Monday, August 29, 2011

More Politics and Persimmons

In November 2008, after the presidential election I posed a question in a blog post: "Last night, for the first time we both saw the movie "All the Kings Men" starring Broderick Crawford. This morning I looked up Huey Long in Wikipedia and wondered the fate of our new president elect, Barack Obama. At the outset of his political career the character Willie Stark was that rare phenomenon - an honest man.  Abraham Lincoln was an honest man who came to the presidency in a time of national crisis. Will Barack Obama be more like Abraham Lincoln or the fictional character Willie Stark?"

As the presidential race for 2012 heats up this summer, many journalists, bloggers and political hacks have begun the process of analyzing the successes and failures of Barack Obama.

 According to Drew Westen's piece in the New York Times on 8/6/11 "What Happened to Obama?":

"A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in “Dreams From My Father” appended a chapter at the end that wasn’t there — the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in."

Westen makes a case that we need a president whose stories make sense of what we are going through.  Abraham Lincoln told stories that made sense of the carnage and sacrifice of the Civil War.  Franklin Roosevelt created a narrative that explained the economic crisis of his era and his concrete plans to end the Depression.  "Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it".

Further, Westen concludes, "when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it."

 From a somewhat different perspective, David Frum writing for CNN, 08/29/11, "Obama's three big mistakes" concludes that "Obama made three crucially bad economic decisions in the first year of his presidency".  These included allowing the Democratic Congress to "lard up" the stimulus bill with huge sums that did not create jobs, build infrastructure, or stimulate the economy.  An interesting parallel with the 1930's is that Roosevelt built infrastructure on a massive scale that we still depend on today.  Of the ARRA funds expended, only about one dollar in eight has gone to new infrastructure projects. 

We can expect a new initiative from the president this September to stimulate job growth.  I expect that it will be too little and too late.  His enemies on the right will not accommodate a plan to boost Obama's image before the 2012 election.  And Obama has not demonstrated that he will fight the right wing bullies. 

The persimmons are dropping prematurely this year, and there will be a small crop.

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