Writing in the Washington Post, Milbank dishonestly ponders whether a HRC-led executive would result in different policies and outcomes for America.
As I sat in the East Room last week watching a forlorn President Obama account for his shellacking, I listened with concern as he described the presidency as a "growth process" and suggested that the midterm setback was somehow inevitable. "You know, this is something that I think every president needs to go through," he said.
It brought to mind Hillary Clinton's 3 a.m. phone-call ad from the 2008 campaign, and her withering criticism of Obama: "When there is a crisis . . . there's no time for speeches or on-the-job training." I wondered whether Democrats would be in the fix they're in if they had chosen a different standard-bearer.
Would unemployment have been lower under a President Hillary? Would the Democrats have lost fewer seats on Tuesday? It's impossible to know. But what can be said with confidence is that Clinton's toolkit is a better match for the current set of national woes than they were for 2008, when her support for the Iraq war dominated the campaign.
Great questions, Socrates.
I'm surprised Milbank could pull himself away from the powerful Beltway insiders who whisper sweet nothings in his ear and shower him with gifts.
Greenwald warns us of this class. Milbank. Broder. Kurtz. Timmeh. Tweety. Brooks. Friedman. Chuck Todd. They represent the monied interests and have the audacity to assert they know what Americans want and think. They define what questions are asked and which are never raised. They distract us with their high tech gadgets and incisive commentary on horseraces.
These obsequious, deferential, unimaginative, power-worshiping assholes.
- Bacevich, Washington Rules
As used here, Washington is less a geographic expression than a set of interlocking institutions headed by people who, whether acting officially or unofficially, are able to put a thumb on the helm of state. Washington, in this sense, includes the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government. It encompasses the principal components of the national security state -- the departments of Defense, State, and, more recently, Homeland Security, along with various agencies comprising the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. Its ranks extend to select think tanks and interest groups. Lawyers, lobbyists, fixers, former officials, and retired military officers who still enjoy access are members in good standing. Yet Washington also reaches beyond the Beltway to include big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors and major corporations, television networks and elite publications like the New York Times, even quasi-academic entities like the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. With rare exceptions, acceptance of the Washington rules forms a prerequisite for entry into this world.
In The Limits of Power the scholar-veteran wrote in 2007
[T]o imagine that installing a particular individual in the Oval Office will produce decisive action on any of these fronts is to succumb to the grandest delusion of all. The quadrennial ritual of electing (or relecting) a president is not an exercise in promoting change, regardless of what the candidates may claim and ordinary voters believe. The real aim is to ensure continuity, to keep intact the institutions and arrangements that define present-day Washington. The veterans of past administrations who sign on as campaign advisers are not interested in curbing the bloated powers of the presidency. They want to share in exercising those powers. The retired generals and admirals who line up behind their preferred candidate don't want to dismantle the national security state. They want to preserve it and, if possible, expand it. The candidates who decry the influence of money in national politics are among those most skilled in courting the well-heeled to amass millions in campaign contributions.
No doubt the race for the presidency matters. It just doesn't matter as much as the media's obsessive coverage suggests. Whoever moves into the White House on January 20, 2009, the fundamental problem facing the country -– a yawning disparity between what Americans expect and what they are willing or able to pay -– will remain stubbornly in place. Any presidential initiatives aimed at alleviating the crisis of profligacy, reforming our political system, or devising a more realistic military policy are likely, at best, to have a marginal effect.
Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reigns as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation’s predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to –- depending on partisan affiliation – a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will "change" the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health. Yet to judge by the performance of presidents over the past half century, including both Kennedy and Reagan (whose legacies are far more mixed than their supporters will acknowledge), a citizenry that looks to the White House for deliverance is assured of disappointment.
In 2009, Kevin Baker reminded Obama that politics is a contact sport, and that the oligarchy is no friend to the American people:
Obama will have to directly attack the fortified bastions of the newest "new class"—the makers of the paper economy in which he came of age—if he is to accomplish anything. These interests did not spend fifty years shipping the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world overseas only to be challenged by a newly empowered, green-economy working class. They did not spend much of the past two decades gobbling up previously public sectors such as health care, education, and transportation only to have to compete with a reinvigorated public sector. They mean, even now, to use the bailout to make the government their helpless junior partner, and if they can they will devour every federal dollar available to recoup their own losses, and thereby preclude the use of any monies for the rest of Barack Obama’s splendid vision.
Franklin Roosevelt also took office imagining that he could bring all classes of Americans together in some big, mushy, cooperative scheme. Quickly disabused of this notion, he threw himself into the bumptious give-and-take of practical politics; lying, deceiving, manipulating, arraying one group after another on his side—a transit encapsulated by how, at the end of his first term, his outraged opponents were calling him a "traitor to his class" and he was gleefully inveighing against "economic royalists" and announcing, "They are unanimous in their hatred for me—and I welcome their hatred."
Obama should not deceive himself into thinking that such interest-group politics can be banished any more than can the cycles of Wall Street. It is not too late for him to change direction and seize the radical moment at hand. But for the moment, just like another very good man, Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.
Use the presidency as a bully pulpit. You gotta choose, Barack: the people or the corporations, Main Street or Wall Street. At least get out of the way when citizens' movements organize and get the heavy lifting done.
"If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come, if history were any guide, from the top. It would come through citizen's movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed." - Howard Zinn
Another must-read article comes from Dr. Drew Westen, who predicted last week's Congressional upset:
For his part, from his post-election press conference through his appearance on 60 Minutes through his inexplicable decision to jet off to Asia in a way that seemed to underscore to the American people his disinterest in both their domestic concerns and the feelings they had just expressed at the ballot box, the president once again illustrated three interrelated hallmarks of his presidency: his ability to endorse nearly every side of an issue, his inability or unwillingness to articulate (whether to the American people or perhaps, more importantly, to himself) any governing philosophy or core set of principles that inform his decisions (e.g., a progressive alternative to the Reagan mantra of "government is the problem, not the solution"), and his allergy to leadership, particularly if it means dealing with conflict or aggression from his political opponents. Over the course of the couple of days he stuck around America long enough to take both sides of the issue, President Obama made clear that he will oppose tax cuts for anyone but the middle class but on the other hand might be willing to extend the Bush tax cuts to the rich, perhaps for a couple years. Like his decision a year and a half ago to cut the stimulus and lard it up with tax cuts the prior eight years had proven to be inert in creating jobs -- a decision that just cost Democrats the House, by "proving" to the American people the uselessness of an economic stimulus and of government more generally -- extending the Bush tax cuts to millionaires would be both bad public policy and bad politics, as all available data suggest that any extension of tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires would be deeply unpopular with voters, who expressed more than anything else their angry populism last Tuesday. The president's differing opinions on whether he believes this is a good area for compromise with congressional Republicans was reminiscent of his various speeches on the importance of deficit spending while cutting the deficit, or his major energy speech on why we have to tackle climate change while expanding oil shale (perhaps the dirtiest, most energy-inefficient fuel ever explored), "clean coal" (which sounds great in West Virginia and would be even better if it existed), and offshore oil drilling (not exactly the most prescient moment in a speech made just two weeks before the BP disaster).
Then there was his 60 Minutes interview last night (prerecorded so he could visit Indonesia today), in which he expressed his regret that he and his team were so busy spending money to plug the economic dike that they gave the misimpression that they believed in government spending, when at heart he doesn't really like government all that much, either. In the same interview, when asked about the perception that he's anti-business, he made clear that some regulations are necessary, but they should be made in "collaboration" with the industries that need to be regulated -- a position strongly articulated by his predecessor, who most of us believed we had voted against -- and then proceeded to offer the two most egregious examples he could find, particularly with the swing voters who swung strongly against him and his party this year, namely bankers and health insurance executives. (You can't make this stuff up.) It's a little hard to imagine Franklin Roosevelt speaking of the robber barons of his era in quite such collegial terms. (To be fair, President Obama has said many other things since Tuesday and in his 60 Minutes interview that hit a more responsive chord.)
After watching the returns Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, happy to be in a hotel with a sorely needed mini-bar, I had intended to dissect the president's role in this election upon returning home to write this piece at the end of the week. Then on Friday I received an email from a blogger at the DailyKos, telling me that a piece I had written had just drawn nearly a thousand responses. Wondering if I'd made one too many trips to the mini-bar while away (because I couldn't recall having written anything since a CNN.com op-ed on election night), I checked out the DailyKos to see what he was referring to and found an excerpt and a link to a piece I had published here nearly a year ago. As I read it, I realized it was probably a better postmortem than anything I could write today, for two reasons. First, at the time, it expressed a view many people -- whether toward the center or the left -- were starting to feel but not yet articulating or feeling comfortable articulating in print. Today, as I read it, it almost seems mainstream. Second, it is easy to dismiss a postmortem of an election as post-hoc, written with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. But it's a lot harder to dismiss a postmortem written a year before the election returns, which in American politics is an eternity.