November 03, 2009

I come to praise Obama, not to mess with him

Okay, it's become fashionable to knock the O-Man. Bill Maher is doing it, "liberal" talk radio guys are doing it, Arianna Huffington, you name it. All the fun, in other words, has gone out of the game.

I was an early critic. Partly this is because I pay attention to civil liberties cases and the Bill of Rights, a result of my legal background. Barack has been a train wreck on such matters. He absolutely will not put any distance between himself and Bush on controversies ranging from illegal NSA wiretapping to use of the "state secrets" option of terminating litigation which might reveal embarrassing and/or illegal activity such as rendition and complicity in torture. Something I heard Ed Schultz say on the radio the other day brought to mind a minor suspicion of mine. Ed was opining that the reason Obama is so intent on "bipartisanship" for his health care reform bill is that he just wants to make certain that Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins or someone with an R next to their name is standing in the circle of grinning solons at the signing ceremony. In the same vein, I have thought that the reason Obama absolutely, positively will not allow anything out into the open about Bush's torture regime (forcing all litigants and journalists and legal groups to use FOIA requests [always highly contested by the O Administration] to get anything) is because when all the "living Presidents" gather in the Oval Office for one of those heartwarming moments of camaraderie, Obama does not want a damper on the good times; you know, like a felony indictment of George W. Bush prosecuted by Eric Holder.

President Obama does not believe in transparency any more than did Dick Cheney, although for different reasons. Cheney hid everything so he could stir up trouble; Prez O hides things so everyone can get along. He's in the wrong job for that attitude, but the job remains his. So...what to think?

Well, my legal career has been mostly about helping the underdog, and now Barack is getting a little too much heat, in my opinion. So I rise, sort of, to his defense. We're starting to forget that he did in fact inherit an economic catastrophe, and two unnecessary wars, from the inept, bungling W. Further, Barack really had no time to learn on the job. The country was falling apart when he took the oath, and then the problems accelerated with massive job losses and unprecedented levels of foreclosure and equity losses. Couple these circumstances with the fact that there was nothing in Obama's background which really prepared him for such crisis management, and you begin to understand why he basically froze up and clung to as many advisors and Bush appointees, particularly in the defense and financial fields, as he did. Thus, Gates at defense, Bernanke (a Republican) at the Fed, Geithner (from the New York Fed and a Greenspan acolyte) at Treasury, McChrystal for Afghanistan, Petraeus at CentCom, and holdovers from the Clinton Bubble Era such as Larry Summers. He also added a bunch of Goldman Sachs alumni for key positions in the financial nomenklatura.

A lot of these people were in on the ground floor of the economic catastrophe in the first place; yet, to Barack's mind, at least they knew about the extremely complicated, arcane nature of modern finance - derivatives, securitization, interest rate policy, capitalization of the banks - and they might be able to pull us back from the brink of utter disaster. And this suspicion of his has proved correct, so far. Everyone wanted Obama to be a "populist" from the get-go based on his promises of "Change," but think about it: a radical approach of allowing moral hazard to destroy every large financial institution in the country might be the way to go (empircally), but if he started his Administration on that tack and things went absolutely in the shitter, then the game was up right on Day One.

FDR might have taken such an approach, risks be damned, but his background was as Governor of New York State, which at the time was the most populous and powerful state in the Union. He was used to making big decisions. Barack, on the other hand, was the junior Senator from Illinois who barely spent two years on active duty before hitting the campaign trail for good. What was there in his past that remotely prepared him for Chief Managing Officer of the country? I can appreciate that he had the benefit of many briefings by experts during the campaign, but realistically he did not really know what he was doing last January 21, 2009, when he began making (or allowing others to make) all these momentous decisions.

But no doubt he'll get better. How much better, I don't know, and I doubt that anyone else does either. Everything depends on his qualities as a person. His critics from the liberal side always append the observation that Barack is "brilliant." Here's Bill Maher, just as one example: how

It's still too early to lose hope in a guy as smart and talented as Barack Obama. But I would counsel him to remember: If you're going undercover to infiltrate how Washington works, so you become one of them for a while, to gain their confidence, well, it can be just like all those movies where a cop goes deep, deep, DEEP undercover with drug people and -- f***, he's a drug addict, too! ...Logic tells me that really smart guys like Obama and Rahm Emanuel know better what they're doing than I do.

How do we really know that he's "really smart?" We don't, actually. He may in fact be, but that's a different matter. There's no question he ran a disciplined, highly effective campaign, and his managers were among the first to understand that the electronic media had become essential to success (unlike the Luddite McCain campaign). Barack displayed enormous talent in giving speeches, but so did Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Still, there's an element of reverse racism in all this confident adulation of Obama's intellect; white critics routinely called Bush a moron, but this remains such a race-conscious country that Obama's intellectual capacities cannot be the basis of criticism among his liberal detractors. So they've settled on this "timidity" and "conflict-adverse" meme as the basis of their comments.

As I say, I just don't know. When he speaks off the cuff, it sounds okay - not blindingly brilliant, by any means, but compared to Bush, of course, he sounds like Winston Churchill. He doesn't make up new words not found in any dictionary and he can get from one end of a sentence to the other without making ten or eleven grammatical and syntactical errors. Hey, we'll take it.

He's going to be the President for at least three more years, so I'm hoping he gets better with the passage of time. Naturally, since I'm a patriot. Most of the time, I fear, he will be struggling with an economy mired in a semi-Depression, but better Obama at the controls than Bush (or McCain). He inherited a country in serious decline. At least he understands the need for Change; he just needs to implement it.

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