Compromising or Succumbing?

by AG Moore August 30, 2011

It has been three months since I wrote an Update to my post on the 2012 presidential election. In that Update I rued the weakness of the declared Republican hopefuls. Nothing that has happened in the last few months has altered my opinion of those candidates. Rick Perry’s entry into the race – and his apparent popularity — has only  reinforced my estimation that the Republican Party does not offer any top-tiered candidates for consideration in the 2012 race.

However, as I suggested in the previous Update, a weak Republican field does not guarantee a Republican loss. The U.S. may actually end up with one of these regrettable prospects (out of respect for his gravitas and the consistency of his positions, I exclude Ron Paul from this list) as President of the United States.  The Obama presidency has not imploded since my last election critique; it has deflated.

Barack Obama came into office during a time of crisis: the international financial community was in chaos; war was absorbing a ruinous per cent of the U. S. GDP; and terrorism, which had been the pretext for war, was still an existential threat — not only for the U. S. but for virtually every country in the world.

As he began his presidency, Barack Obama looked to antecedents for inspiration. He settled upon Abraham Lincoln as a model and often referred to Lincoln in public statements. Lincoln, as Obama saw him, brought a troubled nation together not by emphasizing differences but by focusing on unifying elements in the national character. Lincoln did not inflame — he sought compromise as a first course of action.

So Obama, taking a cue from his predecessor, compromised. It was his hope, as he stated so many times, to unify not to divide. However, in looking to Lincoln, Obama misread the climate of the times; Lincoln dealt with a completely different dynamic. His immediate challenge was to avoid a physical, cataclysmic rupture of the United States. This was a clear and unambiguous threat. Nobody needed a map to see what was happening. Everyone knew the choices; allow the union to disintegrate or go to war. Going to war might not have been a path that citizens unanimousely agreed upon, but there was no doubt about the nature of the problem.

Obama never enjoyed such clarity. From the start he had to argue ideology. And ideology is a swamp. It is host to prevaricators, parasites and predators. It is murky and lacks definition as one issue weeps into another.In an ideological free-for-all, only the most doctrinaire on the political spectrum have a firm footing and remain inflexibly rooted. For these ideologues, choices are clear and argument unnecessary.

But Obama didn’t address this constituency — not after the election, anyway. He saw himself as a bridge, a place where the reasonable could meet. He tried to reach the “middle” of the electorate, those chameleons whose loyalty is based on circumstance and personal preference.  Which became disproportionately important in the last two years, as the issue of Obama the person (his birth, his religious orientation) grabbed the attention of the easily distracted.

In setting the compass for his presidency, Obama would have been better served by looking to a 20th century, rather than a 19th century, model. He would have found more relevance in a president whose term was riven by ideological strife and whose effectiveness was vitiated by a contrary Congress.  He should have looked to Harry Truman.

Against all odds Truman won the 1948  election.   He won by running against a “do-nothing” Congress, by sticking to his guns, by being true to his constituency and by pugnaciously invoking the principle of “the buck stops here.”

What has been missing from the Obama arsenal is cynicism, the hard – nosed ability to see nefarious purpose in others and to understand that these others will be ruthless in pursuit of their interests. And this lack of insight on Obama’s part is incomprehensible. Didn’t he see the video of Republican partisans in the 2000 election storming the gates of Palm Beach election headquarters and forcing officials to stop the count?  Didn’t he witness the chutzpah of the Supreme Court partisans who handed the presidency over to their candidate, and who declared at the same time that this was a one-time deal, that it was based on no precedent and that it set no precedent?  Doesn’t Barack Obama know that his political opponents today are the same people who were storming the gates in Palm Beach in 2000?

Even if Obama is not the man he supporters believed in, even if he doesn’t hold the ideals dear that people expected he would, even if he thinks war-without-end is acceptable, that universal healthcare is not necessary, that violations of privacy are OK, that the war on drugs is reasonable —  even if he thinks that a whole host of unpalatable things are acceptable, he should at least be angry that his presidency has been hijacked by charlatans.

Maybe the deck was stacked against Barack Obama.  Maybe he couldn’t prevail against arcane Senate rules and House Blue Dog Democrats. Maybe he inevitably would have been blamed for an economy that was shattered before he came to office.  But at least he could have made his supporters proud.  At least he could have carried the banner to the finish line.

The way things turned out, not only did he get very little of what his supporters had hoped for — what they had worked for —   but he dropped the flag. Losing is not pleasant, but there are many ways to lose.  You can give it your all, like the 300 at Thermopylae, or you lay down your arms and allow the enemy to overrun your camp.  One way heartens those who follow you and the other way leads to despair.

Election of 1948,_1948

Rick Perry on the right to secede

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