The Obama Administration, Valerie Jarrett and the Owl of Minerva
When philosophy paints its gray on gray, then has a form of life grown old, and with gray on gray it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known; the Owl of Minerva first takes flight with twilight closing in.
- G. W. F. Hegel, "Preface," Philosophy of Right
Just dropped out of the blue, that comment sounds obscure. But what he meant was that major turning points in history cannot be fully recognized or understood until after they've happened. Some of Hegel's successors were more confident in their ability to recognize historical turning points in real time or even predict them in advance. Hegel himself didn't completely escape the dilemma of whether correctly understanding the past allows one to reasonably predict the future. In any case, he was talking about major historical turning points, like the transition from the Roman Empire to the European medieval feudal system.
What has reminded me of his famous saying lately is my own observation that President Obama with a series of bad decisions culminating in the debt-ceiling deal at the end of July has severely crippled his own Presidency and probably fatally wounded his own re-election prospects.
But I'm not staking a lot on whether I'm correctly understanding some grand turning point. I'll leave that to the Owl of Minerva. But it is clear to me that what we understand as the progressive movement in the United States right now, including what Paul Wellstone called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," is now faced with a Democratic President actively hostile to its goals, including in particular Social Security and Medicare. Whatever window there was in 2009-10 for democratic reforms and progressive legislation has been enormously reduced. There will be no New Deal 2.0 with Barack Obama as President.
In the wake of the debt-ceiling debacle, we're seeing a spate of articles and blog posts making an effort to understand the magnitude and significance of the crushing defeat the Democratic Party and progressive politics has just suffered. It's also clear that Obama is what we would call a conservative if the Tea Party loonies weren't defining what "conservative" means in the US political vocabulary.
Adam Serwer in Is Obama Toast?The American Prospect 08/02/2011 describes the substantial pessimistic indicators for Obama's re-election in 2012 are. But he does remind us that prediction is very tricky, especially when it's about the future:
Grim forecasts aside, Obama has two important advantages: He retains levels of base approval higher than presidents facing bad economies usually do, and many Americans still blame Bush for the recession. Come election time, though, voters may simply decide that even if the recession isn't Obama’s fault, he still failed to get us out of it. The presidency is not graded on a curve. Even assuming Republican intransigence and obstruction have given Obama the most challenging political landscape ever for a Democratic president, what matters is whether voters feel like he did what he was elected to do: Bring the American economy back from the brink.
And he notes ruefully, "Luck, unfortunately, isn’t much of a plan."
We've now seen at least five examples where Obama had an opportunity to make a real difference and lost it by being overly accommodating: the amount of the original stimulus, whether or not to break up "too-big-to-fail" banks, health care, the federal budget crisis, and the debt crisis. (It's probably true that the president caved to the military on Afghanistan, but we don't know as much about that negotiation.) In the debt crisis negotiation, Republicans got what they wanted because the president was soft. ...
The fifth and final lesson is that the economy continues to be in bad shape and -- despite the Pollyannaish assurances of the Obama Administration -- we're likely to find ourselves in the dreaded "double dip" recession. The United States of America is adrift, heading for a sea of icebergs, without effective leadership. ...
The bottom line for Liberals: we're on our own. It's naïve to expect help from President Obama. The economy will continue to spiral downward and Liberals will have to figure out how to save it. [my emphasis]
The cast-adrift imagery is an appropriate one for the state of the left of the Democratic Party at the moment - with "left" now including anyone who seriously supports Social Security and Medicare!
And if you really want to feel depressed about the state of the Democratic Party, you can turn to Valerie Jarrett, Obama's domestic advisor, who is the living image of a bland Party apparatchik and who explains to us Why I'm Proud to Be Part of President Obama's TeamHuffington Post 08/05/2011. Valerie Jarrett is to inspiration for Democratic activists what a lecture on hydrogen molecules would be to a high school pep rally: "Today, President Obama is managing our nation's challenges with the courage, wisdom, and compassion that I've seen time and time again over our two decades of friendship." With Party leaders like Valerie Jarrett, we are doomed. Check this out:
He knows that true leaders never let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
And the Emancipation Proclamation was mainly about compromise with slaveowners.
Every day, he receives letters and emails from Americans who are doing everything in their power to solve the tremendous challenges they face. As long as President Obama is in the White House, he will listen to those Americans, and they will have a voice here in Washington.
And if you put a baby tooth under your pillow, the Tooth Fairy will exchange it for money during the night!
None of these fights has been politically easy, but President Obama has taken them on. That's what leaders do.
Come 2013, Jarrett has a fine career ahead of her as a TV pundit.
President Obama is determined to change the tone in our nation's capital.
What, he's determined to wipe out the last traces of anything that sounds like a distinctively Democratic message?
He will listen to those with whom he disagrees, because that ability "to disagree without being disagreeable" has always been a central element of our democracy's success.
And those you supposedly agree with him, i.e., his own Party's base voters, he will brag about making them angry by dumping on them again and again. I think his speechwriters are working on a paraphrase of a famous passage from Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 "Rendezvous With Destiny" speech for his 2012 campaign: "The liberals are united in their hate for me, and I.Welcome.Their.Hatred!"
At a time when a troubling coarseness pervades our national debate, it is easy to be discouraged. But recently, I was reminded of why hope more is powerful than fear.
If at this point in her spiel, you don't have a strong urge to break down weeping, you probably aren't a real Democrat at all.
In our current debate over debt and deficits, Americans once again urged their leaders to choose compromise and common ground over partisanship and dysfunction.
They also urged their leaders to reject cuts in Social Security and Medicare. That didn't play out so well. (Yes, that link is to Republican talking points whose screaming hypocrisy will not stop them from being used over and over again from now until Election Day 2012.)
These stories of ordinary Americans standing up for their beliefs inspire the president. They motivate him to continue speaking out on behalf of those who would otherwise go unheard.
To quote Linda Blair being tormented by an evil spirit in The Exorcist, "Make it stop! Make it stop!"
Years from now, when we look back on these tumultuous times, we may be surprised by the pettiness of our debate, and by the cynicism of some of those in Washington.
[deep sobs and a wail or two]
Our president is truly the kind of leader these times demand. I could not be prouder to be a part of his team.
Are those the wings of the Owl of Minerva I hear? Or the approaching sounds of a Michele Bachmann Administration?