Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama's bad bet on Republicans

By Frank Moraes

Last weekend, Jane Mayer wrote about "Torture and the Truth." I know that many people are thinking, "Torture! Again?! That's so last week!" Actually, this article is not about torture. But the truth of the matter is that, for me, torture will never be so last whatever. It's not that I ever thought that the United States was lily white, but I was appalled when Cheney started talking about the "dark side" and people began to discuss when torture might be okay. From grammar school on, I always thought that the willingness to torture was the prime thing that separated the "good guys" from the "bad guys." So I'm never getting over this. But that's not what I'm going to discuss here.

In Mayer's article, she discussed how Obama blew the response to this issue. By leaving it for so long to be dealt with by the Senate, he allowed it to become just another partisan issue. She quoted political science professor Darius Rejali: "It's becoming a lot like the death penalty." (I find this terrifying; I really do think that the Republicans have devolved into nothing short of fascism.) But it isn't like the issue was off the table. Mayer explained that in early 2009, pretty much all of Obama's advisers were in favor of "the formation of an independent commission." It wasn't done. "Obama, however, said that he didn't want to seem to be taking punitive measures against his predecessor, apparently because he still hoped to reach bipartisan agreement on issues such as closing Guantánamo."

I recently quoted Garry Wills's "The Problem With Obama." In it, Wills said that Obama is so keen to maintain continuity that he often (usually?) does the wrong thing. I think that is at work here. But there is a political aspect here as well — one that gets to the heart of why Obama was exactly the wrong president for this period. He was so eager to placate to stop people from attacking him as a foreign radical. And what he got for that was absolutely nothing. And that will continue going forward.

Can anyone doubt that if Ted Cruz is elected president in 2016 he will prosecute the previous administration for any actual scandal that turns up? The Republicans — almost twenty years ago when they were a hell of lot more reasonable than they are now — impeached a president because he lied about an affair with an intern. I'm not even convinced that if the Republicans control all of Washington in 2017 they won't continue on with their Benghazi and IRS fake scandal-mongering.

As I mention a whole lot around here, I'm not that ideological. I'm a pragmatist. That's why I gave the Democrats a pass on the CRomnibus. But there is a huge difference between knowing what is possible and pretending that you live in a world of fairies and elves where you can have all the candy you want. And that was certainly the world that Obama used to live in. And to a significant, but reduced, degree, I think he still does.

Politics is about power. Smart power. It isn't about rubbing your opponent's nose in his defeat. In fact, providing face-saving concessions to your enemies is a big part of correcting wielding power. (This is something that the United States is famously bad at internationally.) But it is not about cajoling. All Obama's efforts to entice and prove that he is a moderate (by our far-right-skewing system) have only hurt his efforts to get things done. If he had called for a single-payer health-care system, he would have been called a socialist. So he didn't call for a single-payer health-care system, and he was called a socialist.

Well played, Mr. President!


For the record, I know that the reason we couldn't have a single-payer health-care system is because of all those Blue Dog Democrats — like Obama himself! I should point out, however, that the vast majority of those conservative Democrats were swept out of office in 2010, so I don't really know what they thought they were buying. And that was as predictable as anything in politics. Conservative Democrats get elected in nominally red districts. Outside of a wave, Democrats won't get elected there, so they are sure to lose the next time. So they might as well stand up for liberal policy.

(This is assuming that they believe in liberal policy. And I have to admit that I just don't know anymore.)

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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  • Michael you don't know the POWER of the Dark Side. While, Torture doesn't work it was successful.

    Torture and Republicans unwavering support for it and their mouthpieces in the media have succeeded in getting Torture to be a partisan issue.


    By Blogger Grung_e_Gene, at 3:17 PM  

  • Absolutely. There is also the psychological element to it. We liberals don't like torture because liking it conflicts with our self-images. But conservatives now do like it because they think it means they are "strong" and "tough."

    By Blogger Frank Moraes, at 3:24 PM  

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