Barack Obama is NOT your boyfriend. Ergo, he didn't dump you.

by: Paul Rosenberg

Mon Dec 06, 2010 at 10:30


Two-three years ago, I caught a lot of grief telling people that Barack Obama was not their boyfriend.  He was a politician, kissing babies and giving speeches like the rest of them.  Okay, better than the rest of them, but in the same manner as the rest of them. Not your boyfriend.

I didn't make a lot of headway.  Like I said, he's better than the rest of them.  But now the worm has turned, and increasingly folks are acting like Barack Obama's their boyfriend who jilted them.  Take for, for example, this comment from TSlavin in glendenb's diary, "Let's Talk About Tomorrow: Moving Democrats Forward" that I front-paged yesterday. It begins:

Truly I don't believe it was incompetence that has put us in this position. Obama clearly has the rhetorical skills and his political team has the skill sufficient to get elected President, no small achievement. The fact Obama has not only refused to use his rhetorical skills to achieve progressive goals but also has actively sold out progressive goals (e.g. spiking the public option) strongly suggests the problem is NOT incompetence.

The problem is that Obama is most comfortable with Republican solutions to policy problems. He sees the government as having an extremely limited, only in emergencies, role in the free market. That's not progressive. Indeed, even looking back at Democratic party history, that's not even in the mainstream of Democratic policy since the Depression. The problem is that Obama is comfortable with the status quo of too big to fail banks, endless mergers, a police state (e.g. wiretapping without warrants), and state sponsored murder, as well as using state power to cover up illegal actions by the state.

Obama truly believes it is okay for the government to allow high unemployment indefinitely, for at least a decade, so that the free market will let banks heal themselves by fake outsized profits gained by borrowing from the Fed at a low rate (say 1%) and buying Treasury bonds at a higher rate (say 3%), among other tactics.

This is very different from the picture you paint of a hapless Obama and a hapless Democratic leadership. This is simply "Bush Done Right" by a politician who calls himself a Democrat. Based on his policies to date, Obama cares little or nothing for working people and the need for government to always balance the different (and often contradictory) interests in our society. Instead, Obama is quite happy for the government to be on the side of plutocracy at the expense of working people. If Obama cares at all for the middle class, he believes the free market eventually will help the little people by helping first the most advantaged.

Now, I'm not saying that TSlavin is totally off the mark here.  I've said some of these same things myself--particularly comparing Obama to Tony Blair who openly staked out the position of Thatcherism done right, ergo Obama as Bush done right. So how do I differ?  And why?  The answer is that I don't explain complex political positioning in terms of personal relationships.

Politicians are actors in complex institutional settings, and the actions they take largely reflect the constraints and powers that come with those settings.  They like to pretend to a high degree of autonomy, but that's just part of the standard politicians act.  That act usually helps to impress or intimidate, which helps generate more political power for the politician who plays the part.  But that doesn't mean it's real.  There's actually a great deal of social science behind this.  In fact, the mistaken belief that people are acting of their own conscious and unfettered volition, rather than as a result of situational factors, is known in social science as the fundamental attribution error, which Wikipedia describes thus:

Paul Rosenberg :: Barack Obama is NOT your boyfriend. Ergo, he didn't dump you.


In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior-where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor-observer bias.

As a simple example, if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice later tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

The term was coined by Lee Ross[1] some years after a now-classic experiment by Edward E. Jones and Victor Harris (1967).[2] Ross argued in a popular paper that the fundamental attribution error forms the conceptual bedrock for the field of social psychology.

The Situationist blog, out of The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School is a place I've referred to on a number of occassions that's especially concerned with identifying, understanding, critiquing and correcting the generalized tendency to to explain social phenomena dispositionally rather than situationally, the fundamental attribution error is the quintessential example of this confusion. Does this mean that disposition plays no role at all in human affairs?  Is that what I'm saying?  No, of course not.  In fact, I think that disposition plays a very significant role in human affairs.  But in my view, that role is virtually always part of a complex mixture.

Dispositions often move us in directions where situational factors then kick in and have a much more powerful influence on us over time.  But the situational factors may well lead us to do things that we would never have done purely as a matter of disposition.  Broadly speaking, though, I think this is exactly what has happened with Barack Obama.

In fact, it's my view that (1) Obama is naturally predisposed to be more adaptive to situations than most people are, and (2) neo-liberalism, his de facto political philosophy is likewise a very fluid, adaptable ideology.  Add to that his coming into office in a very stressful, crisis-driven time, and the power of situational forces at work in his presidency is quite overwhelming.  None of this, of course, was intimated in his campaign.

But that's hardly surprising.  The whole purpose of virtually all campaigns is to project a false image of politicians as entirely free from the sorts of situational influences that actually tend to predominate over all of us.  The disconnect was particularly jolting and disconcerting with Obama, particularly given all the expectations that had been built up.  But Obama himself was not really all that different from other politicians, he just did a particularly good job of creating the illusion that he was different.  But they all try to do that.  He was playing the same game that they all play.  He was just really good at it.

But he never was your boyfriend.  So wanting to punish him for a breakup that never happened is a serious misdirection of time, energy and emotion.

This doesn't mean I'm defending him.  To the contrary.  I'm trying to suggest that we need to understand and direct our attention toward the situational factors that are driving his actions.  Clearly, the relative docility of the left has been one of those factors that's lead him to virtually ignore us.  And his risk averse response to the mid-terms only makes this tendency worse.  But as a consequence, left-liberal frustration and impatience with him has crossed a threshold.  And that now holds the potential to begin changing everything.

But that potential will not be best realized if we have a mistaken approach to modeling and understanding his actions according to the fundamental attribution error.  We need to get over him as a love/hate figure.  We need to see him as coldly and clearly as possible.  He's part of a system, and it's up to us to make that system work as well as possible.  Of course, I strongly urge that we need to be working on transforming or replacing that system at the same time.  But we don't have the luxury of not doing both at once.

I've got some pretty serious criticisms coming.  But I'm trying to critically understand systems, not isolated individuals.


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I think I will start referring to him as the President, (4.00 / 8)
rather than Obama.  I've found that this creates another layer of distance from the feeling of "betrayal" many of us have experienced since the President took office.

I've been advocating to diehard supporters of the President that they engage in a thought experiment:  instead of analyzing whether "Obama" has successfully advocated for and achieved a progressive agenda, pretend that it is "President X."  Then, analyze whether President X has been successful, from a progressive standpoint.  If one can do that, one can achieve greater clarity of result.


Interesting Approach (4.00 / 2)
I never felt particularly enthralled with him, so this doesn't seem like such a big deal to me. But obviously, in general, you're right.  The added psychological distance helps with clear thinking.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Excellent post (4.00 / 14)
Piggybacking on what you've said, presidents help to create their context (often out of their perceived self-interest) and they start creating it well before they become president.

I preferred Edwards not because he was more progressive than Obama (who can say?) and not because he was "better guy" (probably not, judging by what we now know), but because he was choosing an entire different set of dynamics for himself, in that he would be beholden not to Wall Street but to labor and trial lawyers and perhaps even progressive activists, and in that his brand  -- the "fighting progressive" -- would necessitate a different kind of policies and actions.

Every president is to some degree captive. To whom and to what are the important questions.


Yup! (4.00 / 7)
One of the bothersome things about Obama was how clearly he was not making himself captive to the netroots even as he courted them.  With the financial sector? Not so much.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You're right, Paul (4.00 / 7)
An astonishingly high percentage of the online commentary about Obama, pro AND con, suffers from this flaw.

It is not about, it has never been about, how we feel about Obama.  The sooner we learn this the better.

sTiVo's rule: Just because YOU "wouldn't put it past 'em" doesn't prove that THEY did it.


But it's a process I think people have to go through. (4.00 / 4)
They have to grieve first, then they can organize.

It's true they haven't lost a man, because they never had that man, but they did lose a dream.

Someone was talking recently about how old this current progressive movement is, did it begin with the bloodless coup of 2000, or Kerry's defeat, or when? I feel like our real birthday is today, this is the real beginning. Obama was a phase we had to go through, like a bad first boyfriend (sorry Paul). We had to flirt with the Man on the White Horse if only to learn there is no Man on a White Horse.

Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
One of the most astute comments I've seen ... (0.00 / 0)
... in a long while.

I voted for Obama, and I don't regret it.  It brought us to TODAY!

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


[ Parent ]
But you know what? It helps to USE the narrative of the 'boyfriend breakup' or (4.00 / 3)
being in an 'politically' abusive relationship with him when talking to those who are just coming to terms with the fact that despite spending so much of, what was to them, an emotional investment in his campaign; it is a way to ease their transition back into 'clear thinking land'.

We need every one of those who can relate to the boyfriend breakup storyline.

The use of the narrative is what Democrats are so dismal at ~ it's what Drew Westen  keeps trying to tell Democratic politicians - use narrative, use a natural story - not a laudry list of position papers when talking to average voters( not activist voters who lap up thos position papers)  


True, But (4.00 / 4)
Talking to the general public is one thing.  People are going to personal politics no matter what any number of bloggers say or do.  That's just how folks are wired.  But all the more reason we need to be on guard when trying to have serious policy discussions.  

One strategy this might suggest is following Bishop Berkeley's advice, to "think with the learned and speak with the vulgar."

But perhaps a better one would be to just let folks experience things that way, but then advice, "It's okay to have your feelings, just don't let your feelings have you."  Meaning: take those feelings of betrayal and use them to fuel your understanding of how to get what you really want.  Don't waste that energy on what you can now see through.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
You can imagine - (0.00 / 0)
how much I loved this post of yours!

Can I Disagree? (4.00 / 3)
I've never viewed the President as my boyfriend, FWIW. And I was skeptical voting for him in 2008 because of his vote 4 days after July 4th, 2008 to effectively eviscerate part of the Bill of Rights (legalizing wiretapping activity) without first finding out what the government did and letting the courts adjudicate the issues. Hiring Rahm, Summers, and Geithner after the election confirmed what would happen in 2009, for me at least.

And my comment was simply talked about the President at the policy level, not his personality as a lover. And certainly not to preclude multiple causality. My comment simply pointed up a number of instances where Obama clearly has had a choice in how he pushes policy and, guess what, in every case where he had a choice he pushed the Republican policy approach.

There's a lot to be said about different motives for the policies we've gotten so far. For example, there's a separation of powers issue buried in Obama's continuation and defense of past executive branch abuses. It's to be expected almost any President would fight to continue perogatives and precedents handed to them by past Presidents, as it is up to Congress and the courts to push back and fight for their constitutional roles. But it's very Republican to make certain policy choices when you do have a choice, as the President has repeatedly.

Let's take one example, the amount of stimulus pushed in early 2009. Early in Reagan's first term, Reagan gave a speech on TV directly to the American people to argue the reasons to de-tax the wealthiest. It won him the argument and bought a lot of Congressional support he would not have had for that policy. Obama, in contrast, never gave a primetime TV speech (that I recall) that explicitly laid out the options and argued for one approach over another. Instead, given the situation, he chose what the status quo (in the form of Larry Summers and similar folks) told him was possible. Even if reality limited a stimulus bill to under one billion, a Democrat and/or progressive could have made the case and set the terms of the political debate in very different directions. Obama's actions are particularly striking when you add in his rhetorical skills.

No one, not even the President, is bereft of some choice no matter the circumstances. And choices, as always, even a choice from necessary evils, reveals a lot about the political approach and preferences of the President as President and as political actor.

I also would question whether neo-liberalism is so flexible. Perhaps I misunderstand your point. But the neo-liberal project seems rather fixed over time, from the beginning to date. It's still essentially bending the government to meet the needs of corporations in the belief that will, in turn, meet the larger needs and interests of society. I have not seen any flexibility from that point of view. And it's mostly, maybe completely, the point of view of Republicans going back even further than the 1970s.

Probably I misunderstand your point. But I welcome the debate.


Okay (4.00 / 2)
The easy part first.  Neo-liberalism's flexibility consists in dong just what you said:

It's still essentially bending the government to meet the needs of corporations in the belief that will, in turn, meet the larger needs and interests of society.

This is not a prescription to do any specific thing in particular, much less to pursue a moral vision.  It's very much a client-driven open-vessel kind of affair. Like an ad agency that will sell anything to anyone.

Now, as for Obama & dispositionism.  As I said initially:

I'm not saying that TSlavin is totally off the mark here.  I've said some of these same things myself

So it would be particularly foolish to argue with things I agree with just because you're the one saying them now.

Where we differ is in our analysis of where all this is coming from and why.  You're explanation basically comes down to "This is how Obama thought all along. He was deliberately deceiving us.  He was a bad boyfriend."  My view is that this was always a good deal murkier than that, and that Obama himself did not really understand what he was getting into in a lot of cases.  He really was not that experienced as a national politician, and much more of his positions were genuinely unformed.  People in the campaign tuned into his aspirational appeal, which made them see him one way, but as soon as he won the election, it quickly became apparent that he himself lacked real belief in what he was saying, did not trust his transformational ability, and instead relied on transactional dealmaking just like all the other politicians he previously tried to totally distance himself from in terms of image.

Now, I was one who pointed out just the same thing you do hear with respect to his failure to address the public to put pressure on Congressional Republicans.  I went even further, and suggested that he should do a series of townhalls in Maine with teachers, parents, students, principles, schoolboard members, etc.  Clearly there was plenty he could do.  But the fact that he didn't do any of that is, in my mind, the result of a much more complicated mix of factors.  He definitely could have gone another way, but it was less a matter of deliberately choice on his part than it really was a failure to choose, which made the situational factors working against any sort of decisive effective action all the more powerful.



"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Bad boyfriend (4.00 / 1)
I'm not sure the boyfriend analogy isn't more of a distraction than you want to think.

Why do you seem to assume that a boyfriend dumping someone must be a dispositional, rather than situational, act?

The situational vs. dispositional analysis is useful.

Intimating that it's wrong to draw an analogy with a boyfriend "using" someone and then moving on, not so useful. But maybe I'm not typical in thinking that romantic relationships are as much a product of situation as of disposition.


[ Parent ]
It's A Metaphor, Dude! (0.00 / 0)
Why do you seem to assume that a boyfriend dumping someone must be a dispositional, rather than situational, act?

I don't.  But seeing politics in terms of dispositional actors [a metaphorical mapping] is dispositional, rather than situational, and that's what I'm critiquing here.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Well, but the metaphors you use should fit! (0.00 / 0)
So, imho MadScientist has a point. Sry, Paul, but you yourself quite nitpickingly took TSlavin's comment apart, claiming to have a better explanation. You even put him in the "bad boyfriend" camp, without there being evidence that he is, and even though it's clear his main oint was ruther that "Obama sin't incompetent". At the same time, even though your explanation makes sense, in the ned there is NO hard evidence for it, either, because NOBODY can look into Obama's head. TSlavin still may be right, and you wrong, we can never KNOW that.

So, to come back to the metaphor, if you spend so much time and effort on deliberating about small, and effectively rather inconsequential differences between TSlavin's and your vew, imho you should get your metaphors right! Imho you really shouldn't be so nitpicking of other Olers while at the same time being so tolerant of vague and even confusing parts of your own arguments. If you want to want the discussion here to be totally precise in the statements voiced, you HAVE TO lead by good example!

Personally, I don't think making the discourse even more academic is a good idea. This scares too many people away, and reducing the size of the audience isn't helpful for spreading the important points. And not for uniting Progressives behind common strategies, either. I'd rather see less nitpicking and artificially inflated controversies about issues that simply can't ever be solved in a decisive manner. Your mileage may vary, of course.


[ Parent ]
"failure to choose" (4.00 / 2)
That's a powerful insight.  The failure to choose actually informs a lot of drift in the Administration and Congressional Democratic politics and policy.  Once things were proceeding there was never a point at which they asked "Is this really how we want it to happen?"  They simply failed to choose better ways of doing things.  

When the eagles are silent, the parrots jabber.  Winston Churchill

[ Parent ]
With all respect, and I mean that (4.00 / 2)
You can't have your cake and eat it too.

People in the campaign tuned into his aspirational appeal, which made them see him one way, but as soon as he won the election, it quickly became apparent that he himself lacked real belief in what he was saying, did not trust his transformational ability, and instead relied on transactional dealmaking just like all the other politicians he previously tried to totally distance himself from in terms of image.

You seem to be saying that because things were "different" than he expected he suddenly was something different than his "girlfriend" thought. Perhaps that view could have been legitimately presented in the first six months of 2009.  But time has passed.  Not only do we know the President better, but we know his history better.  America bought sight unseen.  But that was then.  Now we know we have a pig in the poke.  As voters we have to figure out if we are going to eat the "pork" or throw it away because it's spoiled.

You speak of situational politics and I think most of us get the point.  And even you clarify:

He definitely could have gone another way, but it was less a matter of deliberately choice on his part than it really was a failure to choose,

Again, we look at Obama as a victim.  Victim politics is one liberal tenet we can no longer afford if this is to change.  

For me situational politics is taking the long term.  Should we create a healthier economy, should we stop wars, or perhaps should we have a more efficient health care system.  Are Republicans too obstructionist.  Is the Democratic Party awash in corporate money.  To me, these are elements of what is being described as situational politics.

But that is not what us common folk do.  That is for politicians, professors, economists, generals, and people like yourself, Chris Bowers, KOS, and others who have access to the insiders.  If you are at a roundtable with these people, then I can see the merit of in-depth discussions of situationalism v transactionalism.  For the rest of us voting is probably the most important input we have to the system.  That along with donating and/or campaigning are about the limit of the peoples input.  In most states people seldom get to vote on a federal budget item, on unemployment, or wars.  So the politics of personality are the bounds of our power.  It is a mistake to demean this element of our political structure.  And I don't think that is what your message is.  Although I think some believe it to be.

I applaud your efforts to engage and enlighten us.  I appreciate your willingness combat us on our terms even as you try to raise the level, but as you yourself say:

But we don't have the luxury of not doing both at once.

I truly think you hope too much for the rest of us.  If you want find esoteric explanations to explain Obama's motivation, I'm all for that.  I mean, I respect what you say.  I enjoy reading your posts.  But sometimes I think you have too high of expectations for me and my kind.  You want us to look to a level that is really higher than my pay grade.  For me, I've looked the whole picture over and I've caught that SOB porkin' my worst enemy.  I think I'd better vote for a new boyfriend.

Thanks for the post.  It was good for my gray matter.



"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
Waiting for a better boyfriend (4.00 / 1)
The problem with your argument is that if you are just going to hope for a better boyfriend, you are playing by the rules that were set up by the plutocracy and are part of the problem. It's a losing strategy. The house always wins.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
First of all I don't accept any of what you say as valid (0.00 / 0)
Secondly you have no evidence of what I have done or will do.  A wise person doesn't hope for a better "boyfriend," you shop for for them.  And when you find a possibility you go in and pick them up off the shelf and pinch,squeeze, smell, and all those other wise action that a good shopper does.  Something we didn't bother with last time.  You can't change the system unless you are willing work in it or destroy it.  And you can't win an argument by telling the other person what he will or won't do.  Case in point, a great many of the existing "rules" were actually setup by  some of the most influential social democracy political minds of the 20th century.  But the last couple of generation have been too timid or too engrossed in their own accumulation of wealth to protect them.  

On the other hand, if you think structural or situational, or whatever change is the only thing that matters then you condemn this country to a century of decay and decline while you fight the forces of evil, young jedi.

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
"pinch,squeeze, smell" (4.00 / 1)
I supported Edwards until he dropped out. Then it was a choice between Obama and Clinton. Neither were ideal, but Clinton's hawkishness and neo-liberal bent were more obvious than Obama's at that time. Then it was a choice between Obama and McCain. I was pretty psyched about Howard Dean in 2003, but the establishment took him out. I'm not sure how your "pinch,squeeze, smell" method translates into results without institutional change that will come from movement politics as opposed to relying on a magical "leader" that we just need to do a better job of finding somehow.

miasmo.com

[ Parent ]
Interesting (4.00 / 2)
Where we differ is in our analysis of where all this is coming from and why.  You're explanation basically comes down to "This is how Obama thought all along. He was deliberately deceiving us.  He was a bad boyfriend."

Actually I said/meant no such thing beyond the "This is how Obama thought all along" bit. I don't happen to believe he deceived voters. As I mentioned in my reply, his 7/8/2008 vote to approve government wiretapping without Congressional discovery of what happened and without letting courts weigh in told me Obama was a typical politician. And his choice of staffing after the election confirmed that view. In my case, at least, I held my nose to vote for him.

But there were other signs, as you and others have pointed out. The problem we have is how do we minimize the damage of these policies, how do we educate the media and the public to accurately assess the policies pushed, and how do we go beyond individual victories for progressive politicians to a regional and country wide impact on policy?

My point yesterday, which you excerpted, was to disagree with the "Obama is incompetent" meme. And while I'm not involved in the Bad Boyfriend meme, I can understand how others might be.


[ Parent ]
Ah, Okay. (0.00 / 0)
The incompetence issue is probably best dealt with separately, even though there's an obvious connection here. But I think this issue comes most clearly into focus if you think about it simply in terms of what it would mean to Obama, not just as an individual, but within his social world and the set of institutions he inhabits.

Put simply, the appearance of weakness, vacillation and, yes, incompetence, is not something he would personally desire, nor would it be respected, admired or otherwise particularly rewarded in that world.  Ergo, there's no reason why he would want to subject himself to that.  It just makes no sense, even on the most superficial motivational level.

You need to have some sort of credible motivational theory in order for this kind of explanation to work.  Usually this is utterly lacking in conspiracy theories, which this sort of explanation of Obama's behavior closely mimics.

That's why I think the incompetence explanation--on the personal level--is far and away the stronger one.  But, of course, I would argue that such incompetence is not simply an individual characteristic.  Rather, it is a product of the institutional structures and cultural practices that Obama was exposed to coming up. There is, to put it simply, a culture of failure and incompetence that's been bred in the Democratic Party since at least the time of Jimmy Carter.  And Obama is as much a child of that culture as he is a child of Reagan.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
incompetence (4.00 / 2)
Hypothesis: Obama doesn't believe in compromise as a political strategy, he believes that the strongest policy comes through compromise. He said he wouldn't mind being a one-term president so long as he got results, and he said he wanted bipartisan solutions. Taking him at his word, that means he thinks that the best policy is a compromise between left and right even though he thinks it might be a losing political strategy.

This is incompetence of policy, but by this hypothesis he has actually proven a competent negotiator: he's gotten what he wants, something half-way between left and right.


[ Parent ]
Yes, But... (0.00 / 0)
In the real world, that hypothesis has been decisively disproven.  The results of bipartisan compromise are crippled policy, inaction and increasing dysfunction.  For a politician who claimed to be a "pragmatist", this is anything but a vindication.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You and I think it's crippled policy (4.00 / 1)
Who the hell knows what Obama thinks. I think there's a good chance he really thinks the policy is mostly good, and that's it's stronger by being bipartisan.

I'd say that it's been decisively disproven that Obama sees the same "real world" that you see.


[ Parent ]
Well, Of Course He Sees A Different "Real World" (0.00 / 0)
His doesn't change when the evidence does.  It's a rigidly ideological world.  That's just my point.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Ok, there's something to your point it was murkier than that. (0.00 / 0)
Makes some sense. But in the end, when all is said and done, there's still no escape from the FACT that WE DON'T KNOW! NOBODY here is able to look into Obama's mind. So, seriously, isn't investing so much effort into trying to understand him just a waste of time? Shouldn't we better simply use the argument that Obama is a covet right winger, because it's both in sync with his actions and easy to sell to the public, and concentrate the energies on ideas how to deal with the reality of his right wing policies?

I mean, really, what's the academic reasoning about Obama's motives good for, when it's so obvious that we'll never know for sure what's dricing him? Isn't that just arguing in the ivory tower, with no results coming out from it that would help us?


[ Parent ]
We Can't Know, So We Should All Just Agree With You? (0.00 / 0)
Why not just agree that he's a secret Romulan agent?

No, seriously: Just because absolute certainty may be impossible doesn't mean we can't assess what's more or less probable. And this assessment in turn suggests what sort of response is more or less likely to prove fruitful.

It's elementary, dear Watson.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
No. (0.00 / 0)
Come on, do you deliberately misunderstand me, did I really fail to make my point in these three comments? I say, we can never know what is the truth, so let's tell the narrative that will be the most convincing one for the public! Ok, maybe it would have been better if I had tried to say this in a single sentence.

"And this assessment in turn suggests what sort of response is more or less likely to prove fruitful."
Well, but will the possible responses really be different, depending on which explanation is used as a starting point? Somehow, the explanations we heard so far (secret rethug, pawn to conservative worldview, Stockholm syndrome, battered wife) are so close to each other that I doubt that. Really, does it make ANY difference which explanation everybody here sees as the most probable one? Aren't the conclusions still the same?


[ Parent ]
I must disagree: it was clear wht kind of President he would be in his campaign (4.00 / 3)
In fact, it's my view that (1) Obama is naturally predisposed to be more adaptive to situations than most people are, and (2) neo-liberalism, his de facto political philosophy is likewise a very fluid, adaptable ideology.  Add to that his coming into office in a very stressful, crisis-driven time, and the power of situational forces at work in his presidency is quite overwhelming. None of this, of course, was intimated in his campaign.

As some of you know I was very much against Barack Obama becoming the  nominee of the Democratic party.  And i did so from listening and reading both the things he did say, and the things he didn't say but should have and the actions he took when he was in office.

His 2004 speech at the convention was just a glaomorizing endorsement of his post- partisan philosophy.  And it was why I was not only unmoved but disturbed by it.  I was a the convention center and felt that people were being swept up by dangerous fluff.

His 2005 Daily Kos diary was contemptuous and dismissive of the netroots, who in this day and age represent the leftist base of the party.  He was contemptuous of the left's reprimand with Dem Senators who voted for Roberts.  The only reason he didn't vote for Roberts is that James Rouse convinced him that you can't run for the party's nomination and vote for Roberts.

His actions in legislation in Illinois over the Exelon matter in which he started out with a weak hand and compromised everything away before it was all said and done.

At the Law Review he courted and propriated the right wing but not the left.

As someone who is a long time prochoice activist it did indeed show how he would govern that he voted present on votes on many abortion related bills.  He handed the movement the biggest defeat it has had since Henry Hyde. And if the codification of Hyde plus bill makes it to his desk I have no doubt that he will sign it.

The last time we had a Democrat in the White House was at the height of right wing hegemony. The progressive movement is much stronger now and was riding a wave into the 2008 election.  Any Democrat would have won in 2008.  We didn't need Baraack Obama at the top of the ticket in 2008 to win or gain more seats.  Indeed his campaign's focus on his person versus a campaign focus on him as a Democrat or the promotion of the Democratic brand, meant that we elected fewer Democrats ( in the House ) than we should have.  

So I understand you want progressives to mobilize now.  But don't excuse both our president, who was not ever what people thought, or those who decided that he was THE ONE.  

He wasn't then and those of us who supported other candidates were shouted down who said so.

His entire history indicated someone with a dispostion to compromise, but the situation doesn't explain why he decided to compromise with the right and not the left.  That's because dispostionally he is not, as Chris Bowers used to say, an aggressvive progressive and never was.


"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"
Stoller


Well,I Picked Up On Many Of The Same Things You Did (4.00 / 1)
Remember his gay-bashing headliner in South Carolina, Donnie MCcLurkin?  You left that one out.  But what I wrote--and I guess I need to clarify it--was: "None of this, of course, was intimated in his campaign," meaning that it was there for folks like you and me to point out and criticize, but Obama's campaign presentation was that all these things we were pointing out as negatives were but the means to a better end.

It was, in essence, a figure-and-ground sort of argument.  And because the presidency is an office like no other (think of LBJ's example going in the opposite direction), it was only after the election that we could really tell that his accomodationist means would trump his purported ends virtually every time.

This is why I repeatedly criticized Obama for the sorts of things you point out, and other contradictions, but also commonly added, "I hope I'm wrong."  Even though I wasn't, there was legitimate reason for uncertainty then, that no longer exists.


"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
"those of us who supported other candidates" (0.00 / 0)
if you mean Clinton I promise everyone the longest takedown comment ever posted on this site

[ Parent ]
I dropped that boyfriend line on a Jamaican radio show abt 6 months ago (4.00 / 2)
and everybody got silent for a moment.  One of the three people taking the contrary position was a woman and I could tell I hit a kind of nerve.  That show hasn't called me back since.

"If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other people, then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding..."
Zora Neale Hurston


The Premature Anti-Fascist Dynamic Is Alive And Well, I See! (0.00 / 0)
A Jamaican radio show, eh?

You do have a thing for the lion's den, now don't you?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
and for all the 'rationality' - (0.00 / 0)
and 'depending on facts' the so called left is so proude pride about it is -
(and was) - a truly mindboggling experience to see this emotional outburst of: "He has betrayed us" -
Whassup with that? - and my mom just came back from the States and all she could mumble: "He is toast - he has betrayed us" - as if she would be some kind of a lovesick teenager and all the 'emotional' things -(in politics) - she had warned me about - had lost their value -
So (of all idiots) - I had to tell her: "Calm down - the dude is just a 'politican' and this total focus on HIM - ALL the time - in times where even idiots must recognize that he is just one wheel -(a big one - that's true) - is truly crazy - and I blame it all on this American idea of the 'THE MAN'.
'THE MAN' always makes the decisions' - even if everybody seems to be aware that in these times 'THE MAN" are bankster and big business!


I find a disconnect in what you write (0.00 / 0)
Clearly, the relative docility of the left has been one of those factors that's lead him to virtually ignore us.  And his risk averse response to the mid-terms only makes this tendency worse.  But as a consequence, left-liberal frustration and impatience with him has crossed a threshold.  And that now holds the potential to begin changing everything.

I'm not driven by a sense of personal betrayal.  My fury is driven by the atrocities of Guantanamo, by his general silence on issues of poverty as people are being destroyed.

And yes, some threshold has recently been crossed.  So I'm all for good analysis.  But you set it up that we need to understand Obama first, THEN figure out what to do.  Then people wonder about the docility of the left?

So Dump Obama is springing up all over the place, along with an "Obama is stupid" theme that I'm not in love with which is a rejection of Obama without drawing consequences, and "Obama should resign," which is stronger but falls short of positive action.

This is popping up, by the way, quite independently of my meager efforts.

Well anyway, when people move out of their docility, they don't do it all neat and clean, with the proper analysis.  And they're not going to do it the way you want to do it, with surgical strikes at Congress.  Dump Obama captures it, and at some point, you go with it or you become a conservative force yourself.

Where's your tipping point?  Do you have one?  If some character like Feingold or Dean did enter the primaries (this is not a prediction, just a serious what-if), would you support them or oppose them?

Until the cat is out of the bag, you can stay calm and collected, but as you see, momentum is building, and it will force your hand, one way or the other.  (Sorry for getting all binary!)

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan


and you are the worst type of teenager - (0.00 / 1)
because you use the 'dump' literally - like a crazy highschool chick who tries to get rid of one player of her Football team - to get screwed by the next one!

[ Parent ]
Hey! (4.00 / 1)
As a former high school football player, I can tell you we loved that chick!  Ol Whats'r Name!

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
You loved her so much - (0.00 / 0)
you even forgot her name? - No wonder...  

[ Parent ]
To beat a dead pony... (4.00 / 2)
There's another aspect to Obama that I'm not sure has been stated.

I think that a very core belief for Obama is in the power and necessity of listening to all sides: you should never dismiss an idea just because of the person promoting it. That belief in what is essentially consensus decision making can be powerful, or it can backfire completely.

There are several ways of practicing that belief:

"In the end I have to make the decision (especially if I'm the President) and I'll go with what I think is right but keep an open mind to see if the other side's point of view starts to make more sense."

or

"I'm so wise that I can take in all viewpoints and figure out which is the right one, while others are blinded by their bias and so may not recognize my wise decisions for what they are."

or

"I can't assume I'm right, and I can't assume they're right, so working out some compromise should be the safest course."

and there's also the variable of how much you acknowledge that it's impossible to come to any sort of consensus when some parties to the negotiation are acting in bad faith.

Obama seems to mix options 2 and 3, to avoid option 1, and to only acknowledge the impossibility of bad faith consensus when it's rhetorically useful.

On a meta note, there is some value in discussion of Obama on an individual level since in 2 years we may to choose between him and some other vessel of progressive aspirations, and in 6 years we'll have another choice. Understanding Obama as a character-type is necessary for making an informed choice in the emotional atmosphere of the next primary, although I agree that altering the situational factors is probably more important to affecting the policy choices of the next president.


Except, (4.00 / 6)
he never listens to all sides and he does dimiss ideas because of the people promoting them. The sign reading "No dirty hippies need apply" has been tacked up on the White House door since before the Inauguration.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
I think that's part of it (4.00 / 1)
I suspect Obama thinks he is listening to all sides. He in his wiseness has taken in all viewpoints and realized that the confrontational approach of the dirty hippies won't work, and he really wishes they would just see that the incremental path of compromise he's chosen is the fastest way to reach their goals.

I think his petulance about the "professional left" is genuine - why don't we appreciate all the great things he's done for us?


[ Parent ]
Like the saying (4.00 / 1)
"I like both kinds of music, country and western?"

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
I would love this concept (0.00 / 0)
Except he doesn't quite seem to be on the same path as most of the left.  You know?  Like they say, you can't get up there by going downhill.  Or like they say in country and western, I can't get over you while you're under him!

"Oh. My. God. .... We're doomed." -- Paul Krugman
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...">http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c...


[ Parent ]
closest to reality - (0.00 / 0)
1. The very core belief of every decent politician should be the necessity of listening to all sides and figure out which is the right one - And working out some compromise usually IS not only the safest but also the most acceptable course in a democracy.
If the American reality doesn't allow that - says more about the American reality than about Nr.1

[ Parent ]
what's there to explain? (0.00 / 0)
it's all in the word 'decent'!

[ Parent ]
Actual Consensus (4.00 / 1)
requires some sort of grounding in reality.  Wearing my other hat, I've covered a lot of public decision-making processes.  They're all imperfect, at best.  But hard date repeatedly plays a far more significant role than it does in any of Obama's decisionmaking that I can see.

So that needs to be factored into what you're saying as well.

IMHO, the reality-based community has been almost entirely excluded from all the big issue processes, so this is about as far from a true consensus process as I can possibly imagine.  It's an ersatz-consensus process, which makes it particularly pernicious.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
It's related to the problem of the media (4.00 / 3)
I tend to believe that most reporters genuinely think they are being unbiased, fair, etc by making sure they get "both sides" of the story. Sure, they've been brow-beaten into that definition of "unbiased" by the right wing noise machine. But since I can't imagine spending so much effort as a reporter for a product I thought was a big turd, I assume that the reporters who really want to understand the subject matter have all gone to smaller operations where they can do what they want or have gone into some other profession. I assume that the ones who are left are the ones who really think that understanding comes from finding two people with diametrically opposed views - that it really is a matter of who you agree with rather than measuring what someone says against the actual evidence.

I think Obama fell for the same trap. He has absorbed just enough cultural relativism to get himself into trouble, and not anywhere near enough to actually be useful.

And probably the closest he's ever come to a functional consensus-based organization was the brief stint as a community organizer. I doubt he has any real experience of the effort and commitment necessary by all parties to make consensus work. To him the DFHs are undermining the consensus by refusing to listen to the other side. Republicans are too. But the Democratic centrists - they talk all the time about both sides of the issue, so they must be the honest brokers.

Isn't true consensus achieved when both extremes are equally displeased? DFHs still haven't reached the level of hate for Obama that the Tea Partiers have, so he still must be erring to the left....


[ Parent ]
why - (0.00 / 0)
are y'all give consensus such a bad name?
Because Republicans won't allow it?
And I'm really interested - and asked this questions numerous times - How do you solve such a problem? - Starting a nice dictatorship?
(uuh - that's actually the right idea...)

[ Parent ]
It's called democracy. (4.00 / 1)
Maybe I should go back and check, but I don't think there's anything in the Constitution about consensus or dictatorship. Pretty much majority or super-majority rule. You know, openly contesting opposing ideas and voting to decide which route to take?

There's nothing wrong with consensus, but part of consensus is knowing when the basic values of the two parties are too far apart to reach any meaningful agreement, or when the real motives of any party mean that the negotiations aren't in good faith.


[ Parent ]
didn't we talk about reality? (0.00 / 0)
and in reality the basic values of 'parties' are never too far apart to reach a consensus -('meaningful agreement' is kind of a useless value judgement) -

So if you have two Parties or ten Parties - They have to get together and work on a consensus and thank you that you mentioned democracy - and in a democracy there is no other way - if you don't want a dictatorship -  and it's true - there were all these American Presidents in history - who just by the awesome power of their words or will - or whatever were able to overcome that need for a 'consensus' - But these times might be over - finished - vorbei - (and you should read this very interesting article about "Parliamentary Parties") - and so y'all might have to live one day with Presidents who are just presiding over finding a consensus -(like in most other democracies!)


[ Parent ]
Boy Howdy! (0.00 / 0)
Especially this:

I think Obama fell for the same trap. He has absorbed just enough cultural relativism to get himself into trouble, and not anywhere near enough to actually be useful.

But all the stuff you say about reporters is also spot on.  It's a very deep shallow ideology. Deeply held, that is, but as shallow in content as a mud puddle, which it very much resembles in any number of ways.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
And Some Things are Wrong, Period (4.00 / 1)
The "consensus" schtick is a red flag for me whenever it's raised by a politician or someone in the media. There are issues where no consensus, no splitting of hairs, is possible or desirable. For example, a Harvard study in the past year estimated that 45,000 people in the US die for lack of health care each year. While there are different policy options to solve that problem, reaching a consensus (as in, "okay we'll let 20,000 die needlessly") is not an option. You have to work to solve the problem and if the active solution fails to solve the problem, you move to the next option until the problem goes away.

[ Parent ]
and what a weird idea of 'consensus' do you have - (0.00 / 0)
and NO "consensus' is NOT to let 20 000 die needlessly - it is Parties with different 'policies getting together to find a f... CONSENSUS for this problem -
And why is that so so difficult to understand for an American? (Europeans get it right away?) -
AHA!
Because you are not used to Parliamentary Parties?
Because you are used to a President who is thee decider?!
Because consensus building is not part of the American culture?

Now pick any answer you want!


[ Parent ]
The drumbeat continues (0.00 / 0)
Huffpo, Robert Kuttner, What Now for the Democrats?

For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'. -- Dylan

Great post! (4.00 / 1)
If we want to get anywhere, we need to start thinking creatively in institutional terms. Any thinking in terms of the personal needs to be placed within a larger socialogical and institutional framework. And I disagree with some of the comments that this type of thinking is somehow outside the grasp of the general public. Everyone can understand corruption and the many ways it plays out politically. Please excuse me for cutting and pasting a relevant comment of mine from a previous thread:

"moving forward" - a suggestion (0.00 / 0)
The root of our problems is not the flaws of one politician. The root problem is a corrupt system. Part of that problem is the corruptibility of human nature. Both parties are corrupt, but what would keep a third party from becoming corrupt as soon as they achieved enough power to make it worth anyone's effort to buy them off? Also, our current electoral laws are heavily stacked against third parties.

I am suggesting a third party that would address both of these issues. Let's just call it the Labor Party (or LP) for now. As for the anti-third party nature of our current system, I would suggest that the LP only run candidates in general elections in states that have runoff elections to avoid any spoiler effects. In other states the party should limit it's electoral activities to fielding and supporting candidates to run in Dem primaries. Once an LP candidate gets on the Dem ticket in the general election, they should continue to identify with and promote the LP and caucus with any other LPs should they win.

The main purpose of such a party would be to give the public an option to support at least one party that is clearly on the side of the working class. Our current two party system has clearly failed in this regard. The public currently has only a choice between an extreme wing and a moderate wing of The Big Business Party. Dems are so corrupted and compromised that they have destroyed any branding they once had as a workers' party.

This takes us back to the other problem - the potential (and likely) corruptibility of any new party by the same wealthy powerful forces that corrupt the Dems. I suggest that a group of really smart people get together and design a party structure and bylaws that make the party as corruption proof as possible from the beginning. In fact this should be the first step. Create a good system - a democracy within a democracy - that can survive its own success. Think outside the box. Use technology. Borrow principles from the open source software movement. I know there are smart people in the progressive blogosphere who can make this happen. If you build it, they will come.

The reason to design the party "operating system" before anything else is to make it as democratic and incorruptible as possible before it has any power - i.e before there is any motivation for status quo forces to attempt to influence and corrupt the design process. Think of it as a seed that will grow into a giant tree one day if the seed has the blueprint for the tree within it. Of course it will require watering, etc., but the crucial first step is to create the seed.

miasmo.com


What about campaign promises (4.00 / 2)
It's got nothing to do with whether we thought he was our "boyfriend" or not, or whether he "dumped" us.

It's not a question of what's in his heart, or what kind of human he is. It's a question of what he's done and not done.

It is an empirical fact that:

1. he made certain representations as to what he would fight for if elected

2. he has not fought for those things

Whether he thought he was great, or thought he was terrible, it doesn't matter.

He has betrayed his commitment.

~ Ray Beckerman


Of Course He's Betrayed His Commitments (4.00 / 1)
But, it's also argued upthread that he's kept them: forging bipartisan compromises even if it means he's a one-term president.

You see how messy this all is if you let in too many details?

I'm not saying you're wrong.  I'm saying we need to be more comprehensive in explaining things.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Sure it's messy. (0.00 / 0)
And mostly because we will never have hard evidence to decisively come to a conclusion about Obama's real motives. But I would like to see it explained how this discussion fits into a strategy to fight the horrible consequences of Obama's policy. How does this struggle about understanding Obama help us, when its so clear that there can't be an explanation that crosses thethreshold of reasonable doubt?

Really, wouldn't it be better to focus on more down to earth issues, most importantly a strategy on how to fight Obama's policies?


[ Parent ]
Tipping point… (4.00 / 1)
...many folks seem to have finally reached it. Now what?

All I'll say on the bad boyfriend front is that there are bad girlfriends, too. And geez, all this is a bit more complex than high school, isn't it?

Obama always seemed conciliatory to me, and I wasn't a supporter until Clinton's campaign went totally unsavory in the spring of 2008. One thing that annoys me right now is that it feels like we got an HRC presidency without her, in the guise of a guy who refuses to think/dream as big as he's talked even though it's clear that a large percentage of the population (folks who tend to make less than $250K a year) would support it. That's the kinda leeway an economic crisis'll get you, but the president has never trusted it.

As bad as Obama is, though, I have no interest in chancing a GOP nihilist (or Mitt Romney) as president in 2012, so I'm only up for a challenge if y'all can come up with a sensible primary challenger. (Pssst: "Sensible" to me on paper is someone like Kucinich.)



"This ain't for the underground. This here is for the sun." -Saul Williams


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