Thursday, September 30, 2010

They Think They're Doing Well

There appears to be a major disconnect between the arguments of the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats about why the unmotivated liberal base should get out and vote and the arguments made by ordinary citizens -- people I've seen online, friends and family and acquaintances -- on the same topic.

I'm not talking about the very bottom line of the argument, which is that the Republicans would be worse, and are really scary. Both sides agree to that. And the reason they do so is because it is in fact the case that the Republicans would be worse, and are really scary. (And, yes, I too agree: the Republicans would be worse. This November, make sure to vote, and to vote for the Democrats. The Party of Palin really has no business governing the country.)

No, I'm talking about the analysis behind the apathy. There, the understandings divide, and divide sharply.

Ordinary citizens talking about this topic tend to focus on the claim that Obama and the Congressional democrats are doing as well as they can, given the circumstances. The circumstances are explained in two major ways: Bush left the country in lousy shape (true), and the current structure of the Senate makes it nearly impossible for the majority to govern (basically true, although I think they could have done more to change and/or work around it). Thus in my conversations with the (numerous!) friends, family and acquaintances on this topic, they always stress that Obama and the Congressional Democrats have been blocked at every turn, and that the country is still in terrible shape because they haven't had a free hand to actually fix the multiple disasters arising from the misrule of the conservatives. Sometimes this even expresses with an exacerbation about the Democrats' poor messaging, such as Mark Kleinman's recent lament here.

Here's the problem. That's not what the Obama administration is saying. (I think this may be less true of the Congressional Democrats, although I haven't paid enough attention to be sure.) They're saying something quite, quite different. A message that is directly counter to the idea that they haven't been able to fix the problems left by Bush due to Republican obstructionism.

They think they're doing well.

They've been saying this, over and over again. For example, Obama recently said [emphasis added]:
The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It's us. It's complacency. It's apathy. It's indifference. It's people feeling like, well, we only got 80 percent of what we want, we didn't get the other 20, so we're just going to sit on our hands.
In other words, Obama said he thinks he did pretty well -- I think we can all agree that if Obama had, in fact, delivered 80% of what liberals wanted, that would be doing very well (from a liberal point of view) -- and that his liberal base are just being apathetic, indifferent quitters unable to realize how well he's done for them.

Nor is this an isolated sentiment. For instance, in his recent Rolling Stone interview, Obama said:
I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we've probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do -- and by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum.
And Biden has said similar things. As has Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs. In other words, this is not an accident, or a fit of pique, or a sense of anger slipping out in an inopportune comment. This is something they've said repeatedly. I think the Occam's Razor explanation here is that they've said it because they actually believe it.

For that matter, they've made it the centerpiece of their reelection pitch -- at least that part of it that doesn't boil down to "the other side is worse" (which is a big part of it -- and which, as mentioned above, happens to be true). I'm referring to their stop whining, get excited and vote you apathetic ingrates! message (visible in the first of the above quotes, among many other places). This message, as lots of people have noted, is rather unusual as campaign slogans go. Why would they choose such a perplexing strategy? Again, the Occam's Razor explanation seems to be: they believe it. (There are other, more sinister explanations, but I think that's the most obvious one.)

Now, lots of people are saying lots of things, and so there are certainly some counter-examples to the above. In the above-cited interview, Obama also said that
There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises... It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it.*
For that matter, there are some counter-examples in the other direction, too: Matt Yglesias, with no connection to the Obama administration that I'm aware of, argues the merits of Obama's health care victory, and calls for "[a] little less whining and a little more cheerleading from the left". Nevertheless, I think that the division I outlined is in general true: non-official Democrats are explaining the Democrats' record as due to obstructionism and the bad place they started in; Democratic officials, on the other hand, boast of 70% - 80% success rates, pat themselves on the back, and wonder why everyone isn't as upbeat as they.

Plenty has been written about the idiocy of "stop whining" as a political message. But there's a number of other problems too. Part of this is that the political message gets muddled: there's no voice for an actual liberal position when Obama and the Congressional Democrats are celebrating a record of part failure and part success at implementing liberal republican ideas.** Or, as Atrios said a few days ago in his characteristically pithy way:
A frustrating thing is that the administration doesn't say, "we'd like to do this but we got the best we can do," instead they say "what we did was awesome." The result is that they don't even come across as advocates for the more liberal (and quite often the more popular) position.
Which is, indeed, a problem. Since we need someone who believes in actual, well, liberal positions to speak up for them. And part of that is acknowledging the massive failures of the current administration.

Except... if they think they've done 70% or more of what they were aiming for, if they think that the liberals got 80% of what they wanted, what makes anyone think that they actually do believe in liberal positions?

If they think they're doing well, then isn't this as good as we're going to get, even if we re-elect them?

Now, those who think the problem has been Republican obstructionism (and a bad starting point) might well agree that this is as good as we're going to get, since there's no way that Democrats are going to increase their holdings in the Senate. But, as Matt Yglesias points out in this insightful and important post, even if that is true, then the Democrats have made a major mistake (emphasis in the original): failing to get serious about procedural issues, Democrats have created a gigantic credibility problem for themselves. Under modern conditions, it’s not realistic for a political party to obtain 75 Senate seats or whatever and then deliver policy accomplishments. Holding 59 or 60 requires a minor miracle... [T]he events of 2009-2010 have made it painfully clear to everyone that under any realistic scenario for the 2010 elections the progressive vision is dead in the US Senate. There are all these policy ideas out there, from Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal to cap-and-trade to immigration reform to labor law reform. They could be stitched together into a bold vision for economic and social renewal. Except everyone knows you’re not going to get 60 votes for that stuff.

And so by failing to become vocal about procedural reform and demonstrate some seriousness about getting things done, the party leaders have created a situation where they can’t make any promises to anyone besides “if we do well we’ll negotiate with the Senators from New England but if we do badly we’ll have to negotiate with Lindsey Graham.” The economy and the burdens of incumbency were naturally going to make this a tough midterm, but as long as key senators are stuck in the mental fog of proceduralism, they just can’t articulate a compelling vision.

And I think that, in my estimation, even if you believe that the Democrats have been hobbled primarily by the Republicans, then this ought to be a devastating critique: they've created for themselves a situation where they've proven that they'll never be able to do what the base wants. Which makes it hard to motivate voters... even if they alternative to "bad" is, in fact, "much, much worse".

But, again, this is (believe it or not) the optimistic reading of the situation. This is the reading that assumes the Democrats have been trying to do better and failing. The problem being, that's not what they're saying. They're saying -- above all, Obama himself is saying -- that they've done quite well.

Which of course vitiates the idea that they wish they'd done a lot better.

Oh, obviously Obama thinks that there were some areas for improvement -- that there were some "warts", and that they've taken some "lumps". 80% is not 100%, after all. But 80% is damn good. And, as I said above, if Obama'd actually gotten 80%, then that would be a record worthy of crowing about.

But I don't think he's gotten 80%, leaving only 20% unaccomplished. In fact, I think that that number is so absurd, that even if it were reversed -- even if Obama had claimed that his party had gotten 20% of what they wanted, leaving 80% undone -- even those numbers would be a wild exaggeration in his favor.

I mean, Obama's saying that we "got 80 percent of what we want"? Dear God in heaven, what about:
Closing Gitmo. Employee Free Choice Act. Ending Don't Ask Don't Tell. Action on global warming good enough to actually save the planet. A more open administration, as promised. An end to Bushian theories of executive power. An end to the use of the state secret doctrine. A stimulus big enough to get people back to work. Some real accountability for torture in the previous administration. A revived liberal culture, one which answers the conservative ideology that has ruled public discourse for the last generation. An actual end to the war in Iraq, and not just a pretend one. Standing up to the AIPAC lobby and pushing for real peace in the Middle East rather than caving before Netanyahu's every peace-destroying whim.
-- and that's just for starters, off the top off my head. There's a lot more.

(Although I think the big three are there. The big three, for me, are the economy (which is why the Democrats are going to lose -- at 10% unemployment, you toss the bastards out, even if the other bastards are worse; it's just a crisis, and no one in our ruling class seems to realize it), global warming (even if Obama supporters want us to grade on a curve -- "given the obstructionism and bad starting place, Obama's doing well" -- the planet ain't going to grade on a curve, and without some action here we're all gonna fry), and the restoration of American civil liberties and an end to Bushian civil liberty violations, on which more anon.)

I mean, yes, the health care act was a step forward, one that will actually help a lot of people, albeit not nearly as good a one as we'd have liked. And yes, it was a good thing to pass a stimulus big enough to stop a new depression (even if it wasn't big enough to actually put people back to work, and bring down the extraordinarily horrific 10% employment rate).

But 80%? Even 20%? You've got to be kidding.

Except, he's not kidding. He seems to actually believe it.

And what that does -- what that does -- is destroy hope.

I mean, ordinary liberal voters, the kind of people who make up Obama's base, have been begging him to give them some hope, some sign that he knows how badly he's fallen short of what we want. And his response? "Stop whining." -- Sometimes in so many words.

So maybe -- just maybe -- this isn't some odd and rather ill-conceived strategy to motivate the base. Maybe they actually believe they've done really well, rather than barely making a dent in a list that, however long, was filled with things that were absolutely essential.

Maybe he thinks he's doing well.

Further proof of this, incidentally, is in the one area that Obama's apologists can't blame on Republican obstructionism: namely, Obama's genuinely appalling record on the large group of issues around civil liberties, transparency of government, a repudiation of Bush's unconstitutional claims to executive power, and the punishment of violators of the law, particularly torture.

Here Obama has done, not weakly in a good direction, but strongly in a bad one. He's invoked the state secrets doctrine to protect the torturers and criminals in the Bush administration. He's said he will put accused terrorists on trial in civil not military courts only if they think they can get a conviction; the rest go to trial in due-process denying military courts or not at all (which makes the entire thing little more than a stunt, of course). He's claimed the ability to assassinate an American citizen, not on the battlefield, and then denied the possibility of any court review of this action on the grounds of state secrets. And so forth.

None of these travesties and crimes can be chalked up to Republican obstructionism, because they're all wholly within the executive branch. Obama could have done well on all of these issues if he'd chosen to. Instead he's not only done poorly, he's done evil -- in direct violation of his campaign promises, explicit and implicit.

Which, if needed, is yet another piece of evidence that the problem isn't that he's been stopped from doing good, but that he isn't even trying: in the area where he had a free hand, he broke his campaign promises, and furthered the vile Bush agenda.

Which is strong proof that he doesn't think, as his apologists do, that the problem is he hasn't been able to do what he wanted, but rather that his goals have been either small or foul. -- Or it would be, if he weren't himself trumpeting his success in the midst of so much misery: an open admission that makes further proof unnecessary. Why try to prove some someone admits openly?

Oh, sure, you can claim this is a strategy to motivate the base. (It's an odd one.) You can believe -- on faith, I suppose -- that Obama wants to do all the things that liberals hope he'll do, and has just been stymied.

But it's not what he's saying.

If it's true that we got dealt a bad hand and the Republicans have blocked us at every turn, then it can't be true that we got most of what we (and you) wanted. And, conversely, if it's true that we got most of what we (and you) wanted, then it's not true that Republican obstructionism has been a major problem.

I think, even if Obama's apologists are -- against Obama's own statements -- correct, then he at least has done a bad job on the merits: he hasn't gotten what he needed to do done. As I said, you can grade on a curve -- grade for effort, not results -- and excuse him that way. But even so, it's hard to motivate a political base on the grounds that we tried really, really hard, but the mean 'ol Republicans stopped us.

Fortunately, he's not trying to motivate the base that way. (The base is trying to motivate itself that way). That's the good news. The bad news, however, is that so far as I can tell, his pitch is: look around! We've done great! And if you don't think so, you're not serious, you're giving up. You're whining. You're ungrateful.

Obama is saying to us, in so many words, that this is (almost) as good as we're going to get. That we ought to be grateful for what he's done for us.

Change? Hope?

Not so much.

Oh, he's right, everyone's right: the alternative is worse. Everyone should resist the temptation to throw the bastards out, because the new bastards will be far, far, far worse. This is true. And it's a reason to drag your ass to the polls and vote Democrat in November.

But you'll have to forgive me if I'm not too excited about it. And it looks like I'm not the only one.

*Within those ellipses, however, is more self-praise for their performance to date: Obama describes his administration as one "that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward". That this is true, however (which it is) is due largely to the genuinely appalling track-record of progressives within this past generation. Saying that you're record is good compared to recent years doesn't say much when recent years have been ones of miserable, unmitigated failure at achieving one's goals.

** I.e. the Health Care Plan -- a liberal Republican idea: the structure came from right-wing think tanks and was promoted by Romney in Massachusetts (although he'll never admit it now) -- and the idea that keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq means that the war is over, rather than simply downsized.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Holy Shinola, David Simon Just Won a MacArthur Genius Grant!

Sure, creating a program that has been endlessly referred to as the greatest TV show of all time -- largely although not entirely because it happens to be the plain fact of the matter that it is the greatest fucking TV show of all time -- ought to qualify you as a genius.

But it's nice to know that people with gobs and gobs of money to give away can see that too.

So yay! David Simon won a MacArthur!

Oh, and a bunch of other people did too. None of whom, oddly enough, seem to have created any TV shows. What were we talking about again?

(Links via Canavan and Yglesias.)

Update: Interview with Simon here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Photos of John Henry Stassen

My beloved uncle, John Henry Stassen, has been a dedicated and accomplished amateur photographer for many years now. He's just put up a gallery of over a hundred of his photographs, and they're marvelous. They range from the abstract to the romantic to the sharply observed mundane. Accuse me of bias if you like, but I think they're fabulous. To whet your appetite, here are four that I like. (The links go to the photos on his web site.)

Check out the rest here. You can also buy copies should you be so inclined.

Writer Harlan Ellison is Predicting His imminent Demise

Here (complete with interview).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stray Thought

Personally, I think that instead of running a write-in campaign as she currently plans to, former Republican Lisa Murkowski should form the Alaska branch of the Connecticut for Lieberman party and run on its ticket. I see no reason why the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party should confine itself to a single state or candidate. I foresee the Connecticut for Lieberman Party fielding its first credible Presidential candidate in 2024, followed by its first Presidential victory in 2028.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains"

That's the latest piece of scientific news from the Karl-Rove-endorsed Republican candidate for Senate from the great state of Delaware, Christine O'Donnell.

That really turns up the whack factor to 11. I mean, it's one thing to say that women in the military are a security risk, or that wives should be subservient to their husbands, that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that masturbation is an evil. But mice with fully functional human brains? That takes a special kind of crazy.

Obviously, there's a joke to be made here about human beings with fully functional human brains. But the truth is, one of the time-honored functions of fully functional human brains is to believe all sorts of crazy !@#$%.

So let's hear it for Christine O'Donnell: smarter than a scientifically engineered mouse. W00t!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

An Important Point Well Made

Andrew Sullivan, at the peak of his form, writes about Obama's shameful (indeed, criminal) embracing of the Bushian violations of civil liberties and claims of untrammeled executive power, in particular those resulting from the Obama administration's attempts to protect the various criminals from the Bush regime from the consequences of their crimes (becoming, morally if not legally, accessories after the fact to them). I think that Sullivan's essay, although narrowly focused on Obama's invocation of the state secrets doctrine to protect the war criminals of the Bush administration, can be applied to the larger set of issues around Obama's Bush-like assertions of executive power, his failure to restore civil liberties to their rightful level, and so forth.

I think that, of all Obama's manifold failings and disappointments, it is this broad area that is arguably the most disappointing, since none of the standard excuses cover it. Unlike the war in Afghanistan or Obama's Quixotic quest for bipartisanship with a foaming-mad Republican party, Obama's embrace of Bushian executive overreach was not part of his campaign. (I don't think this is nearly the excuse that people think it is -- wrong is still wrong, even if it is promised in advance -- but it's a common excuse for his escalation of the Afghanistan war and his utterly idiotic, repeated willingness to be the Charlie Brown to the Republican's Lucy with the football.) Indeed, Obama's actions in this area violate both specific promises and the general spirit of his campaign -- unlike other areas, here he is simply traducing the campaign he ran.

And unlike the weakness of the health care bill, the utter (and predicted at the time) inadequacy of the stimulus, the failures on climate change and chard-check and numerous other priorities, etc, it can't be blamed on the (admittedly blameworthy) failures of Congress. Here, Obama could do otherwise; he has just chosen not to.

Yet, like all of those, it is of the very highest importance.

It wasn't even politically smart (not that this would have been any excuse, even if it were true); the Tea Partiers hate him anyway, because he's liberal and (for some) black. And, given its centrality to the liberal critique of Bush, I have to wonder how much capitulation on this constellation of issues alone contributed to liberal disenchantment with Obama. For my own part, I would find it easier to accept the excuses in other areas if he wasn't so manifestly betraying American values, and his own campaign, in this one. The excuses would seem more plausible, for one thing: if he's betraying liberal ideals in the one area where neither consistency, long-standing temperament nor congressional malfeasance can be blamed, it seems less plausible that it is only those things that contribute to his failures in other areas, whereas if he were standing firm in the area where he had genuine power to act independently, and where he had clearly promised the contrary in his campaign, it would seem like his other failings were more genuinely the result of outside agency.

Here's the money quote (to use Sullivan's own term) from his essay:
In 2008, many of us supported Obama in part because he seemed to be a rare candidate who understood the awful potential of government-sanctioned torture to harm us in the war against Jihadism, to eviscerate core American values, and to empower the executive to new and unassailable heights in ways the Founders would have been horrified by....

Yes, torture ended. That matters a huge amount. He will always deserve credit for that. Of course, I have to trust him on this, since there is precious little way for someone outside the government to test this or know this for sure....

Yes war requires some secrecy. But Obama has gone much further than this now. The cloak of secrecy he is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

The case yesterday is particularly egregious because it forbade a day in court for torture victims even if only non-classified evidence was used. Think of that for a minute. It shreds any argument that national security is in any way at stake here. It's definitionally not protection of any state secret if all that is relied upon is evidence that is not secret. And so this doctrine has been invoked by Obama not to protect national security but to protect war criminals from the law. There is no other possible interpretation.The Bush executive is therefore now a part of the American system of government, a system that increasingly bears no resemblance to the constitutional limits allegedly placed upon it, and with a judiciary so co-opted by the executive it came up with this ruling yesterday. Obama, more than anyone, now bears responsibility for that....

And this means almost certainly that torture will return. The GOP base loves it, as long as it is done against people with dark skin and funny names in places they can look away from. And they know now something they didn't know in 2008. They will always get away with it. Even a liberal Democrat will protect you for ever with a golden shield that creates two classes of people in this country: one above the law - even a law as profound as that against torture - and those outside the government obliged to obey it.
The entire essay is here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Jefferson Thomas (1942 - 2010)

This semester, as it happens, I'm teaching a seminar on the 1960's. As is the wont for historians, we begin early, so I spent our first week on general background from the 1950's: the cold war, consumerism, conformity, Christianity, and other things starting with "c". Then we moved on to our first major unit, on the Civil Rights Movement, which we will start in the 1950's (with a few quick glances at earlier events, e.g. the integration of both the US Armed Forces and Major League Baseball in the late 1940's), then continuing into the actual decade along the same topic.

So on Monday, September 6, we spoke about a cluster of the central events of the 1950's Civil Rights Movement: Brown v. Board of Education and the Massive Resistance it sparked; the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and the 1957 Little Rock Crisis. I ended the class by showing my students some of the pictures of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, an integration that, for those of you who don't know, had to be accomplished by the armed forces of the United States. I stressed the extraordinary hate they encountered; and the truly extraordinary bravery and courage they met it with. The Little Rock Nine were genuine American heroes -- a term that is thrown about far too casually, I think, and far too often to anyone who dies or is killed in any remotely military context, regardless of the details. The Little Rock Nine earned it: by standing on the side of Justice and Freedom and Right, with courage and dignity and fortitude.

Little did I know that, the day before, one of the nine, Jefferson Thomas, died.

(As far as I can determine, he is the first of the nine to die.)

Rest in peace.

Update: I've recommended David Margolick's extraordinary article about a different member of the Little Rock Nine, Elizabeth Eckford, and the white student who was photographed screaming hatefully at her in the most iconic image of the Little Rock Crisis, Hazel Bryan, before, and at some length; but let me take this opportunity to recommend it to one and all again. It's a fabulous piece of journalist-authored history, and well, well worth reading.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Obama's Governing Strategy is Clinton's Campaign Strategy

One of the questions that occasionally detains those of us who were enthusiastic about Obama's 2006-2008 campaign is "Why was Obama's campaign so masterful while his governing has been so pathetically sad-sack?" Herewith, a new observation for that perennial puzzler (perhaps the flagstone question for this presidency, just as "stupid or lying?" was for the previous one).

Paul Krugman disinters the strategic "thinking" of the Obama governing people -- particularly Rahm Emanuel, if reports are accurate -- from early in Obama's term (h/t GC):
[E]arly on the administration had a political theory: it would win bipartisan legislative victories, and each success would make Republicans who voted no feel left out, so that they would vote for the next initiative, and so on. (By the way, read that article and weep: “The massive resistance Republicans posed to Clinton in 1993 is impossible to imagine today.” They really believed that.) This theory led to a strategy of playing it safe...
I recall thinking at the time that this sounded like a massively stupid idea, although my son was born a month before Obama's inauguration so I wasn't blogging enough that I can cite chapter and verse for my perspicacity. But in any event, in retrospect, it's a really stupid idea. (Which leads Krugman to wonder why, given its now self-evident stupidity, Obama is continuing to practice it. A fair question, methinks. (Best line in the rest of Krugman's short blog post: "...the people who persuaded Obama to go for the capillaries..."))

One might say that Obama relied upon what one might call the "underpants gnome" theory of political success:
1. Massive early victories
2. ...
3. Consensus!

Thinking of it this way, I realized that Obama's governing strategy is the same as (Hillary) Clinton's campaign strategy -- y'know, the one that his campaign team famously outfought by doing thinks like actually focusing on real votes, being bold, presenting a clear vision, working for the long haul, and not presenting a plan that would utterly fail if it stepped off the track even a single time for any reason.

Clinton thought she'd win Iowa, which would win her NH, which would win her Super Tuesday... and then that was it. Obama seems to have thought he'd win the stimulus, which would win him Health Care... and then that was it.

So one reason that Obama's governing is so unbearably pathetic is that it's a direct copy of the unbearably pathetic campaign strategy that was beaten... by him.

Of course, this just kicks the question down a level to "why did Obama, having run one of the most masterful campaigns in history, adopt the strategy of one of campaigns he beat as his governing strategy?" And here I must admit: I have no !@#$%idea. Unless this is the reason; but then, that just kicks the question down another level to "why did Obama, who hired so many brilliant people for his campaign, hire this idiot to run his administration?"

I suppose it's turtles all the way down. Which is to say: some things in life are just Mysteries.


A commentator notes below, correctly, that Krugman's summary of the article he links to (by Mark Schmitt) is not all that accurate, and that reading Schmitt, you could say that it was Obama's governing strategy that didn't rely on massive early victories, in contrast to the one he failed to adopt, which did.

There's some truth to this, but I think that the other side is more important. I wrote a lengthy comment in reply... so lengthy that the system rejected it as too long. So here it is, up above the cut:

Noumena: you're right, it's a poor citation. I don't think it's fair to say that Schmitt says the *exact* opposite, but you're right that Schmitt is describing Obama's government strategy as one of patience. I was following Krugman's characterization, which I think is accurate, even if the Schmitt reference doesn't demonstrate it. (The description Krugman gives of Obama's governing strategy was in fact given a lot of places, although not, you're right to say, in Schmitt's piece.) Krugman may inaccurately summarize Schmitt (who I think he quoted mainly because of the appallingly wrong-headed line about the impossibility of Republican massavie resistance), but he accurately summarized what a lot of people claimed, around the time of the transition, to be Obama's strategy (reportedly due in large measure to Rahm Emmanuel, a former Clintonite who Obama, to the everlasting dismay of the Republic, hired to be his chief of staff).

But I think to say that Obama's campaign was patient, his governing was patient, therefore it was the same strategy, is invalid. In other key respects, Obama's governing resembles Clinton's campaign, in contrast to his own. Obama's campaign wasn't just patient, it was also: A) enthusiasm-building, and B) very attuned to the specific of votes and C) gutsy and risk-taking. Obama's governing strategy was none of those. Rather, he sought to create a sense of overwhelming inevitability based on early victories, leading to picking up Repbulican votes. It wasn't so much massive early victories leading to defeat of the other side, as a sense of inevitibilty leading to people joining a winning bandwagon -- which was Clinton's campaign strategy to a T. (My underpants gnome summary may have been a bit off, but Krugman's description was accurate -- and, I still claim, fit Clinton's campaign more than Obama's.)

Obama's governing strategy was patient not in the sense of laying groundwork for future victories (as was his campaign), but in the sense of prioritizing Liberal surrender and smallness of ambition at first, hoping to build on them later. Schmitt optimistically calls this building a coalition, but I do think it was like Clinton's (not Obama's) campaign strategy: to hope early victories would lead to capitulation, or at least coalition.

It hasn't happened. Indeed, it's been a dismal failure. And Schmitt's essay looks ludicrously optimistic now.

And I think your citation of Obama's single accomplishment -- health-care -- is wildly inadequate. Yeah, he won that one... after a fashion, without a public option, in a way that gave away far too much and got far too little. (The result was worth supporting because it's better than the status quo, but it ain't nothin' to brag about.) Obama's health care legislation exactly fit the description Schmitt gave to legislation produced by "shock doctrine"-style legislation, that is, "legislation produced in this way can be deeply flawed, often undermining rather than building its own support". With the added bonus that one piece of such deeply-flawed, support-undermining legislation was all we got, or are likely to get. Obama's strategy, in other words, got the same flawed legislation that Schmitt feared... but less of it, so that whole realms of politics went unaddressed.

Schmitt was writing to counter the "groups convinced that if their own No. 1 cause isn't enacted in the first 100 days, it will never happen"; but the groups were right and Schmitt (alas) wrong: all the priorities save Health Care are now toast, because of Obama's pathetically weak governing. And once the Republican's take back the house in November (as it looks increasingly likely they will), then all chances will certainly end.

I think that Schmitt's essay should be read besides the essay he quotes, Rick Perlstein's essay on 'shock doctrine' liberalism (which I discuss at some length in this post here). I think Perlstein was clearly right, Schmitt clearly wrong. Obama's "patience" demoralized the left and gave the right time to rally -- the rally to a "massive resistance" that Schmitt, rather laughably, claimed was impossible in this day and age.

Obama failed, and failed miserably, to get through an adequate stimulus; to get through an environmental bill that would be adequate to save our planet from ecological catastrophe; and on and on. (To say nothing of his gratuitous, congress-independent sins such as endorsing Bushian legal theories and the executive's right to assassinate American citizens at will). He failed in ways that pissed away an extraordinary chance to reorient our country in a liberal direction and correct decades of conservative misrule (and ideological malfeasance). There were a lot of reasons he failed, of which Congress was arguably the first 535... but I think that you have to say that, while we don't know if Perlstein's way would have worked or not, we know that Schmitt's way was tried and failed.

Obviously Obama isn't a failure in the way Bush was: Obama has tried and failed to move the country in a good direction, while Bush had spectacular success at damaging the country. In some sense Obama's George McClellan is preferable to Bush's Robert E Lee: at least he's fighting on the right side. But he's done a piss-poor job of doing so. And I think Krugman has his finger on one reason why.

Our country needed an FDR in 2008. What it got, alas, was a Clinton: a pathetic, wishy-washy, cowardly compromiser whose main redeeming feature was being better than the (radically worse) Republican opposition. Those of us who voted for Obama over Clinton because we thought we needed something more than another Clinton are rather understandably bitter.