Which Way?

February 10, 2010

in Economics

Today, speaking of the bonuses, Obama says, “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.”

Not that long ago he was calling those bonuses obscene and shameful.

Which is it?

Larry Summers was in full support of anything that the Wall Street casinos wanted. Tuesday he was calling it the “bloated financial system” as he claimed to support Obama’s plan to develop strict regulatory controls.

Which is it?

Larry may have decided it was momentarily more politic to go along after Obama seemed to finally put Volcker in the driver’s seat. It is difficult to credit this apparent 180 from a career dedicated to the complete absence of regulation. It is also difficult to credit Volcker’s advancement absent the firing of Summers and Geithner.

So, Larry’s zig, or zag, is easily understandable. What about Obama’s?

I am beginning to try to apply a combination of psychological and political approaches to the President’s multifarious positions. His oft-stated desire for political comity, i.e., bipartisanship, seems to be more deep-seated than a mere political position.

His approach, however, seems to be to stake out a position on what people usually, superficially refer to as the left, then follow that with a position, equally superficially, referred to a being of the right. Is he hoping that people will average them out? Is he hoping he is defining the range of positions? Neither seems realistic.

Leaders lead. Leaders do that by issuing clear-cut marching orders. Confusion is destructive of effective leadership. The general public needs a slogan. It needs something that fits on a bumper sticker. Complexity lends itself to easy attacks.

We have a perfect example before us. Medicare-For-All is simple, easy to understand. Two thousand pages of intentionally obscure prose meant to hide an even greater ripoff by the health industry has confused the public. Complexity simply offers more targets. It is more difficult, if not impossible, to defend.

Beyond simplicity, the public needs drama. It needs spectacle. Look at what is most successful at the movie theater: car chases, explosions, computer graphics, 3-D. Avatar garnered a “Best Movie” nomination. It did so without accruing a single nomination for any of what are considered to be essential elements of a best movie. Where are its nominations for writing, acting, directing, etc?

Ostentatiously firing Larry, Tiny Tim, Rahm Emanuel and a few others would catch the public’s attention. It would indicate to them an as yet unseen degree of firmness. It would engrave a line in stone, rather than drawing a line in disappearing ink.

Giving Congressional Democrats their marching orders instead of hinting that he might be willing to go with reconciliation or recess appointments, if forced into it, would be dramatic. It would be seen as leadership. People will only follow a leader if they think he is leading. Other politicians and media mavens may find the nuances of congressional maneuvering fascinating. John Q. Citizen does not.

Professors of Constitutional Law can get by without being famous for their leadership skills. Those skills are not requirements for the backbenchers in Congress. They are necessary to command the potential of the bully pulpit. When times are tough, the people become desperate for leadership. That desperation in troubled times explains why the Germans accepted Adolph Schickelgruber. If good men don’t provide the needed leadership, the people will turn to almost anyone claiming to provide it. Have you heard of the Teabaggers?

Leaders also need an enemy. The Republicans are benefiting from the fact that they have identified an enemy. Why are they questioning Obama’s birth certificate? Why are they constantly calling him by the names of past enemies? They are giving their dupes an enemy. Obama needs to give his followers an enemy. He needs to quit trying to bring to the table one or two of those mythical, reasonable Republicans. Declare them the enemy. That should be easy, as they have already self-identified themselves so.

They accuse him of being soft on terror. He could, with greater accuracy, call them soft on the Constitution.

Exhibit a backbone. Give us a bumper sticker. Identify the enemy. Rid himself of the dead weights. Issue a call to arms. He would be pleasantly surprised how much more productive his administration can be.

Let me say that, as a former politician and someone degreed in political science, the above represents what I know to be the reality, the Realpolitik. I wish it were different. I wish the public was politically sophisticated enough to understand the complexities of the issues. I wish they were able to sit back, unemotionally, and evaluate the statements and actions of politicians of all stripes. The problem is that we live in the real world. We rarely get our druthers.

I want our country to succeed. I therefore want Obama to succeed. His presence in the Oval Office has been grounds for hope, hope for change. But, however needful we are of hope, it does not guarantee change. The change has to begin with him. He must change before he can lead the country to the change it needs. Oration is a great tool of leadership but few complex projects require only one tool.

By the way, Obama should have learned enough by now not to throw around the term free market without understanding its meaning. Perhaps, if he replaced his economic team of ideologues, he could find someone to provide the real definition.



Cheryl Simpson Nelson February 12, 2010 at 10:49 am

you guys are either both full of crap or talking over my head. hmmmmm……and I still give our president time. it’s not like he can take the whole wrong of american politics and throw it back in the kiln to start over. he has people all over the place from all parties telling him how wrong he is, how slow he is, how liberal he is, how center he is, how he knows nothing and yet is too intellectual….wow, I just wish America would step back and breathe. step back and grow up a little bit. and to quit over analyzing every damn word he utters. no other president has had to deal with this much technology dissecting every word he says. (did you guys miss me????) πŸ™‚

Crawford February 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

Yes, we missed you.

Ed and I have for years twisted each other’s tail. That’s just our modus vivendi. Don’t waste time trying to understand all of our banter. It rarely deserves attention.

My mother’s cousin was a congressman. His father was a governor and a senator. One grandfather was a sheriff. I started learning politics at an early age and later held office on my own.

As I stated, I want Obama to succeed. He gets the criticism whether I express my thoughts or not. I see my posts as constructive criticism. Also, I see him as a fellow politician and fellow American. I do not see him as a celebrity or saint. I am too old to be in awe of any human being since Sir Isaac Newton.

My comments on leadership represent some hard-won experience. Neither Obama nor I were born with the qualities of leadership. He benefits from a well-developed talent for oratory but needs to understand how to best use that bully pulpit.

Because of the problems he inherited, success on many fronts is absolutely necessary. We cannot afford to squander any opportunity to resolve the problems. They can only be resolved with leadership, certainly not an ephemeral bipartisanship.

On a personal level I am inclined to give him an occasional pass. On a political level we don’t have that luxury.

Ed February 12, 2010 at 11:37 am

We definitely missed you, Cheryl.

As Crawford said most of our back and forth isn’t worthy of deep analysis.

I agree with you that President Obama is getting a lot of criticism, but, in my opinion, it’s not any worse than his predecessor got.

Ed February 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

“Not all of your decisions will be correct. None of us is perfect. But if you get into the habit of making decisions, experience will develop your judgment to a point where more and more of your decisions will be right. After all, it is better to be right 51 percent of the time and get something done, than it is to get nothing done because you fear to reach a decision.”

– H. W. Andrews

Crawford February 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Mr. Andrews is generally correct. One must acknowledge, however, the possibility of one such as the recent, but thankfully, rare leader whose decisions were always wrong.

Ed February 12, 2010 at 8:39 am

Naw, even he wasn’t always wrong.


Crawford February 12, 2010 at 9:55 am

Admittedly, Clinton wasn’t always wrong.

; )

Ed February 11, 2010 at 11:09 am

Some people criticized George W. Bush for having firm beliefs and sticking to them, but at least we knew where George W. stood. Obama promised change. He has delivered change. Nobody knows for sure where he stands on anything.

Crawford February 11, 2010 at 11:22 am

Obama’s is a sin of omission. Bush’s was a sin of commission. There is still a chance that the former can be rectified.

I would prefer that the people led but that is not the world we live in.

Without leadership nothing, good or bad, will be done. And that is always a bad thing.

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