Obama and the Real World

June 8, 2009 at 1:28 am (By Amba) (, )

The president should read this. Except he won’t get it till after it happens to him.

Some may say it already did, and he’s just setting up our enemies, talking past leaders to amass capital in world public opinion, laying the groundwork for a big “OK, no one can say I didn’t try the high road.  NOW . . .”, that he’s got plenty of Chicago mean up his sleeve.  That the campus idealist is his preferred veneer, the way the Texas rancher was his predecessor’s.

We’ll see.

(H/T:  Sisu)

25 Comments

  1. wj said,

    All the negative things that the linked article says may well be true. Most of the time. But that is not quite the same as saying that they are true all of the time. And those who insist, with the author, that they are always how the world works are closing off the chance to find the occasions when they are not.

    That is not to say that the absolute optimists are right either. Clearly they are not, as anyone who has any experience (not to mention knowledge of history) is well aware. But how much more grim and unhappy the world would be if they were never right.

    But I suspect that you haven’t quite got the President’s view down either. Rather than “I’m going thru the motions of being nice, just to set up for the nasty actions later,” I think he may well be trying the high road first because it is far easier to try it first, and then come back with the big stick later if necessary. (Those who start out with threats and force don’t have a whole lot of credibility if they decide to try being nice second.) And you can save yourself a lot of grief when the high road works.

  2. Icepick said,

    But houses do not always go up, and we can’t quite sell off the US to capture our speculative profit.

    Hey, isn’t that how we hand’ed the Japanese in the 1980s? We sold them lots of real estate (Remember the hand wringing when the Empire State Building got sold?) and they ended up taking a huge bath. Kind of like when Daimler bought Chrysler. Come to think of it, why DO foreigners Buy American assets? Don’t they usually overpay and get burned?

  3. amba said,

    Hope springs eternal!

    Pretty clever of us, though, when you think about it!

    Wj, I think there are many reasons for trying the high road first. It sort of gives you moral cover if/when you have to go to the low road later; it separates the sheep from the goats out there — selects out those people who want to have good will towards you but can’t if you’re dismissing or demonizing them or lumping them all together; and in a crazy way it is, dammit, a tribute to American exceptionalism. A way of being seen as that shining city on a hill, that allows one at least to dream that maybe someday human beings could do things some other way than by clubbing each other. Whatever percentage of humanity is capable of responding to that deserves a chance to.

    (Usually it’s the little people and not their leaders; leaders in many cases have an incentive to provoke hatred because it’s what fuels their own power. If the little people don’t have power in most parts of the world, does it matter to our security what they think? Will fewer of them be recruited as suicide bombers, or will their hopes of a job and a vote only be bitterly frustrated again? And how often have we, the U.S., turned out in practice to be, quite naturally, far more self-interested than we appear, e.g. abandoning the Kurds to Saddam after the first Gulf war? Isn’t that likely to happen again? Obama is far more pragmatic than he appears, at least in his own political career.)

    I tend to be too negative to correct for my own earlier naïveté. A signal moment I come back to again and again took place in Central Park in the late ’60s. I forget the occasion, some antiwar party or be-in. A bunch of us hippie wannabes were frisking earnestly around and an “old” Italian-American guy (I’d guess now he was in his late 30s!) was sneering, “Aaaaah, ya can’t change human nature,” and we were saying “But we have to, or we’re doomed!!!!!”

    The truth, as so often, lies somewhere in between. We haven’t changed it, and we have. Improved conditions of life have changed it (sanitation, antibiotics, e.g.) and ideas have changed it. Or they’ve changed its expression, the way genes are modified by the whole middle range of gene expression. The deep-down basics remain much the same; short of some sort of conversion experience, which happens only one soul at a time, only evolution, a slow process, can change them. No doubt that is happening too, both for better and for worse.

  4. amba said,

    Thinking more about Ice’s comment: other countries hope to own a piece of America’s fabulous wealth; then they get their hands on it, and it crumbles away. Its magic depends on being in our possession. Isn’t there some fairy tale (or more than one) with exactly that plot? Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast . . . the beast gives Beauty a precious necklace, and when her ugly stepsister steals it it turns into a snake, or some stinking substance. I’m thinking of Cocteau’s incredible film now, starring his beautiful boyfriend Jean Marais. Here’s more.

  5. Ennui said,

    I have a different gut reaction to this. I don’t see Obama as Hanson at 26 (aka Jimmy Carter). Neither do I see these overtures as a cagey ploy to prep the foreign battlefield (i.e., as an iron fist/velvet glove type thing). I see this as a cagey ploy to prep the domestic (political) battlefield – An attempt to clear the foreign table so he can go about remaking the country. I would expect that he’d be willing to concede everything except Afghanistan (witness his position on Israel both on the settlements and Iran).

    Here’s a question to ponder: Do you think that Obama, in his heart of hearts, thinks that a nuclear Iran is a long term strategic threat to the United States? If so, do you think he believes that there’s anything the United States can do? If so, what? Sanctions? Stronger sanctions? Well, then, there will be a nuclear Iran. I cannot imagine that he is stupid enough to think otherwise. I conclude that he’s willing to let it slide (perhaps under the umbrella of some milquetoast inspection scheme). In fact, I bet that is exactly how it will play out – Support for Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program, a fig leaf of inspectors, and a not so secretly nuclear Iran (to match the not so secretly nuclear Israel). The can is, thus, effectively kicked down the road because, after all, what can you do? Especially when you’ve got bigger axes to grind at home.

  6. Donna B. said,

    I can’t figure Obama out and that is what really bothers me about him.

    There’s really no evidence that he’s as intelligent as he’s touted to be. To me he seems shallow, but so insecure in his recognition that he may be shallow, that others see him as deep.

    But I wonder if it is my shallowness that I’m projecting onto him. Perhaps.

    Nonetheless, he worries me.

  7. amba said,

    I think I “get” some aspects of Obama. He’s lived in so many worlds that he is able to identify partially with each of them, doesn’t fully identify with any of them, and therefore he thinks he might be able to, if not bring them together, help them to coexist. After all, they coexist in his consciousness.

    I identify with that. And I certainly understand the viewpoint that so many different cultures occupy this globe, and are increasingly shoved together by technology, that they either have to figure out how to coexist (and modify themselves so as to be able to coexist), or else there are going to be wars more horrific than history’s doozies. There are a couple of ways to coexist: cultures can become more tolerant and pluralistic, or they can try to conquer each other and get everybody to coexist their way, by force rather than by persuasion. Both things are happening simultaneously. The paradox is that it’s always the more aggressive who change the terms of the game. If you care about your way of life and freedom you have to be ready to be preemptively aggressive

    As for Islamism, I tend to think Obama is trying to seduce the moderate Muslim populations of the world away from extremism. Demonizing all of Islam is more likely to radicalize them. But radical Islam has its attractions even for some young Westerners. We’re on a dangerous knife-edge right now where various forms of absolutism — some benevolent and some malignant — are powerfully attractive because uncertainty is a frightening condition for humans to endure. I think some will argue that we must fight malignant absolutism with benevolent absolutism, and others will argue that we have to outgrow absolutism and become more courageous about living with uncertainty. While I have tended towards the latter, I’ve begun to wonder whether an alliance (at least a strategic one) is possible between benevolent absolutism and uncertainty-principle types. That would require the latter to be open-minded about the benefits of absolutism and the possibility of a symbiosis with it. Uncertainty-principle types can’t build and sustain a world (perhaps only because they’re too new to have tried-and-true principles for doing so; I don’t think such principles are incompatible in principle with epistemological humility, or low metaphysical certainty, or whatever you want to call it). But they can both extend and soften the edges of a world. They can make it permeable while others keep it firm.

    I have no idea if I’m making any sense.

  8. amba said,

    I also got away from the topic of Obama. I don’t know but that he couldn’t make the alliance alluded to above, if he didn’t have cement overshoes called Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Note that the left-left is getting very restive with him: a good sign.

  9. amba said,

    But I’m skeptical that he’s too confident in himself based on what are basically a bunch of untried, abstract ideas. My biggest problem with him as a candidate was that he was so unripe. So I’m reserving judgment for the time being on the foreign-policy front. My hopes are not very high, but then, the world is so complex and fraught that I don’t know that anyone could raise them very high. He is not reassuring, though. His shoulders are too slight — the physical again being symptomatic.

    The domestic front is a bigger disaster. Again, I don’t know that anyone really knows what to do, but printing money, and taking on redoubled, retripled mountains of debt, can’t be it. If it’s “socialism,” it’s Wall Street socialism, which is just insane. I don’t know that anyone alive can really think their way through it.

  10. Donna B. said,

    Is thinking through it an exercise in futility because there are greater numbers of people feeling their way through it?

    I don’t mean to denigrate feelings, but thinking has to trump them (I think…) when it comes to getting along.

  11. amba said,

    Feeling is conservative. i.e. it comes from that part of the brain which is very ancient and has had hundreds of millions of years of lessons in what is more likely to keep you alive. (The kind of lessons where you either get a pass grade or you’re gone.)

    Naturally this part of the brain sees new situations as old situations in a deceptive disguise. And we would be foolish to discount it, since it’s a major part of the reason why we’re here. However, the reason why we’re here and aren’t giant lizards is that we have developed the ability to partially override it.

    So we have to steer a course between our limbic system and our frontal cortex. Either one alone won’t cut it.

  12. amba said,

    Here’s an expression of the left’s unhappiness with Obama.

    The temptation of my bias is to say, “If he’s pissing off both sides he must be doing something right.” But that could be mindless, too.

  13. Rod said,

    I see Obama as a pragmatic liberal. His domestic social policy agenda is relatively standard democratic platform stuff. He wants to do a New New Deal. He hasn’t worked through his foreign policy views, but he appears to be instinctively a little more conservative, now that he is in office.

  14. Icepick said,

    If it’s “socialism,” it’s Wall Street socialism, which is just insane. I don’t know that anyone alive can really think their way through it.

    That’s also known as fascism.

  15. Rod said,

    Or perhaps, National Socialism?

  16. Icepick said,

    Well, Rod, you and I really need to get with the program. Obama’s minions in Congress have said he has a better heart than Jesus. His press flacks have told us that he’s the “most intelligent man to ever occupy the White House” and at least three times smarter than Einstein. Hell, just recently one of the editors at Newsweek declared that Obama is above the United States of America and a GOD who will unite all the world. No doubt we will be united to pay tribute to Obama’s greatness for saving us peons from our lowly swelves and our petty concerns.

    If we don’t get wilth the program soon a group of the New Black Panther Party will be dispatched to our houses to show us the light.

    Obama’s Caesar, Jesus, and Einstein all rolled into one package. And have you SEEN how tone his wife’s arms are?

  17. amba said,

    Not as toned as mine. *snicker*

  18. wj said,

    I’m not sure it is really fair to fault Obama for the nonsense spouted by his followers. Consider, would you fault Reagan (who got along very well with Democrats in Congress, even the ones who disagreed with him on various issues) for the viscous behavior of people who loudly proclaimed him as the font of all that was good in conservatism? Heck, in the Republican Party of the last decade, Reagan would have been branded a RINO and outcast.

    True, Obama has a big ego. But then, so does any politician . . . especially any politician who even tries to run for President. (And at least he seems willing to listen to a variety of opinions, rather than only to those who already agree with him.) The question for me is not “How good does he think he is?” but “How much does he actually accomplish under the circumstances he finds himself in?” And on that, it is far too early to render more than the very most preliminary of judgments.

    And there is the detail that every President learns and changes as he accumulates experience in office. For example, cast your minds back to the first 6 months of Bush II. As I recall, what we saw was some big expansion plans in Medicare (i.e. what I label a liberal action), and pretty much nothing in foreign affairs. Which is not exactly what we ended up seeing over the course of the whole 8 years.

  19. Icepick said,

    Heck, in the Republican Party of the last decade, Reagan would have been branded a RINO and outcast.

    I have heard this repeatedly. Please provide evidence. What would make Reagan a RINO? His belief in higher taxes and big government? His pro-abortion rights stance? His belief in apologizing for America and being weak on national defense issues?

    THis argument is crap, wj, and it has been propogated by Democrats and career politicians who ONLY care about getting elected. (The press has been eager to push this meme, of course, but I already mentioned Democrats.)

  20. Maxwell said,

    Is the title of the post a reference to this?

  21. Icepick said,

    I’m not sure it is really fair to fault Obama for the nonsense spouted by his followers.

    Oh come on. His followers in the press and Congress are doing exactly what he wants them to do. He is being deified and he loves every secnd of it. Note how yesterday he came out by telling Congress that they needed to institute more PAYGO rules – he was lecturing them! Of course, he’s doing this AFTER spending a few trillion (I’m only counting his spending now, and not W’s) and also only after makinig certain that the new rules will carve out a $2.5 TRILLION dollar exception for his healthcare proposals. He can only do that if no one ever questions him, and that will be easier done if he is a living god instead of some asshole crooked politicians from Chicago.

    (And at least he seems willing to listen to a variety of opinions, rather than only to those who already agree with him.)

    Yes, Obama listened to the Republican’s aobut the stimulus package. And them nhe told them (in essence) to go fuck themselves. Sorry, this doesn’t really count as listening. And let’s not forget that Obama has characterized those who have opposed his auto plans (for example) as “speculators” implying that they are looking to screw everyone to line their pockets. (And in a business setting no less – have they no shame?) Of course, it turned out that these greedy blood suckers were teachers unions and police and fire pension funud, but what the fuck? They oppose him, he will use his bully pulpit to crush those worthless bastards!

    The question for me is not “How good does he think he is?” but “How much does he actually accomplish under the circumstances he finds himself in?” And on that, it is far too early to render more than the very most preliminary of judgments.

    Well, he’s already spent so much money that even the Chinese have blanched, and the Chinese have all the money we used to have. (Again, I’m only counting the money he has spent, not the assloads Bush spent before him.) Obama said that if we passed his stimulus bill unemployment wouldn’t even hit 8%. If we DIDN’T pass it, unemployment would hit 9%. Well, we did pass it, and unemployment has hit 9.5%, with a bullet! Of course, he has created or saved 150,000 jobs. How about grading his team’s use of statistical models for one thing, and the efficacy of making policy on the basis of what these models tell him? He’s betting trillions on those models, and so far they have failed badly.

    For example, cast your minds back to the first 6 months of Bush II. As I recall, what we saw was some big expansion plans in Medicare (i.e. what I label a liberal action), and pretty much nothing in foreign affairs. Which is not exactly what we ended up seeing over the course of the whole 8 years.

    This bit of snark would be more effective if Bush HADN’T actually pushed through his Medicare stuff. And his housing policies. Or his transportation and farm bills. Or …

    Ah hell, what’s the point? Bush only doesn’t look like a radical statist in comparison to Obama, but that won’t mean anything. He will only be remembered for exposing the secret identity of every covert agent working for the US and for personally torturing hundreds of millions of innocent peaceful Muslims. Meanwhile, Obama is getting praised as a moderate for trashing hundreds of years of contract law, making voter intimidation official US policy, expanding government control over the economy to such an extent that Hugo Chavez is openly envious, etc, etc.

    Yeah, wj, you’re right. Obama hasn’t done anything yet worthy of making an assessment. Not one goddamned thing.

  22. Icepick said,

    Not as toned as mine. *snicker*

    I bet your hips and thighs are in better shape, too.

  23. Icepick said,

    wj, Obama seems to have an extremely high opinion of himself. I like how he gave the Queen of British Empire (pale imitation that it is of the real thing) an iPod containing his speeches. Now THAT is a man who thinks of himself in the highest terms!

    He should have at least given her something more personal, like the original written copy of one of the speeches. Can you imagine how valuable Winston Churchill’s hand written copy (I believe he wrote it out in long hand, but maybe not) of the “Never Surrender” speech would be? Obama should have done something similar with one of his speeches. Of course he doesn’t actually write anything by hand, because almost no one does that. (I sure as Hell don’t, partly because I’m so out of practice that I can barely read my printing anymore, and have no chance reading my script.) Perhaps he could have given her the flash drive and telepromtr used for his famous “Typical White Person” racial conciliation speech. Or perhaps just a “BFF” declaration from his Blackberry to hers.

    Gods above and below (and in the White House), don’t you just love the impersonal nature of modern living?

  24. amba said,

    Hips and thighs! Gah! That thing she’s wearing is a look-fat costume!

  25. wj said,

    Ice, responding to yours of 12:32:

    From my perspective (and I’ve been a Republican here in California since the late 1960s), Reagan would have been branded a RINO by the current Republican Party for one obvious, terrible character flaw: He saw others, even his political opponents, as human beings and treated them with respect accordingly. He did not insist that anyone who disagreed with him was evil, treasonous, or even generally ill-intentioned. Which did not keep him from contending that they were wrong.

    If you don’t think that matter of attitude towards others would have gotten Reagan trashed by big chunks of today’s Republican Party )regardless of his stand on the issues), all I can say is you are seeing a very different Republican Party than I am.

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