Friday, October 5, 2012

Obama's Wednesday Night Failure

We need more Grant, less McClellan

Just like everybody else, or like tens of millions of people, we watched the debate on Wednesday night. Obama was not okay.

I've always liked him as a person. We don't have the same style, but he seems authentic. And on Wednesday night his authentic self appeared too troubled, by far.

He's never seemed a courageous man to me. (I say that with no intention of portraying myself as his opposite. I'm more than a little ambivalent about the strength of my own heart.) But I haven't been expecting courage from Obama--or innovative and radical policymaking--though that is exactly what we need. What I have always liked about Obama is his thoughtfulness and intelligence.

As it turns out, for purposes of the debate, it was his habitual lack of courage that made the difference. Obama is just not in the habit of fighting back. For all the Republican insistence that he rammed the healthcare bill down America's collective throat, there simply wasn't (and isn't) anything hard to swallow about it. The Affordable Care Act (or whatever, call it ACA), will result in covering, what, 40 million more Americans.

And it won't raise the cost of health care very much. Its flaws are that it doesn't go far enough (among other deficiencies, it doesn't direct use of the government's purchasing power to lower health care costs). In short, Obama didn't "ram" ACA. He just didn't get any Republican votes for it.

The Republicans, some of them, know that ACA, in the form that actually passed, was not a truly progressive accomplishment. But it did edge closer to a slippery slope.

Some conservatives may be genuinely and honestly concerned about the direction ACA traveled toward more government control of health care, but the Republican ox that ACA (or, rather, what ACA might have been) threatened to gore is private profit and the income of the one-percent. Everybody, including Obama, knows this. Or should.

The trouble is that some Republicans are, in fact, successful (and generally cynical) communicators. They have made even liberals a little uncomfortable about "Obamacare." (Come on, Mr. President, don't embrace that term, don't 'kind of like' it.)

What I'm saying here is this: the missing element, in the whole first term of Barack Obama, was courage. Evasions, clarifications and constant compromise were not occasional tactics, they were the strategy. (A further, even uglier, truth is that liberals haven't been very brave for a long, long time, but that is another story.)

Look at the last four years. A timid stimulus package. A policy that included both a surge in Afghanistan and a timeline for withdrawal. Promises to bishops followed by broken promises to bishops. Letting Goldman, Sachs fail and then running away from the implications of that policy in favor of "too big to fail." Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Baby steps and half-way measures. And so on and so forth.

Never a strategy for the meaningful presidency we thought was possible. Only engaging in battles and then retreating to the nearest safe haven.

There is one (audacious) hope, here. That Wednesday night's debacle will be a wake-up call and that the next four years we will see a little more Grant and a little less McClellan.


  1. I boycotted the debate because since the Presidential Debate was taken from the League of Women Voters and run by the insiders-only, WWF-level-of-ethics CPD, it excludes 3rd party contenders. Besides, I already know I'd never vote for Romney.

    From my vantage-point on Obama's first term - he seems like he thought he'd captain the ship, only to find out he's not allowed to mess with the rudder. That is the job of the party and his constituents. He needs the balls to not care what his party and financial backers would do to him and wrest the rudder from their greedy claws. His actions as a politician unencumbered by those chains might encourage others to do the same and actually return some democracy to these shores. Until then, he still won't have as much power as Karl Rove

  2. Jeff, I think you nailed it from your headline and sub-head to your text. One minute after I smiled at Obama's embrace of Obamacare, I knew it was another fundamental mistake. Thanks for coming up with the key to understanding WTF.

    Now I'm left to ponder: how far back do we have to look for the courage and the conscience of the liberal?

  3. Jeffrey, I find your assesment of Obama as "lacking courage" to be offensive and inaccurate. By running for President he put not only his own life on the line, but also the lives of everyone he loves. Given the extraordinarily high rate of successful assasinations in the last 50 years, I would call Obama a very courageous man.
    I think he is genuinely trying to find a way to "represent" everyone, whether he likes their political positions, or not. That takes courage of the type you discuss, so I really don't think he deserves the uncourageous appellation you've given him.
    I think he's made some mistakes, but they are not through lack of courage.

  4. Always good to hear from you KP. I must say though that you are a harsh judge, boycotting the debates because the League of Women Voters doesn't run the thing. I don't disagree, though. I can't think of a single debate that actually enhanced political understanding across the country.

    How hard would we have to work to find good examples of liberal political courage? It shows itself from time to time, I guess, but primarily manifests when civil rights groups or unions are galvanized.

    Sorry, you're offended, Amyelizabeth, but Barack's ascension to the presidency doesn't seem rooted in courage and I still think the lack thereof is at least a reasonable explanation for some flip-flops, like, say, on the status of Jerusalem. Compare Obama and the Democrats on that question at various points in 2008 and 2012. Check out and, for example.

  5. I boycott the debates because of their lack of openness, not any allegiance to the League of Women Voters. My harsh opinion is a luxury of internet obscurity. In terms of liberal political courage, look no farther than Dennis Kucinich. He paid the price for his courage by the mighty sword of congressional redistricting.

    My angst for the big political machines parallels my angst for most large corporations. I can't forgive the "stupidity of people in large groups." Its hallmarks are greed and Machiavellian loyalty leading to blind faith and corruption. The individual power by anyone ascending to such lofty positions as these candidates inevitably becomes the target of blackmail and threats. So I assume that some level of their failures is tied to the leverage of the string pullers, but isn't it the right of all of us to expect better than we seem to be getting now? Isn't the collaboration of mainstream media, religious leaders, and the two major political parties leaning frightfully closer to fascist propaganda then ever before in our modern society?

    Give me a social entrepreneur like Kucinich or even Ron Paul to contrast the real issues. The meager debate of the few topics Obama and Romney differ on pale in comparison to the real topics that need to be addressed at the presidential level.