A President Adrift, a Politics Without Focus

Obama Sweating

David Atkins confronts the aimlessness of Obama’s presidency and finds no one to blame but the President himself,

Those same people often state that rhetoric doesn’t matter–that only votes matter, and that votes are a product of local, economic and institutional factors, not Presidential persuasion. But if that’s the case, why bother with a rhetorical pivot to jobs?

If rhetoric and framing do matter, why would the President state that cutting spending and reducing deficits is a bad framework when he himself has done so much to promote that framework through a Grand Bargain?

This is precisely the sort of thing that is making his Presidency seem adrift. It is adrift.

The understandable reaction by many on the left is to, at least partially, lay the blame for this at the feet of Republicans in the House and Senate. If not for their intransigence, wouldn’t the President have moved the country forward on the economy, immigration, and gun control? With those legislative achievements under his belt, wouldn’t the presidency be perceived as a liberal success story?

The answer is that, whatever the merits of those individual policy battles, the unwillingness of Republicans to make compromises isn’t why the Obama presidency feels adrift. The real reason is true lack of direction overall; the lack of a guiding liberal narrative which puts the Democratic Party’s priorities in focus.

As Digby emphasizes, part of this can be chalked up to a fundamental mismatch between Obama’s temperament and his attempt to appropriate Reagan’s pragmatic, reconciliatory attitude. The fact is that Reagan was divisive, and only a uniting figure in so far as he re-situated his political opposition to the point of being outside the circle of “you, me, and us.” To be a liberal Reagan would have meant precisely for the President to ostracize his radically conservative opponents, and redefine them as quintessentially “other” to the working class. Something he has flirted with on occasion, but never committed to.

The aimlessness of Obama’s presidency isn’t the result of being outgunned by political foes, or attempts by Republican states to “nullify” it, but rather because of his own double-speak and hypocrisy on a range of domestic issues. It is hard enough to appear ideologically coherent when leading a party that is necessarily, in large part, a coalition of the disenfranchised. But that job becomes even more difficult when that party leader attempts to be the negotiator-in-chief rather than the figurehead of a political movement. When getting the deal becomes more important than what’s in it, you necessarily open yourself up to all manner of inconsistency and double-speak.

This is especially the case when supporting policies which are necessarily at odds with one another, not just from issue to issue, but within each issue itself. The President’s position on the economy is at odds with his goals for the environment. Even within his position on the economy though, his emphasis on “smart” and “lean” government is at odds with calls for more public investment. His support of natural gas goes against any plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. His education agenda is at odds with his rhetoric on state workers and unions. His rhetoric on the War on Terror and the supreme importance of the Rule of Law are at odds with the policies and actions of his administration.

Whether or not this should come as a surprise is neither here nor there–the reality is that the President’s agenda is as fragmented as his litany of campaign promises.

He is the President of Main Street, even as the bulk of his policies disproportionately favor and support corporations. Wall Street and the auto companies are recovering just fine while unemployment numbers and wages, especially for the least well-off, continue to be abysmal. That is the presidency adrift.

Or perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be to a ship which the wind is blowing in one direction even as the men and women on it continue to row in another. It has a direction even if its actual course bears little to no resemblance to the one originally stated.

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50 thoughts on “A President Adrift, a Politics Without Focus

  1. I’m not seeing aimless or adrift as a precise criticism. People overstate narrative. Narrative is for biographers years from now and for concise statements for pundits to wrap everything up in 800 words for the WaPo. O isn’t adrift on lots of these things because he hasn’t been aiming at one strong end point. He has a middle of the road vision on many things. That isn’t lacking a narrative, it is more about balancing competing ideas. So he isn’t pushing a strong enviro message because he isn’t a strong enviro guy. He is trying to accomplish some enviro goals while wrangling the economy. I don’t agree with how he has tried to deal with some of these things but trying to give reasonable weight to many good ideas doesn’t lend itself to bumper stickers or elevator pitches.

    He hasn’t ever really seemed to be an ideologue. I can see most conservatives don’t get him because often they are strong ideologues themselves and people typically project their own style of seeing the world on everybody else.

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    • “He has a middle of the road vision on many things.”

      Middle of the road, or moderate, isn’t the same thing as divided or inconsistent. Which is to say that if I were summarizing O’s vision for the country, it would look very different than the bits and pieces which show up in various speeches.

      “That isn’t lacking a narrative, it is more about balancing competing ideas.”

      While “balancing competing ideas” can be a narrative, it’s the narrative of someone without a guiding principle or goal. What is the underlying thing that determines the “correct” or “right” balance? Is it a value in and of itself (equality) or a procedure (rule of law, will of the people)?

      “He is trying to accomplish some enviro goals while wrangling the economy.”

      This isn’t impossible, or necessarily an oxymoron, but with his specific environmental goals, and how specifically he has spoken about “wrangling” the economy, that is exactly what it is. If Global Warming is a real threat, and you think the country needs to deal with it, than you can’t also simultaneously support objectives that are just as, or in some cases more, detrimental than the pro-environmental policies you propose.

      It seems to me that you DO think his Presidency is adrift, or to phrase it differently, aimless (or polydirectional), but just don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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      • Ehh… how much funding is the Military spending on Global warming these days?
        One may very well consider Global warming to be a “big threat” but to have it compartmentalized…

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      • Well you say without a guiding principle which sounds more to me like he isn’t an ideologue. Those aren’t the same thing, but that is what i think we are talking about. He isn’t about achieving some strong goal in most areas. He is trying to move towards some changes but isn’t solely focused on that. I wish he was a bit more committed to some goals then he is. But i don’t see not being an ideologue or strongly focused on certain overarching goals means he is aimless.

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  2. The fact is that Reagan was divisive, and only a uniting figure in so far as he re-situated his political opposition to the point of being outside the circle of “you, me, and us.”

    You have forgotten, or never read, anything uttered by the opposition during those years. (“That collection of greedheads, barbie dolls, and fundamentalist ayatollahs…”)

    The political opposition is under no obligation to assist the President in achieving any of his policy goals. His tar babies are his tar babies. The solitary exception might be fiscal consolidation, because the next administration will be on the hook for the debt service and a failed bond sale will be pretty ecumenically destructive. Problem: with due note to how pig-headed as much of the Republican caucus has been, it must be noted that fiscal consolidation is not one of the President’s policy goals. Where you have seen co-operation is in the matter of ‘immigration reform’, which should sour any man of sense on ‘bipartisanship’.

    The political architecture – separation of powers, bicameralism, and the U.S. Senate’s wretched parliamentary rules – actually would stymie just about anyone. The appalling behavior of the appellate courts throws additional spanners into the works.

    That having been said, one problem is that the president is a gassy nullity (which is very unlike Mr. Reagan). He also has little manifest interest in or talent for building relationships with members of Congress (again, very unlike Mr. Reagan). What you have been getting is the resultant of all the vectors you find in the Democratic Party. (Bon bons for clients all the way down).

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  3. The aimlessness of Obama’s presidency isn’t the result of being outgunned by political foes, or attempts by Republican states to “nullify” it, but rather because of his own double-speak and hypocrisy on a range of domestic issues

    Two things.

    1) You’re talking about the second term, I take it? Did anyone really think his first term was defined by aimlessness? Oh yes, of course. Digby did.

    2) Digby? Really?

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      • Right out of the box – and by that I mean during the primaries – Digby had it in for Obama. From his first day in office she’s done nothing but criticize him from the left as being too moderate, not a leader, unwilling to fight against the GOP, soft on liberal issues, etc etc. Every once in a while she says something interesting to me. On the averages of a broken clock. I guess I’m just not as good of a liberal as her.

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  4. Lift the Green Latern high. The Obama presidency seems aimless because there is nothing that Obama could do that would make the GOP controlled House enact his legislation or compromise if they don’t want to. Its the Constitution and the separation of powers that is causing this mess, not a lack of narrative.

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    • And I recall many times when Obama rhetorically fought to capture the Narrative High Ground only to be abandoned along the way by his Fellow Democrats.

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      • In some specific cases I would probably agree, and topics that are this esoteric permit honest disagreements in judgments or conclusions. Personally, I think in politicians adopt-then-abandon narratives all the time, as a matter of course, though. So if Digby’s complaint against Obama is merely an observation that he has abandoned certain threads of his narrative, then I don’t see it as very compelling critique. But that’s Digby’s stock in trade: to turn a basic observation into evidence of insidiousness. It seems to me that that argument requires some other premise to be meaningful.

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      • Well abandoning a thread of a narrative could be easily chalked up to political expediency. But there’s a point at which it stops being a tactic or means and begins to fade into being the default.

        And per the above, my specific criticism of the President isn’t that he’s abandoned threads, or even his rhetoric from time to time. That would imply that he comes back eventually and picks up where he left off once the time is right.

        Rather, my contention is that the rhetoric and actions themselves are muddles and admit of no coherent visions or principle. I don’t see a core motivator, say economic growth, egalitarianism, legal justice, or national security, as being the observable thing to which most other actions or rhetoric on the part of the President can be reduced.

        And that’s what I mean by adrift. It’s not that there are competing objectives that need to be managed, but rather that the objectives themselves, at least as stated, are nearly always in conflict, and the President appears (to the outside observer) to lack any guiding principle based on which he adjudicates those conflicts.

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      • I had a longish comment which I deleted cuz it degenerated into incoherent rambling trying to answer a basic question, which I’ll ask you: what is the definition of “liberal” by which Obama’s actions are deemed to be adrift? I’m not sure I know the answer. And that might be part of the reason I don’t judge Obama too harshly about these things.

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      • I don’t deem them adrift because they are dutifully “liberal” enough for me. He could be center-right and focused. My claim is more that he lacks an agenda, an approach or orientation, and is more reactionary instead.

        He tries to seize moments rather than present a consistent front. Which is fine, but when you fail at seizing them you are liable to be called “adrift.”

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    • None of those things are required in order for him to be committed to a message, vision, world view, etc.

      What does Republicans filibustering in the Senate, and refusing to compromise in the House, have to do with how he talks about energy, what his position is on debt reduction, or his unwillingness to focus on jobs?

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  5. What’s interesting here to me is the generational alignment – Boomer liberals/hippies who took offense to Obama’s proposition to try to move liberalism beyond some of the division of the Sixties era which was simply re-enacted by grayer versions of the same players in the 90s, joining forces with a new generation of liberals who simply take the existence of a figure like Barack Obama for granted to express extreme blahness about his record and rhetoric. People who grew up in the intervening years, came of age during the Reagan revolution rather than making reference to it as an academic ideal, seem nowhere near so apathetic in their response to Obama – on either side.

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      • You’re definitely not generally apathetic. But your response to Obama here seems to be one of a sense of inadequacy in his approach, whereas out-and-out opponents view his entire worldview, program, and record as actively anathema to the good. You seem to be saying, if Obama was more consistent in advancing and applying his overall message, you’d have a stronger positive reaction. But he’s not, so you’re kind of blah (particularly in the economic realm; on war & defense I wouldn’t characterize your response as blah). If not apathetic, then ambivalent.

        As to whether you’ve taken his presence on the scene for granted, my sense is that you have. I don’t know what else I can say.

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      • …I just want to clarify that this observation about a skip-generational alignment among liberals around a certain ungenerosity in interpretation of Obama’s rhetoric and record wasn’t a claim that in this instance your interpretation isn’t valid. On rhetoric, my view is that given the volume of modern presidential communication, finding inconsistencies among various public utterances will inevitably be a trivially obvious exercise and then doubly so when you overlay policy reality on top of it, and that the more interesting exercise is to trace strands of consistency. [Update because I meant to add here: …But that’s just my way of looking at it; a closer focus on the lack of a rigorously consistent message is also a perfectly valid way to analyze the rhetorical record.] I guess I just view the kind of consistency you envision as something of a mythical whale – that the same kind of inconsistencies could be found in a close reading of the full record of Reagan’s (The Counterpoint’s) rhetoric (realizing that’s a claim I’m not going to back up – but neither is the lack of such inconsistency one that either you or Rick Perlstein have backed up to my satisfaction). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t significant disconnects on display now. The main one to me is one you don’t mention – the broad post-Recovery Act acceptance of the need for deficit reduction in tension with calls for “investment.” The point is valid; I was just making an observation about how liberals have seemed to sort themselves in response to Obama.

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  6. Absolute nonsense. Obama has not abandoned his narrative. Every day’s newspapers disgorge fresh evils. Nobody controls those messages, not even the President of the United States of America.

    Do you want President Obama to tell you a comforting story with a happy ending? No, if the Obama presidency is a tale to be told, it is the tale of wily Ulysses, who came through many storms and trials, escaping Circe and the Lotos Eaters and sailing past Scylla and Charybdis.

    We do not elect a president for his agenda. We know any such promises are nothing but wishing and hoping and dreaming. President Obama’s doing just fine. He’s coping, which is what we elect a president to do. To cope. To propose and veto legislation and to be the Commander in Chief. The sum of his powers are surprisingly limited.

    All this talk about Guiding Liberal Narrative is crap. Liberals don’t think that way. Conservatives do. Liberals see the Individual in the context of Society. We do not look for some Moses to free us from bondage and guide us to the Promised Land. Liberals look for a guy who gets up in the morning, reads the intelligence briefings and does his goddamn job. For sufficient to the day are the evils thereof. Tends to make us Liberals a bit short-sighted but we do have a way of dealing with every fresh day. We cope. We adapt. We evolve.

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    • BP, you completely misconstrue how I’m using narrative, which is unfortunate given how much I clarify what I’m talking about upthread.

      No one is talking about him legislating his agenda, or doing more than what his powers allow. I more than anyone would prefer he not get involved in Congressional negotiations or policy proposals.

      But that doesn’t mean he can’t be consistent in upholding and rhetorically defending certain values, or certain diagnoses of what will make the country better. Whether you like it or not, the President is the solidifier of the party’s platform and politics. Look how far members of Congress have swung to the right (or toward the establishment) on certain issues simply because their President has taken up those positions?

      No one’s looking for a happy story. I’d love a morose story about American decline and how, if managed correctly, the world might not be as F’ed as it otherwise might.

      I challenge you though to name one substantive or significant issue on which the President has stood firm, and which is based on a principle which can be reflected in his other opinions?

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      • Do not play at pilpul with me. I read English. You said Guiding Liberal Narrative. Who owns that message? Liberals aren’t guided by narrative. That’s a big problem for Liberals, which I also attempted to explain — and for all my pushing, your doorbell isn’t ringing on this subject.

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      • There’s just no analytical solid ground on which to fight this out, Ethan. You’ll be able to shoot down whatever anyone might be able to offer because the terrain across which the president has to speak act in this day and age is too various.

        I mean, do you really pine for a Reagan equivalent that just never deviates from a “high taxes, just because” line? The president has talked about supporting the middle class, making everyone pay their fair share for valued government functions, and making public investments in the future throughout his presidency. Can you shoot the perfect consistency of that message across time and in light of all policy decisions down, depending on your own interpretation of the rhetorical implications of some of those policies? Of course. No, he’s not Reagan. But consistent messages are there; you seem at remarkable pains to deny it. This is largely what I’m talking about with taking his presence for granted. Your critiques, really your writing generally, just doesn’t seem to consider the opposite side of your argument very much at all. IMO, that adds to the strength of a piece of writing, but perhaps you disagree. But in either case, taking that approach to a political figure who at least shares a general sense of the direction he’d like to see things go in with you leads me to only be able to conclude that you take his presence in the office for granted at this point.

        And perhaps that’s laudable – you certainly don’t fail to criticize those in power, and that’s to your credit. But it’s no less criticism to openly consider the merits of your target’s positions and actions on the way to your accounting of their defects. I really don’t see where you ever do that. Which again, is fine – admirable for a liberal to be unrelenting in criticism of a liberal president. But it can still be remarked on.

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      • Can’t be. Liberals are guided by the situation at hand. The Liberal has no overarching metanarrative. Society is what it is. It changes every day. So we adapt to those changes.

        Conservatives can’t imagine such thinking. Guided by facts on the ground? Hell and damnation, we conservatives gotta stand up and oppose these evil trends in society! That’s why conservatives can’t get on the right side of SSM or environmental regulation or growing inequality in this society, even when they personally understand the nonsensical aspects of what they’re saying. Conservatives are not driven by facts but rather by narrative. Fear of their ignorant constituencies. Fear of their corporate sponsors.

        Ideology, not reason, guides most of conservative thinking — which isn’t to say a conservative blind pig can’t find an acorn from time to time, there are certain useful principles which shouldn’t be swayed by the exigencies of today’s problems: fiscal accountability, choking down the overweening power of government, that sort of thing. Basic democracy and common sense sorts of things. And Liberals are routinely guilty of attenuating these larger principles in the interests of solving today’s problems. Would that today’s self-described Conservatives would preach such truths for those sermons are badly needed. They don’t preach like that: where good preaching is afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, the GOP seems to have that reversed.

        Here’s a clue, a convenient grenade pin to pull if you’re in an argument with a Liberal. You can always accuse him of short-term thinking. He can’t deny it. He’s obsessed with today’s problems and doesn’t always give credence to what’s been proven from history. The weaker sort of Liberal, and I call myself an ex-Republican and an ex-Conservative, thus exempting myself from this charge — the weaker Liberal thinks every problem in society can be solved by passing a law to that effect. Well it just can’t.

        Ethan: there is no Guiding Liberal Narrative. If you hear such a narrative, it’s just some little horror story written by someone who isn’t a Liberal. We’re all over the place, mostly defined by a lack of narrative. If you think Obama is adrift, his politics are without focus, every lens is in focus at some distance. With Liberals, we’re very good macro lenses. We can take great pictures of incidentals: ants, butterflies, flowers — that sort of thing.

        Obama isn’t adrift. He’s afloat, like some white water rafter, avoiding the whirlpools and the rocks in his path. The best guide I can give you to Obama’s mind is to say he’s a basketball player. He has a smallish team, he’s not much better than average bear on the court. He’s a three point shooter, a run-and-gunner. I sense it’s also how he views politics. Situational thinking, pretty fair strategist but a lot better at tactics.

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      • Radicals and those who think like them but then relax on their actual demands, though, contra liberals, BP, are guided by ideology and narrative, it’s worth pointing out.

        I agree with Shawn Gude that the liberal cause has been helped by the presence and operation of radicals throughout U.S. history. Liberals should recognize this and refrain from badmouthing radicals and quasi-radicals and wanna-be-but-not-bad-enough-to-actually-be-radicals just on that basis. But that doesn’t mean that there is a viable basis for actual productive communication and cooperation between the groups in a within-times kind of sense. They operate at arms length and from what I can see mostly, at least on one side, with noses pinched tightly between thumb and forefinger when in proximity. I’m having a bit of a sudden come-to-Jesus moment about that fact of late. It’s actually somewhat unburdening.

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      • “Radical” is a pejorative term used by people who are too circumspect to act immediately — to describe people who insist on immediate action. Radicals and Pragmatists can get along fine, as long as the radical comes to terms with the limits of power and the Pragmatist comes to terms with the power of the message. The Radical says “This is wrong” and the Pragmatist says “And this is how we can attack that wrong — and don’t expect results immediately, we’ll have to marshal forces to oppose it.”

        But this is true of every political or religious movement. A Radical German priest said “Sola Fide”, the pragmatist German princes said “I can use this message to seize the Church’s lands.” Conservatives have their radicals, too. Look at ’em, all these piggy-eyed iconoclasts, expelling their moderates from their ranks. The power of message is very great. But the power of message is unfocussed. It requires collective strength, pragmatism, compromise, evolution — to get anywhere.

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      • By whom? Mere contradiction is not refutation. Radicals insist upon immediate action by definition. Radicals advocate for complete reforms, not the piecewise approach to victory through the winning of many small battles, the eating of the elephant one bite at a time.

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      • By various people – radicals and people who call themselves radicals but fail to be. I’m a little confused. Are you saying show me someone who calls himself a radical else I won’t concede people do often enough? Okay, if you want to deny it’s the case, fine, we can just differ on whether it’s the case. I wasn’t using the term perjoratively in any case myself.

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      • More gnomic utterances from our self-appointed Oracle of Apollo. A mere message will not change anything. If a message has power, it does not have the power to act. That’s why adverts don’t attempt to sell you the Thing directly but instead appeal to your Appetites. Getting an idea from someone sitting up in bed, pointing his finger to heaven and shouting “A-ha!” to someone else buying the product is a long and troublesome slog to victory and profit. The Radical is an Underpants Gnome who sees Step Four, “Profit” and has no clear ideas on how to fill in Step 3: “????” Usually it’s some variant on Violent Revolution and when the ineffectiveness of that is pointed out to him, how often such solutions only fall out of the frying pan into the fire, he whines and damns even his friends.

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      • Let’s stipulate to a certain class of people, self-described Radicals, Bughouse Square types atop their little soapboxes, hectoring passers-by. Inevitably, if the Radicals’ message has any power, it’s co-opted by Ruthless Pragmatists to the pragmatists’ own ends.

        All Radicals fail. The Mountain failed in the French Revolution. Trotsky failed in Russia. Can you point to even one Radical whose message wasn’t repackaged and re-purposed to the ends of the Pragmatists? A mere message is grossly insufficient to achieve any substantive, lasting change.

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      • Wait, who’s the Oracle? Me? If you really want to insist I’m mistaken that people actually do call themselves radical in a positive way not so infrequently (I’m not denying that it is often a perjorative term, just saying that it’s also a term embraced by many – it’s just a highly politically valent term used by many to various ends), that’s fine. I’ll drop my insistence that it is used that way where you’re concerned. I mean, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure our own Shawn Gude has been pretty strongly implying that he might be a radical in a good way recently, but perhaps I’m mistaken, or perhaps he’s a one-in-a-million outlier. My larger point is that I’m on a downswing in my sense of the possibility of communication between more incrementalist and more, what, idealist? leftists recently, but that that’s not a tragedy, because they still do complement each other despite poor communication. But there is poor communication.

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      • Blaise,
        I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about actual radicals who get actual shit done.

        And yes, violence is a tool in the chest of getting shit done. YMMV on how much it actually helps.

        For a radical to concretize the gains he makes, someone must systematize them — those’re pragmatists, generally.

        A radical comes up with the idea of having a free online webcomic, that folks donate to in order to keep running. Brand new business process, really daring stuff.
        A pragmatist comes up with kickstarter. A way to make something possible for more than just the first guy.

        (sorry for switching problem domains, but it makes a more concrete analogy).

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      • Sorry again – glad we can so stipulate.

        Of course, *I* don’t think that all radicals fail but rather that they succeed via incrementalist gains, but then *that’s* the kind of success *I’m* looking for, so that’s what *I* *would* think.

        So maybe you’re right. Depends what the radical regards as failure.

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      • Actual radicals who get actual shit done? The closest this nation ever came to such a radical was Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail outlines his frustration with those in his own camp who said “Wait”

        MLK’s vision failed. There’s no denying it. This nation is more polarised on the subject of race than ever before. Even liberated from the constraints of institutionalised racism, Americans are self-segregating all on their own. Even with President Obama, a man who’s half-black and half-white, we want to call this guy a Black President. Where the hell did that conclusion arise? From the same old pernicious notions America’s always maintained, the One Drop Axiom.

        America isn’t colour blind. At best, it’s colour neutral. Kids these days don’t call each other nigger out of spite. It’s a reserved word. Gotta confess, when KRS-One/Teacha says “even white kids are calling each other nigga” I find that hilarious. Big sign of progress when the the ugliest word in American English has become a term of affection. I entirely approve.

        But let’s not kid ourselves about Dr. King’s failure. His message was co-opted and transmogrified, his opposition to the Vietnam War, his socialism, hell, even the I Have a Dream speech has become a mantra — and nobody seems to grasp how miserably it all played out. The war for American hearts and minds on any given subject is not won by Radicals. That battle is won by Pragmatists and they’re damned all the way to the finish line by the Radicals.

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      • Blaise,
        Surely Carrie Nation and her ilk “got shit done”, even if nowadays we look askance at its consequences.

        And might I mention the good gentleman who dismantled our first financial capital as a radical populist?

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      • Carrie Nation ended her life in a mental institution, as did her mother. I would only repeat myself in observing the Radical wants change immediately, giving no heed to the consequences of that change.

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      • Indeed, pragmatists think about consequences, and tinker (or roll back completely) radical change. But that is not to say that radicals don’t affect change, sometimes.
        Less often than they’d like to think, certainly. (most change is pragmatists responding to radicals, ala the New Deal)

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      • Radicals earnestly wish their messages had some impact. Laws and sausages.

        The New Deal was just a pragmatic response to the rise of other nations from the Depression, an emulation of the gains fascism had produced elsewhere, tuned up to American sensibilities, an inoculation of socialism to ward off the infection of fascism. Most of the New Deal’s mechanics was a revisiting of how the USA had put its war economy in gear for WW1. Hoover had enacted most of the programs required for the New Deal’s implementation.

        The big losers in the New Deal were the Socialists, whose message had been co-opted by others, both Republicans and Democrats.

        But this is all irrelevant, a mere thread jacking. Obama is not adrift. He is afloat. If he seems unguided and unfocussed, he’s made considerable progress at the expense of his enemies. He feints, faking out his GOP opponents. He frustrates his friends by keeping his own counsel, fighting his battles at the times and places of his own choosing. I seem to recall lots of my Liberal friends were quite upset about his LGBT policies, how he wasn’t seeming to fight those battles. Or the ACA crowd, hell-bent on nationalising health care — Obama’s not an witless wonder, a President Adrift. He’s kept the GOP occupied on all fronts. The GOP don’t know whether to shit or go blind with this guy.

        35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.

        36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance.

        37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.

        38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.

        39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he is going.

        40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:–this may be termed the business of the general.

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      • Blaise,
        Where are you quoting from? You sound like you’re describing Robert E. Lee, for cripes sake! Which would be all well and good, if Lee was counted in the ranks of good generals. (I do disclaim any claim of expertcy on the civil war).

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      • I am quoting from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which I memorised while I was in the Army. Memorising is an antidote to boredom and is a way of carrying a text along with you into places where you might not be able to carry a book.

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  7. My problem with Obama is vaguely similar to my problem with Bush.

    It’s the whole “I don’t mind the whole Republicans not being good at things Republicans aren’t supposed to be good at. I was hoping that they’d be good at the things they’re supposed to be good at, though” thing.

    My problem with Obama isn’t that he disagrees with me economically. Of course he doesn’t. It’d be crazy of me to take much more than an attitude of “that won’t work” followed either by a “told ya” or “huh, that wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it’d be” when it comes to such things. I *KNOW* he’s not a libertarian.

    I was hoping that he’d be better on such things as the 4th Amendment, drones, and drug policy. He *WAS* good on the whole SSM thing and it is good that he got rid of DOMA. So, in that, he was good at one of those things that he was supposed to be good at. Would that he was better… because the tools he’s leaving all over his workbench will be picked up by his successor and I’m not confident that his successor will be someone as good and pure and trustworthy and blameless as he somehow manages to be.

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    • Obama’s problem is a lot simpler to define: his enemies know how to defend against him. Obama’s great weakness is how he uses power and control: he lacks effective commanders to carry out his directives. The reason we’re in such terrible shape with the Fourth Amendment and Drones and suchlike has a name. Eric Holder.

      Like Bush43, Obama values loyalty over competence. Bigbig problem for him.

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