Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

The Shape of Things

Friday, 19 May 2017

There is a stock formula for political action that says that If the state may X for Y, then the state may X for Z! Usually, the state is euphemistically called we; sometimes the person using the formula is instead honest enough instead to say the government.

Often, the X refers to spending. (Taxation is then only mentioned when the spending immediately involves continuation of a tax that was supposed to be temporary.) For example, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, after the Paris Peace Treaty of the Viet-Nam War, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the claims were that, since the United States could previously afford to spend as much money as it had on the military, now it could afford to spend that much money on expansion or introduction of welfare programmes of various sorts. However, sometimes there has been a different X. For example, within the movie Scarface (1932), it is declared that if the Governor of Oklahoma could declare military law to cartelize the petroleum industry forcibly, then military law could be used to effect extensive gun control through-out the nation.

There has been rather a lot of talk, since even before he took office, to the effect that Donald Joseph Trump were a dictator. I don’t think that it’s necessarily unreasonable to assert that he were just that, though he took office with exactly the powers that he’d inheritted from his immediate predecessor, which is to say that if President Trump were a dictator then so were President Obama. The Office of the President has become increasingly powerful over time, with each strong President picking-up where the last one left-off, and adding to the power of the Office, establishing precedents which the other branches have seldom effectively undone. But, whether the refrain is technically correct or not, it is that President Trump be a dictator. If Trump should leave office before the end of his term, then the refrain will become that President Michael Richard Pence were a dictator, as quite possibly he might be.

And if-and-when the Democrats retake the White House, the formula that I noted above will be used. It will more specifically be of the form If we could have a dictator who did Y, then we can have a dictator who does Z! where Y will correspond to the policies and programmes of the Trump or Pence Administration as refracted through the progressive lens, and Z will correspond to progressive policies and programmes, described in terms of their presumed outcomes. This formula will not be used much if at all before the General Election, but it will be used gleefully and self-righteously beginning on the very next day.

(I think it grossly implausible that the Republicans should hold the White House indefinitely; but the public is ever more disgusted with the results of a two-party system, so a Republican loss is not inevitably a Democratic victory.)


Monday, 14 November 2016

A few years ago, in the title of an entry discussing the implications for the world of the failing health of Hugo Chávez, I alluded to a motto that ends leave a beautiful corpse[1]. That entry considered an observed practice:

When a charismatic leader dies aburptly while still in power, his or her supporters quickly begin building a mythology of what would have been accomplished had he or she lived.

I drew attention to how this mythologizing bears upon social policy:

The mythological episode of such leadership is treated as having the same standing for purposes of comparison as does historical fact. When an opponent tries to construct an argument founded on logic and general fact against policies associated with that leader, supporters treat the mythology as if it is a disproof by counter-example. What’s really happening then is that Faith is being mistaken for empirical data.

While death significantly amplifies the power of the mythologizing of a leader who was not given full opportunity to effect the programmes that he or she chose, death isn’t essential for there to be some mythologizing; I noted that there was a developing narrative of what President Obama would have done had his party retained a majority in both chambers of Congress for the whole of his terms.

As it happens, charisma is also inessential, though it very much helps. And an odd substitute for direct charisma has been demonstrated. Barack Obama inflamed so much inverted narcissism on the part of his followers that a great many of them chose to treat his successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as if she were magnificent though she is signally lacking in charisma.

At the same time, her health is failing her, and had she been elected to the Presidency, she would not likely have served through a full term. There would have been an odd sort of race between how rapidly she did things that repelled those who had been her supporters, and when she left office. Depending upon the outcome of that race, she might have left a beautiful corpse.

But Ms Clinton has lost the race for Presidential Electors. Although a few of her supporters cling to an implausible hope that the Electoral College will not merely turn its back on the detestable Donald John Trump but will elect Clinton (as opposed to some Republican other than Trump), she will not be President. And the mythologizing is already under-way, even to the level of having Ms Clinton imagined as rather prettier than she is. [image of Kathryn McKinnon Berthold in the rôle of Hillary Rodham Clinton, singing 'Hallelujah']

One does not have to regard Mr Trump as even tolerable to resist the mythologizing and to see Ms Clinton for what she has been. She has repeatedly been one of the people causing the United States military to engage in the slaughter of innocent people, for stated goals that haven’t been obtained because they haven’t been obtainable. She has engaged in calculated support of domestic policies such as the War of Drugs and aggressive incarceration policies that have literally led to many thousands of deaths and to the ruin of many thousands of other lives. She and her husband have got rich exactly as brokers of political influence. She has privately spoken against some policies as corrosive while publicly supporting them — or vice versa — depending upon the expected flow of dollars and of votes. She has casually disregarded laws, in the expectation (thus far vindicated) that her connections will insulate her from being charged, let alone convicted.

If Ms Clinton is to be made into a beautiful corpse, it is rather fitting that this transformation be effected while she is undead.

[1] In full, the motto is Live fast; die young; leave a beautiful corpse. It is an elaboration of an earlier motto of live fast and die young. A popular variant is Live fast; die young; leave a good-looking corpse.

Theatre of the Absurd

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

It is often asserted that the current President runs a continuous campaign; that, even now, when he can no longer be reëlected nor get a Congress more to his liking before his Administration ends, he campaigns.

Well, more generally, his Administration has been theatre. The apparent campaigning is a manifestation of that. And to-day I read that he has produced a trailer for his up-coming State of the Union Address. A trailer. It makes perfect sense, because the Address is theatre. It has long been theatre, but he does theatre as did no President before him.

He’s been concerned to posture and to act in ways that he expects to be made to look good by to-day’s mainstream media and by that bloc of historians who decided, even before he took office, that they would depict his Administration favorably almost without regard to whatever he ended-up doing.

The recent climate accord, for which there was so much build-up and from which nothing came but loose and unenforceable promises, was theatre. The negotiations with Iran, in which many meetings were held to agree that the United States would throw up its hands (something that it could more simply have done unilaterally) were theatre.

Even the Affordable Care Act has become theatre. As costs spiral out of control it approaches its implosion, but it will be portrayed as a Noble Effort, ruined by Republicans and by the inherent wickedness of market forces.

And it was theatre when the man who has killed so many children with his drone strikes wept for the murdered children of Sandy Hook.

Theatre. The cost of the ticket is very high.

It's All in the Timing

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Administration has timed its decision on what sort of immigration reform to implement by Executive Decree so that the President can be informed by whatever occurs on 11 September. Any considered reforms that would, in light of 11 September, seem foolish to the voting public will be shelved. If nothing happens domestically, then the President will feel that he has a freer hand.

Hark! Hark! The Pols Do Snark!

Monday, 10 September 2012

And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.

A decade is of course a period of ten years, so that decades would refer to twenty or more years. Now, perhaps President Obama was allowing that problems had continued to build-up during his term, though it would seem more likely that he meant to refer to twenty or more years before he took office; but, in any case, he must have been referring to a period that began no later than 1992.

I’m not seen the main-stream of the media nor the right-wing alternative take note of the implication here. President Obama has once again given part of the blame for the present economic situation to the 1993–2001 Administration of President Clinton.

During the 2008 campaign, I noted

There had been a sort of forced nostalgia for Bill Clinton, but once Obama came over the horizon, Democrats became more willing to look critically at Clinton and at his Presidency;

The base of the Democratic Party were imagining Barack Obama as a leader who would show, after all, that Clinton had been mistaken to declare The era of big government is over, that instead a considerably more humane nation and world could be shaped by extending still further the sort of management by the state of economic resources which had characterized the New Deal and the Great Society. As a candidate, Mr Obama had even at one point gone so far as to assert that some of the foundations of economic problems in 2008 had been laid by the Clinton Administration (though Mr Obama quickly retreated from that claim in the face of outrage from the Clinton camp).

But as the economic crisis continued through the Administration of President Obama, there has been a return to that forced nostalgia, noting of course that President Clinton were a Democrat, and not paying a great deal of attention to what had determined his policies.

(Mr Clinton ran as a New Democrat — one with a more skeptical eye towards state intervention. But, once elected, he tacked to the left. One of the political results was that the Democratic Party lost control of Congress in the next mid-term elections. It was after these losses that President Clinton gave the speech in which he declared the death of big government. For the most part, he thereäfter chose his policies by discerning where things were going, and running out in front, pretending thus to lead. One notable exception to this approach was in his support for adjustive discrimination (affirmative action), which appears to be something to which he had a genuine commitment.)

For his part, Former President Clinton has been glad to be called for help. William Jefferson Clinton enjoys the game of politics. He enjoys playing the game. He enjoys demonstrating, to those who can see what he does for what it is, how good he is at it. He very much enjoys coming to the rescue of Barack Obama, as proof that Mr Clinton is better at this game than is Mr Obama. Mr Clinton has not forgot that the Obama campaign and its allies treated the Clintons as, well, Republicans during the 2008 race; that Mr Obama took the nomination from Hillary Clinton; nor that episode of laying some of the blame for the economic crisis on Mr Clinton’s door-step.

Mr Obama recognizes this motivation, and would resent his dependence upon Mr Clinton’s greater present popularity even were Mr Clinton not seeking to rub Mr Obama’s nose in it. And, while part of his reference to challenges that have built up over decades was simply because challenges that have built up over the previous eight years doesn’t sound nearly so persuasive, there was a deliberate slap at Mr Clinton there. Mr Obama had already got a speech out of Mr Clinton, who would be unlikely to try, somehow, to take it back. And it wasn’t Mr Clinton’s best effort anyway.

On the other hand, as the Woman of Interest noted when I was talking about this slap, Mr Clinton may be many things, but he is not too stupid to see that what Mr Obama did. So it’s not likely that there will be much more help from Mr Clinton, without some sort of profound obeisance from Mr Obama. Barack Hussein Obama may come to regret his act of petulence.

Losing Their Religion

Monday, 8 August 2011

By some time in the mid-’90s, much of the New Deal coälition — the main-stream of America’s political left and the base of its Democratic Party — had largely ceased to believe.

It was hard to see its positive programmes as successes. Keynesianism as it was then understood in America had led to stagflation in the ’70s. Programmes intended to lift people from poverty had instead creäted a permanent under-class, of disintegrated families. Nearly everyone was beginning to understand that Social Security was a pyramid scheme of some sort. And the increasing intrusions of the state that were intrinsic to these programmes put the lie to any claim that the center left had much concern for individual liberty.

The main-stream of the media had increasingly aligned itself with the left, and had grossly over-played its hand, which brought disrepute upon both.

Meanwhile, a cluster of ideologies known jointly as conservative were drawing upon various sorts of economic and moral arguments (largely cribbed from libertarians) for reduced state control of the economy, some of which arguments were quite difficult to meet.

Then the Soviet Bloc collapsed. Most Americans on the left had abhorred various aspects of those states, but had also seen those states as concrete proof of the practical viability of extensive state control of national economies. And, even as the left tried to turn hopefully to the Swedish model, the political system in Sweden began to unwind that model. Uncertainty developed over whether much if any degree of state intervention were sustainable over the long run.

It wasn’t that most or all of the left converted to a rival position. They didn’t become conservatives; they didn’t become libertarians. They still wanted to believe in the New Deal, in the New Frontier (rather imperfectly remembered!), in the Great Society; they just really didn’t. (Some would haul-out the Call to tell themselves other-wise, attempting to build conviction with a chant.) Many of them did switch their foci from supporting extensive state intervention on behalf of human welfare to supporting extensive state intervention on behalf of environmental protection; this allowed them to keep pushing for the same institution (the state) to be directed against many of the same enemies, but now the talk was of life-boat scenarios, rather than of promoting general affluence.

But, in 2008, the American political left again believed.

The ground-work for that resurgent belief had been laid by Republicans, especially by those in Congress from 2001 to 2006, and by the Presidential Administration of George Walker Bush. They had promoted dramatic deficit spending, greatly expanded the intrusions of the state into the every-day lives of Americans, and taken the United States into two wars, each of which they grossly mismanaged. They had also partnered with Congressional Democrats in what amounted to an extensive corrupting of financial markets, which led to a collapse while Republicans held the White House and had majorities in both Houses of Congress. And since the Republicans had styled themselves as conservatives and believers in market economics while doing these things, it was easy for the left to see this wave of disasters as a refutation both of conservatism and of reliance upon unregulated markets. That, however, is still essentially negative — less a certainty of the left that they were right than that their opponents were wrong.

Belief returned with Barack Hussein Obama. That was why he, and not one of the other Democratic candidates, got the Presidential nomination; that was why he scared the Hell out of so many with firm precepts in opposition to those of the left. Obama conveyed himself in a manner that people associate with intelligence, with alertness, with education, and with good judgment. And, while as a candidate he was deliberately vague about much of what he would seek as President, he postured as if it would be those things to which all reasonable people agreed. His ambiguity allowed people of various ideologies to see in him what they wanted to see in him (thus making him electable), but it was easiest of all to see him as resuming the project of the New Deal coälition, especially as he described what seemed just that when he was more forth-coming. For such a man to act as if he believed made it again possible for them to believe.

The belief of the left didn’t subsequently develop more to sustain it beyond this cult of personality. And belief on the left in Barack Hussein Obama has been dying. Where policy has been at his discretion, he has often not done what he promised them and the nation that he would do. Where the left has seen a need to fight or an opportunity to crush their opponents, he has often seemed in the eyes of the left to fold. And often they must choose between admitting that their policies are simply mistaken, or asserting that the Administration didn’t, after all, effect those policies. (For example, that it wasn’t sufficiently aggressive.)

So we are sliding back towards a state-of-affairs where the left does not believe. It does not seem plausible to me that Obama’s reputation could be rescued except perhaps by his premature death, and the experience with Obama has, for the time being, inoculated people against the effects of a similar personality.

I cannot help but wish, vainly, that those on the left would do better this time than to dig-in and wait for their belief to be restored.

The Colossus Grows Old

Friday, 30 April 2010

It’s easy to state the position of most Republicans on the issue of immigration:

  • They want the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants to go or be sent out of the country (presumably back to their home countries).
  • Thereäfter, they want future entry to be determined by some notion of the general interests of those who are already citizens.

It is harder to state plainly what practical policies most Democrats want.

As a practical matter, open borders cannot be reconciled with access to state subsidies of services such as education and health-care, let alone to a more general dole; there simply isn’t and wouldn’t be enough wealth within the United States. One possible resolution is to allow anyone entry, but to deny entrants any state subsidies; they or private charity would have to pay for everything. This resolution would not satisfy those who have further objections to immigration, but it is in any case a non-starter; when constituent states have tried to limit unauthorized immigrants to emergency services, the mainstream of left-wing activists has denounced the restrictions as racist violations of fundamental human rights, and courts have sided with those activists.

A large number of Mexican-Americans would like other Mexicans to be able to come here fairly freely; fewer would extend such welcome to the entirety of Latin America, and far fewer Hispanic-Americans would embrace such freedom for Asians and for Africans. I doubt that most Hispanic-Americans would appreciate a wave of Eastern Europeans.

(By giving preference to those who already have family members in the United States, present immigration law is designed to mollify both the my people but not those people crowd and those who don’t want to compete against immigrant workers. It is much easier to get admittance for a grandmother as such than for an engineer as such.)

Many activists would like an amnesty for those presently in the United States in violation of immigration law. Opponents note that an amnesty now would raise hopes for another later, increasing the incentives for unauthorized immigration; and there is an obvious question of how (if at all) to compensate those who queued legally while recipients of the amnesty entered without authorization. Some critics insist that there would be a significant increase in other sorts of law-breaking, should punishment be waived for unauthorized entry. And, in the absence of an over-haul of entitlement programmes, any amnesty would significantly increase access to state subsidies, in an era where some constituent states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the Federal government is running unsustainable deficits, and a majority of Americans already believe themselves to be over-taxed. Little-if-any response to these objections has come from the Democratic coälition; indeed, many activists on the left explicitly assert a need to give unauthorized immigrants greater access to entitlement programmes.

The President’s style of leadership concerning major issues has been to propose rather vague and general objectives, then leave it to the Democratic Congressional leadership to actually formulate practical proposals. He’s been pressed to do more than hand-waving on immigration, but he has nothing to say. His supporters cannot hold together and be honest with each other. Many of them cannot even be honest with themselves. And they cannot be honest with the rest of America. Small wonder, then, that the President flinched. (Yet I admit to being momentarily taken-aback when I read what he had said.)

(My own position isn’t at all popular either, but it is consistent and I can be honest about it. It’s the aforementioned non-starter. I believe that anyone who is not shown to be a criminal should be permitted entry to the United States, but should be denied all net state-subsidies. I’d run an electrolytic current through the Colossus, so that she shined like a new penny.)

…and this is now

Monday, 15 March 2010
President Obama backs DNA test in arrests by Josh Gerstein on 9 March 2001 at Politico

In an interview aired Saturday on America’s Most Wanted, Obama expressed strong agreement as host John Walsh extolled the virtues of collecting DNA at the time of an arrest and putting it into a single, national database.


It’s the right thing to do, Obama replied. This is where the national registry becomes so important, because what you have is individual states — they may have a database, but if they’re not sharing it with the state next door, you’ve got a guy from Illinois driving over into Indiana, and they’re not talking to each other.

There’s a saying that reäctions depend upon whose ox gets gored, but they also depend upon whose bull does the goring. Had such a programme been suggested by a high-ranking member of the previous Administration, the main-stream media would have directed considerable attention to it and to objections. There are people who will be quite silent now, or will even defend the proposal, who made a habit of furiously denouncing that previous Administration for the mere possibility that it might do such things when third parties suggested that they would.

A Rising Tide to Sink His Boat

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Gallup Organization has acknowledged that the President’s disapproval rating and approval rating are now matched, at 47%. I am highly skeptical that it took until now for that to happen.

[Correction and Up-Date (2010:01/24): It seems that initial reports were slightly off, that Gallup reported a 48% approval level and 47% disapproval level. And to-day they report both as simultaneously holding steady, skating against each other. (2010:01/25): Well, no, the Gallup Orgainzation indeed had them equal in their report for 20-22 Jan; then they showed his approval rating ticking up to 48% while the disapproval rating held steady.]

The Financial Times explains that things are almost certainly going to become more awkward for the President. The Republicans smell blood; moderate Democrats feel more free (or obliged) to say no. The Secretary of the Treasury is enmeshed in scandal over his actions when with the Federal Reserve; the Chairman of the Fed may not have the votes for reconfirmation.

I’d note other things. Unemployment has stayed high; some of the President’s defenders say that there isn’t much that he can do about that, but he and his party hugely increased the deficit on the claim that they could, with few people now believing that the money were well spent. The American automotive manufacturing industry has no real prospects for long-term health. The two wars that so many voters expected to be neatly or quickly resolved (one of which Obama said must be fought to victory) are still grinding-up American soldiers. Russia and China want Iran to continue to be a problem. The Guantanamo naval prison is still unclosed, and the ACLU has denounced the plan to continue holding prisoners without trial once they are relocated. Skepticism about anthropogenic climate change is growing, and supposed points of no return have been passed. The world still treats America with disdain, and much of it is on the cusp of telling us that Obama is a failure or that he’s better than we deserve or both.

It is very likely that the Gallup Organization will one day report that this President’s disapproval rating has passed 50%.

Lies, Damn'd Lies, Statistics, and…

Sunday, 29 November 2009

In my previous entry, I noted that, as the Gallup report of the President’s approval rating approached 50% from above, there was an asymmetry in its perturbations, that it skated the 50% line, without blipping below it, for an extended interval. And I noted that, as the disapproval rating approached the approval rating from below, it tentatively seemed to be displaying a complementary asymmetry, plateauing when it might be expected to rise further.

Indeed, that reported plateau was stretched for a full week. If you’ll look at the previous reported figures for the disapproval rating, you’ll see nothing like it.