Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Challenge of Staying on Message and Obama's Job Speech: Robert McNamara vs. President Obama vs. Drew Westen

The Republican clown car debate at the Reagan Library went as expected. To my eyes, Perry showed himself to be the talking point D student we know him to be. Thus, he quite predictably showed himself to be the favorite son for the Tea Party crowd.

Romney is the establishment candidate that may not be "red" enough.

Herman Cain embarrassed himself with his pizza-like slogan "999" and then his followup interview on MSNBC during which he tried to reconcile his love of States' Rights and how he is a product of The Civil Rights Movement. Tragic and sad and funny.

As I tried to watch a man make sense of the inexplicable and irreconcilable I almost--note almost--felt bad for the king garbage pail kid High Vizier of black conservatives that is Herman "Buckdancing" Cain.

Moving forward, I think that Perry's blood lust on the death penalty (was that howling crowd not disturbing?) and refusal to stand down on what some perceived to be a gaffe on Social Security is a points scored moment with the Tea Party GOP primary crowd. That very fact may hurt him in the general election. We shall see...

At present, I sense a bit of pre-fight atmosphere in the air as the American people await President Obama's jobs speech Thursday evening. Unless he goes more than 300 billion in, and calls out the Republicans for their role in the economy and obstructionism where they put party over country and the Common Good, the Left and Progressives will call it a fail.

It's good to be king--except when you are Barack Obama.

Because of the hurricane, the East Coast earthquake, and other matters, I was delayed in discussing psychologist Drew Westen's much discussed essay in the NY Times, a great piece of work that is well worth keeping in mind as we await President Obama's address to Congress later today.

Reflecting on Westen's concerns in "What Happened to Obama?" about the President's narrative and framing of policy, as well as taking McNamara's advice to heart, I would suggest that one of the President's failings has been his inability to tell a compelling story and to call the Tea Party GOP to account as the bullies and faction they have proven themselves to be.

The most damning passage in Westen's NY Times broadside is the following:
Those were the shoes — that was the historic role — that Americans elected Barack Obama to fill. The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation. 
When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.
Hopefully, Barack Obama's jobs speech will be a return to his promise as a candidate when compared to the structurally constrained President who has abandoned the power of the bully pulpit in the face of Tea Party GOP harassment, and unthinkably irresponsible behavior that is truly and utterly outside of the boundaries of normal politics.

Westen's piece is a required read. In light of his essay, what are you expecting from President Obama's job speech on Thursday night?


nomad said...

What happened to Obama? Nothing. All of this wondering about why he won't stand up for liberal/progressive values: "He's a wimp who won't fight for what he believes in. Nah uh. It all makes sense once you put aside the notion that those are the values he believes in. When you understand that he is a conservative that pretended to be moderately liberal in order to get elected, then the puzzle begins to come together. War, bailout the banks, shaft the poor. Obama is doing exactly what he wants to do. A better question might be, what happened to us. Now, after 4 years of Obama, how come we still pretending we don't know what he's about?

chaunceydevega said...


You are right with the last question. What will happen to us, meaning we the people, now?

I go back and forth on Obama as one of "them". Yes, in another era he is a centrist republican. But to win an election, just to fail to craft a narrative and to advance your agenda...well maybe that is the real issue then, perhaps his agenda is what we are seeing at work.

To win, to lose I just don't know.

nomad said...

"perhaps his agenda is what we are seeing at work."

I think so. I don't think he's weak. I don't think he is naive: "I'm going to keep trying to compromise with Republicans even though they keep abusing the process." He is too intelligent for me to imagine that he doesn't see their strategy of obstruction or that he unwittingly falls prey to it time and again. Ruling those things out, the only other conclusion is that he is following the agenda of his choosing. The bonus, in having such a rabid extreme right opposition, is that he can blame his most unpalatable policies on the Republicans: "Look what you made me do."

What can we do? Third party? Maybe. Can he be primaried? I don't know. Not vote? That may be the only way to send a message to the treacherous Democratic Party. Yeah, we may end up with a Republican president. But let me ask you, what could a Republican do that would be worst than what Obama has done? Cut Medicare?

Obama's agenda is simply not acceptable for someone who cares about the poor, the innocent, the peace loving, or even the middle class. What we can do is vociferously criticize his agenda. Force him to change it ("Make me do it") or don't vote for him. Let the GOP take the hindmost. At least with a Republican in the presidency, the left's opposition to these atrocious rightwing policies would be fierce.

Chris Sharp said...

Something may be wrong with the comments feature on your site since it posted one of mine twice this morning.

I have come full circle on Mr. Obama and I share Nomad's view that he may have been a "stealth conservative" all along. Unless the Dems get smart and run someone else who might actually stand up to the Right Wing (maybe Clinton and Clinton?), I do not think I will be casting a vote for President in 2012. I would prefer to take my chances that the election of any of the Republican clowns would do more to mobilize Progressive opposition than anything that Obama can do.

The only hope I see now for Progressive mobilization is if the Republicans successfully block the continuation of the payroll tax cut, which might show them for the true hypocrites and shills for the rich that they are. Maybe then the middle class will finally wake up and realize they are getting screwed by the Right with no condoms or vaseline.

I also can't wait to see the President justify his anticipated abandonment of the payroll tax cut (coupled with another tax cut for the rich) as just another compromise that had to be made.

gordon gartrelle said...

Obama has made it clear that he's a center-right corporatist New Democrat, but even if he is getting exactly what he wants in terms of policy, why would he continue to cultivate the perception that he's a pushover getting rolled by the opposition?

Being seen as weak is the absolute worst thing a president, especially one up for re-election. Why double down on this "only adult in the room" above-the-partisan-fray uniter bullshit when that doesn't appeal to anyone but Washington insiders?

nomad said...

That is the mystery. Seems rather suicidal. Certainly counter effective.

But a bigger mystery. Why would he choose to be a rather incompetent caretaker president when he could have been a transformative and, probably, great president?

Both mysteries probably have a single answer.

nomad said...

And speaking of mysteries. Why did Barack Obama offer up Medicare and SS for austerity cuts in the first place? The GOP didn't even ask for it. That makes no sense either. And why would he extend the Bush era taxcuts, the primary cause of the deficit problem? A lot of other smaller mysteries. But those two and the two named earlier are the biggest.