the obama memos & obama’s long game

Here at the Kugelmass Episodes, we play your requests. Today’s letter comes from alert reader tomemos, who asked for my take on this New Yorker article about Obama’s recently released batch of internal memos. It feels like a companion piece, of sorts, to Andrew Sullivan’s widely reposted column, “How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics.”

Neither of these articles is good. Sullivan’s article might be useful if you know somebody who is “independent” or “moderately Republican,” and who would jump at the chance to feel good about supporting Obama over whichever creep the other guys finally choose. Sullivan himself is a conservative independent, and his reason for liking Obama is simple: Obama is a centrist, and the pieces of legislation that bear his “signature,” as it were, are all very moderate.

Lizza’s piece is confusing, another victim of the tragic, nationwide editors’ strike that has been an open secret for at least a year now. It seems like he’s criticizing Obama at first, but ultimately, he thinks Obama can still compare with presidents like Lincoln. Obama may not have changed much in Washington, but that’s because the best a President can be, in a system with so many checks and balances, is “a facilitator of change.”

The last thing the Democratic Party needs is another catchphrase designed to apologize for its weak tactics and gutless corporatism.

Later in the article, Lizza writes: “At this political juncture, there appears to be only one real model of effective governance in Washington: partisan dominance, in which a President with large majorities in Congress can push through an ambitious agenda.” He’s right…but even these conditions didn’t help Obama produce change on the scale of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. To even make these comparisons, as Lizza does, is ridiculous. In any case, the stars didn’t stay aligned very long, as Obama’s poor leadership helped facilitate the rise of the Tea Party.

During the election year of 2008, I wrote a post about candidate Obama, which I’d completely forgotten about until tomemos reminded me. It has held up, too well; I can honestly say I wish that wasn’t the case.

Here’s what I wrote:

Obama, on the other hand, believes that the key to success lies in presenting himself as a bipartisan leader. His television ads and campaign material focus on jointly-sponsored legislation he worked on in the Senate, and his proposed fiscal reforms are thematized around “restoring fiscal discipline” to government.
His rhetoric lacks substance. His calls for change and hope aren’t backed up by an original approach to policy.
He will try to raise taxes in order to fund his new programs, and the Republicans will foreground the taxes rather than debating the programs on their merits. By making every fight a fiscal battle as well as a battle over domestic policy, he will enable his opponents to choose the most favorable tactics each time.
Obama is weak now, and will lead a vulnerable Administration if elected. We need to lay the foundations for Democratic dominance, instead of setting traps for ourselves by using the Republican rhetoric of smaller, bipartisan government. It is the only way, long-term, to regain lost ground in the battle for an American government equipped to care for the American people.

It’s time we started playing a much longer game, ourselves. Obama still has my vote, given my options, but he no longer has any claim on my hopes.