Monday, August 01, 2011

"...and Some Have Greatness Thrust Upon Them"

I won't even begin to sort out all the responses to the Grand Bargain, even limiting myself to the center-and-left, though I suspect the prize for dignified eloquence in disappointment goes to James Fallows, with the shrewdest early appraisal of the content from Ezra Klein.  Against the fairly general left rage at Obama's apparent incompetence, you can weigh Glenn Greenwald's argument that he meant it all along (with Greenwald, recall Harry Golden on Barry Goldwater: "I always knew that the first Jewish president would be an Episcopalian").

Me, I'm willing to go with a little of both.  I do think Obama is temperamentally a centrist, most at home perhaps among Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller. a prodigal spender of other people's money while ferocious on crime (though Obama, unlike Rockefeller, will always have to live with the curse that he is not  Rockefeller). Yet also, Obama has shown himself to be an unskilled negotiator, a mix of earnest naïveté and an almost utter lack of political timing.  But there's another perspective that doesn't seem to be receiving much attention (though I picked it up a while back from Walter Russell Mead).  That is: whether or not Obama's deals make sense, he doesn't have any knack at all for convincing us that they make sense.  As is so often the case, the Roosevelt comparison is apposite here. After a dismayingly mixed-bag first term, FDR was able to keep the electorate on board with the idea that he was still part of the solution and not the problem--and the voters gave him a huge bye, and he rolled back into office 46 states to two.  So in a different way Lyndon Johnson: even those who pretty much saw through him from the start still had to grit their teeth and smile in admiration at his legerdemain  in bringing it off.  Obama on his best days can somehow make us feel he is having his worst.

I know, I know, his friends who will try to take comfort from other Presidents who looked braver and craftier in retrospect than in their own time.  I'm one of those who oozed contempt for Eisenhower while he was in office, yet who believes today that he was, while far from perfect, srill a far more crafty politician than I understood at the time.  And who was it who said of Lincoln that he had the peculiar knack for not caring that other people thought him stupid?

I'm sure I run the risk of historical-analogy overload: between this and earlier posts, I hate to think how many other Presidents I've drawn on for historical comparison.  If we are somehow misunderstanding the real Obama, I don't think it is strictly a matter of craft (as with Ike) or moral courage (as with Lincoln).  It is, at best, one more evidence that we're watching a rookie play a rookie game.  Still, I'm taken with Ezra's appraisal that the (immanent) compromise is on the whole a rather mixed bag, i.e., not nearly the disaster the liberal critics would make it out to be.

Oh, and the headline? Irony?  Sarcasm?  The simple truth?  Could be, could be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you dont get to be a 4 star general without being crafty at politics. i made capt in the 31st dixie division, alabama national guard, before i moved out of state.