Our first (and probably last) post-politics President

Just when I was beginning to breathe more slowly when thinking about the budget “negotiations” that took place before our eyes, our leader makes an appointment that flies in the face of everything that can be expected from a real political leader.

Maybe I am overreacting because I have still not quite calmed down after watching how our leader has once again achieved a “compromise.” The Republicans were able to walk away with about $5 billion in spending cuts more than their original offer. And all they had to give up was something they could never have gotten if they allowed all hell to break loose. Our President negotiates like the kid with no friends, and the Republicans negotiates like the bully. Our President says: “If I give you all my lunch money, what will you give me?” The bully: “I won’t break your arm. I’ll just punch you a couple of times in the stomach.” Our President: “Well, if that’s the best you can do, okay. It’s not a choice I would have made, but what can I do?”

This paragraph of his speech last Friday sticks in my craw:

Some of the cuts we agreed to will be painful. Programs people rely on will be cut back. Needed infrastructure projects will be delayed. And I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances.

What circumstances is the President blaming? The fact that he was MIA in the negotiations until it had gotten out of control? The fact that he used none of his persuasive powers to make a case for spending? Perhaps, the fact the President had caved on the Bush tax cuts, so that now the Republicans were simply play with house money?

Or maybe he was simply bemoaning the fact that despite his utter failure to even make an attempt to stem the tide, the country just two short years after handing him carte blanche with an overwhelming mandate, was now turning on him, just as he had turned on his promises to them?

To hear him wistfully remark about what he wouldn’t have done if he had a choice — I almost wish he would have manned up and said he approved the whole thing. After all, wasn’t he the one who stuffed his deficit-reduction committee with conservatives (and headed it with a wise-cracking right-winger who had no interest in his policies)? And didn’t his hand-picked advisers advise him to reduce the effective tax on the wealthy while cutting social security benefits and other middle class breaks like the home mortgage interest deduction? Hasn’t everything that’s happened so far been a steady shift in favor of the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class? Has he made even a token effort to explain why this “spending” actually helps people and helps the country?

Yet after his wistful musing on having to yield to the inevitable as though he were a Greek tragic figure, the next day he jogs to the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the fact that his “compromise” kept the government open. As though but for his caving, they would have put a gigantic tarp over Honest Abe. The important thing is that people could go to the Smithsonian on Saturday. The fact that children or old folk will suffer or the crumbling education system of this country will be a tad poorer or roads and bridges and rails will continue to fall apart or scientific research will be scaled back — what possible difference could any of that make?

And the President acts as though he is just a mediator. His job is simply to reign in the “left” and come to a reasonable compromise with the Republicans. The “left” after all is “retarded” as his then chief of staff said (and never recanted). The “left” ought to be drug tested, said his former press secretary. He too had no call to apologize. The President takes no advice from union leadership, the National Urban League, the ADA, serious economic academics like Stiglitz or Krugman (both Nobel economic laureates), but the moment Eric Cantor comes forth with a lunatic, unattainable Hoover-like budget, the President gets to work to match him. We’ll see what nightmares he envisions in a couple of days.

He is the oddest Democratic President since well before Wilson. He has no fixed policy objectives — everything is negotiable. He doesn’t task his cabinet members or top policy aides to go out selling his program, because his program is always able to be trimmed (at the drop of a hat), so how can anyone sell it?

His method of “persuading” people is to attempt to buy them. How do we make sure Big Pharma doesn’t tank the health care bill? We agree to give them all they want, including protection from imports. And then Pharma still balks at the bill.

Does the White House come out with a bill in the first place? Like every other president does? No, because the President wants deniability. So he has Congress draft it. And the public is edified by watching Lieberman, Baucus and Nelson strut about in their 15 minutes of undeserved fame (it was in fact all year long without respite). This allows the President to watch public opinion sour on the whole thing and gives him room to announce that he isn’t wedded to every aspect he campaigned on.

All right, enough of that. We all know his faults. We all have felt betrayed. We are sick to our stomach that he is the only thing that stands between us and a major reactionary dismantling of this country. And we know he doesn’t want our help. What can you do? Sometimes you only have the ability to watch a disaster unfold and buck up the best you can.

That was how I was calming myself until I heard the news. The President is bringing Stanley A. McChrystal back into the fold! McChrystal, the guy who covered up the Tillman case and tried to give a lie to his surviving family. And guess what he is being appointed to. Even the most cynical ironist among you can’t guess. He will be appointed to advise a new national campaign led by First Lady Michelle Obama to help the nation’s troops and their families. Will he be advising her on when it is appropriate to lie to them?

I pass over the fact that McChrystal went public on his demand for troops while the President was conducting a major policy review — a successful gambit which boxed in the President. (Of course all he had to do was ask and our accommodating negotiator would have given him more than he asked for.) And I of course omit discussing that he was fired for insubordination — for talking trash about the civilian leadership that supposedly he reported to. We’ve grown accustomed to the fact that the President will stand up to no one. It will be his undoing in 2012 and in history.

What the President has done today probably isn’t important in the long run. But can you imagine George Washington appointing General Charles Lee to a committee to review staff loyalty? Or Lincoln after 1864 appointing McClellan to a task force to develop strategies for offensive movements of the Army of the Potomac? Or Truman appointing MacArthur to a board recommending policy concerning China and North Korea?

Our President appears ignorant of human nature. He seems uneducated in history. And he is tragically impervious to the advice of those who wanted to help him. It looks like the course he had decided upon is fixed. Whether he is re-elected or not is irrelevant. He has set progressive movements back a generation. He has completed what Carter and Clinton in their bumbling way only started: he’s turned the Democratic Party back into a feeble force standing for nothing.

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