What Obama Wants, Obama Gets

There are, by our count, three competing explanations for Barack Obama’s negotiating strategy.

The first, what we’ll call the Cave Analogy, posits that Obama tends to give away the store even before the customer walks in. We’ve been partial to that thesis.

The second, offered by Practical Realists, claims that Obama is a victim of circumstance: The Republicans really were going to shoot the hostages, which tends to limit your options.

And the third, promoted very strongly by Glenn Greenwald, suggests that Obama always gets what he wants — only what he wants is very different from what we think he wants. After all, he was offering social-service cuts that even the Republicans feared to demand. And he never really cared for the Public Option a few crises ago.

We’re not going to render a verdict, although Greenwald’s winning on points by our score. Rather, we’re curious about the Circumstantial Presidency. Obama’s (remaining) supporters like to undermine the Cave Analogy by mentioning his decisive action on things like killing Bin Laden, killing the Somali pirates, and killing Libyans.

No, wait. Nobody’s mentioned Libya. But that’s the telling comparison.

It’s not like Afghanistan, which Obama clearly promised to turn into a quagmire before he was elected. It’s not like Gaddafi Kaddafi Qaddafi was a clear and present danger to the United States.

And it’s not like anybody gave a shit.

There’s no War Party backing his actions. There’s not even much of an Antiwar Party opposing them. (We’re still fence-straddling in the Don’t Fuck This Up Party, for the record.)

But if you want to go all Con Law on it, there is a strong case that invading kinetically acting in Libya was an unconstitutional seizure of power. Not that Obama cared. Unlike his refusal to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment, he all but dared Congress to oppose him.

And for what stated reason?

Now, here is why this matters to us. Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.

It would be easy to imagine Obama making a similar case for raising the debt ceiling on his own authority. Only he didn’t.

Because he didn’t want to.

Point Greenwald.

The myth of Obama’s “blunders” and “weakness” [Greenwald]

Maybe… maybe the birfers were right and he is a communist agent?

Nah. That’s too stupid even for me.

Um. Don’t we have like treaties and shit with NATO? You know, like, our allies Les Franch? And um, weren’t we all like going, “Dude, whoa, no more Srebrenicas on our watch, k?” And he’s all like, “Whatever.” And we’re all like “You are so not gonna bomb your own civilian population, my man.”

Wasn’t it something like that?

@Benedick HRH KFC:
Treaties schmeaties.

But yeah, there is. NATO is doing most of the heavy lifting on this one anyway.

Option #4: He’s just like Veda from Mildred Pierce. We work tirelessly–over a hot oven, day in and day out–to make him happy, and he rewards us by being a shallow, cheap, hateful little bitch. But he won’t like what happens when we catch him in flagrant delicto with Monte at the beach house. That’s the last straw!

It’s like that point in a relationship going sour when you look t the other person and say “I don’t even know who you are anymore!”

Oh and the eCONomy is collapsing again.

Must be Thursday.

So, if we’re not going to suffer our fellow humans to suffer, what bearing does that have on the famine in Somalia? Where are the gunz-n-bombz (or at least the equivalent expenditures)?

@IanJ: Do they have oil? Because if they don’t, we don’t care.

@Benedick HRH KFC: As mentioned, we’re not entirely consistent about our humanitarian missions. And while, yes, we have a NATO treaty, we’re driving that bus.

But the point is, Obama boldly made a constitutionally questionable decision without looking back. He’s more than capable of leaning on an issue if he wants something done. The apologia that he’s constrained by circumstance only works when he chooses to be constrained — when, in effect, he uses constraints as cover to do what he really wants.

Long ago, Stephen Jay Gould promoted a theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to explain evolutionary “gaps” in the fossil record. Instead of looking for missing links, he said, let’s adjust the theory based on the evidence at hand.

We see little evidence to support the claim that Obama is the progressive fellow-traveler we imagined him to be, and plenty to support the claim that he’s Bush Lite. I’ll grant some exceptions here and there, but Rick Warren remains the symbolic bummer that hasn’t lifted.

Reminds me of the all the times that all those RepubliKKKans got elected by yelling “fuck you!” at the people that actually voted for them and doing the exact opposite of that which their voters begged for.

…wait a minute–that’s not how the last 30 years happened at all!111!!

I may be the most recent to have attended grad school public policy courses, and what I think is his problem is he is thoroughly and completely, an Academic, a professor. I smell it in the way he compromises before he even gets to the bargaining table, the way he seems to beleive that all “stakeholders” should be invited to the party to tweak policy, according to their interests, even before he stakes his initial position. His habit of proposing blue ribbon committees, as if a committee ever solved anything, its so academic, the way disputes are resolved in the English Department, its not the way the politics of governing works. I had a course in “conflict resolution,” and he seems to approach every contentious issue the way that course taught it should be handled, which in every case was “form a committee, invite all stakeholders, cut the baby in 23 pieces.” Some fucking issues are not amenable to compromise, you cannot reconcile some opposing ideas. The republicans fight like schoolyard bullies, he tries to “compromise” what is really a bar fight, he comes to the opponent and says “OK, you want to pummel me to death, I will agree to let you punch me in the face 5 times, and the stomach 10 times, but no broken bones, and after that, further blows will be decided by a bi-partisan committee.” Fights don’t work that way.

I still don’t think Hillary would have been any better, she and Bill invented the game he is playing.

Nojo, he is forceful in foreign policy, I think, only because that is the arena in which his office has inherently more power and authority to have its way. He is said to be a poker player, but its not really much of a strategy to bet big only when you know you hold the winning hand, which in foreign policy, the president does.

The other thing I would point out is that the only people who sincerely oppose or have doubts about things like the Bin Laden assasination or Libya, are the liberals. The republicans pretend to hate everything he does, but when it comes to foreign policy, he only does what they would approve of anyway.

@Promnight: The republicans fight like schoolyard bullies, he tries to “compromise” what is really a bar fight, he comes to the opponent and says “OK, you want to pummel me to death, I will agree to let you punch me in the face 5 times, and the stomach 10 times, but no broken bones, and after that, further blows will be decided by a bi-partisan committee.”

Further proof he’s not really from Chicago. Even FDR, groomed at Groton and finished at Hahvahd, was a tough enough pol to dump a cabinet member he didn’t really like with promises of support for the mayor’s office in Philadelphia. Once gone, Frank called up the ward officers in Philly and told them to “cut him to pieces”.

@Nabisco: He’s not from Chicago, as much as he might try to say he is to appear less “exotic” — he’s total 808 personality. See also SLO County, Santa Cruz County, NorCal north of Marin.

“Dude, can’t we work out a way to share the gnarly North Shore waves? Let’s spark a bowl and get some fish tacos.” (In NorCal they’d add “Your girl is hella hot.”)

@SanFranLefty: That’s my point, Den Mom. Total island bruddah – only Shelley Oh! has ChiTown steel in her. My kids thought I was joking when I told them it was obligatory to eat fish tacos after surfing, but then they started seeing them every where we went on the islands.

And once Jr. got up on a board, it was all fish taco, all the time. Sadly, in Pennsyltucky, the closest we got are scrapple tacos.

I don’t know about Libya, and I was depressed about the debt ceiling agreement until I read this.

He ain’t no Island Bruddah northern cali stoner type, he is a lifer academic. He is trying to play national politics like its a departmental scuffle at the university. Textbook academic policy formation procedures. The intellectual, academic remove, alienation, from commitment to any ideological core principles, such things are interesting to him, but he believes in none of them wholeheartedly, no true intellectual does commit lockstep to any ideology. Liberals, what we need is a fanatic, not an intellectual.

@karen marie has her eyes tight shut: After reading that, I have a glimmer of hope that he is a procedural fighter, someone who has a chess-like ability to use procedure and process to get what he wants. So he may be deploying this academic conflict resolution model to create a procedure he can then exploit to advantage.

I think that there thought I floated, thats called “rationalization” by the psychologists. Its the same thing that keeps battered wives married to their abusers.

@Promnight: That conflict resolution model you learned in grad school? I’m inside the belly of the beast that actually applies it. It’s still mostly academic but a daylong conference to “unpack” the conflict drivers in, say, Yemen usually comes with some nice drinks afterwards.

@Nabisco: I have this nagging suspicion that much like in the Clintons’ relationship and Hillbot having the stronger will power, Shelley has the spine and ovaries of steel to be in the Oval Office.

But like Promnight said, I don’t think Hillbot would have been better than Obambi in terms of standing up to Wall Street/corporate America.

@Nabisco: They have cocktails in Yemen?

@Nabisco: Its so helpful, unpacking the conflict-drivers. “We want you dead.” “Well, we want you dead, too.” “OK, we each half of us kill ourselves.” Conflict resolved.

@SanFranLefty: What faint shred of a shadow of an objective fact would make you think Michelle has a “spine” that plays any role in Obama’s policies? She has muscular arms? She hasn’t backed down on being against fat kids? Biden has more of a liberal spine than she and Obama both.

@SanFranLefty: They have cocktails in Yemen? Molotov, I believe.

/tip the veal/

@Promnight: Most of the “unpacking” has to do with showing off your ability to name obscure marginalized groups that someone throws up on the whiteboard, then finding “resiliencies” in their marginalization that – if leveraged through a five year conflict mitigation program with a community focus that includes gender and youth mainstreaming and micro-financing – will ensure the career officers will be able to get out of Dodge before the report on best practices reveals it to have been much easier to leave everybody the frack alone.

@Promnight: Air Force Two is heading my way. Unless I wasn’t supposed to say that, in which case I’ll be shipped home in the cargo hold.

@SanFranLefty: @Promnight: I think, unfortunately, that we have misunderstood the paradigm all along. This isn’t about people with our best interests at heart, although I’m sure even they tell themselves that it is. This is simply the age-old struggle of those that have, and those that don’t. If you really want to define the way these decisions are made, you have to do it along an economic line, not an ideological one. They are working to protect what they have, and get more. If it helps us little people along the way,then so be it. but let’s face it: there isn’t much left. So if they want more, they have to take it from us.

It’s sad when someone like me- someone who has said all along that people have other people’s best interests at heart, that humans are children of God, and will act in accordingly- comes up with a line like that. But I’ve come to realize that the haves protect those that have, and the rest of us can join them or sink. That is a true thing, and I’m beginning to think tht that is all there is to it. All there has ever been to it, really.

Despair is a useless, powerless, disgusting thing. But to borrow a line from Doyle, when you remove all the impossible things, whatever is left, no matter how improbable it seems to you, is true.

Plus I’d like a little strange, goddam it. There, I said it. Is that so wrong? Christ, who made up the whole monagamy thing? Love sucks sometimes.

@Promnight: I think he’s a brilliant man. I think he’s a decent man. I think he’s an ambitious man. And no president, not even Clinton, has ever faced the concentrated malice and 24/7 propaganda that Obama has. And then, in the middle of his first term, the barbarians stormed the citadel. And trouble is, they’re not wrong about some things: we do need to deal with the debt, however it was created it’s there. But the public discourse has become so insane one can’t have a sensible conversation about anything right now.

@nojo: We have treaties with NATO. The congress has already approved necessary actions. No? Isn’t that what treaty means? Otherwise we’d best get back in touch with the European powers summer 1914. This No War Authority is a fabrication of Mitch McConnell. I swear he fills the time he spends sitting on the john waiting for magic to happen with thinking up new ways to punish the president.

@karen marie has her eyes tight shut: I have been reading hopeful signs too.

@Tommmcatt Be Fat, And That Be That: Wilde said: A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This was what my Roman piece was about. There are times in life when the only thing to do is behave as well as possible and try to keep hold of what is important in a personal way. This is exactly what Of Gods and Men is about. Despair is truly an instrument of the devil. And I say that as a non-believer.

We are all going to have to find our own way to get behind the president and help him. Because the alternative is too frightful to consider. At 3 in the morning – or now – with Bachmann and Perry looming large on the horizon I already feel like a jew in Vienna in 1935: how we could pack the house and move? What about the dogs? How could we afford to live in Europe? Where to go? I have a personal story about this which is apposite but very very indiscreet and which should perhaps not be posted here but it’s very much to the point.

You know what we did today? We watched Jezebel. (For non-gays: you have to watch a Bette Davis/Garland/Crawford film at least once a month to get your card validated). I hadn’t seen it before and it’s spectacular. When Hollywood got it right they could take schlock and make it soar. Brilliant production by William Wyler; fine perf by Miss Davis (see earlier ruling re female movie star titling), Henry Fonda mouthwatering in an unconvincing wig; fine script packed with original touches; great costumes by Orry-Kelly who designed all Miss Davis’s films; extremely interesting and completely unspoken examination of the South’s slave culture – in short: a helluva ride!

@Benedick HRH KFC: You are right, of course. But Tommcat is right too. Everyone is right, and everything is all wrong.

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