Yeah, and stop punching hippies

As I kept saying during the primaries, we were facing too many major problems to wait for Obama’s on the job training. Well, here we are, and he still doesn’t seem to know the smallest thing about how to use power. Bill Greider:

Even Obama supporters began to ask, Where is the fight in the man? Some critics blame a lack of courage, but that neglects the extraordinary nerve Obama displayed in his rise to the White House—a young black man with an unusual name and limited experience who triumphed through his audacity. Obama’s governing style is a function of his biography—a man who grew up always in the middle, both black and white. He succeeded by learning rare skills, the ability to bridge different worlds comfortably and draw people together across racial, political and intellectual divides. He learned to charm and disarm, not to smash and conquer.

For the first time in his life, those qualities seem to have failed him. Indeed, he may have been misled by his high regard for his own talents. This is really his first encounter with devastating political defeat. The question now is, What will he learn from his “shellacking”? Possibly not much, since it is always very hard to rethink and adjust in midstream. But remember, this man is an unusually observant politician with a great thirst for self-reflection. One can reasonably hope that as he absorbs the hard knocks, he will make calculated changes in how he governs.

Bluntly put, Obama needs to learn hardball. People saw this in him when he fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and many of us yearn to see more. If he absorbs the lesson of power, he will accept that sometimes in politics you can’t split the difference or round off sharp edges. He has to push back aggressively and stand his ground, more like those ruthless opponents trying to bury him. If Congress won’t act, the president will. But first he has to switch from cheerleading to honest talk. Tell people what the nation really needs, what Republicans intend to sabotage. In a political street fight, you’ve got to hit back.

Only Obama can decide this about himself, but others can influence the outcome by surrounding him with tough love and new circumstances created by their own direct actions. It does not help Obama to keep telling him he did great but the people misunderstood him. He did lousy, not great, and in many governing dimensions people understood his failures clearly enough. They knew he gave tons of money to bankers and demanded nothing in return. They knew he thought the economy was in recovery. They couldn’t believe this intelligent man was that clueless.

Popular forces can blow away the fuzziness. They can mobilize to demonstrate visible support for the president’s loftier goals and to warn him off the temptation to pursue a Clintonesque appeasement of the right. Given the fragile status of his presidency, Obama needs to know that caving in is sure to encourage enemies and drive off disheartened supporters. People should, likewise, call out the president’s enemies and attack them with the harshness that’s out of character for him. The racial McCarthyism of the GOP establishment is a good place to start.

People who still have great hope for Obama can help revive his presidency, but only if they toughen up themselves. Stop holding his hand (he’s an adult) and start building a people’s agenda that compels the president to change his. Obama won’t like this at first—his own supporters talking back—but he can learn to draw strength from their courage. If people fail to step up with their own message, the president will likely fail with his.

10 thoughts on “Yeah, and stop punching hippies

  1. Obama’s a conservative. That’s why he supports conservative policies, and has used his power very successfully to implement them. He’s doing fine with the use of power.

  2. An alternative view would be to say that President Obama is not fighting for these positions because he does not believe in them in the first place. His skill (actually the skill of media advisers like Drew Westen, an expert in manipulating people with neuro-psychology) was to be able to use the right words and images to make people trust and believe in HIM and to allow them to assume that he wanted what they wanted. They voted for their own emotional projections, not Barak Obama.

    Now everybody is trying to figure out what went wrong. Nothing went wrong. The president is keeping his promise to support and protect the financial interests that put him into the White House.

    There was no fight because he has done exactly what he always intended to to. I find this to be a much simpler theory and easier to believe, but it leaves me in blackest despair over the future of the country.

    The only odd thing is that he seems genuinely disappointed to discover that the people are not being fooled any more into voting for his party.

    Judging from the articles Westen is writing about the Obama administration’s agenda, I expect that he is at this point feeling about like J. Robert Oppenheimer did about designing the atomic bomb.

    [This is a link to a speech Westen made about his methods and research]

  3. All of this ‘What Obama Needs to Do’ advice is nothing more than pointless fantasizing about the glorious day the ponies finally arrive. The ponies aren’t coming. The ponies don’t exist. Obama is doing exactly what he wants to do, exactly what his real base – who would not be us – wants him to do. He doesn’t have a problem with his sucking up to the conservatives. We’re the ones with the problem.

  4. Look, I don’t believe Obama’s going to do anything. I’m just pointing out that this is all the same stuff I was saying back during the presidential primary, when so many of my readers told me I was just “crazy.”

  5. “…the temptation to pursue a Clintonesque appeasement of the right.”

    I don’t recall Clinton caving to Republicans on tax cuts for the wealthy.

  6. But he is doing something. He’s giving great gobs of money to bankers and insurance companies and Wall Street financiers, and he’s angling to severely curtail, if not eliminate, Social Security and other parts of our severely frayed social net. That’s not being unable to use power, that’s using power for evil ends, which isn’t at all the same thing.

    I’m in complete agreement that all of this was evident during the primaries. I’ve never understood why so many people thought Obama was some sort of liberal fighter for the people (not that you did; I was reading here during the primaries as one of the sane blogs).

  7. Can we please give up the idea that the guy is bright and is self-reflective? He’s almost certainly, like Bush, a legacy admission to Harvard without a single intellectual accomplishment to his name. He’s dumber than a fucking fencepost – well, at least for a high level Democrat.

    Also, self-reflection? Bullshit. This is the asshole who describes his greatest moral failing as trying drugs in high school. No one who says something that stupid has any capacity for self-reflection.

    He’s a narcissistic, sociopathic Reaganite and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone except himself.

  8. “Bluntly put, Obama needs to learn hardball. People saw this in him when he fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and many of us yearn to see more.”
    The second statement is false. Firing McChrystal came from the same impulse that led to the firing of Shirley Sherrod.

    And I really don’t give a flying fuck about his motivations. Like Susie said, this was apparent even before the campaign, but people were hypnotized by “The Voice.”

  9. Obama knows how to fight. We all lived through the primaries. So the only logical conclusion to draw is the one that everyone here has done: He is doing exactly what he wants.

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