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)

Monday, November 7, 2011

No new ideas? How about a bully for President?

Republicans and Democrats are talking in abstraction about “tax reform” and the “one-Percenters and their 0.01 percent masters.” And it’s becoming increasingly evident that neither party’s elite has an economic idea that they think will inspire the people, and survive in a long national debate.
Ballot questions are simple and today’s economy isn’t. Underneath decades-old platitudes about restoring the economy, a darker impulse is stirring in those preparing for battle: let’s get someone to just do it!
This “Iron Lady or Man” passion has strange bedfellows: Newt Gingriches, Dick Cheney, Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh, Georgetown dinner parties of Keynesian perfectionists whose paradigms were traded off for votes in Congress, and, now, America’s poet laureate, Philip Levine.
This gentle-looking, 83-year-old egalitarian expressed this sentiment in rough terms when outlining his disappointment with Barack Obama in The New York Times Magazine:
“When he campaigned, he seemed like a genius, but I think he may not have been up to the task. It’s foolish to say this, but the guy we need right now is Lyndon Johnson. We need a bully and a really shrewd manipulator.”
Very early in Johnson’s presidency, there was a massive majority in Congress and in the country’s readiness for bold national leadership. Johnson did take advantage of that and used the White House to facilitate civil rights reform and the “Great Society” programs of urban and social reform. However, he never bullied or manipulated to the ground the biggest problems of his presidency—civil strife domestically and a tenacious, little enemy in Asia.
Obama wasn’t elected to bully; replace capitalism, implement individual health insurance mandates, and win a new foreign war to make Americans feel better. He was elected to concentrate on the country’s domestic problems, without shrinking America’s influence internationally.
He was given a “shrewd manipulators” set of problems and has scored a number of accomplishments in healthcare, education, economic management, and foreign diplomacy, and these trophies may last longer than LBJ’s.
Nevertheless, today’s problems are damnably bigger than Obama’s presidency and America’s capacity to solve, all at once. This provides fuel for critics, who dwell on ends and ignore means. On the weekend, Newt Gingrich actually complained that the president isn’t leading the world in sorting out the Euro-zone’s sovereign debt problem. And for months, neo-cons have expressed their shame that the US isn’t at the front of the Arab Spring parade.
Nevertheless, Democrats should ask themselves whether they have any talent for playing the bully and whether legitimizing that style of politics now will play to their advantage or will better serve its battle-seasoned practitioners on the right.
They can be consoled for now, however, that their likely opponent will probably look as silly on a white horse as their president.
For instance, here’s a take on “The infinite elasticity of Mitt Romney’s mind” by Toronto critic Robert Fulford:
“When he turns to global defence strategy, he immediately reminds us of his personal success as a “strategy consultant” with Boston Consulting. . . .If elected Romney will be the first Mormon president. It may be more important to note that he’ll be the first consultant president.”
Of course, consultants and community workers aren’t good bullies. Community workers are often dreamers, but they do their work on the ground. Consultants are at their best at 35,000 feet.

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