Sunday, October 17, 2010

The process to defeat

(This post will not make me very popular.)

With two weeks until the midterm election, President Obama is out stumping for candidates (who welcome his campaigning) in a very rough political climate. The economy is still in shambles for those not making uber-bucks. Jobs, especially decent paying jobs, remain scare - with a good chunk of them sent overseas under the leadership of the previous Teabag administration. The health care and financial reform bills have done nothing to help candidates (maybe because they are just watered-down and stuffed-for-the-corporations pieces of legislation) and the press (which the right-wing still insists has a man-crush on Obama) has joined the bashing band wagon (bashing gets much higher ratings than agreeing).

I hate to do this, but I will quote the Moron Queen from Wasilla: "How's that hope-y change-y thing working out?" The answer is sadly, not very well.

There is absolutely no reason Obama, the Democrats and the rational portion of American society should be standing at the precipice of an electoral cliff being pushed by a bunch of teabaggers and Rove-trained T-Rexes..

Two years ago, after running one of the best Presidential campaigns in history, Barack Obama rode into the White House on a tide of change, populism, hatred for the Bush administration and an economy devastated by mismanagement and greed. The Republicans were routed for the second straight election. Even the press (which is NO bastion of liberalism despite the cries of Limbaugh and Hannity) said the GOP was dead for decades. With so much momentum on his side, how could it all been hijacked and lost in such a short period of time?

It is easy for the White House to pass blame for the political mess Obama finds himself stuck in. Republican obstructionism (they have mastered that tactic), the rightwing noise machine of Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter, Fox News and others (also mastered), the continued economic malaise, deep-seated racism in this country or the ineptitude of Congressional leadership are all easy targets. But when it comes down to the brass tacks - the real reason the Democrats are facing some painful and demoralizing losses on November 2nd is due to the many missteps and yes - incompetence - from the Oval Office. I will quote Harry Truman - "the buck stops here." President Obama has shown (to a lot of people, including members of the professional left like myself) an awful amount of weakness in his leadership, poor communications skills, ineffectiveness in drowning out the right wing noise, and feeble judgment in setting priorities.

We all know that campaign promises are always broken. That Obama did it also is no surprise - only I believe that many supporters (and non-supporters) were secretly hoping that Obama would be different - that broken campaign pledges wouldn't happen so fast (or at all). Where does one start - the useless, immoral war in Afghanistan has been expanded and there is no end in sight. Guantanamo - still open. Don't ask, don't tell - still a policy. To quote the King and I - etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Obama has also not been very effective in delivering any sort of message about his successes (or making that message stick) or even that things are really different than they were under Bush. While he was a master in conveying the path of change for the nation on the campaign - he has been a near-failure on communicating the relevance of his victories since taking office. Early on, Obama and his "peeps" (most notably the woefully inadequate Gibbs and Axelrod) let the rightwing set the narrative by allowing the professional right to blatantly lie about the origins of the economic debacle and pin the now-hated-bailouts on the Democrats. The deepening of public debt combined with the Reagan mantra of "hate the government" (and toss in some latent racism) ginned up the anger among the masses that did not benefit from the Bush-led bailouts. Like flies around horse shit, those "conservatives" (mainly old white people funded by people like Dick Armey and the Koch brothers) immediately held Obama responsible and gave birth to the Bowel Teabag movement. Astroturf or not, as of November 2010 the Teabaggers have won control of the message and (borrowing from Joseph Goebbels) let their big lies become the truth to many. With the media fast asleep, the fairy tale of blaming the Democrats has never been adequately explained away and passed to the proper source. Then, feeling even more empowered, the Teabaggers began to yell socialist, profess open racism and the equate the President with Der Fuhrer.

Forget about meeting behind in the playground after school for the D. vs R. brawl - there was barely a peep.

Once the right took hold of the bully pulpit (with full enabling by the Cable News Entertainment channels who were eager for the reality shows electoral politics would bring) they have yet to let go. Even when blatant racist remarks were dropped like bombs over Dresden from media "players" like Beck and Limbaugh, the Obama Administration kept tiptoeing around trying to make nice. Add to that a weak and disorganized push back from the Democrat leadership (especially from Tim Kaine - who is NO Howard Dean) and you got a witch's brew of trouble (I knew there would be a Christine O'Donnell joke in here). Blame Congress all you want, but no matter which way you spin the dreidel, Obama is the big macher.

Obama also (to quote Nixon) made it perfectly clear from day one that he wanted to work with the Republicans, that he was the President of everyone and that he wanted to change the sewer of inside-the-beltway politics. He gets the A for effort - but he should have seen early on that once the Republicans ignored and challenged every one of his overtures - this process of making nice to the enemy was doomed. When the GOP immediately withdrew from partaking in setting the stimulus package in February 2009 (a month after he took office) - anyone could see that any semblance of bipartisanship was about as likely as rats reading the New York Times or ridding the sewers of Sarah Palins.

The trap was set by Rove, Limbaugh and Beck - and Obama walked right into it. From that point onward, the downhill slide was set in motion.

The culmination of the Obama administration's multitude of weaknesses can be summed up in one sentence from the Shirley Sherrod fiasco last July. Sherrod was forced out her job at the Dept. of Agriculture because of an edited and purposely misleading tape claiming she was a racist was given to Fox News. While she was driving home, Mrs. Sherrod was called by USDA undersecretary Cheryl Cook three times and told to resign.

"They harassed me," she said. "I got three calls from the White House. At one point they asked me to pull over to the side of the road and do it [resign] because you are going to be on Glenn Beck tonight."
The Obama administration (and hence the country) is facing a potential debacle on November 2nd - not because they are going to be on Glenn Beck - because they are afraid of being on Glenn Beck.

I will be the first to admit - President Obama has basically lost me. From Afghanistan to telco spying - this administration is too Bush-lite for my professional left credentials. But what has sealed the envelope for me are two things. First - Obama's continued push for bipartisanship, even as the cliff gives way. Only last week he told the press that he expects the Republicans will be more responsible partners if they take control of either (or both) chamber. Amazing and delusional at the same time. Second - Obama was handed a get out of DADT free card this week when Judge Virginia Phillips ruled the heinous policy unconstitutional. From all indications this administration - an administration that has vowed to end this vile and bigoted law - is actually going to appeal the ruling. Amazing and despicable at the same time.

If the administration is so gung-ho on ending DADT, why does it have to be through Congress (potentially led by a majority of Republicans that have vowed to defeat anything Obama at any cost - especially this one) instead of a simple judicial ruling? The outcome is exactly the same. The only thing different is the process to get there.

And that about sums up why we are standing on the precipice. Our President has spent the past two years earning his Six Sigma* certification.

There is absolutely NO reason why the Democrats should be facing defeat in two weeks. They were handed everything (including a deflated GOP) on a silver platter two years ago - they didn't even have to fix the economy - just show that they were going to turn it around. But Obama wanted his hope and change to come from process, not from the aggressiveness we saw on the campaign trail. Change in DC will never follow any logical stochastic model. Change only comes when you show you won't be bullied.

Whether we like it or not, television (specifically cable television) is still the primary tool for the President to deliver his messages, agendas and vision. Television as medium only succeeds when that message is conveyed using sturm und drang, not the language of process. Why Obama shifted from the firebrand of the campaign rhetoric to ennui of method is beyond pale. If we wanted to showcase the failure of process as a political message we should put his past two years in a Harvard Business School case study. This is New Coke, the Betamax and Fruity Pebbles all rolled into one.

You know this post should not have even been written. This election did not have to be the impending doomsday the world is prophesizing. Yes I will vote Democratic - Schumer, Gillibrand, Carolyn Maloney and Andrew Cuomo because the alternative is so much worse and I end up always voting not-Republican (though I am tempted to vote Socialist Workers or Green or some other neo-communist organization). But the impending victory and dance of joy on Tuesday November 2nd by Karl Rove and the Teabaggers falls squarely on the lap of Barack Obama.

Will this make him a more effective leader - I hope so. Better that than the Six Sigma blackbelt he has earned.

*Six Sigma is a management tool where solutions to problems are sought via the gathering of data and setting a process, as opposed to gut reactions, historical knowledge and emotion.

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