How to Squander the Presidency in One Year

Hey, Conan Obama: How About Now? Can You Hear Us Now?

There's only one political
party in the entire world that is so inept, cowardly and bungling that
it could manage to simultaneously lick the boots of Wall Street bankers
and then get blamed by the voters for being flaming revolutionary socialists.

It's the same party
that has allowed the opposition to go on a thirty year scorched earth
campaign, stealing everything in sight from middle and working class
voters, and yet successfully claim to be protecting 'real Americans'
from out-of-touch elites.

It's the same party
that could run a decorated combat hero against a war evader in 1972,
only to be successfully labeled as national security wimps.

Just to be sure, it then
did the exact same thing again in 2004.

It's the same party
that stood by silently while two presidential elections in a row were
stolen away from them.

How 'bout dem Dems,

One year ago today, there
was real question as to what could possibly be the future of the Republican
Party in America. That's changed a bit now.

And, speaking of 'change',
the one kind that Barack Obama did actually deliver this year was not
that which most voters had in mind after listening to him use the word
incessantly, all throughout 2008. Obama and his colleagues have
now managed to bring the future of the Democratic Party into question,
just a year after it won two smashing victories in a row.

Personally, I'm not
real bothered by that. Today's Democrats are, almost without
exception, embarrassing hacks who deserved to get stomped a long time

What really upsets me,
however, is what these fools have allowed to be done to the name of
progressivism, and to the country.

Barack Obama has now,
in just a year's time, become the single most inept president perhaps
in all of American history, and certainly in my lifetime. Never
has so much political advantage been pissed away so rapidly, and what's
more in the context of so much national urgency and crisis. It's
astonishing, really, to contemplate how much has been lost in a single

It was hilarious, of
course, when Michelle Bachmann invoked the Charge of the Light Brigade
at a rally against "Obama's" (has he ever really owned it?) health
care "initiative" (isn't that too strong a word to use?), quite
oblivious to the fact that the actual historical event was one of history's
greatest debacles. Obama, on the other hand, seems to be actually
reliving the famous cock-up in the flesh. Except, of course, that
he doesn't really "charge" at anything. He just talks about
things, thinks about things a real long time, defers to others on things,
and waits around for things to maybe happen.

This week, though, something
actually did happen. Alas, not precisely what the president had
in mind, however.

But the election in Massachusetts
was only slightly less inevitable than the sun rising in the east each
morning. It was the product of an amazing collection of abysmal
choices and practices over the last year that has produced a meltdown
of equally amazing proportions for this president and his party.
It is fitting that it comes on the anniversary of the president's
inauguration, a moment filled with so much hope for so many just a year

What has Obama - this
Conan O'Brien of presidents - done wrong in order to produce this
devastating outcome? The short answer is: Just about everything

More specifically:

* He does not lead.
Americans, especially in times of crisis, want their daddy-president
to pick a point on the horizon and lead them to it. Often -
especially in the short term - they don't even care that much which
point it is. They will happily follow a president whose policies
they oppose if he will but lead.

* And if he will demonstrate
some conviction. I have never seen a president so utterly lacking
in passion. This man literally doesn't even seem to care about
himself, let alone this or that policy issue. He doesn't seem
to have any strong opinions on anything, a sure prescription for presidential

* He has therefore let
Congress 'lead' on nearly every issue, another surefire mistake.
Instead of demanding that they pass real stimulus legislation - which
would have really stimulated the economy, big-time, and right now -
he let those dickheads on the Hill just load up a big pork party blivet
of a bill with all the pet projects they could find, designed purely
to benefit their personal standing with the voters at home, rather than
to actually produce jobs for Americans. And on health care, his
signature issue, he did the same thing. "You guys write it,
and I'll sign the check." Could there possibly be a greater
prescription for failure than allowing a bunch of the most venal people
on the planet to cobble together a 2,000 page monstrosity that entirely
serves their interests and those of the people whose campaign bribes
put them in office?

* Well, yes, now that
you mention it. If you really want to bring your government crashing
to the ground, why not spend endless months negotiating with vicious
thugs, who will never vote for your legislation anyhow, because they
are so entirely devoted to your destruction that they're willing to
call you a granny murderer? What a great and winning strategy!

* Another possible strategic
move even stupider than deferring to Congress to write major legislation
is to cozy up with the least popular people on the planet - including,
in fact, the real-life granny killers. Got an economy that is
so raw it's leaving thousands in literal peril of losing their lives?
Why not draft some legislation to bail-out the people who created that
mess and guarantee that they retain their multimillion dollar bonuses?!?!
You know, the same folks who are always talking about how great capitalism
is and how important it is to take risks! The same ones who are
always telling us how awful the government is - the same government
that saved them from extinction. Those folks. That's right,
bail out with outrageous bonuses the very people who need it least and
who caused billions of people around the planet to suffer, while leaving
everyone else to fend for themselves! That'll raise your presidential
job approval ratings every time! And while you're at it, bring
in the much beloved health insurance and pharmaceutical corporate lobbyists,
and negotiate a deal with them to craft your high profile health care
legislation! What voter can't get behind that?

* Another brilliant presidential
tactic is to be such a Mr. Happy Nice Face that you acknowledge no enemies
for the country, or even yourself. Not the health care corporate
vampires who suck the blood out of Americans from San Diego to Bangor,
providing absolutely no value-added health service whatsoever, while
denying treatment to deathly ill human beings at every opportunity,
all to rake in billions more in profits. Not the reckless pirates
on Wall Street who bet all our money on insane gambles that wrecked
the global economy, took government bail-out money to survive, and yet
are still drowning in bonuses as rewards. Not the Republican Party
who spent three decades downsizing the middle class, plunging the country
into wars based on lies, deregulating every protection in sight, fattening
up corporate cronies, wrecking the environment, trashing the Constitution
and polarizing the country politically. And not even a catastrophic
climate disaster speeding toward the planet with relentless determination.
No! We must all be happy and talk nice! No bad guys.
Not even the bad guys can be bad guys.

* While you're at it,
if you're trying to run the most failed presidency ever, a really
good idea is to campaign in the grandest terms possible, and then deliver
squat. You know, talk about bending the arc of history.
Invoke Martin Luther King's dream and his struggles and even those
of the slaves. Ring the big bells of generational calling.
Remind voters every thirty seconds that the country badly needs "Change!".
Then get elected and turn around and continue the policies of your hated
predecessor in every meaningful policy area. Only with less conviction.
People will love that.

* A related brilliant
move is to mobilize a giant army of passionate volunteers dedicated
to putting you in the White House, and then do nothing with them once
you get there, other than taking them completely for granted and never
calling upon them to do anything in support of your agenda. Be
sure to deflate their enthusiasm in every way possible.

* Even more importantly,
if you're trying to run your presidency into the ground you'll definitely
want to avoid mobilizing the general public behind your agenda.
To make sure that you don't repeat the great legislative victories
of FDR or LBJ or (unfortunately) Reagan or (really unfortunately) Little
Bush, never use their method of appealing directly to the people.
Never express your legislative program as a moral imperative, a great
calling to the nation. Never attempt to rally the public behind
your cause. Never express any urgency. And never call upon
them to demand that Congress pass your bills. Then, you can rest
assured they won't!

* And let's take it
up a whole 'nuther level, while we're on the subject.
A successful president is one who articulates a strong and compelling
narrative for the nation. So, in your quest to avoid rising even
to mediocrity, be sure to leave a great big gaping canyon where that
whole narrative thing is supposed to go. No New Deal, no Great
Society, no New Frontier or War on Terror for you. Nope!
Just a thousand little projects with little non-solutions to big problems.
Hey, why not inject yourself into Cambridge, Massachusetts community
police politics while you're at it! Or the New York State Democratic
Party gubernatorial primary! Or you could deliberate for weeks
about which breed of dog to get for your kids! That's a great
use of the president's political capital!

* As long as you're
walking away from the grand narrative, why not let the opposition define
you as well? Let them say anything imaginable about you, and never
respond. You're a socialist! No, you're a fascist!
No, you're both! At the same time, no less! You're a
granny killer! You're not really even an American! You're
taking over the US for the Muslims! You're a massive taxer and
spender! You're running around the world, apologizing for America
everywhere you go! No worries. Just remember the golden
rule, and your presidency is sure to sink: Never engage, never
respond, never preempt, never attack, never fight back.

* In general, you'll
also want to take the most important power the president has - the
bully pulpit - and totally piss it away. Appear everywhere at
once, all the time, saying lots of nice words, about a thousand different
issues. But never with passion, never with compelling simplicity,
never with repetition, and never with urgency. Pretty soon you'll
turn being everywhere into being nowhere. Everyone one will tune
out your ubiquitous self. Give up the high moral ground which
is the most important asset of the office you hold, and you'll make
sure that no one ever listens to you anymore. You will persuade
the public of nothing. Except that you are irrelevant.

* But you can do better
still. Help your enemies, so that they can crush you more effectively!
Start by not even realizing they are your enemies. Then, treat
them with greater respect than your friends, even though they've run
the country over a cliff. Defer to them at every opportunity.
Consult with them even as they insult you to your face. Allow
them to run Congress, even though they have small minorities in both
houses. Never force them to vote against simple, popular legislation.
Never call their bluffs. Never associate them with the destruction
they've caused. Never label them the treasonous hypocritical
liars that they are. Help them to resuscitate the comatose near-corpse
of their political party, just before it's about to die, so it can
rise up and savage you.

* Another great trick
for crashing a presidency is to pick all the wrong priorities to 'fight'
for. Imagine, for example, if FDR had substituted for his 'Day
of Infamy' speech right after Pearl Harbor a ringing call for an American
revolution in cobbler technology! Yes, that's right, in response
to the devastating surprise attack by the armed forces of the Empire
of Japan, what if the president urgently called upon us all to start
making really amazing shoes?! Before it's too late, and we all
get blisters on our feet! Similarly, Mr. Obama, your spending
the last year on (jive) health care and jetting around the world dipping
your toes into foreign policy problems while Americans are losing their
jobs and their houses is a fine way to kill your presidency. Guaranteed
to work every time.

* And, finally, perhaps
the most important thing one can do - and the thing that helps explain
many of the other items above - is to adopt really, really pathetic
policies. If you're doing a stimulus bill, for example, make
sure that it's too little money, not targeted at real stimulative
levers in the economy, costs a lot, doesn't kick in for a year or
two, gives away about a third of the money to ineffective pet projects
for Republican while none of them vote for it anyhow, and leaves the
unemployment rate stuck at a miserable ten percent. Or, if you're
doing a bail-out of the banks for the purpose of producing the liquidity
essential to restarting the economy, let them take bonuses as big as
they want, and don't actually require that they loan out to anyone
the money you've given them. Or, how about spending nearly all
your political capital on 'health care' legislation, which is really
an insurance company boondoggle bill instead? That's really
what the people want, eh? No wonder Obama's not out there writing
the narrative, fighting the good fight or crushing his enemies.
Even he can't get excited about his own priorities, so extraordinarily
abysmal are they.

All of this represents
the best prescription I can imagine for wrecking a presidency, and Obama
has followed it with exacting precision. Indeed, doing so would
appear to be his only real passion. It's almost as if he were
a Republican sleeper politician in some party politics version of the
Manchurian Candidate, planted to arise on cue and destroy the Democratic
Party from within.

And thus - while anything's
possible, of course - I am hard pressed to see how the Obama administration
is anything but finished. Consider his options from here.

He could turn to the
right, like Clinton did in 1994. But the first problem is that
he's already there. If you look carefully at his policies, he
is basically running George Bush's third term. Regressives (conveniently)
forget that. They call him weak on national security, even while
he dramatically escalates the war in Afghanistan, hardly draws down
in Iraq, breaks his own promise to close Gitmo, and smashes through
the $700 billion mark in military spending for the first time, not even
counting Afghanistan's costs. They ignore his Bush-cloned policies
on state secrets, renditions, executive power and other civil liberties
issues. They forget that Bush's health care bill was far more
socialistic and far more fiscally irresponsible than Obama's, and
that his bail-outs and stimulus actions were almost identical.
So, in short, for Obama to turn to starboard at this point would literally
require him to outflank the GOP to its right. Moreover, the Limbaughs
and Becks and Palins would still excoriate him, no matter what.
Worse still, such policies would only make the lives of ordinary Americans
a lot worse, just as they have been doing for thirty years now.
So what could be gained by a turn to the right?

Second, he could go small-bore,
as Clinton also did in the 1990s. But, of course, these aren't
the 1990s. FDR didn't win four terms during a Great Depression
and a world war by focusing on school uniforms and V-chips. This
is not the 1930s or 1940s, but it's close. People are hurting,
frightened and angry. Obama is suffering badly already because
he is not addressing their very tangible concerns. More of the
same policy-wise will produce more of the same politically. Going
this route, he'd be lucky if the public was kind enough to let him
finish his single term as a James Buchanan wannabe, then go home.

The obvious solution,
of course, would be a sharp turn to the left. Go where the real
solutions are. Fight the good fight. Call liars 'liars'
and thieves 'thieves'. Do the people's business. Become
their advocate against the monsters bleeding them dry. Create
jobs. Build infrastructure. Do real national health care.
End the wars. Dramatically slash military spending. Produce
actual educational reform. Launch a massive green energy/jobs
program. Get serious about global warming. Kick ass on campaign
finance reform. Fight for gay rights. Restore the New Deal
era regulatory framework and expand it. Restore a fair taxation
structure. Rewrite trade agreements that undermine American jobs.
Rebuild unions. Fill the spate of vacancies in the federal judiciary,
and load those seats up with progressives. Rally the public to
demand that Congress act on your agenda. Humiliate the regressives
in and out of the GOP for their abysmal sell-out policies.

All of this could be
done, and most of it would be very popular, especially if it was backed
by an aggressive and righteously angry Oval Office advocate for the
people who knew how to use the bully pulpit to shape the narrative,
to market ideas, and to mobilize public support.

But I doubt Obama has
anything like the constitution for that sort of presidency. I
think his personal disposition is so strongly controlling of his politics
that he would rather preside as a three year lame-duck over a failed
one-term presidency, than actually throw an elbow or two and make anyone
uncomfortable. Think how unpleasant it would be.

Moreover, by blundering
during the only chance he'll ever have at introducing his presidency,
he's now created an additional set of problems for himself which may
well be insurmountable, even if he were to now try to live up to his
campaign billing. He needs Democratic votes in Congress to do
much of anything, but they're all focused on the looming tsunami of
next November. The very same people who might have swallowed hard
and reluctantly followed the lead of inspirational new president Obama
one year ago, today will join everyone else in the world and spit in
the eye of useless, feeble, washed-up Barack. He's got zero
leverage over his own party in Congress now. As for the public,
it's gonna be pretty hard to now market himself as the great enemy
of the people's enemies, when he's just finished a year of making
secret sweetheart deals that benefit Wall Street bankers, health insurance
pirates, and pharmaceutical predators, all while leaving his own base
and the public he's supposed to be serving out in the rain.
Politicians can reinvent themselves, but you need time and there are
certain limits of plausibility that cannot be ignored, any more than
you can ignore the laws of physics.

Of course, I don't
give a shit about Barack Obama anymore, other than my desire that really
ugly things happen to him as payment in kind for the grandest act of
betrayal we've seen since Benedict Arnold did his thing. But
what about the country?

Not so good there, either,
I'm afraid. What happens when you have two parties to choose
from, and one of them wrecks the country with dramatically evil policies
so radical even backward America hates them, but then you turn to the
other party, which spends an entire year on the campaign trail promising
change, only to turn out nearly identical to the first lot when in government?
What do you do?

One option is to find
another party. To some extent that is happening, but absolutely
not where it should be. The tea partyers are the 'alternative'
vision for salvation in today's America. (Very) unfortunately,
they are not alternative in any sense, have almost no coherent vision
whatsoever, and - as the possible third right-wing party for voters
to choose from, out of three, obviously offer zero salvation whatsoever.
All the tea party lunatics seem to know is that they don't like taxes
and they don't like federal spending. But they can't even
tell you what they'd cut if they actually controlled the government.
My guess is that it would be nothing, just like the Republicans before
them, or else they'd slash entitlement spending, which would surely
make them one of the flashiest flashes ever to get royally panned by
the public.

The other option, which
the voters are now exercising, is to continue a process begun in 2006
of voting for the party which is not the party in power. Today,
that means Republicans, as witnessed in Virginia, New Jersey and now
Massachusetts. The absurdity of this, of course, is that it was
these exact same people who created this astonishingly thorough mess
we find ourselves in. What is Mitch McConnell or John Boehner
or Sarah Palin going to do for Americans who don't have jobs?
Cut taxes they no longer pay (and thus also further increase the national
debt, by the way)? What will they do for those same folks who've
lost their health insurance? Kill Democratic plans, even when
they're nothing but corporate giveaways anyhow?

Americans will simply
be more sick, more broke and more unemployed two, four or six years
from now than they are at this moment, if they put the Republicans back
in control of the government.

Of course, there's
one other possibility, which is that this time the Cheney Party goes
balls-to-the-wall, bringing down on our heads a full-on fascist dictatorship,
serving corporate interests in total, and likely launching a couple
of good wars abroad to complement the complete repression of dissent
and freedom of expression at home.

Ridiculous? I try
pretty hard every day - and it takes some work - to keep my most
apocalyptic totalitarian nightmares for this country in check.
But think about this chronological sequence for a second: The
Democrats get killed in November for doing nothing while the public
suffers. But they are still seen as the party in power in 2012,
so they get killed even worse, with Obama sent packing and Palin or
her equivalent moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But the new
radical GOP regime's policies are even more detrimental to voters
than Bush's or Obama's. Maybe the public is distracted for
a year or two by some bullshit foreign policy 'crisis' or another,
but pretty soon they're getting real restless. After about six
years now of suffering badly, they're getting real surly, and 'anti-incumbent'
doesn't begin to describe the mood of the country. Now they
really want some serious change.

Of course, anything can
happen - but which part of that sequence seems improbable? And
if the answer is none, then the salient question becomes: What
does the regime do at that point, faced with an angry mob? What
are the Dick Cheneys and Sarah Palins of this world committed to?
What are they capable of when pressed?

I don't think those
questions really require a response. I think we all know pretty
well the answers.

This is the country that
Obama - the great Hope guy - is bequeathing us.

Dante said "The hottest
places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises
maintain their neutrality".

Better stock up on the
mist sprayers, Barack.

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