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My entry into the Obama wars is two similes: an acorn and a hand grenade.  Both are capable of great change.  I am not trying to suggest that one is superior to the other.  And it just may be that our moment needs a hand grenade--because of the environmental and economic cross roads at which we find ourselves.  

But that said, I believe we have elected an acorn.  Below I'll explain my logic a little bit.

If Obama is indeed an acorn, then that means we ought to recognize that his approach is a model for great change.  If so, we might err on the side of being a little slower to call him a sell out, of being a little more patient.  But acorn or not, it does not mean that we ought to cease debating his actions, criticizing him where appropriate, and using this community's means to move him to the left.  Even "acorns" make mistakes.  Heck, a lot of mistakes.  After all: acorn and hand grenade are not evaluative terms, they're simply similes to think about strategy.  

A lot of people were impatient with Obama for failing to end the ban on out gay men and lesbians in the military by executive order, when he could not do that.  (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an act of Congress and had to be repealed by Congress, or invalidated by the courts.)  Others were angry with the Obama Administration for defending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in court.  Why did he defend it?  It’s at least possible that Obama understood that ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by a court decision might have to further appeals to the Supreme Court (and so be messy and protracted, and really: who trusts this Court to do the right thing?) and that national policy created by Judicial decision always feels a little less valid than law passed by Congress—especially when that law is passed through a bipartisan coalition.  

So?  He pursued the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the slow way: by working with the military brass, setting up their survey and report, applying behind-the-scenes pressure to Senators and satisfying Republican demands that the tax bill be handled first.  The result is a solid repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Obama’s slow process will make the integration of the armed forces as easy as it could be; there will be as little backlash in the military and in the country as a whole, as possible.  Yes: it took patience.  But he made change it in the way that is most likely to stick, and in the way that would be palatable to most Americans.  

And on to the taxes?  Well, I don’t like the idea of giving the wealthiest Americans a tax break, not one bit.  Giving them an extra tax break—since they would have already gotten one on the portion of their income that was below $250,000 per year.  But rather than see Obama as selling out on this issue, once could also see that as: 1) horse trading that allowed him to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and unemployment; and 2) a kind of doubling down.  

How so?  Well, the two-year time frame at least suggests the possibility that Obama will run hard on not renewing these tax rates in 2012, knowing that no Republican candidate can run on that.  (No Republican candidate can run on raising taxes of any kind.)  So people talk about Obama selling out on taxing the highest income.  I think it’s also possible he’s upping the stakes: making it central to the 2012 campaign, knowing the Republicans can only sit on one side of this issue.

I think the health-care debate can be seen in the same way.   We all know the health care bill did not contain a public option—and many, including myself, would have wished to see one.  It is possible that such a bill might not have gotten through Congress.  I don’t know; I’ve read a lot of debate on this website about it, and I guess I just don’t know.  But what I suspect: that would have been a more contentious, harder vote—would have made the new law even more challenging to the status quo.  And it just might be that Obama recognized that the principals established in that law would be enough  to completely change our healthcare system over the next decades.  How will the principal of universal-care change America?  I don’t know: but clearly we’re going to be moving closer and closer to public option type situations in individual states, and with the increase in funding to community health care centers.

On April 4, 2008 (the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King) then Senator Barack Obama, quoted the line:

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

Well, the arc of the political fortunes of this country are long, too.  And maybe, with the right governing now, they can bend toward the left.  I think one thing that differentiates Obama from the previous administration—and even previous administrations (I’m including Clinton, here)—is his willingness to be patient, to take short-term loses if he believes they make long-term gains more likely—even long-term beyond the years of his Presidency (2016).  

This strategy is not suited to the media of our age, especially the blogosphere, which fosters our impatience, our need for instant gratification in politics as in everything else.  The next thing, and the next, and the next. . . .  And I’m not saying those who are disappointed with Obama don’t have a right to be, or that they are acting unreasonably.  (The “pony” argument.)  I feel the disappointment myself, too, though I’m not yet convinced that my visceral reaction is the correct one, the most useful one.

What I am suggesting is that Obama’s kind of revolutionary Presidency (perhaps even his explicit vision of a revolutionary Presidency) is closer to an acorn than a hand grenade.  

Granted, our government feels like it needs a hand grenade: something to explode the current landscape, to leave blast marks and destroy the manifest corruption of our system.  But an acorn is powerful, too: you have to wait a few decades.  Eventually, its roots will uproot sidewalks and roads: it will create a huge, immobile structure right where it landed.  Maybe the healthcare bill and the passing of the principal of universal coverage is an acorn.  Maybe the money for renewable energy in the Stimulus Bill, the increased CAFE standards and the EPA authority to regulate carbon will be.

Furthermore, I don’t think the American people could take a “hand grenade” approach from an African American.  So many of us Americans—God help me, my own parents—are ready to resist this President because of the color of his skin.  If Obama is going to create radical change and bring the American people with him, he needs to use the acorn approach.

One last thought: maybe I’m giving Obama the benefit of too many doubts.  And I suspect I’m exposing a lot of my ignorance, too.  BUT I’m a Democrat, and I’m proud to be a Democrat, and I give members of my party the benefit of the doubt wherever I can.  At this point, I can still do that for Obama.  There have been some painful compromises, sure, but also some significant steps in the correct direction.

My cynicisim?  My trigger-finger suspicion and dismissal?  I save that for the other party.

Thanks for reading (if anyone has).

Originally posted to claytonben on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 09:43 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (19+ / 0-)

    http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Benjamin%20Gross berg&page=1

    by claytonben on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 09:43:36 PM PST

    •  tipped & recommended (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ORDem

      i hope you're right.  s.

      the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity --w.b.yeats the second coming

      by synth on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:14:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  the healthcare debate at kos comes down to (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ORDem, StepLeftStepForward

      they didnt have 51 votes to do it thru reconciliation, and there wasnt 60 votes for cloture.

      and those who say that just counting the votes is Obamas style and say that there are other ways, arm twisting, threats, etc. You know stuff FDR and LBJ did.

      But then I hear that FDR had a supermajority, but in the 73rd congress, FDR had 59 dem  senators, 96 senators back then, no Hawaii and ALaska, so 2/3rds for cloture, I think thats 64 senators.

      So you see claytonben, I can totally respect your diary, you've made your case. done so without going over the top, a careful approach, you've made your case and done so well. Thank you.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:39:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  heh, i thought your title referred to... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mwm341

      .... the difference between progressives who throw proverbial acorns (responsible critics) and those who throw proverbial hand grenades (and also shoot themselves in their feet).  

    •  Good analogy. I agree. (0+ / 0-)
  •  No, I just don't believe it about the taxes. (3+ / 0-)

    The deficit is being used as the excuse to gut Social Security and Medicare.

    Obama is changing our country in fundamental ways, but it's the opposite of the fundamental change I wanted.

  •  I'll make it even simpler. (5+ / 0-)

    Show me another person in America who could have gotten elected and would have delivered more in a similar time frame.

    You can't.  

    Complaining on the internet is not dissent.

    by snout on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:12:24 PM PST

  •  I disagree with a lot of this... (8+ / 0-)

    ...but the straightforward, easy-going presentation deserves a tip.

    This, however, is not going to happen:

    And maybe, with the right governing now, they can bend toward the left.

    That is one of the key problems with President Obama's approach. It doesn't see our right-wing foes for what they are: dead-enders. They will take every compromise they can get and still keep hacking away at their agenda, which is to destroy the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society and continue to do all in their power to block advances in social and economic justice. You can't negotiate with that. Well, you can, but you'll lose when you do.

    Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:19:03 PM PST

    •  likewise (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, happymisanthropy

      I admire what is something of a new analysis.

      However, what I object to is that Obama is no acorn.

      I would say an acorn would put our the beginnings of roots of change, by laying down clear moral arguments for a vision of a cohesive society that leaves none of its own behind, that creates its own small-d democratic social justice and environmental sustainability.

      These visions are moral imperatives of our age, and an acorn would lay down the foundations for growth and change that would take place long after Obama's second term is over.  An acorn lays out the argument and fights battles, even if they are impossible to win now

      To quote Margaret Thatcher, "first win the argument, then win the election"  An acorn, by putting forth the vision clearly would set the markers that will eventually win the argument, the way Reagan did, sowing the seeds for decades of change.  An acorn does not expect to win every battle.

      Obama instead, seems focused on the incremental creep, head down, with no apparent focus on the direction in which he heads.  He lays out no grand vision now, in what is the sharpest departure from Obama the candidate.  Alas, he may get some achievements now, but by failing to shape the argument, much as Clinton failed to, his accomplishments will not outlast his presidency.  No acorn this, for his roots or shallow.  More like a weed, which accomplishes much quickly, but of which not much endures.  A few seeds perhaps will survive to try again the following year.

      Still, tipped for sure, for a markedly calm analysis and an attempt to bring a new frame for the problem I think we are all trying to solve:  how to bring ourselves to unity.

      Thank you!

      Too far left to be part of the base anymore.

      by Guinho on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:59:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  There isn't any other choice, though (0+ / 0-)

      No legislation will be passed without such negotiation, because some Republican votes are required.

      We're stuck with the Congress we have, not the Congress we wish for.

  •  Yup. Post presidency analysis will vindicate this (3+ / 0-)

    one thing that differentiates Obama from the previous administration—and even previous administrations (I’m including Clinton, here)—is his willingness to be patient, to take short-term loses if he believes they make long-term gains more likely—even long-term beyond the years of his Presidency (2016).  

    Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. Boy, did that greek geek nail it.

    by amk for obama on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 10:34:45 PM PST

  •  speaking of acorns (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kalmoth, mightymouse

    does your metaphor take into account that 99% of them are eaten by squirrels and other animals?

    Candidate Obama was right: When both parties serve the same side in the class war, voters may as well cling to guns and religion. Bitter since 2010.

    by happymisanthropy on Mon Dec 20, 2010 at 11:35:00 PM PST

  •  An oak produces many, many acorns (0+ / 0-)

    Only a few of these acorns become trees.

  •  If he is an acorn, working for long-term change (0+ / 0-)

    one thing I would expect is a new story for America. As Reagan and the conservatives had a story that fit the generational-scale change they brought, Obama should too, if he is indeed a change agent.

    What is the new story? And where has he broadcast it?

    Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado - Hector LaVoe

    by mightymouse on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 05:30:12 AM PST

    •  Well: that's my point. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elmo

      Acorn stories take a while to grow.  

      You will get a new story . . . but it will evolve slowly and (eventually) be an oak.

      Very different than a bomb blast story.

      http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Benjamin%20Gross berg&page=1

      by claytonben on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 05:42:01 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  So far he is using the old stories (0+ / 0-)

        is my problem - "belt-tightening," "tax and spend liberal," "growth through tax cuts," etc. And old story-tellers, Larry Summers pre-eminent among them.

        it leads one to conclude he is not a change agent, neither acorn nor hand grenade.

        if I heard a consistent economic vision at odds with the DC neo-liberal consensus, I would revise that conclusion.

        Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado - Hector LaVoe

        by mightymouse on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 06:10:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You may be right. I hope not, though. [eom] (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mightymouse

          http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Benjamin%20Gross berg&page=1

          by claytonben on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 06:24:21 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I hope not too. (0+ / 0-)

            Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado - Hector LaVoe

            by mightymouse on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 07:04:42 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  one more comment if I may (0+ / 0-)

            as a poet you are sensitive to symbolism, metaphor .... the problem with the acorn is time. If indeed Obama is the acorn, he was a bad choice, because we don't have Oak Tree time.

            My folks in Baltimore had White Oak (quercus alba) trees in the yard that were magnificent. They must have been over 200 years old. Fortunately when they developed their neighborhood they did not remove all the trees.

            That is still my favorite kind of tree.

            But they take so long to grow. An  acorn may wait a year or two to sprout, then it is a tiny plant for a few years, then a sapling among many others for several more, and so on. Not till it is 30-50 years old it is a real player in the forest. And not until another hundred does it acquire its majesty and stature.

            I don't think we have that kind of time, frankly. Plus it is so vulnerable in its youth (that lasts for decades).

            Thanks however for being a good sport and bringing up the topic of Oaks.

            Te conozco bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazado - Hector LaVoe

            by mightymouse on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 07:30:14 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mightymouse

              I began this diary by saying that this may be a moment when a hand grenade is necessary, so I have that question, too.

              But that said, I'm not sure there were any "hand grenades" among the crop of Democratic candidates.  

              Still, better an acorn (who envisions radical change, if slowly) than someone who is essentially conservative (resisting change or seeking to minimize it).  

              Maybe it's our job on the left to push Obama toward moving faster than his vision makes him likely to.  

              http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Benjamin%20Gross berg&page=1

              by claytonben on Tue Dec 21, 2010 at 08:25:39 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

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