Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bullwinkle Factor

Let us consider Bullwinkle.  Here we have a big, silly cartoon moose who somehow managed to become a national star with his own television show. On this show he was endlessly beset by the forces of nature, his own stupidity, and the nefarious plotting of Boris and Natasha Badanov, yet in the end he always triumphed--but only by the intervention of his long-suffering friend, Rocket J. Squirrel, affectionately known as Rocky.  In their adventures, Bullwinkle constantly ignores Rocky's excellent advice and so constantly finds himself in peril, but Rocky always comes to the rescue to make Bullwinkle a hero once again.

Now let us consider the Presidency of the United States.  Here we have men who have managed to get themselves elected against long odds to become the leader of a large and important nation.  Once a man is President he will have many battles to fight, some of his own choosing, and some over which he has little or no control.  In fighting these battles he will have allies and enemies. His enemies naturally will try to defeat him, his allies will try to help him, and his success as President will frequently depend on how well he has chosen who his allies will be.

I believe we can think of the President as a sort of real-life Bullwinkle.  He is but one man, with limited intelligence, ability, and insight, and he can't possibly meet the challenges of his office alone.  He will need people who can help him when he finds himself in crisis--in short, he is going to need his own real-life Rocket J. Squirrel to come to the rescue and let the President look once again like a hero, or at least in reasonable control.

If we look back as far as President Eisenhower, we see that he had at least one Rocky in the person of John Foster Dulles, as well as a host of war-hardened leaders on whom he could call for advice.  John F. Kennedy had a number of flying squirrels, including Robert McNamara and his feisty brother Bobby.  Lyndon Johnson as I see it was an unfortunate blend of both Bullwinkle and Rocky, a man who had done the work to make others look good when he was in Congress, but who in the end found his presidency in such deep crisis that no one could save him.

Richard Nixon had an able if unpalatable Henry Kissinger for his Rocky, but not even Kissinger could safely steer Nixon's hall-of-mirrors character past the scandals that eventually brought his Presidency down.  I don't think Gerald Ford was around long enough to grow antlers, and as for Jimmy Carter, well, even Rocky couldn't keep the Bullwinkle show from being cancelled.

I think Reagan is the President who most successfully fulfills the Bullwinkle ideal.  Try as they might, his enemies were unable to bring him down, however much they despised him.  

GHW Bush had Colin Powell at his side, but he also had Dan Quayle. Clinton had a group of not-nice Rockies, such as James Carville, and even managed for a time to make Newt Gingrich into an unwitting fifth-column flying squirrel.  GW Bush of course had Karl Rove and Dick Cheney helping him through much turbulence.

That brings us to President Obama, clearly a natural-born Bullwinkle if ever there was one.  Where is his Rocky?  Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid? I don't think so. Rahm Emmanuel and most of the economic "heavy hitters" team have flown the coup. Eric Holder will be lucky if he doesn't end up on some docket himself.  Hillary is a veritable Natasha Badanov, biding her time in plots only she and Bill can know. Michelle apparently is no longer allowed to publicly say what she really thinks, which is probably a point in Obama's favor, if unintentionally.

All in all, I think Obama's in trouble.  At this point, his motto might as well be: "Nothing up my sleeve!"

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The leader of Obama's transition team and now head of the Center for American Progress, John Podesta, comes riding to the rescue with a plan for Obama to get around dealing with all those pesky Congress-critters:

The public has made clear its disgust with Washington’s ways—the same sentiment that helped to bring President Obama to office. It would be a welcome relief from watching legislative maneuvering to see the work of a strong executive who is managing the business of the country through troubled times, doing more with less, each day working to create a stronger economy and a more effective government.

The 48-page report from the Center is apparently a laundry-list of various executive orders and bureaucratic maneuvers the President can use to further his agenda without having to win the approval of Congress.

Every President, of course, has these powers, and when he does use them, it usually goes unnoticed by most people.  But occasionally it is controversial, as with G.W. Bush's order banning funding of fetal stem cell research, or his recess appointment of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

Obama has the option to pursue this type of strategy if he wants, and who knows what advice he's getting from inside the White House.  The trouble for him will be that a large number of us out here already view him as a rogue President, hell-bent on ramming as much of his agenda through as fast as he can to the point where it will be monstrously difficult to roll it back.  If he takes this path he may be able to shore up his left-wing base, but it will be at the price of confirming the suspicions of others that this President is indifferent at best to the will of the people as expressed in the recent elections.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Danger, Will Robinson!

Obama's holiday from the election results is almost over after the G20 conference in South Korea.  It appears he will be coming home empty handed, though if anyone was actually expecting much of anything out of this trip, I missed it. Charles Krauthammer thinks Obama has at least stumbled into a little correct realpolitik in regards to India, even if all he's really done there is not break what G.W. Bush started.  Obama did get to bow a few times to foreign leaders and Michelle bought some stuff. All in all it was probably a nice little diversion for the prez, never mind how much it cost.

So soon he'll be back in the USA and we can watch the big question play out: what the hell is he going to do now?

The liberal soul searching/knife fight is beginning.   Some of the Democrat survivors in Congress are openly questioning the wisdom of following Stepmother Pelosi into the dark forest.  Liberal somebody Wendy Kaminer envisions David Axelrod impersonating Neville Chamberlain when he speaks of a possible compromise on tax cuts.  On the far left of their pack cartoonist Ted Rall has raised the possibility of violent revolution, though from the look of him I suspect he'll be a behind the lines guy if it comes down to actual shooting.

As John Boehner goes about teasing and intriguing us with the possibility that he might screw this up completely, conservatives wonder if the Obama administration is just another dead in the water ocean liner.  Geoffrey P. Hunt at American Thinker votes yes, and good for us:

What remains of his presidency? Where can he go from here?

With liberals desperately searching for any Lazarus scenario, Obama has neither the issues nor the votes to mount any revival. Is there any foreign policy issue that he can win? How will appeasing radical Muslims, continuing to prosecute a war he doesn't believe in, piling on further debt that leaves even European socialists gasping, devaluing the dollar by monetizing our debt, and happily denying America's greatness in the world be winning issues?

Is there a single domestic initiative remaining -- energy, labor, environment, taxes, or social justice -- where his brand of collectivist big government solutions will have the ear of the American people and the votes in Congress? And he doesn't have the votes in the Senate to name any more Supreme Court justices. 

We are a nation without a president...

The results of November 2 declared a presidency broken but more importantly asserted the primacy of self-government, locally owned and locally operated. A broken presidency, this time, is not to be mourned, but cheered.

Victor Davis Hanson spies the Democrats and finds them highly illogical:

So the most logical explanation of the problem [losing the election] is the most shunned, given its ramifications for liberalism: Even with a young, charismatic African-American president who rode to victory on the unpopularity of Bush and of the war, on the upheaval on Wall Street, and with the aid of the media — with all that, in just 21 months Obama finds himself well below 50 percent in approval and his agenda incurring the largest midterm legislative losses since 1938.

In short, the truth is unbearable, reason fails, and the self-described rationalists have become fabulists.

Mona Charen fears the twists and turns of fate might yet put Obama in the right place at the right time:

Ironically, Republicans might be the president’s lifeline. If they succeed in defunding or otherwise hobbling implementation of Obamacare; if they succeed in maintaining the current tax rates on all earners; and if they are able, through oversight functions, to prevent regulatory agencies from further intimidating businesses, the economy might improve. And to whom would credit for improved conditions flow? Yup, to Gandhi’s most important acolyte [Obama].

I think that between now and the beginning of the new Congress we'll get a good idea of how things will be going for Obama and the Democrats in the next two years.  The left is clearly in no mood for compromise, whether that hurts Democratic prospects or not. We've yet to see if that is how Obama himself feels.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who's The Boss?

I just listened to an NPR pod of President Obama's press conference from November 3.  If you want you can find the audio here or the transcript here. I don't recommend either experience, so I'll do you a favor and present an abridged version:

THE PRESIDENT:  So with that, let me take some questions.  I’m going to start off with Ben Feller at AP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Are you willing to concede at all that what happened last night was not just an expression of frustration about the economy, but a fundamental rejection of your agenda?...


Actually, he didn't answer the question with "no," I made that up.  What he did do was drone for more than 50 minutes something along the lines of "working together," and I think I heard a few "the American people expect us to cooperate" or whatever.  He wrapped it up with a Reaganesque twinkle-in-the-eye bit on how he's optimistic about the American people. Well, we are a cute bunch, aren't we?

At some point the same day Obama made a call to and urged them to stay the course:

"We always knew bringing about change in Washington wouldn’t be easy, and it might get tougher in the days ahead.  The message I took away from the elections is very simple: The American people are still frustrated. They still want change; we just have to work harder to deliver the change the American people want....To those who began the journey with me almost four years ago, think about how far we’ve come. Think about the ups and downs we went through during the course of the campaign. There were times when folks counted us out and we always came back. The same thing is going to happen over the next two years, and the next six years.”

Later in the week he got with the crew at 60 Minutes and conceded that, well, he has been a bit too busy ramming crap down our throats to keep up with some of the finer points of governing:

"...I think that, over the course of two years we were so busy and so focused on getting a bunch of stuff done that, we stopped paying attention to the fact that leadership isn’t just legislation. That it’s a matter of persuading people. And giving them confidence and bringing them together. And setting a tone."

I take away from all this that the President is saying he's bummed his party lost so many elections, but he's going to keep on keepin' on and do his best to get more of that hope and change that all of us want, because his party only lost so many elections because we didn't get enough of that hope and change fast enough because he wasn't out there communicating enough...

Okay, I understand--the President doesn't get it.  A huge part of the electorate have voted against his agenda in every way they could, from Congress to the statehouses, yet he concludes that what they really want is for him to do a little more elbow rubbing with the Republicans, and maybe we need to see more of him on TV.

So he does a press conference to convince us he understands our anger and genuflects with a mea culpa for 60 Minutes, not sounding very sincere at any point.  In between he makes a call to an important group of leftist apparatchiks and urges that they be patient, that they may have lost the battle, but they'll win the war.

I have to wonder which constituency is more important to him--the mass of voters who just sent his party to the doghouse, or the small minority that share his "progressive" ideology.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Meditation Before Mayhem

Tonight on election eve it appears that the Democrats are going to suffer a terrible drubbing, both in the Congress and out in the states.  It will be a good thing to see some of the more noxious politicians go down to defeat, such as Harry Reid, Charlie Crist, and God help us, even Barney Frank. This will no doubt instill fear in the hearts of most Democratic incumbents. Probably more than a few liberal-leaning Republicans will be wondering if it will be their turn for defeat come the next election.

I expect that Democrats will first go into an anger/denial mode, after which their own truth-tellers will begin to portion out the blame for their losses. Some will blame the electorate, some will have technical explanations, but I think that most will be drawn to conclude that the blame lies mostly with the President. Once this sinks in, I think Obama will find himself in the fight of his life, besieged from the left and right, and, who knows, even sabotaged from within by his own character.

I've seen very little about Obama to make me think he has any capacity for stepping back and becoming more respectful and conciliatory in his dealings with the opposition. I expect that his use of divisive tactics is going to increase and that we're in for a couple of nasty years in politics.  If it gets too nasty, I think even more political leaders will see their stars falling, possibly including the President.