Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Barack Obama’s decision to seek a second term

The national media called Obama’s decision to seek a second term a “soft announcement” just another move in an old game. The story quickly settled on the upcoming campaign’s tactics: the Democrats’ aim to raise a billion dollars and the reluctance of leading Republicans to declare their own candidacies. It’s business as usual after three years of radical rhetoric and genuine crisis. This is extraordinary.
After the mid-term congressional sweep by Republicans, Obama admitted to taking a “shellacking” and promised a “mid-course correction.” Yet, he didn’t look shaken and his vision of a mid-course correction sounded puny. Time and again, he’s failed to get excited fast enough to keep up with conventional opinion. His announcement yesterday and his electoral prospects now, however, confirm he had it right: he may not be lucky, but politically he’s still very much alive.
As well as worrying about jobs, of course, when he gets out of bed every morning he has every right to resolve to prove at least two sagacious democrats dead wrong. Just after the mid-term elections, in The Washington Post, Douglas Schoen, a Bill Clinton pollster, and Patrick Caddell, a senior advisor to Jimmy Carter, offered Obama the honourable way out:
One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek re-election in 2012
 “But by explicitly saying he will be a one-term president, Obama can deliver on his central campaign promise of 2008, draining the poison from our culture of polarization and ending the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity and common purpose.
We do not come to this conclusion lightly. But it is clear, we believe, that the president has largely lost the consent of the governed. The midterm elections were effectively a referendum on the Obama presidency. And even if it was not an endorsement of a Republican vision for America, the drubbing the Democrats took was certainly a vote of no confidence in Obama and his party. The president has almost no credibility left with Republicans and little with independents.”
One of the best minds in politics should retire from the business so other politicians can have an adult conversation.
Their advice was not just naïve but dangerous. Obama didn’t poison the political culture, and becoming a lame duck wouldn’t have made his presidency more effective. Furthermore, their premise—that Obama has lost the confidence of the people—constituted a radically populist interpretation of the role of the mid-term elections and approval ratings as well. Effectively, they would have turned the mid-terms into a coup d’état—a usurpation of presidential authority power beyond the reach of those who tried to impeach Clinton for being promiscuous.
Raising the presidency above other mortals in Washington—either by dressing up the president as a Christ-like victim or putting him on a white horse—fortunately, doesn’t fit the American constitution. Washington reaches decisions by give and take between two competitive, ambitious institutions. Congress will not for long be bullied by a demagogue president and certainly will not be instructed by a loser saint. The odds for substantive reform of entitlements and taxes would only be longer if Obama quit the race.
His decision to seek re-election aims to make history on two counts. He can only be the first successful black president if he’s re-elected and he would be the first cool elitist intellectual to get re-elected since the Civil War. It will be interesting to see whether in these fevered times he can do better than Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter.

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