Fantasy 11-dimensional chess

by John Quiggin on April 15, 2011

For those who’ve picked Obama (Democrat) in their fantasy 11-dimensional chess league, here’s the winning line that’s opened up, with annotation. Starting position is Budget compromise.

1. … (Reps) Announce Ryan strategy !? given the requirements to cut taxes, raise defence spending and reduce the deficit, it would have been better to temporise, but Serious Commentators approve
2. (Obama) Wait two days for Ryan plan to fall apart under scrutiny 2 … Keep looking Serious and try to erase worst bloopers from Interwebs ?? Overlooks Wayback machine, screenshots
3. Propose plausible plan, with mix of tax increases and expenditure cuts 3 … Keep looking Serious
4. Announce that debt limit vote must be Up or Down 4 … Cave in if 4 … refuse to lift debt limit, forced loss as in Clinton v Gingrich 1995)
5. Hold line on budget except for more cosmetic expenditure cuts 5 … Cave in if 5 … hold to Ryan plan, 6 make election referendum on Medicare vs tax cuts for millionaires wins easily
6. Wins

Of course, that’s the fantasy version. The likelihood that the Obama (Democrat) who spoke the other day will reappear any time soon is pretty small. In the real world, Obama (Republicrat) will almost certainly meet the Reps halfway and then some.

{ 53 comments }

1

roac 04.15.11 at 2:21 pm

I think this analysis is based on a misperception of the game that is being played. It’s not about spending levels; it’s about the 2012 elections. Nothing else.

Some fraction of the Republican backbenchers are actually interested in cutting spending. Most of them, however, just want to convince their supporters that, having campaigned and won on a promise to cut spending, they have delivered and thus ought to be reelected. Hence the willingness of most of them to vote for the negotiated package which — as was amply demonstrated before yesterday’s vote — is largely smoke and mirrors.

Boehner himself certainly doesn’t give a damn about the deficit, or he wouldn’t have supported the Medicare drug benefit. His interest is in keeping his job, which he has done, for now, by delivering for the majority of his caucus the paper victory they were looking for.

Obama’s goal throughout has been to bring the swing voters back into the Democratic fold for 2012. These people think they want spending cuts, so Obama’s message has been Yes, we’ll cut spending, but unlike the other side, we will not cut anything that anybody actually wants.

And then this week he delivered his counterpunch, which was to bring tax increases on the rich back into play. Since this polls well with the target voting bloc, the game now looks in theory like a forced win. The conservative commentariat sees it that way, hence their sputtering indignation about the speech. The detached spectators are applauding politely and saying “Oh, well struck, sir!” (But of course the game is not chess but is full of unknown unknowns (aka Rumsfeld entities).

2

The Raven 04.15.11 at 2:29 pm

I like Mark Thoma’s remarks on the proposal and his comment, “let me emphasize the degree to which this proposal turns its back on those who are still unemployed.”

Campaign slogan: “I’m unemployed and I vote.”

3

Glen Tomkins 04.15.11 at 2:50 pm

I would have personally bought Obama the “11 Dimensional Chess Grandmaster” trophy had he proven to the cognoscenti that he had negotiatied in bad faith with Boehner by quietly getting enough D nay votes to kill the thing, when added to the teahadist nay votes. At that point, the strategy would have been to refuse further negotiation with hostage-takers, “Send me a clean CR or continue your shutdown, Mr. Boehner”.

But, sadly, the president was apparently negotiating in good faith with the hostage-takers. Either that, or there weren’t enough D votes in the House willing to back that play.

Obama only gets that trophy if he goes on to sucker the other side into an initial refusal to raise the debt ceiling by seeming ready to cave, then betrays them.

Unfortunately, Obama is still acting like that lord that Swift describes, who “honors no debts but to gamblers.” He only fails to keep good faith with his base, never with the scum at the gaming table. He needs to start welcoming the hatred of the right people, the Right people, and betraying them would be an excellent start. It’s sure helped him win hatred on the Left.

4

Substance McGravitas 04.15.11 at 3:04 pm

A link of interest: Obama thought the mic was off.

5

Steve LaBonne 04.15.11 at 3:21 pm

Glen, it’s not going to happen. Obama is a clever and effective center-right politician. He knows exactly what he’s doing and where he wants to go. He is not only setting himself up to cruise to re-election, he is getting pretty much what he actually wants on policy.

It’s impossible to understand him or predict his moves if one clings to the delusion that he’s “really” a progressive but just doesn’t know how to negotiate.

6

Don 04.15.11 at 4:07 pm

Have to concur with Steve. The simplest explanation for Obama is not that he’s a liberal playing n-dimensional chess, but that he’s a conservative who’s highly adept at getting exactly what he wants, including what he wants from liberals.

If he were a liberal, keeping his light under a bushel, there’d be no way to explain his embrace of Bush administration policies on torture, secrecy, and the immunity of the executive from the rule of law.

7

Glen Tomkins 04.15.11 at 4:08 pm

Steve,

It’s not so much that I disagree with the idea that Obama is center-right, and not really progressive.

I just don’t think the labels mean much any more. They have been stretched so far to the right, that you can posit that even a politician who would have been hard right 2o, even 10, years ago, would feel that he needed to pull out all the stops, do whatever it took, to defeat the teahadists.

You don’t have to be progressive to not want to see the country default. You simply have to be non-crazy. For whatever reason, non-crazy is an endangered, fraught position to occupy politically in this country right now. You just have to imagine that Obama is non-crazy, not progressive, to imagine that he would scheme against the teahadists, and that it would be prudent at the moment to scheme rather than openly oppose.

It looks like it’s going to take a sort of jujitsu, where you let the attacker lunge, and have to rely on redirecting that force of attack to win, to defeat the teahadists. That certainly doesn’t prove that Obama wants our side to win, or is good enough at political jujitsu, or 11-dimensional chess, to pull off such a victory. But it is also the case that wherever on some ideological spectrum you place him, Obama would need to rely on indirection to beat back the teahadists, and the game he’s playing at any given moment would not be at all clear.

We already see at least some fairly clear use of betrayal and misdirection in this recent speech, in that Ryan feels betrayed, feels that his side was in some sense led to believe it was safe to advance a Medicare-destruction plan, and it would not be called that by Obama. More such betrayal, please! As long as it’s in the right direction, towards people who deserve it, and against bad causes, betrayal is good. Think of it as a falling out among thieves if you want, think of it as one reptile devouring another, and I’m not sure I would disagree with you. I just want to see more of it, until the thieves are all in jail, and the reptiles all devoured.

Then maybe, as the Mifune character says at the end of Sanjuro, we’ll have some peace and quiet in this town.

8

Bruce Baugh 04.15.11 at 4:32 pm

Glen, I’m not sure there’s a non-crazy explanation for Obama’s handing of the Treasury Department, just for starters, or choices like Simpson and Bowles. These make sense only in a context of really thoroughly rejecting the notion of consequence. Obama seems not to be a sadist, and that puts him up on Bush and Cheney, but it’s become very unclear to me that he’s much better connected to reality.

9

Don 04.15.11 at 4:50 pm

What about the non-crazy explanation that he wants the outcomes we’ve had so far? Wants to protect banks at the expense of working people, wants to cut taxes for the rich, wants to give more power to corporations? Does that explanation not account for the facts?

10

Glen Tomkins 04.15.11 at 5:19 pm

Bruce,

If he wanted to end the New Deal, he passed up a wonderful opportunity. Why did he stick that stilletto into Ryan the night before last, if he’s really on their side?

Again, I’m not going to defend his choices. That would require that I understand what’s going on, which I don’t. They all seem crazy to me, and it’s been that way since our system couldn’t or wouldn’t stop the slide to war with Iraq. There are people who claim they can make sense of that as some sort of rational, if evil, decision. It was all about oil, or it was all about empire, or some such. To me, such explanations simply deepen the mystery of why anybody would have done something so deeply irrational as to try for empire in the Mid-East, or control of the oil or anything else via some sort of such empire, as if those projects made any sense, as if they were achievable, if admittedly evil, as if such ideas as an American Empire had any possible relation to any real world, and an American Empire was available as a real choice for this country to assume in an embrace of evil, or refuse to assume in an embrace of virtue.

The closest I can think of as an analogy in my memory to what we face today, is Louisiana in the 50s, as Jim Crow was finally threatened. The Long machine, despite its origins in cracker country, had blacks as part of its voting coalition (they were allowed to vote in New Orleans, where they were the pro-Long resistance to the local white machine, which was of course otherwise more “progressive” than the Longs). Well, with Jim Crow actively threatened by SCOTUS, the crackers wouldn’t sit still for having blacks in their coalition, and by then the Longs didn’t have enough sheriffs sufficiently on their side to steal elections, so they couldn’t jettison the blacks. The result was that the lone voice for racial non-craziness in the political landscape was this literally crazy and alcoholic, racist as the day is long, cracker, Earl Long. And it wasn’t just Long. We had an otherwise completely reactionary Archbishop of New Orleans who got the dictator and white ethnarch of Plaquemines Parish, Leander Perez, actually excommunicated by the Pope, as if he were some Dark Ages monarch, which of course he effectively was, for the sin of not letting parochial schools in his fiefdom integrate.

My political childhood prepared me to look with equanimity on all sorts of political apostasy and general craziness. As long as Obama generally and in the end slips the shiv mostly to people even crazier and less moral than he is himself, he gets my vote. Out of the crooked timber from which politics is formed, nothing straighter was ever made than the mess we have today. It just sometimes seems like it, the conflicts are sometimes more subterranean. No less twisted for that, just more deniable.

11

ScentOfViolets 04.15.11 at 5:35 pm

It’s not about spending levels; it’s about the 2012 elections. Nothing else.

Another BINGO!

Or to put it another way, we’ve seen Obama welsh on his campaign promises enough times that the most reasonable response is the best one: “I’ll believe it when I see it”. Do known liars get some sort of a deal just because they happen to be high-level politicians?

I’ll believe Obama won’t, say, renew the Bush-era tax cuts to millionaires when the second deadline has come and gone and they’ve expired. Not before.

12

ScentOfViolets 04.15.11 at 5:38 pm

The simplest explanation for Obama is not that he’s a liberal playing n-dimensional chess, but that he’s a conservative who’s highly adept at getting exactly what he wants, including what he wants from liberals.

As I’ve noted recently, that may not be true. But theories that subscribe to that notion certainly do enjoy a lot of predictive power, don’t they :-)

13

ScentOfViolets 04.15.11 at 5:44 pm

I just don’t think the labels mean much any more. They have been stretched so far to the right, that you can posit that even a politician who would have been hard right 2o, even 10, years ago, would feel that he needed to pull out all the stops, do whatever it took, to defeat the teahadists.

Doesn’t this just mean that the labels “leftist” and “liberal” and “progressive” don’t mean much anymore?[1] If someone is a right-winger in this environment, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that they really are right-wing ;-)

[1]I’ve always considered myself to be what would map to an Eisenhower Republican, with some social-consciousness updates. Nevertheless, certain of my relatives suspect that I might be a “liberal” because I don’t chime in at the family gatherings when they go on about the social decay that lets a black man marry a white woman.

14

Bruce Baugh 04.15.11 at 5:52 pm

Glen, I think one can be a Village crazy without favoring the specific flavor of crazy Ryan is dishing up at the moment. I mean, gangs of loons fall out over whose hallucinations take precedence at the moment, and like that.

15

MPAVictoria 04.15.11 at 6:10 pm

16

geo 04.15.11 at 7:28 pm

As President, he’s certainly walked and talked like a center-right politician. But how does one explain The Audacity of Hope and the campaign rhetoric? Just ploys? Maybe … hard to tell.

17

Theophylact 04.15.11 at 7:59 pm

Yojimbo, I’m pretty sure, not Sanjuro.

18

Bruce Baugh 04.15.11 at 8:01 pm

Geo: I think the real answer to that hinges on evidence we simply don’t have right now, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to say “there is no easy way to reconcile those claims and these actions if you don’t want to jump to the button marked Pathological Liar or something like that”. Suspending a judgment for lack of sufficient evidence is pretty okay, or should be, and then we can move on to deal with the problems at hand.

19

jim 04.15.11 at 8:22 pm

The philosophers have only interpreted [Obama], in various ways; the point is to change [him].

20

geo 04.15.11 at 8:26 pm

Hats off to jim @19!

21

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.15.11 at 8:30 pm

Obama works in mysterious ways.

22

mcd 04.15.11 at 8:34 pm

Obama said he only agreed to the tax cuts for the rich to ensure the tax cut for the rest. But he wouldn’t agree again.

But of course the Republicans will threaten the middle-class tax cut the next time too. Obama told them that would be effective.

23

Glen Tomkins 04.15.11 at 8:34 pm

Bruce, even if this is just a falling out among crazies about which group of them gets to run the asylum, as long as I perceive even a dime’s worth of difference in the amount of destruction that will result from one side taking over, versus the other, I will do what I can to help the dime’s less crazy side.

I don’t want to minimize the concerns that you raise about Obama going over to the Dark Side. As Wednesday’s speech approached, I was concerned that he would be announcing that he was throwing in the towel on the New Deal, as he was rumoured to be doing, rumours I found quite credible given his past record. To me, that would have meant that I would have had to resign from the party, because I would no longer have been able to percieve that dime’s worth of difference. Obama restored that dime on Wednesday, as far as I can see things. He burned some bridges with the enemy. He did no more than he had to, but also no less, so I keep my tribal loyalty for the time being.

The year is young yet. I may still find myself an outcast from my former tribe before the year is out. I might even find myself joining the other tribe, in the very unlikely event that those teahadists betray their financial backers and actually get serious about doing some things to actually address the deficit in a responsible, non-crazy way, as in:
1) drastically reducing defense spending
2) drastically restructuring our taxation regime to make it more progressive
3) saving money in healthcare by breaking up its cartels and monopolies
My tribe sure isn’t doing any of these things, and I can’t see any path to it even wanting to do these things except under extreme pressure from the teahadists, as in looming default pressure. Everything about teahadist ideology suggests they would not object to any of these. It’s only their financial backing and their current political tribe of choice that makes those choices unavailable. But treachery is the mother’s milk of politics. Coalition partners are made to be later stabbed in the back. All they have to do is get even sicker of the Koch Bros and Boehner than they are already showing some evidence of being, and then they set Boehner and the Kochs adrift in a longboat, and the makings of a beautiful friendship with actual socialists equally sick of Obama and the DNC are there for the exploitation.

Stranger things have happened.

24

john c. halasz 04.15.11 at 8:35 pm

@18:

Nah. You could tell what he was “about” right after the election and well before his inauguration. The first appointment was Rahm Emmanuel, as chief of staff, (who’s since been replaced with Baby Doc’s younger, smarter brother), followed by Geithner and Summers in charge of econ policy. BHO had both a large, primarily Wall St. big donor base and, unusually, a large small donor base. So what did he do after the election? Effectively, shut down his mass donor base, which could have potentially formed a mass support group to maintain pressure on his left flank, while “veal-penning” progressive activist organizations. Hence a president from Wall St. Not really surprising to anyone who’d actually scrutinized the guy. BHO is just an empty brand name, the usual marketing ploy.

25

Glen Tomkins 04.15.11 at 8:37 pm

Theophylact, I stand corrected.

26

ScentOfViolets 04.15.11 at 8:53 pm

But how does one explain The Audacity of Hope and the campaign rhetoric? Just ploys? Maybe … hard to tell.

Er . . . talk is cheap? I ought to know :-)

27

ScentOfViolets 04.15.11 at 9:25 pm

Nah. You could tell what he was “about” right after the election and well before his inauguration. The first appointment was Rahm Emmanuel, as chief of staff, (who’s since been replaced with Baby Doc’s younger, smarter brother), followed by Geithner and Summers in charge of econ policy.

My memory may be playing tricks on me . . . but isn’t this about the time that “Obama the ‘leventy-dimensional chess-player” meme took off? Not that I’m suggesting these appointments were causative factors, of course ;-)

28

Lee A. Arnold 04.16.11 at 5:18 am

The President must be laughing to himself. By kicking-off his campaign with a rallying cry to protect the safety net while judiciously cutting the long-term deficits, he goaded the Republicans into doubling-down on their own ideology and voting, as a unified block, to empty granny’s purse then kick her out onto the street!

You will recall that the necessary game, since before the last election, has been to finally start taking the Republicans at their word: I have been writing this here since last June: The strategy should be to force the Republicans to come up with the spending cuts to match their tax cuts, in the same Congressional bills. The stark nature of this would force a wedge between the Tea Party and the Republican leadership, and also force a wedge between the Republican Party and the rest of the country. Force the country to see just what the Republicans want: tax cuts for the rich so they can gamble again on deregulated Wall Street, and balance the budget on the backs of granny and the teachers. The basic aim should be to make the electorate see this, and thus to put the Republicans out of business.

(That could be a good name for a music band: Granny and the Teachers. I Googled it; so far, there is no ontology.)

(Liberals keep saying to themselves, “What do you mean, take the Republicans at their word! Oh they don’t really mean it — they don’t really care about deficits! You can’t possibly respond to them in kind! That will NEVER work!” etc. etc. ad nauseum because liberals apparently like to shoot themselves in the foot with bullets full of their own brain-vomit. Who cares what the Republicans actually believe? To turn that around,: believe me, they don’t care about what you believe.! Could you try to be lil’ more fatuous and self-defeating? [–this note on whining stupid liberals, maybe discard it?]–[nah, leave it in. The incredibly stupid pathetic whingering liberals and progressives who show up in comments here and at Baker, Benen, DeLong, Drum, Ezra’s and Thoma (to meander in lexicographic order) are gobstricken and offended and lovelornlike because Obama has to act like a politician. — All truly great bloggers, I don’t mean to gainsay. My hat is off to everyone of you. In fact I sort of love you though only in a man-cavey way. It’s most of your commenters are fantasists and can’t see what is directly in front of them, to, like, grab an affordance and actuate an intention. Though it do seem that all you bloggers had the attitude to keep insisting that the TeaParty is not important–as if that should make ANY goddam difference at all.])}

But I did think it would be difficult! Little did I suspect that the Republicans would walk right into the trap!

Looking back on it, perhaps they were first goaded by the failure of their normal rhetoric on the Sunday morning talk shows back in September, when McConnell, Kyl, Boehner, et alia were struck speechless on camera by the interviewers’ refusals to agree that tax cuts “pay for themselves.” It totally interrupted their blabber for, like, 60 hexideciseconds! This happened on at least three different shows! What a sight! Do you suppose they were so two-by-foured upside-the-head, that they figured they had to invent a budget?

Note however that there is a history leading up to this horrifying state of affairs. Short version, teh Republicans are in their death-throes. It may take a million years like the dinosaurs, but this looks like an evolutionary cul-de-sac. They have two long-term problems: (1) Their ideology, Reaganomics, has intellectually imploded on the shores of reality, indeed upon a profusion of mixed metaphors, and they cannot formulate coherent explanations for things, and so they rely upon the Luntz-teased emotions of fear, uncertainty, and resentment. (2) Then they have to sell it to the far right, who are their only reliable voters.

Driving a wedge into this mess is therefore a good idea, if you really like Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

A major misstep was the decision by McConnell and Boehner, after Obama’s election, to go into a mode of total obstruction for political gain. I suppose it seemed only fair, since the Democrats had previously decided to block Bush’s Social Security privatization efforts — though I like to refer to it as the Democrats “coming to their senses.” So it might have been tit-for-tat, but the Republican obstructionism was politically shortsighted. Instead, they should have taken credit for the 1/2 of the ideas in the healthcare reform which are in fact Republican, and it would have taken the wind out of the sails of the liberals. As I wrote, at the time. Instead they chose a rhetorical path to certain self-destruction, however long it might take for reality to catch up with them, and they decided to lie about the likely effects, both budgetary and medicinal, of the healthcare reform.

Well, it was enough to win the November election. After all, Americans are oftentimes dunces. But within a few months, Gov. Walker of Wisconsin, elected with Koch money and receiving phony Koch calls, decided to balance the budget on the backs of the teachers and the cops they are married to, thereby creating a new world’s record in public-opinion turnaround! That was a good hoot! I was walking around, going Hoot! Hoot!

But who could have hoped for what came next? Ryan’s budget proposal is an astonishing political gift to the Democrats. Let’s everybody go live on Skid Row! The idea of showing up on Wednesday and going, like, “Nyah-Nyah, Nyah-Nyah-Nyah, we are SO not doing this!” must have really appealed to the President. But it actually goes further: Obama’s speech is among other things evidence that he may see that a stable, dominant center-left coalition is almost within reach. To kick it off with his re-election campaign is almost too much fun.

The way forward? Let it be known to all people that we don’t have to destroy Medicare or the safey-net to fix the deficits. That is all bull. And be sure to explain this to the Independents, who are unaware. CBO’s most recent Long-Term Budget Outlook showed that the Democrats have already reduced the long-term deficits by 2/3rds, IF Congress sticks to the current plans and lets the Bush Tax Cuts expire. And those savings may be more, nobody knows. Are we going to reassure the “bond market” by throwing the U.S. into a social cataclysm? In every case, piecemeal reduction of the long-term deficits is the best way into the future. And meanwhile, what will be Ryan’s CBO score? And why would future Congresses stick to it, when the Republicans won’t stick to Obamacare? As soon as you try to follow the logic, the Republican plan not only destroys the future, it destroys thinking itself. According to all the polls, we have 70% of the people in favor of keeping Social Security and Medicare, taxing the rich, a public option available in healthcare, saving the environment, etc. etc. etc. Use this, now. The mainstream media may be pillars of sophistry and lazy blabber, but if they see a scientific proof, like the Sunday talk show hosts refusing any longer to accept that tax cuts pay for themselves, then they will in fact come forward and say so. Use this, now. Once you get all the ducks lined up, then it high time to push it all in front of the Republican Party, and make them fall over it. Also, always remember to ask the Republicans if they support universal health coverage. They don’t like to answer that question, either. And wear your galoshes, it is going to get deep.

29

Steve LaBonne 04.16.11 at 2:17 pm

As Wednesday’s speech approached, I was concerned that he would be announcing that he was throwing in the towel on the New Deal, as he was rumoured to be doing, rumours I found quite credible given his past record.

Nah. As his now infamous open-mike comments show, he’s the same politician in private meetings with donors as he was in the speech the other day. He’s a center-right, status quo politician who is no more interested in radical-right ideas than in leftist ones. As a defender of what’s left of the New Deal he’s actually reasonably effective and trustworthy, and much preferable to any Republican. The trouble is that the status quo no longer works, and he’s not at all the guy to really address the problems we face. But I don’t see how our current political system could deliver somebody significantly better, and anyway real change is never going to come from the White House down- that kind of white knight fantasy is very debilitating.

30

ScentOfViolets 04.16.11 at 7:37 pm

He’s a center-right, status quo politician who is no more interested in radical-right ideas than in leftist ones.

My perhaps too-cynical take is that he’s proven that a black man can be elected to the highest office in the land, provided he’s four-square for preserving the status quo and the alternative is a white woman who just might rock the boat, a.k.a. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

31

jeer9 04.16.11 at 10:12 pm

There are still things a white knight can do that don’t require the consent of Congress: push his DOJ to follow the letter of the law and prosecute the Bush/Cheney torturers and his SEC to go after the criminal activity on Wall Street; stop approving drone attacks which result in countless innocent deaths; stop claiming the right to kill US citizens at his whim; closing Gitmo; ending the inhumane treatment of whistleblowers. What’s debilitating is the recognition that neither party cares much about such issues. Instead we keep re-hashing economic theories which are proven failures. We have two choices: corporate Republicanism and crazy Republicanism. The latter’s goal is to make the former’s efforts look reasonably effective – as long as you don’t call it what it is: fascism.

32

john c. halasz 04.16.11 at 11:37 pm

@28:

Just another version of the n-dimensional chess thesis. Hypomanic fantasy. I’ll grant you, though, that the Repubs. are so ignorant, incoherent, and dysfunctional, that their policies would produce a depression, which the corporate PTB will not let happen. They’ll use them for what they’re worth, in terms of policy extortion, but they won’t let them work their will. (Aside from which, you’re just using the blue meanies argument, by which the Dem. establishment power-brokers always shore up, while diminishing, their “base”, in order to betray them). So BHO is the man, since the choice is between a depression and a prolonged stagnation to maintain the MNC/Wall St. regime, which BHO, with his bromides and economic policy fallacies, is dedicated to promoting. A Hobson’s choice. But in no way a “progressive” outcome.

33

Lee A. Arnold 04.17.11 at 12:33 am

There is no way out BUT progressive. The world ends cindered and fascist, or solar.

34

Glen Tomkins 04.17.11 at 1:17 am

Steve,
Well, until we reach that better day when our political culture is not dominated by the presidency, our politics will continue to revolve around the president. Even folks who don’t overvalue the role the president should have in a saner system, can’t ignore the centrality he does have now.

As for my expectatioins of the speech, it wasn’t that he needed to make me think that he was a white knight to keep me in the party. He just needed to not openly embrace the Dark Side, not jettison SocSec and Medicare. I’ve never felt personally betrayed by this or that Obama apostasy from progressivism because it was always obvious that whether from opportunism or actual conviction, he was all over the ideological map. I’m not sure what would be worse, that he dove to the right of McCain over Afghanistan because he really is stupid enough to believe in victory in Afghanistan, or he’s cynical enough to buy an election at the cost of so many lives. But if he could do that during the election, tout his belief in voctory in Afghanistan, nothing else he can ever do later is going to shock me into some political nunnery.

I just need my party and its leader (and the president is the leader until we get rid of that failed institution, or at least cut it down to size) to be one thin dime less disastrously stupid and cynical than the Republicans. Giving in over SocSec and Medicare would have been past my line in the sand mainly because of the incredible political stupidity that would have involved. Instead, he used the expectation that he was going to cuddle up even more closely to the Rs to make a more effective attack on them. He got Ryan to pout in public about his supposed betrayal.! His job doesn’t require a white knight, it needs someone who is good with a knife. The correct antidote to the tendency to idolize the presidency is to take this realistic view of the true nature of the power of the office.

35

Lee A. Arnold 04.17.11 at 2:45 am

Exactly: the President is a politician. But you need to go further than that: you need to align it with your praxis. You have to find the ways to force both parties to reveal what you want. This is why it was important back in 2006 to make a strong case to the Congressional Dems not to join the Republicans in privatizing Social Security. Do you remember that time? They might have gone along with that: privatization had been discussed since the Clinton years (and there are advisers in the White House right now who still want private accounts, even though this is a complete idiocy from any comprehensive economics viewpoint.) But it was possible to make the Dem politicians understand that it was politically advantageous for them to reject the Repub plan at that moment, and in fact to reclaim Social Security as useful banner for the party. Yet that act ALSO set them onto a slightly different path that makes certain future decisions more likely. And after that, you keep at it. And you force one party, then you force the other party. In different ways of course. And you keep at it; you go right back and do it again. It is a continuous pincers maneuver, like a crab. Politicians will even go along with it — they are looking for a good career and a good laugh.

36

Salient 04.17.11 at 3:02 am

I’ll drop by to point out that when it comes to bizarre eleventymillion-dimensional chess, the Oregon Legislative Study Group has already won.

They know the game, and they’re gonna play it…

[Note: I can’t promise this will be at all funny to anyone unfamiliar with Rickrolling.]

37

Beleck 04.17.11 at 4:37 am

Obama will do whatever it takes for him to be re-elected. He’s a Republican in all but name. probably an old time Republican before the GOP went Christian fundie/Wall st. crazy, from back in the 60’s or so. Obama will use both Republicans and Democrats to advance his “way.” that is otherwise known as “dimensional Chess”.

will Obama sell out Social Security,Medicare and any other Democratic “New Deal” program. of Course, Obama will if that is the price of getting what Obama wants. Sounds like a Chicago political doing whatever it takes to get whatever he wants.

as we have seen, Obama caves when pushed nuder the guise of “bipartisanship” or whatever fancy term anyone chooses to use. Obama’s actions speak much louder than anything else Obama has said. and Obama can speak so well.

Praising Ronald Reagan in his Victory speech in Grant Park was proof Obama was a Republican in all but name.

After watching Obama’s actions, Obama is a Republican through and through.

actions matter, not speeches.

38

Slothrop 04.17.11 at 6:21 am

You cannot be serious. About Clinton, at least.

39

Robert Waldmann 04.17.11 at 6:03 pm

I don’t know if Obama is really able to play 11 dimesional chess, but I’m sure the Republicans won’t be able to resist the temptation to knock over the 11-dimensional hyper-chessboard*.

Yes quibbler I know that it is, technically a
hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-hyper-chessboard but 20 syllable hyper hyphenated words are not snappy enough for this comment thread.

40

mds 04.18.11 at 4:19 pm

He just needed to not openly embrace the Dark Side, not jettison SocSec and Medicare.

Well, the “Obama, right or wrong” crowd would suggest that the goalposts are being shifted, but while the President gave a fairly good defense of approximately the status quo, the so-called “Gang of Six” in the Senate are making progress on their plan to squeeze Social Security in exchange for Republican support for revenue-raising measures to be left unspecified until later. Will Obama veto this sort of thing from his own party, even if it comes with, e.g., an agreement to raise the debt ceiling? Or will he decide that an empty rhetorical embrace of “revenue-raising” by Tom Coburn counts as victory for his own as-yet purely rhetorical stance, and sign a bill to “put Social Security on a sound financial footing” by cutting benefits?

41

chris 04.18.11 at 6:01 pm

I don’t see what could possibly be gained by guessing how Obama might react to a bill that hasn’t even been written yet, let alone passed both houses of Congress. By the time it does, if it does, the revenue measures will no longer be “unspecified” and he will be able to tell if the deal is any good. Neither he nor we can tell that before the bill is written.

Social Security is already on a sound financial footing. It’s Medicare that’s in danger from the development of new (and more expensive) medical technologies combined with insistence on incorporating them as soon as they are developed.

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mds 04.18.11 at 6:39 pm

By the time it does, if it does, the revenue measures will no longer be “unspecified”

Sorry, by “unspecified” I should have typed, “unspecified save for Senator Warner’s assurance that no tax increases are involved.”

I don’t see what could possibly be gained by guessing how Obama might react to a bill that hasn’t even been written yet, let alone passed both houses of Congress.

Indeed, the only time to express concern over a framework that slashes Social Security and doesn’t increase taxes is to see if it somehow passes the House, and also makes it through a Senate in which one of the Gang of Six members is the Majority Whip. Because it’s not like having members of both parties in Congress make a big show of admitting that Social Security “adjustments” are necessary, while tax increases aren’t, in any way muddles the distinction established by Obama’s speechifying last week. “Republicans want to cut Medicare so the rich can have their tax cuts” gets slightly diluted by “Democrats and Republicans want to cut Social Security so the rich can keep their tax cuts.”

So one thing that could be gained is to go ahead and get the disappointment over before it occurs. Because if members of the Senate Democratic caucus publicly repudiate the White House’s own rhetoric less than a week later, I’m not sure how Obama delivers on it, given that doing nothing is unfortunately unlikely to be an option.

43

Steve LaBonne 04.18.11 at 6:45 pm

The Gang of Six abomination reportedly will also include phasing out the mortgage interest deduction. I would actually favor that bit (that’s a pretty regressive deduction), but monkeys will fly out of my butt before it passes Congress.

44

chris 04.18.11 at 8:38 pm

unspecified save for Senator Warner’s assurance that no tax increases are involved

reportedly will also include phasing out the mortgage interest deduction

These are obviously inconsistent, which seems to me to reinforce my point that it’s better to wait to see *what the bill actually is* before expecting anyone, including Obama, to react to it. Denouncing theoretical bills that haven’t even been written on the basis that they might be bad bills if they were written in a particular way wouldn’t leave him much time for anything else, on top of making him sound very negative.

That’s not to say that he couldn’t have someone in his office call the Gang of Six and express his opinion of things that *might* be in the bill, but I wouldn’t necessarily expect that kind of communication to take place in public.

45

William Timberman 04.18.11 at 9:14 pm

What I’m wondering, in all innocence, is how one applies Occam’s Razor to the explanations being offered here and elsewhere, when none of the available evidence makes any sense whatever.

Will the person holding the remote please press the fast forward button….

46

Sev 04.18.11 at 10:20 pm

Notice how Trump is now leading the Repub polls? Thank the bit of birther nonsense for that. Now he can focus on more mainstream nonsense. Assuming he might actually be running.
Obama was basically about a similar business with the speech- getting liberals back on board. Seems to have worked. Now, of course, he’ll have to see if he can get a deal that he can sell them. Could be difficult, seeing as Repubs are what they are. And I do think ordinary people will oppose a deal that screws them, quite forcefully. Let’s hope so.
Off topic, but are people aware of this:
http://seeyouincincinnati.com/

Protesting against ALEC, the bunch that Prof Cronon was talking about. April 29 is the date.

47

Substance McGravitas 04.18.11 at 11:45 pm

Denouncing theoretical bills that haven’t even been written on the basis that they might be bad bills if they were written in a particular way wouldn’t leave him much time for anything else

Nonsense. It might also send useful signals to congressional Democrats not to panic about this or that issue that they think the President might cave on. It’s a pretty shitty position to not know what the leader of your party might do.

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ScentOfViolets 04.19.11 at 12:29 am

What I’m wondering, in all innocence, is how one applies Occam’s Razor to the explanations being offered here and elsewhere, when none of the available evidence makes any sense whatever.

As always, the utility of a theory lies in it’s ability to predict. Some have been better at this. Some – such as the elebenty-dimensiona-Obama-is-really-a-progressive – have been much, much worse.

But why stop at theories? You could look at the predictions on record made by various personalities and go with their analysis rather than some single overarching theory. It strikes me that (bringing this around full circle) both Greenwald and Hamsher have been remarkably prescient. Then of course there’s Newberry’s claim – made in 2007 – that no matter who was elected President, they would be essentially Bush Lite.

49

William Timberman 04.19.11 at 3:03 pm

SoV @ 48

Yes, irony is the coward’s way out, I admit it. Sometimes, though, it’s as comforting at the end of the day as a stiff drink. What do I really think about President Obama and the policy conflicts of the moment? If pressed, I guess I’d say that he’s a more or less willing participant in the costume drama which passes for reality these days in Washington. Had I Fellini’s talent for the grotesque I suppose I’d portray most of what goes on there, and in New York, as he portrayed the Roman Church in his Rassegna di Moda Eccesiastica.

Yes the Church is far more given to the ornamental, but that may only be because it lacks nuclear weapons, and because its egalitarian pretensions are now so far in the past that it no longer needs to refer to them at all, even in passing.

50

ScentOfViolets 04.19.11 at 7:27 pm

Yes, irony is the coward’s way out, I admit it. Sometimes, though, it’s as comforting at the end of the day as a stiff drink.

I wasn’t sure what you meant by the above; my apologies. Unfortunately, even here, there are still a few tru blu believers in Obama’s awesome political maneuverings.

And for all that certain, shall we say, cynical models predict Obama’s behaviour, we still don’t know why they do ( I’m not real big on “intent” in these sorts of discussions.) In fact, sometimes I have the sinking suspicion that everyone is more or less right in their theorizing and that we the proles don’t know just how close to the edge we really are. I’ve had one actual nightmare where this figured in, in fact. No, that’s not exaggeration.

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William Timberman 04.19.11 at 8:03 pm

I meant only that my first comment was intended as irony. Yes, I agree that watching what people do is a more reliable guide to their future intentions than what they say, but still…. It’s just depressing to watch very smart people congratulate one another on how completely they’ve hidden their own motivations, and how successfully they’ve manipulated everyone who isn’t as smart as they are. It’s downright painful to watch President Obama, in his shiny suit, get credit for a rhetorical mastery which in fact represents a perversion of what we have every right to should be its actual purpose.

Irony, unfortunately, has political meaning only as a temporary refuge for the powerless, and as a somewhat defensive and self-serving commentary on other people’s seeming gullibility. If we want honesty from our representatives, President Obama included, hitting them with a tire iron is more likely to be effective.

(The corollary, of course, is that we have to be willing to appreciate honesty when we finally hear it. Politicians always fear above all that we’ll prefer to shoot the messenger. As often as not, they’re right, which means that we’re all guilty to a certain degree of colluding in their corruption.)

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William Timberman 04.19.11 at 8:20 pm

I should add that once a nation’s politics is reduced to a competition to see who can tell the most elegant lie, it’s time for a revolution. By that yardstick, I’d say that the United States is overdue.

53

Jack Strocchi 04.22.11 at 5:05 am

Pr Q rambles on confusingly:

For those who’ve picked Obama (Democrat) in their fantasy 11-dimensional chess league, here’s the winning line that’s opened up, with annotation. Starting position is Budget compromise…Of course, that’s the fantasy version. The likelihood that the Obama (Democrat) who spoke the other day will reappear any time soon is pretty small. In the real world, Obama (Republicrat) will almost certainly meet the Reps halfway and then some.

I don’t really get the point of this post, which seems to be a convoluted whinge about Obama’s supposed Janus-face ideology. This assumptions behind this doubly wrong-headed. Firstly, as I predicted this way back in NOV 2008 (“Time of Hope?”), Obama has always played the “canny Centrist” politician if and when it is useful. So expecting principled and assertive Left-liberalism from him is based on a misreading of his political MO.

Secondly, Obama is always capable of a policy pivot on the back of successful political results, particularly if he can rally his base and let the REPs demoralise their own base. In a comment made in NOV 2008 ] I predicted that he will swing to the Left (on domestic policy) in his second term:

It is more likely that Obama will try and husband his political resources in the first term to build a robust political consensus for more positive

[Left-wing] change in the second term.

After his early burst of optimism, Pr Q has, as usual, been unable to curb his enthusiasm for doom. Since OCT 2010 [“Zero-Dimensional Chess”] he has been predicting that “Republicrat” Obama would not be able to stop a TeaParty-REP government shut-down or would capitulate with a budget back-down:

One reason I’m thinking a fair bit about the long term future is that immediate prospects look grim, particularly in the US…Mr Obama and his aides plan a series of pre-emptive capitulations, after which the Republicans will demand the repeal of the healthcare act (or maybe abolition of Social Security). When/if that is refused, the Repugs will shut down the government, and this time they will hold their nerve until Obama folds.

But so far this possibility has not gone through the formality of actually happening. Hence Pr Q’s uncharacteristic lapse into gobbledygook, instead of coming out and admitting that his bearish prediction was falsified.

By contrast, my prediction that there would be no TeaParty-REP shutdown or Obama-DEM back-down has so far been confirmed. In immediate response to Pr Q’s post I predicted that there would be no government shutdown because the REPs would back-down, owing to the slow ebbing of support for the Tea Party and the uneasiness that the REP base would feel at being cut off from the public tit:

One bright note: I am pretty sure that the Tea Party-REPs will blink on their threat of government shutdown in 2011. Too many of the REP’s base constituents (military, farmers, seniors) depend on government money or programs for them to risk going ballistic. They are bluffing and any half-way competent President could call their bluff and force them to fold.

Also, in MAR 2010 I predicted that the Tea Party would be a “flash in the pan”.

I was right. The Tea Party have run out of political steam. And cutting off government finances, especially on entitlements, does not go down well amongst REP constituents.

I probably should not gloat too much since it would be unseemly. And the night is young. But at the moment I am in no mood to be charitable, given that Pr Q seems to be awful keen in handing out brick-bats (“pseudo-scientific”, “idee fixee“, “confused”) to me and others who have the temerity.

From now on I will just point to the predictive scoreboard and let the social scientific results speak for themselves.

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