Saturday, December 04, 2010

All the President’s Captors

New York Times culture critic Frank Rich sounds off, yet again, on our weird President:

THOSE desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled “Understanding Stockholm Syndrome” in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim’s loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors’ “good side” and develop psychological characteristics to please them — “dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think.”

This dynamic was acted out — yet again — in President Obama’s latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington. No sooner did he invite the G.O.P.’s Congressional leaders to a post-election White House summit meeting than they countered his hospitality with a slap — postponing the date for two weeks because of “scheduling conflicts.” But they were kind enough to reschedule, and that was enough to get Obama to concentrate once more on his captors’ “good side.”


The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL. A Rorschach test may make for a fine presidential candidate — when everyone projects their hopes on the guy. But it doesn’t work in the Oval Office: These days everyone is projecting their fears on Obama instead.


" one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is."

The Stockholm Syndrome thing with which Rich sets up his essay is clearly just a metaphor: Obama isn't governing the way he is because he's been bullied into psychological docility by Republicans. Unlike Rich, and "the entire political spectrum," I know exactly who Obama is. A conservative, horse-trading, establishment-embracing Washington insider, the kind of politician mainstream political pundits think we desperately need, an above-the-fray knight on a white horse who will magically wave his wand and make everything work out all right for D.C.'s core constituency, corporations and the wealthy elite.

Unfortunately, the Republicans are wise to the President's game. Indeed, the GOP has nothing but contempt for working with the Democrats on, well, anything at all. So they make a few rhetorical flourishes about compromise or "moving forward" or how they wish Obama would try to compromise, even though that's all he ever does, while at the same time doing nothing but obstructing the legislative progress they say they favor. Like a football team that loses big because they didn't make the necessary adjustments at halftime when it became clear that their game plan wasn't working, the President just keeps throwing interceptions.

Indeed, even though Washington insiders praise and glorify the concept of political compromise, it's just impossible at this point in history. The twenty percent or so of the nation who self-identify as conservative, and who have more than their fair share of representation in Congress, by both elected officials and corporate lobbyists, are just too philosophically at odds with the other eighty percent of the country for any such thing as compromise.

How can you, say, pass a health care bill that covers all Americans, which the vast majority of Americans say they want, when the opposition absolutely refuses to consider it, and freaks out, repeatedly, in ever increasingly bizarre ways, on extremely watered down versions of such legislation? The only thing to do under these circumstances is to destroy the opposition. And Obama just doesn't have the inclination or the guts to do it. Hell, he doesn't even think participating in death-match politics is the right thing to do, so he's always bringing his super soaker to the gun fight.

The net result is that we have a government that in no way represents the needs or desires of the people it governs. It doesn't even really represent what the establishment wants. It's just broken. Unable to do anything at all. I mean, it does some stuff. It gives nice things to rich people, like multi-billion dollar bank bailouts, or imperial oil wars, but not much else. I'm starting to be amazed that the courts and military still function.

This is what a nation in decline looks like. The interests of the people are not only ignored, but also undermined. Even the major players are starting to lose out as the dollar weakens and our global economic dominance begins to wither. Obama really has failed to meet the challenge here, which is, admittedly, quite a big one. So is it fair to blame one man for a massive systems failure?