The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Deeply Strange

Barack Obama has now had his "bi-partisan" moment and photo-op with GOP congressional leaders. Sadly, that's all it was—a photo op. There were no words from the president suggesting that substantive work would be joined together, no promises of bi-partisan action, no comment that the electorate had spoken and he would make an effort to honor their vote. Nothing. Nada. It appears that conciliation, moderation, and humility in the face of a resounding electoral defeat are simply not part of this president's vocabulary. Peggy Noonan comments:
What is in [Obama's] interests is for him to go forward in a spirit of compromise and try to reach agreements on the Hill through negotiations. This would be a relief after six years of nonstop acrimony. Republicans need an end of acrimony too: They want to show that they’re not just shutdown artists, as their foes say, but that they are a governing party in whose hands the country is safe. ...

It is confounding—not surprising but stunning, unhelpful and ill-judged—that the president is instead going for antagonism, combat and fruitless friction.

This is not just poor strategy, it seems to me to be mildly delusional. Chris Matthews erupted on MSNBC: “There’s something in this guy that just plays to his constituency and acts like there’s no other world out there!”

That’s true. And deeply strange in a politician. It’s as if he doesn’t think he has to work with others, he only has to be right. I think Mr. Obama sees himself as a centrist because he often resists the pressures of the leftward-most edge of his base. Therefore in his imagination he is in the middle, the center. If he is in the middle of a great centrist nation, how can they turn on him? The answer: They are confused. This is their flaw, not his. He’s not going to let their logical flaws change his game.

And so the future may well be nonstop combat between the Hill and the White House. If the president does a big executive action, the Republican Congress will no longer think negotiations and deals are possible. They will over the coming years send him legislation that they can pass with the support of their majorities and moderate Democrats. If he vetoes, they will try to override.
There is something "deeply strange" about Barack Obama—he exhibits a collection of traits that taken by themselves might be found in any president, but when taken together are very troublesome.

Richard Fernandez captures the essence of what's coming when he writes:
One of the more interesting Spanish expressions is the cryptic phrase “ser como el perro del hortelano, que ni come ni deja comer” which literally means ‘to be like the gardener’s dog, who neither eats vegetables nor lets anyone else eat them.’ The English equivalent is “dog in the manger“.
A churlish envious Cur was gotten into a manger, and there lay growling and snarling to keep the Provender. The Dog eat none himself, and yet rather ventur’d the starving his own Carcase than he would suffer any Thing to be the better for’t.
The sense of it is conveyed by the example of a boyfriend who doesn’t love a girl any more, but keeps her around so she can’t go out with anyone else. If you listened to president Obama’s surly post-election speech it should be clear by now he’s realized that his sole remaining card is to be the metaphorical dog in the manger.

The media is full of stories about how the main challenge facing newly elected Republicans is to craft a defense policy, implement a working health insurance system and to get trade going. They have to drive, as it were from the back seat, because the dog in the manger is sitting up front, knowing he is important and will be humored for as long as he keeps the whole trip hostage.
I think I know what might be going on, but I want to reserve comment for a few months in order to observe this president's actions as he deals with a GOP majority in both houses. If he reacts as I suspect he will, I'll be more confident in my understanding of why hope and change under Barack Obama has crashed and burned. In the meantime, get out the popcorn and watch the show.