"11-Dimensional Chess" is the derisive term used against those defending Obama on pragmatic grouds. The defense is that Obama is doing the best he can in difficult times, conceding ground when he must in order to further long-term progressive goals. Republicans control the House or have a Senate veto, so he must compromise to get bills passed. Furthermore, he had to get elected, and must get reelected, so he must make certain statements that appear more centrist than he really is. Critics call this the 11-dimensional chess defense: Obama may appear to be capitulating, but this is all just part of a super-elaborate, secret strategy to better achieve truly liberal ends, a strategy which we mere peons cannot hope to comprehend. The weakness of this critique is that it presents a poor account of why, then, Obama makes the concessions that he does.
Thinking about this weakness, apropos of nothing at all, I realized that perhaps 11-dimensional chess was actually the correct account of Obama -- perhaps that's really what he's up to. It's just that his defenders have things slightly switched.
Continue across the fold for an account of how Obama may actually have been playing 11-dimensional chess all along...
He needs to get elected and re-elected, so he takes a more centrist position that he really believes. He wants to move as far as possible in his ideologically preferred direction, but is constrained by pragmatics -- moving too far will alienate those he needs to work with to get anything done, and would render impossible any future progress. He makes concessions in a difficult environment, but as few concessions as possible to get things done, and nevertheless makes real progress in the bigger picture. And his strategy is as secret as it is clever, and as clever as it is successful.
It's just that we had it backwards: his secret plan was to go as far right as possible, and we were the opposition continually hindering him, continually demanding concessions and pragmatic compromise -- though ultimately, not standing in the way of his rightward goals.
Call it conspiracy if you like -- but hear me out! The 11-dimensional chess defense is real.
What makes more sense: that he truly wanted to usher in an new era of transparency and whistle-blowing, but was pragmatically prevented? Or that he secretly wanted all the powers of Bush, but primary and electoral necessities meant he had to pragmatically say the opposite?
What makes more sense: that he wants to strengthen support for the elderly poor, but was forced to create a commission packed with social-security cutters out of a pragmatic need to look serious? Or that he believes social security should be cut, but can't come out and say that for fear of his Democratic constituencies?
What makes more sense: that he truly wanted to close Guantanamo and stop foreign assassinations, but those darned Republicans blocked him? Or that he believes that accused terrorists are terrorists but could never say that out of a mild but pragmatic fear of some Democratic voters in 2008 and 2012?
What makes more sense: that he truly wants to help the poor and extend progressivism, but darn it, tax cuts have to be passed and budgets have to be cut because of the pragmatics of working with Republicans? Or that he doesn't particularly care about the poor, but the pragmatics of being a Democrat mean that he can't actually propose more than 35 billion in cuts, just accept whatever offer the Republicans make, and encourage them through his secret strategies to make ever more extreme demands?
I could go on, and I'm sure you can think of others. You don't have to believe it ... all I'm saying is that the 11-dimensional chess defense -- a straw man which no one actually employed in Obama's defense -- might actually make much more sense with just a slight reversal of Obama's imputed ideology. Yes, like 11-dimensional chess, it's a conspiracy theory, in effect; but explaining Obama's many, many, many compromises requires at least as many logical twists. At least this version explains why Obama seems to keep losing. It's because we've mistaken who his opponent was.
[Note: the forgoing was mainly meant in the spirit of satire. I don't actually believe it; I just appreciate its logical simplicity. And, of course, I am -- once again -- a bit disappointed with Obama today.]