Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's wrong with America?

My title is a twist on an article in Politico titled: What's wrong with President Obama? Its part of the hair-on-fire reaction coming from the DC village pundits I referred to yesterday about the President's political fortunes.

Its fascinating to me that in the midst of the kind of lunacy coming from the Republican Party these days that this is such a hot topic for the DC insiders. And so I scratch my head and wonder WTH is wrong with this country that we're even talking about it.

The truth is that no matter how crazy the Republicans get, the belief in some circles persists that one person in the presidency should be able to control things. This has been referred to as the Green Lantern theory of presidential power. It is ubiquitous, not just with DC pundits, but we see it often coming from the President's critics on the left (he "abandoned" the public option in health care reform even though it NEVER had 60 votes in the Senate) and the public at large.

I'd suggest that rather than trying to figure out what's wrong with President Obama, perhaps its time we held a mirror up to ourselves to find the root of the problem. We really struggle with this whole representative democracy thing. As much as we like to talk about things like "freedom," we are constantly on the look-out for a leader who can fix it all for us. When things get difficult or messy, it must be his (or her) fault. That is the position of a victim and the classic underpinning of authoritarianism.

We don't like messy or difficult and so we want our leader to present things to us in the clear terms of good vs evil or black vs white. Listen to how Harris and Purdum describe that in the Politico article.
This president lately has faced situations that cried out for a black-and-white sense of purpose, and unquestioned public command...

The common theme in both episodes [Syria and Summers] is that they were about projecting power, not summoning sweet reason. Obama’s approach put him in the position of being bullied — in one case by a sworn enemy, in the other by ostensible friends — who could not have cared less about his own nuanced views.
Notice that they wanted President Obama to project power - not reason. As if the two were mutually exclusive. That's because they see power as dominance over others. To fail to project that kind of power means that you get bullied. This is where the frame of weakness comes from.

Nowhere in the analysis of these two situations do the authors discuss actual outcomes. That's because their sole focus is on the either/or process of a win/lose power game. If President Obama isn't winning, he must be losing - regardless of the superior outcome in Syria or whoever becomes the next Federal Reserve Chair. And of course in this framework, all that matters is the win.

Even if winning was possible via dominance, that is not what this President is about. Instead he is about getting the best possible outcomes via the power of partnership...working with people as opposed to trying to win against them. That means we're all involved in the solution - whether he's talking about citizenship in a democracy, the role of Congress as representatives of the people, or working with the global community on shared interests.

From the beginning, one of the questions I've had is whether or not America is ready for the kind of leadership President Obama would provide. Are we ready to explore the power of partnership rather than simply rely on dominance? I suspect that is the experiment we're seeing unfold. As Michelle Obama said about her husband years ago:
Barack is not a politician first and foremost. He's a community activist exploring the viability of politics to make change.


  1. These types of articles from Politico are tiring. It's not that they don't see what the President is trying to do and accomplish, it's that he's not taking their advice and it pisses them off.

    1. Its not just Politico. He's operating from a whole different frame of reference. And many people literally cannot see it. My blood pressure lowered immensely when I finally came to grips with that.

    2. As did mine. I'm starting to approach a zen like state when discussing Obama simply because the sheer absurdity of the standard dialog about him would drive you crazy if you let it (as is demonstrated by the absurdity of the discussion).

      I try to laugh about it because it feels like the only other option is to gouge my eyes out.

  2. It doesn't sell papers (or get clicks) to ask readers to embark on a nuanced and introspective look at public policy and government. It is a lot more thrilling to place all of our angst and desire on one man. Politico is trash. It is like the Star Magazine of politics. Faux and sensational stories to get people to mindless congratulate themselves for doing nothing (look, JLO is fat! look Obama is clueless! look, batboy scares elderly man! look, John Kerry ate a sub sandwich with SWISS cheese!? Don't you feel good about yourself now! Kerry to good for cheese wiz? Out of touch! Buy some Dove soap!)

    It is just so heartbreaking that in the past decade or two the newsmedia is more determined on generating bloated profits than trying to actual do a serious job reporting on hard facts and offering legitimate analysis that may, heaven forbid upset some click happy knuckle draggers.

  3. I cannot understand why everyone who wanted serious change, a move to real justice and equity, is NOT excited by what this president is, what he has done, what he will do. The largest divide is not left/right but between those of us who remember and use Civics 101 and those who have no clue. If you begin with the Green Lantern premise (nicely said) of course you will hate everything - but you would be undermining your own 'want' in getting rid of the Imperial Presidency. Cannot have it both ways.

    Democracy takes huge amounts of work. It requires constant engagement of us all.

    If all that was desired in 2008 was yet another, totally unConstitutional autocrat who will do everything without reference to democratic process but in terms we all love, then yeah, I can see where you'd think the accomplishments of the past five years have been a 'fail'. But frankly - it's YOUR fail, not President Obama's or ours or the system's. It's because you live in a fantasy land and haven't a clue.

    1. Don't let your dreams get in the way of your reality.

  4. Despite all the criticisms PBO's adversaries or 'allies' are spouting, things seem to be coming together in a progressive away.

    'Even if winning was possible via dominance, that is not what this President is about. Instead he is about getting the best possible outcomes via the power of partnership...working with people as opposed to trying to win against them.'

    Amen! Zizi is on a similar wavelength (@TOD)

    "In his speech in Rangoon, PBO said:

    “When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear: We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. So today I’ve come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship.”

    He lived up to his promise as Times reported:

    “Shortly after taking office, Obama eased American foreign policy toward greater engagement with Burma’s generals. Naysayers predicted that the clutch of xenophobic generals would not respond. But for whatever reason, Burma’s opening soon followed. ...."

    This link below is to the full, detailed article - an excellent read that I'd recommend.

  5. Many in the MSM, in Congress, and around the nation have been very upset since this president was elected, and I think the major reason is because they lost the access to the Oval Office they had in the last administration. Limbaugh, McCain, the Koch Bros., and others no longer have the luxury they had under GWB of calling the WH and influencing the president's decisions on issues. If I live to be 100, I'll never forget how GWB carried Rush Limbaugh's luggage into the WH when he was invited to spend the night. Since President Obama is his own man, all of these folks have a sad. I'm so proud of President Obama for ignoring them and doing what is best for us and the nation. I think history will judge him favorably and his naysayers will be proven wrong. Politico has had a problem with being fair about everything President Obama has done. This shows it has a political agenda, and that agenda is to criticize harshly everything he does, even if the result of his actions/efforts is a win for the nation/world.

  6. I really like this post, smartypants. It is not surprising to me that people on the right see power and strength in a masculine way but it is really disappointing when the left are stuck in outmoded and, I would argue, ineffective models of power and strength.

    Collaboration, negotiating in shared interests, interdependence, etc are smart strategies.


How the Radical Right's Embrace of the Great Replacement Theory Is Tied to Overturning Roe v. Wade

There is a lot of important news coming at us pretty fast these days. But David Roberts nailed it ! It is so wild to me that they're h...