March 11, 2012

Flotsam & Jetsam: Obama’s non-political problem


Sam Smith

I plan to vote for Barack Obama despite considering him a pretty lousy and reactionary president. I’ll be doing this because I don’t consider presidential elections a choice of leaders but of battlefields. I also believe that in such elections, poker is a better guide than virtue. Obama is the best bet for a lousy hand.

That said, with eight months left to go, I’d like to get something off my chest  while it’s still relatively safe to say things like this. I not only don’t like Obama’s politics, I don’t like him all that much either. And I’m convinced that I’m not alone and that a major part of Obama’s problem is not political but personal.

I was reminded of this watching that video of Harvard law school student president Obama lecturing his classmates. I was surprised that even at such a young age he was so preachy and didactic, albeit combined with the occasional and thoroughly scripted moment of light humor. It is as though he has gone through his entire life standing behind a virtual pulpit and teleprompter, where he berates, grates and irritates.

There are several things wrong with this: for one thing it carries the subtext – you might call it critical speech theory if you were at Harvard Law - that the listener is not as bright as the speaker and, for another, it gets boring pretty quickly. Obama typically assumes the role of a professor, which leaves the listener in the position of a student rather than of a fellow citizen.

While the view of many towards Obama is driven by antipathy towards his ethnicity, I suspect there are many more, like me, who hear in Obama not the voice of blackness but of Harvard Law School, a robot of rigorously rehearsed rationality who seems somehow incapable of normal conversation, passion or beliefs.

It is the sound of otohbotoh – on the one hand, but on the other hand. It is the sound of data without dreams, of citations without soul, of examination without empathy, and anecdotes seemingly pulled from a TV commercial rather than from real life.

I also sense in Obama the character of someone who from an early age was told repeatedly that he was greater than, in fact, he was. This narcissism occasionally spills out, such as in comparisons of himself with other presidents or speaking of what he is going to do without any reference to Congress’ constitutional role in the matter.

Obama grew up in a culture in which data, legal details, management procedures, and presumed process takes precedence over what is actually accomplished. His administration reflects this in a two thousand page healthcare bill and a prescription for a national  electronic health database with so little concern for privacy. And soon, his solicitor general will be defending this bill before the Supreme Court,  arguing the superiority of a commerce clause that only lawyers can love over the rest of our Constitution. But, in the end, esoteric legal arguments don’t change many votes.

Further, to exercise the aforementioned skills, it is necessary that the federal government become a haven for law and business school graduates, data demons and process pushers. We’ve been headed this way a long time, and Obama is only the most recent and most exaggerated of the lot, but you get little sense he values anything that stems from actual experience, pragmatic suggestion, or advisers who are wise, inspired, or sensitive. He doesn’t even seem to like to talk with people from the Hill.

And it hasn’t just been members of Congress who are being dissed. I was reminded during the debate on the anorexic “stimulus, package” of the signs one would see on freeways under construction during the Eisenhower years. The reason I still remember the otherwise forgettable Paul Dever is that the Eisenhower administration shared sign space with even the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. With Obama, one gets the sense that states and localities are just part of the problem. Think how different this election might be if Chris Christie and other governors and mayors had gotten their names on, and credit for, the stimulus package.

I’m not talking Tenth Amendment here, but rather political common sense. A good politician knows how to share power. Obama has no feel for this.

Further,  if Obama and his wife have any sizable number of friends not dependent on power and political circumstances, it is a well kept secret. People without unpowerful friends are people to be careful of.

Finally, Obama is not honest. Not in a slimy way, like, say, a former Arkansas governor, but in an intellectually manipulative fashion. He frequently seems to be attempting to dredge up some verbal slick trick that will  get him through the evening news, but it just reinforces the idea that he is not someone you can count on. It began with his presidential campaign, which portrayed him as a liberal, which he certainly wasn’t. He was, in fact, elected by conning the most number of voters in recent American history.

I could, of course, vote Green. But I try to keep religion and politics separate. One demands pure virtue, the other just tries to give virtue another leg up.  And history teaches us that it is the grassroots organizing of third parties, not their presidential campaigns, that change the country.

Besides, we are in a time when our political system is so remarkably rigged that the answer lies not in playing the gangsters’ game but by finding an ever increasing number of ways to create new struggles with new rules, such as the Occupiers have recently demonstrated. Making the best presidential political choice can protect our flanks, but it can’t  provide the opening through which change can charge.

So before you get too upset with the foregoing, remember that I plan to vote for Obama. I’ll just be damned, however, if I’m going to brag about it.

14 comments:

Flip said...

Well said. I could not agree more in regards to what I dislike about Obama but I will not vote for him or anyone that desires to murder his fellow citizens or indefinite detention without any access to the courts. I also can not vote for someone that has given away the country to the banks.
I never would have believed any president could be worse than Bush but Obama is. He is a sellout that thinks he knows best. I doubt he ever listens to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Completely unconvincing endorsement. Sorry, Sam. I can't vote for a war criminal/Wall Street stooge.

Anonymous said...

Ok.. If even reasoning and articulate people such as the author are already saying they will swallow the bitter pill and support Obama and the Democrats no matter what they have done and are doing .. what's the incentive for Obama et-al to do or change anything?

Really, this type of thinking is a disincentive. The political response from Obama and the Dems will be for them to move ever more to the right to claim more votes and larger majorities. After all, their base has no choice but to support them. The other guy is worse!

Right, the Republicans are odious! But really, if you're having to hold your nose to vote, what's the point? Either say you are for Obama, the current opposition or for something or someone else..

Saying you'll vote one way or the other but hate yourself for it? That's dishonest.. and anyway, another four years of Obama will be Faustian bargain at best.

That's what I think. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Agree, 10:07
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”---John Quincy Adams

robbie said...

Great line about religion and politics, Sam, but I have to agree with 10:07. Make the best of a bad system? Give virtue a leg up? I don't think so. At best, voting for the contiunuation of the system keeps the leg from slipping downward. There's no real progress. The more the Democrats hew to the right, the more reason we should have a strong left party in this country.

Anonymous said...

Here is what I would do:

Control the voting machines.

Control the Media of Oz.

I realize I'm late here, but the rest is
only entertainment for the slow.

Strelnikov said...

I agree that Obama is a giant flop, but then you are stuck - you can't vote for the alternate parties because you are afraid of Romney/Santorum/whomever. It's all a joke and both major parties have put forth the shittiest candidates possible.

I'd write-in Ted Rall.

Anonymous said...

If offered the "choice" between the electric chair and lethal injection the correct answer is neither.

I'll be "voting" none of the above.

It's going to be even more sickly sweet during Obama's second term.

It astounds me that after Bush v. Gore people still think the "election" is real. Perhaps your local race is real, but control over the Empire is the biggest price in history and the owners of the country aren't going to let the people decide who the front man is.

Capt America said...

Anon 5:27:

You're right. Mr. Diebold's vote is the only one that counts.

El Pendejo said...

Sam,

Since when do the people actually elect a president? Might as well have Sauron and deal with the enemy head on, instead of whatever we have now. It's sickening all this equivocating. Get the guillotines out and sharpened.

larry fishman said...

I agree with many of the comments above, and am disappointed in you, Sam, because of your "lesser of 2 evils" philosophy and lack of principles. I think you said a while back "Barack Obama came into office preaching hope and promising change. 38 months later, hope is diminishing and change has yet to arrive" and "Obama is one of the greatest political con artists of modern times" Further, he always starts to compromise,
but ends up caving in to the Republican demands, thus he should be called "Caveman" Obama, a conservative Republican con man with no Democratic spine.

What we have to do is get rid of Barack Obama, the liar (he has failed to keep any of his campaign promises), con man, and murderer, and find a candidate with principles who supports the people over the banks and corporations. As a wise person once said (Eugene Debs, I think), "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it."

Anonymous said...

Sam's jumped the shark. LOL.

larry fishman said...

Apparently you censor some comments, because my comment from yesterday was not published while one from today was. Thus I will resubmit it:

I agree with many of the comments above, and am disappointed in you Sam because of your "lesser of 2 evils" philosophy and lack of principles.

I think you said a while back "Barack Obama came into office preaching hope and promising change. 38 months later, hope is diminishing and change has yet to arrive" and "Obama is one of the greatest political con artists of modern times" Further, he always starts to compromise,
but ends up caving in to the Republican demands, thus he should be called "Caveman" Obama, a conservative Republican con man with no Democratic spine.

What we have to do is get rid of Barack Obama, the liar (he has failed to keep any of his campaign promises), con man, and murderer, and find a candidate with principles who supports the people over the banks and corporations. As a wise person once said (Eugene Debs, I think), "It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it."

Anonymous said...

The biggest way to rig the "election" is through media coverage, not the phony voting machines.

I don't support politicians who want more nuclear power, "clean" coal, drone attacks, expanding wars, prosecuting courageous whistleblowers, more highways, GMO frankenfood, etc.

It seems likely the Republicans are not seriously trying to "win" this time. Given most of Obama's policies, there's no need for them to "win" the White House, they can get all of the benefits of corporatist shredding of the Constitution while blaming the other guys.