGO?

    " He can't force an obstructive GOP minority to cooperate."

    Gee, he COULD have had he used the majority when he had it, but he never intended to.

    "The left hasn't developed anything like an adequate set of pressure groups, much less a disciplined coalition. Until it does, we shall waste time going round and round this particularly unrewarding mulberry bush. You can throw as many insults as you like – and twenty years later you'll still be sitting on your ass, wondering why President X has betrayed you. Fail to organize = guaranteed loss. Sanctimonious whining and sitting on ass = failure to organize. End of."

    The problem is we need to organize AGAINST the Democrats, not for them. 20 years from now you would be sitting on your ass making the same excuses for more Democratic presidents who keep on moving further to the right.

  45. Mike Says:

    "He HAD a majority at one time, and he squandered it."

    Well, he lost his fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate in Jan 2010, and that's even counting people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson as part of his coalition.

    I remember the healthcare debate, and it was not Republicans vs Democrats, it was Blue Dogs vs Democrats.

  46. Smartypants Says:

    I call BS. Perry hasn't been getting in anyone's face and Bush never threw a chair. What the two of them did was say/do dumb things. This idea that leadership entails throwing a temper tantrum so all of us who are angry can feel better is absurd.