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Thursday, January 22, 2009


Off topic, but I'm just wondering if anyone else can make sense of this 'toon and the accompanying essay.

Clicking on the 'toon first, I thought it was a funny comment on the undying hatred of mainstream Democrats for the heretical Naderites, but then after reading his incoherent post, I thought he was saying that despite having a president that everybody's so happy about, it's not worth having been through eight years of Bush (which he seems to blame on Nader). Finally, I have no idea what he means, then, by his remark about making mistakes and praying that we haven't made another one.

Anyway, figured this was the place to ask.

I think it mainly seems incoherent because you started out thinking he might be sane, which was clearly a mistake. It just looks like boilerplate Nader-hatred to me (both the cartoon and the essay), and a quick search shows that that's consistent with what he's been saying for years.

His message in the essay appears to be that all of us should have realized what a shining beacon of hope Al Gore represented (so much so that he's flagellating himself for voting for someone else in the primary), and that we're all to blame for failing to do so. Hmm...ok, I'd agree that bit is somewhat incoherent, because obviously Gore did get the nomination, at which point liberal dittoheads like him lined right up and cast their vote as ordered. What else was he expecting to happen?

The "pray we haven't made another one" bit might just be his way of saying that picking a neophyte like Obama over a seasoned pro like Hillary was a terrible mistake. It's such an asinine notion that it's hard even to see it, but that's how mainstream liberals like him think.

Every time I think there might be some lower limit to the sneering, peevish, childish behavior of Democrats I'm always proven wrong. Thanks for the reminder.

This is SO off topic,,,but, here in Ohio, they just cut Medicaid HMO again--I wont even be able to see my primary care dr anymore!! Whom I have known since I was about 5 years old! He knows my entire med history (the motorcycle acciedent, my RA history), and, now i have to start all over with an "anonymopus" dr at a local "Clinic"--I've been there--I;d rather go to a vet. And my Rx from my dr wont be filled anymore. I am on a thyroid med (for about 2 decades--it is not going away), a RA drug, and, NSAIDS.

I dont know what to do. I know that what Obama is proposing will do nothing to help...sorry so off topic, but, thanks for listening....I guess , bascially, I dont have any real health insurance anymore, and, I live on SSI. What is a person like me supposed to do?? My sister used to help, but lost about 40% ofher 401k...sorry dont mean to go on. It is just another example of cruel amerika and its continuation....there are hundreds of thousands of us here ..some have no family. Some will just die.

What is wrong with these people, that just keep voting in more tax cuts? I paid into it when I could. It is difficult to not feel taht hey just "want you to go die"---all the more reason not to, basterds!

They are murderers in SO many ways.

@gnomechomsky (LOL on the name!)
regarding anti-nader sentiment, the problem for a lot of democrats is dealing with the fact of that ridiculously large number of blacks thrown off the rolls in florida. acknowledging it would just be too much for some of them, because it is an outrage that could have been prevented and failing that, should have been brought to the attention of the rest of the nation by al gore. but then gore would have found himself in the uncomfortable position of advocating for the rights of black people, a group whose votes he counted on, but who he assiduously distanced himself from!
i think the lingering guilt over that sorry moment (among many others, of course) informed at least some of the support for obama. a so-called post-race america is what a lot of needlessly guilt-ridden whites want: an end to discussions of racial issues in the hope/belief that dropping the subject solves the problem.

@john caruso
i have a friend who doesn't "get" why i'm not happier about obama's election. my last attempt at stating the case was a letter in which i suggested that if a black man became the ceo of wal-mart i'd be happy on some small level that he achieved the position, considering the racist nature of this country and the glass ceiling that blackness has often imposed on people but wal-mart would still be a really shitty company and unless i believed that the new ceo was going to remake the company completely, there'd be no reason to celebrate his success otherwise.
i don't think obama is going to re-invent america or apologize for any of the awful shit we're responsible for. we're in for 4 years of (hopefully) competent, reasonably sane (see his edicts regarding guantanamo, records access and rescinding the global gag order), center-right governance.
i could go on about how i think the sheer awfulness of bush lowered expectations to such a degree that obama merely doing the bare minimum of decent things will be celebrated by some dopes, but let's face it: those dopes have made up a big part of the democratic party for a while now and it doesn't take much to please them. they've accepted the false choice: two parties that really represent the same coin, one side really sickening and the other side vaguely palatable, with a bunch of dopes on the sideline cheering for whichever team they identify with.

I think it mainly seems incoherent because you started out thinking he might be sane, which was clearly a mistake.

Yeah, I know, I really do have to work on that.

Thanks for the insight. I only read him occasionally, so I wasn't aware of his chronic Naderitis. Though I should have known, given his relentless linking to Yglesias and Ezra Klein, and his ridiculous fanboy enthusiasm for Biden as VP. Live and learn...

To hear Obama fans today, you would think that , even making a plan to close GITMO, was a major policy change. He already said that he woudl do that. He will "begin withdrawal of forces from Iraq" and "accomplish it in 6 mos"---well, the SOFA already says that the uS has to be out in 18 mos, doesnt it?

I am GLAD he is taking steps--I just dont trust him to stand up to GOP and Blue Dogs--better than Bush, after 2 decades of this stuff, shoudl not be enough.

Are you to be "treated" to "amazement", everytime he KEEPS a campaign promise? What about when he breaks one? Which ones am I to believe?

I have to remain very skeptical--I cant afford another huge disappointment...I wish that he would have met with Nader, Kucinich, McKinney, before he met with George Will and Krautthamer...

Incidentally, Tom Tomorrow wants you to buy his book.

Why does he want to be President? Because he wants to do good, and make America a better place, and restore the American Dream to its previous levels of dreaminess, etc.

I think those really are his reasons. Hell, I think those were Bush's reasons for wanting to be President. That's because the only way you can do all that's necessary to get the job (and convince enough Americans to give it to you) is to convince yourself that America needs you.

And just to be clear that I'm not praising Obama (or Bush) I'll just note that I think Hitler sincerely believed he was doing the German people a favor.

SteveB: Not that you were necessarily implying this, but I wasn't talking about Bush or Hitler, since the premise was a "fundamentally decent person" and I wouldn't put either of them in that group (though I'd probably put Hitler above Bush in those terms) (which is not a joke).

Anyway, yeah, doing good, restoring the American dream, etc are some of the "plenty of answers" I had in mind. But Obama is a fundamentally decent person (or at least accept that he is for the purposes of this question), and he's also thoughtful, in terms of living a considered life. And what I genuinely don't understand, at a basic human level, is how a person like that could actively seek a position where they'd be personally responsible for mass murder—no matter how much good they might feel they can do in other areas. I suppose it's possible that they believe they can do the necessary blood work more responsibly, or only when it's absolutely necessary, or any of a thousand other rationalizations, but I still don't ultimately get how they could live with it.

StO: Yeah, unfortunately, Tom Tomorrow long ago went over to the "repentant sinner" side of the tent. Regardless, I wouldn't buy Pollak's book not just because of his politics but because he's not particularly funny.

Obama had little control over what he inherited, of course, but from here on out it's entirely up to him. And I have no doubt about what he'll do (and what he'll therefore become).

Here's the main point of your blog post summed up in comic format:

...yeah, sure, the artist pictures Obama as being mawkishly sincere for peace instead of committing himself to kinder-gentler warfare, but it's still an amusing comic.

Ya know, Steve M's comment about sublimated Democratic guilt over black disenfranchisement in 2000 brings up an interesting question that maybe John might like to devote a full post to.

Has anyone ever heard Barak talk about voting reform? How seriously? I can't say I followed his every speech religiously, but I don't recall Barak talking about that subject at all.

Partyline Dems will say that Barak intentionally held his tongue because it was just "too scary" for a black man to talk about black voter disenfranchisement in the general election, he would have scared off those ohhh-so-critical Southern gunrack voters. I should think the cowardice in that statement would be self-evident, but I would be wrong.

That issue could be an interesting "litmus test" for Barak.

A politician interested in representing the people he self-identifies with, African-Americans, would surely put voting reform as a high priority -- just like Bush put Iraq as a high priority, because he and millions of others would regret it bitterly if he had the chance to fix this longstanding problem but was impeached, assassinated, or voted out of office before he could make the attempt.

A politician interested in justice would put voting reform as a high priority because it's a blot on the foundation of democracy. Even a self-interested Democrat ought to put this issue as a high priority since Dems typically are on the butt end of this problem.

But a Democratic party-machine politician, an Imperial Manager, would try to downplay and ignore this issue, because he'd be afraid that if he confronted it, Republicans would go nuclear and upset the status quo balance in Washington. A party-machine politician, an Imperial Manager, believes that preserving the status quo in Washington is more important than anything that happens to voters outside Capitol Hill.

It's not a good omen that Barak is from Chicago, infamous for its party machine.

...ohhh yeah, duhhh, stupid me, there was that flap about ACORN. I recall Barak sticking up for ACORN's honesty -- just a little -- but I don't think Barak has ever made a specific statement about disenfranchisement. I don't see it among the list of injustices in his highly-praised "racism" speech, although I think that speech occurred before the ACORN flap. Dems will say that the phony ACORN flap tied Barak's hands, he couldn't talk about furthering voting reform because he had to distance himself from all the wild claims about ACORN. Again see my comment about self-evident cowardice. The Dem habit of allowing Republicans to make an issue out of falsehoods rather than sticking up for truth. The question is, how far has Barak internalized that tactic.

John - I think where you're getting a bit tripped up is with the whole "fundamentally decent" thing. The ability to actually care for those you know is not that special. Now, yes, compared to Bush, who was completely unable to relate to others, even in his own familiy, Obama is a couple steps up. But Obama is just like every other well-educated middle class/upper-middle striving person I've ever known. He's "smart" and well-meaning, but very much hemmed in by a narrow understanding of the world. Especially when you look at what he is doing on the economic front, it is rather obvious that he is not a three-dimentional thinker. I'm not saying he's like Bush in the black or white stakes, rather, that he is limited by his inability to question assumptions. Therefore his thinking, while smart in that sort of "I did well at school and can discuss things clearly and with focus", is lacking that freedom of movement necessary at a time like this. I mean, I really have yet to see some seriously good reasoning skills at work here. And reasoning is rarely what Americans take as included in intellegence.

Gekkou: John - I think where you're getting a bit tripped up is with the whole "fundamentally decent" thing. The ability to actually care for those you know is not that special.

You may well be right that I'm wrong in that assessment, but to be clear, I didn't mean the ability to care for those you know. I'd grant even George Bush that much. I meant fundamentally decent in meaningful ways—i.e. possessing and sincerely committed to the right values in the broadest possible sense. The only other president I might put in that category is Carter. Bush is the antithesis, and Clinton isn't even close.

...very much hemmed in by a narrow understanding of the world...limited by his inability to question assumptions.

Yes, I think there's a lot of that going on with Obama. Though in his case it strikes me as having lost the ability (through a process of inculcation of elite opinion in which he willingly participated) rather than never having had it.

Thomas: ...the artist pictures Obama as being mawkishly sincere for peace instead of committing himself to kinder-gentler warfare...

Yep, that's a major flaw in the comic, and it's also part of what I'm thinking about here. Because Obama isn't a victim of a machine whose path he can't divert—he's someone very much like us in essential ways, who's just become the most powerful person on the face of the planet. Just imagine what he could do with that power if he had real courage or strength of character (even a fraction of what his fans attribute to him). But instead of balking the machine, he shows every intention of oiling it.

Even that's farther afield than what I mean. As Chomsky's said, "If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged." I fully expect Obama to join that club. But that's a choice on his part, not an inevitability, and it's one I can't imagine making.

I suspect that much of what Carter's done since he left office—and increasingly so as the years went by—has been a kind of expiation for the sins he committed when he was Killer-in-chief.

"I suspect that much of what Carter's done since he left office—and increasingly so as the years went by—has been a kind of expiation for the sins he committed when he was Killer-in-chief."

Agreed with all of your previous comments, but this in particular seems right to me. I heard Amy Goodman ask Carter about East Timor a few months ago and I can't remember his exact answer, but it was something to the effect that he didn't realize what was happening. Which I think was a lie, but it's probably a lie he desperately wants to believe and Amy didn't push him on this. She probably should have, but I think the main thrust of the interview as about his Peace not Apartheid book and maybe she didn't want to. I sorta felt that way too.

Probably in office he thought that siding with Indonesia and with advisors like Richard Holbrooke was the serious responsible thing to do, regrettable though it was that all those Timorese were dying. He might not have known just how many were going to die. There's got to be some real capacity for doublethink if you have some decent instincts and yet want to be President and tell the lies and do the things you are pressured to do in that office.

Anyone who doesnt think that the office of the presidency in the uS (and elsewhere) is all about power is kidding themselves. Do you know how arrogant you have to be to even run??

That being said, sure Obama is a good person. But, he is not a decisive person, and, I think he wil go whichever way the wind blows, as long as it doesnt go completely beyong the realm that his morals wil let him...which, honestly , seem to be pretty open to discussion. (I dont know what he talked to neo-cons about, but, he hsa nothing to learn from Will et al).

HIs signing the executive order re:GITMO, has been taken on so-called liberal blogs as a sign that he is REALLY for "change"! Good, but,,,sorry

Well, lets see, we went many , many years without GITMO,followed teh Geneva Con. etc amd I dont see that keeping one campaign promise is a miracle! (We still have to indict those that opened it, etc, I know, I know--we wont...but I cant just forget it) Some are calling it the "end of the war on terror"--i was just amazed!! What do you guys think? Does signing an order to close GITMO in a year, "end the war on terror"??

I mean, it may change the "paradigm" of that place, maybe even of "torture" and Military Commissions,(maybe--he is SO undecisive! Auuugh!) which is no small thing. But, I wish that people would consider how far we have "come" with Bush---it will take a lifetime to just go back to conservativism!, (Yet,, he has backslid on the "torture" definition, too) (the "extraordinary circumstaneces stuff)

I just dont think that it is ridiculous to ask for a little true progressivism, before we go back to bipartisan bullshit.

John, I suspect you're not giving enough weight to the allure of all the GOOD the president can do, even at the cost of being responsible for mass murder. It's kind of like picking up the One Ring, if you'll forgive the geeky Tolkien reference. Even the good characters found the Ring appealing precisely because they could use it to do good.

I also think you're overestimating the power of the presidency--in many ways, the president is just a figurehead. This, paradoxically, is why I have more optimistic expectations of Obama than you do. I don't think he CAN do very much, so I don't judge him as "the most powerful man in the world" but rather as someone with a lot of inevitable strictures to work within. And through that lens, what Obama is doing is pretty good so far given how limited his abilities are.

Good point about Carter expiating what he's done--I've occasionally thought that as well. And I agree that Obama didn't start out with his current narrow view of the world, either. His early biography seems to suggest otherwise.

LadyVet--"John, I suspect you're not giving enough weight to the allure of all the GOOD the president can do, even at the cost of being responsible for mass murder"

I realize that you were not addressing me here, but jeez..."even at the of being responsible for mass murder"?? Ummm, its pretty serious, mass murder, no?

I agree with some things Obama has done already..but ordering the drone arracks on Pakistan just looks like another step towards more "war on terror"!! George MItchell, ok, but, then we end up with Holbrooke!

Better than Bush, but, I want better than THAT! He did not run as Mr. Run of the Mill. He won by a landslide--so did Dems, what is the excuse now??

I might buy the "figurehead" stuff, except that the Congres and Am people have been allowing the power of the uS president to increase at a drastic rate, since perhaps, Reagan and before! P.O has all three branches of govt, from the supposed "liberal" party--now would be the time to show how you are "different", Dems. If not, why exist?

LadyVetinari: With that handle, accusations of Tolkien geekery should be the least of your worries, right?

...I suspect you're not giving enough weight to the allure of all the GOOD the president can do, even at the cost of being responsible for mass murder.

Actually I'm more inclined to think they simply don't think it out with a fraction of the depth we have here. Just as they rationalize what they do, I think they also distance themselves from it beforehand. And that's easy to do, since they can and will do their killing at a safe, antiseptic remove. Which (as you say) does make it easier to look at all the "good" you can do and see it as balancing out the distant (and well-rationalized) unpleasantness.

I also think you're overestimating the power of the presidency--in many ways, the president is just a figurehead.

That's true in some ways, but I can't go along with it generally. For just one thing, the president is the Commander-in-chief of the U.S. military; that alone is tremendous power. Obama could, if he wished, order the U.S. military out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan, and out of every military base on foreign soil, and those orders would be constitutionally binding. Set aside all the political or practical arguments against that—the point is that he can. And his failure to do so is an active choice.

The majority of strictures on the president aren't inevitable, they're chosen. There are limitations on what he can do legislatively, of course, but there are a tremendous number of things a president can do that fall completely outside the legislative realm. Consider: if he had the desire and the will, Obama could, today, apologize to the world for decades of American violence. He could travel to Iran and recant his lies about its nuclear program, and pursue a peaceful course. He could promise never again to deploy the American military except in cases of legitimate self-defense. He could order his ambassador to the U.N. to stop shielding Israel from the proper condemnation of the entire world, and turn U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians 180 degrees from what it is now. He could order prosecutions of thousands of U.S. war criminals, stop U.S. opposition to the International Criminal Court, and terminate all the existing bilateral agreements that shield U.S. citizens from prosecution. He could order the military to give the Vietnamese (and Laotians, and Cambodians, and...) a full accounting of the locations of mine fields and cluster-bombed areas, and send teams of demining experts there to finally end the maiming and killing of innocent people by decades-old U.S. weapons. He could order declassification of every covert action undertaken by the CIA over the past 50 years.

And I haven't even scratched the surface. This is just a minuscule fraction of the things Obama could do right now, unilaterally, to effect enormous change in the world—if he had the desire and the will and if he was prepared to set aside his own political future and do what's right. That he doesn't is his active and conscious choice, not a result of any limits on his abilities...and I most definitely do judge him for it.

There is not another so-called liberal blog out there , reporting the story as you are....thanks, John. (ex: "You dont know if Obama ordered it, thats slander,,,blah,,,"!!!)
(most US articles say, that the strikes "happened"--thats about it)

Except this, today:

"..But the Foreign Ministry said that the attacks by unmanned aircraft also killed an unspecified number of civilians and that it had informed U.S. officials of its "great concern."

"With the advent of the new U.S. administration, it is Pakistan's sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach toward dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism," a ministry statement said.

"We maintain that these attacks are counterproductive and should be discontinued," it said.

Pakistani leaders complain that stepped-up missile strikes — there have been more than 30 since August — fan anti-American sentiment and undermine the government's own efforts to counter Islamist militants...."

By the way, just in case it wasn't clear, that bit about "Tolkien geekery" was supposed to be friendly banter. I've only read a few Pratchett books but I've read LotR at least three times in my lifetime (most recently before the films came out), so I'd be the last one to cast any stones.

All I could say here has been said already: he is a figured, hired PR spokesman, and anyone who seriously competes for and takes this job is, in the best case, a narcissistic creep. And this is true for any typical politician.

Maybe this guy is an exception, extraordinary case, but it seems highly unlikely already. We'll see.

This is just a minuscule fraction of the things Obama could do right now, unilaterally, to effect enormous change in the world

It would be interesting to see just how many hours after he announced all this it would take before the precisely-targeted bullet from a lone gunman found its mark.

KDelphi: yes, of course it's serious! My point is, it's not hard for an intelligent and decent person to convince himself that it's possible to balance the killings with the potential for enormous good, though John's probably also right that they just don't think about it much.

John: no worries, I took the geekery jab in the spirit it was meant. ;) As for your list of things Obama could do...well, (a) I'm not sure he could do them without being thwarted by corporations and Congress (yea, he's CiC, but only Congress can declare war, and Congress can do things that make it tough to get out of war, and so can defense corporations), and (b) what NomadUK said. How long would he even live afterwards?

I'm not disputing that he bears a whole lot of responsibility, I just find it hard to judge exactly how much. Let me put it this way: if a decent, honorable person with my exact political worldview managed to get into office, I'm not sure how much effect on the world their decency could actually have. So, looking at Obama, I don't know how much of what he does is because of sociopolitical forces beyond his control and how much is because he simply chooses to. I agree that a prime failing of most liberal blogs is that they never even consider that maybe he's simply choosing to do revolting things, because I think he is at least SOME of the time.

I'm surprised my (brief, off the top of my head) list didn't make much of an impression; there's no way Congress, corporations, or anyone else could prevent Obama from doing (or initiating, which is just as important) much if any of what I mentioned. Even setting that aside, though, we've just had an eight-year lesson in what one person can do with executive power.

Let me put it this way: if a decent, honorable person with my exact political worldview managed to get into office, I'm not sure how much effect on the world their decency could actually have.

I think you're underestimating the effects that even small actions by the president could have. My "apologize to the world" may have seemed like just one entry in a long list, but it was actually huge in and of itself; the symbolic importance of a speech like that and the repercussions it would have throughout the world would be tremendous (and once spoken, the words could never be erased, no matter what happened next). If I had to prioritize the list, I'd put it at the top.

The point isn't that Obama (or anyone else) could unilaterally turn the United States into a demilitarized social democracy—he couldn't, of course. But just because he's not all-powerful doesn't mean he should be given a pass for the many things he could do, but chooses not to. To put it another way: if I were somehow elected president, I'd do every single thing on my list (and much more). And if I chose not to—whether because of excuses about the myriad forces arrayed against me, doubts about the chances for ultimate success, or out of fear for my own hide (political or actual)—I'd expect and deserve to be judged by you and everyone else in the harshest possible terms for that choice.

I think there are all sorts of ways corporations and Congress could *punish* Obama (blocking the rest of his agenda, throwing him out of office either via impeachment or via some scandal, or even assassinating him) for doing most of the stuff on that list, and I think they'd especially be motivated to do punish him for not shielding Israel and not launching unprovoked wars. You're right, they couldn't actually prevent him from doing those things...except through fear of punishment. Just because there is no legal, procedural way to stop Obama from doing these things doesn't mean there aren't all sorts of extralegal threats to be made, which are probably as effective as the legal ones.

Of course this goes back to your original point: why would an ethical person want such an office in the first place? And also to your final point, which is why wouldn't an ethical person brave that punishment.

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