Sunday, May 19, 2013

President Obama, Rightwing Demagoguery, and the Limitations of American Politics

"Mr. Obama recognized the dynamic while a senator, telling aides that a president could drive just 15 to 20 percent of the public agenda; the rest of the time, he had to react.  In that light, aides say, Mr. Obama maintains his famed equanimity and, free of campaign pressures, takes a longer view."


The statement above is not only patently false but absurd.  And it is a particularly cowardly and infantile way of avoiding the truth.  For starters, THINK of the following five Presidents, then think of what they actually did while in office and this goes far beyond whether one agreed or disagreed with what they did or how they did it:  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhous Nixon, Ronald Wilson Reagan, and George W. Bush.  Would anyone in their right mind and with just a cursory knowledge and command of the fundamental FACTS about their respective transformative administrations (for good and/or ill!) actually maintain with a straight face that these Presidents and their administrations only drove "15 to 20% of the public agenda"?  That's a flatout lie on its face.  Who does Obama think he is kidding with this bullshit?  THINK about what these five individuals actually DID in the Presidency as far as the "public agenda" is concerned, then think about the monumental consequences and visceral impact that their decisions about a very wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues, crises, and concerns had (and is still having) on both "ordinary" Americans and the rest of the world to this very day. Whatever one thinks about these Presidents and what/how/why they did what they did no one who has been actually affected by their various multifaceted policies, visions, ideas, delusions, and desires (which whether one "believes in" or "cares" about politics or not is still playing a very significant role in their lives and that of their loved ones and complete strangers as well).  Besides, the last I heard employment, education, healthcare, housing, transportation, and physical security were all essential to the quality of one's life. That's a reality based acknowledgment of how politics (and economics and technology and social/cultural institutions et al) actually plays an important and unavoidable role in our lives and to simply PRETEND that what governments (and politicians, especially Presidents) do and say DON'T have this kind of actual ongoing impact on what and how and why we in turn do what we do in either its and/or our support, opposition, or simple indifference is to live as though it "doesn't matter" if the air we breathe or the water and food we consume  negatively affects how we live and what it means to our everyday existence.  By acting as though he is an "innocent bystander" to his own Presidency Obama is indulging in a bizarre sort of self serving and myopic self pity AND an insular arrogant hubris simultaneously that pretends that only his vile and relentless political enemies (of which there are of course many and who also happen to be OUR most implacable and deadly enemies as well, we should never forget) are ultimately responsible for his inept and petulant inability to get anything substantive done at this point in his administration of the government.  But that egocentric excuse masquerading as an "objective perception" is also patently false and absurd.  For the truth is that like all human beings who have ever desired (or SAID they did) to change society and to actively engage his/her fellow citizens in this personal desire and social quest one must be fully prepared and determined at all time to FIGHT for what principles, ideas, desires one asserts they "stand for" or "believe in."  Otherwise one shouldn't even get in the RING with their opponents.  After all stepping into the ring and putting on the gloves means one is gonna get hit and I mean both HARD and repeatedly.  So simply crying about being hit--and especially "too hard" is not the behavior of a person who understands what fighting actually requires but is someone who stupidly and rather fearfully thinks that merely claiming that they want to win the fight (in this context for "social change and justice", among other things) is all that one must do and if he/she is opposed in this desire then their enemies are the ultimate source of their major problem and its desired resolution and not themselves.  But of course this assertion would be dead wrong.  Try fighting a fierce opponent without a proactive offensive attack and strategy or without raising your fists in your own defense.  It really HURTS, doesn't it?...


An Onset of Woes Raises Questions on Obama Vision
By Peter Bake
May 15, 2013
New York Times

WASHINGTON — Thwarted on Capitol Hill, stymied in the Middle East and now beset by scandal, President Obama has reached a point just six months after a heady re-election where the second term he had hoped for has collided with the second term he actually has.

Mr. Obama emerged from a heated campaign last November with renewed confidence that he could shape the next four years with a vision of activist government as a force for good in American society. But the controversies of recent days have reinforced fears of an overreaching government while calling into question Mr. Obama’s ability to master his own presidency.

The challenges underscore a paradox about the 44th president. He presides over a government that to critics appears ever more intrusive, dictating health care choices, playing politics with the Internal Revenue Service and snooping into journalists’ phone records. Yet at times, Mr. Obama comes across as something of a bystander occupying the most powerful office in the world, buffeted by partisanship and forces beyond his control.

On Wednesday, announcing the departure of the acting director of the I.R.S., he portrayed himself as an onlooker to the scandal, albeit one with the power to force changes. “Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I’m angry about it,” he said.

He likewise had nothing to do with the Justice Department seizure of phone records of reporters for The Associated Press, aides say. The Benghazi dispute, he complains, is brazen politics, and the White House released e-mails Wednesday meant to show that the president’s close aides had little involvement in its most hotly debated aspect. He has no way to force Congress to pass even a modest gun-control bill, aides say, while the slaughter in Syria defies American capacity to intervene.

All of which raises the question of how a president with grand ambitions and shrinking horizons can use his office. Mr. Obama may be right about some of the things he cannot do, but he has also struggled lately to present a vision of what he can do.

On Wednesday, the administration appeared to take a newly aggressive tack on three current imbroglios, pushing out the head of the I.R.S., releasing the Benghazi e-mails and announcing that it would revive legislation to protect journalists from legal jeopardy. The president also said he would hold a news conference Thursday.

The most obvious larger area for progress is immigration, where Republicans appear to want to reach a deal to improve their standing with Latino voters. Aides hold out hope for reaching a budget deal, resuscitating gun control and using executive authority to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And Mr. Obama can shape policy by putting his health care program into effect, nominating federal judges and a Federal Reserve chairman, and withdrawing more troops from Afghanistan.

“I still think we have a chance to do some significant things,” said David Plouffe, his longtime adviser. “If we get immigration and something on economy and deficits, that would be a pretty banner year, given a divided Congress.”

He rejected the suggestion that Mr. Obama, who forced Republicans to accept higher taxes on the wealthy after re-election, has been too passive. “The notion that there’s some sort of easy leadership play that he hasn’t called yet that would unlock gridlock, that’s not a very sophisticated analysis,” Mr. Plouffe said.

Second terms have long vexed presidents, whether it was the Iran-contra affair for Ronald Reagan or impeachment for Bill Clinton. Much as Mr. Obama failed to win his first big post-inaugural priority in gun control, President George W. Bush saw his effort to revamp Social Security in his fifth year go nowhere. With violence spiraling in Iraq, Mr. Bush found it hard to regain traction.

Yet presidents have made breakthroughs in their second term amid Congressional investigations. Reagan signed a nuclear-arms treaty with the dying Soviet Union, and Mr. Clinton balanced the budget. Mr. Bush defied broad opposition to a troop surge in Iraq, fueling a turnaround there.

For Mr. Obama, the sharp drop in the projected deficit, announced Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office, served as a reminder that if he finishes his term with a healthier economy, it may matter more to his legacy than this week’s setbacks.

Still, the latest furors could harden an impression of an Obama presidency that has expanded the reach of government further than many Americans would like. And they can undermine a powerful tool of the presidency, the ability to focus public attention.

Mr. Obama recognized the dynamic while a senator, telling aides that a president could drive just 15 to 20 percent of the public agenda; the rest of the time, he had to react. In that light, aides say, Mr. Obama maintains his famed equanimity and, free of campaign pressures, takes a longer view.

“Being in office for nearly four and a half years gives the president some perspective — it helps separate the signal from the noise,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a White House senior adviser. “When you have dealt with real life-and-death problems, the political ones seem much smaller and affect you less.”

Yet Mr. Obama also expresses exasperation. In private, he has talked longingly of “going Bulworth,” a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty’s character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama’s desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him.

“Probably every president says that from time to time,” said David Axelrod, another longtime adviser who has heard Mr. Obama’s movie-inspired aspiration. “It’s probably cathartic just to say it. But the reality is that while you want to be truthful, you want to be straightforward, you also want to be practical about whatever you’re saying.”

The cinematic allusion seems striking given Mr. Obama’s rejection of Hollywood’s version of the White House, what one former aide calls “the Harry Potter theory of the presidency,” which suggests that he could wave a wand and make things happen. At the White House Correspondents Association dinner last month, he bristled at the idea that he should be pattern himself after Michael Douglas’s assertive character in “The American President.”

Turning to Mr. Douglas, who was in the audience, he jokingly asked what his secret was. “Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy?” Mr. Obama asked. He added later, “I get frustrated sometimes.”

Mr. Obama was more scornful a few days later when a reporter skeptically asked about his prospects for further legislation. “As Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” he said.

This week, as Mr. Obama confronted a scandal frenzy unlike any he has faced, he let his guard down during fund-raisers in New York. “My thinking was after we beat them in 2012, well, that might break the fever,” he told donors. “And it’s not quite broken yet.”

He sounded almost plaintive in wishing he had more ability to advance his agenda. “I sure want to do some governing,” he told another set of contributors. “I want to get some stuff done. I don’t have a lot of time.”

Still, as he was traveling on Marine One on Monday, Mr. Obama took note of news reports describing last Friday as a terrible day. “You know what was actually a terrible day?” an aide recalled him saying. “The day Benghazi actually happened.”