Change you should not have believed in

An excerpt from “The mystification of change“, James Bowman, The New Criterion, January 2009:

If you believe that everything the 43rd president did was wrong, it must be equally easy to believe that everything the 44th will do must be proleptically right — even when he does exactly the same things as his predecessor. This was the inescapable conclusion from the praise heaped by the media on the new president’s new “pragmatism” in his cabinet appointments — which included what would in any other circumstances have been the astonishing volte face of retaining in his own cabinet President Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.

Hardly anyone seemed to remember by that point how central to the early Obama candidacy had been its complete and total opposition to the Bush administration’s defense and foreign policy. The President-elect’s attitude at that time had been essentially the same as that of John Kerry who, when asked in 2004 what he would have done differently, answered “Everything.”

A man whose tenure of public office consisted of 8 years in the Illinois state legislature and barely 2 in the Senate tried to make up for his lack of experience with appeals to the shock troops of the anti-war Left by smearing his main rivals for the nomination simply for having voted to authorize the administration to wage war in Iraq. What might — indeed, must — otherwise have seemed, therefore, an egregious betrayal of the anti-war forces which did so much to bring him to power made scarcely a ripple in the press.

On the contrary, the Obama partisans therein vied with each other to congratulate their hero for it.

Even the few who did protest, at least those in the mainstream media, did so in an almost apologetic tone. David Corn of Mother Jones, for example, was afforded the hospitality of the columns of The Washington Post to mention, with a gentle, Jeeves-like clearing of the throat: “This Wasn’t Quite the Change We Pictured“:

“… For some progressives, Obama’s opening moves may not feel like the change they anticipated. But there’s no rebellion yet at hand. Many are probably holding their breath and waiting to see whether Obama can hijack the establishment for progressive ends.”

Hijack the establishment that he himself has put in place? That really is playing a deep game. But when you want to believe as badly as Mr. Corn and a great many others want to believe, I guess it makes sense.

More straightforwardly approving was Peter Beinart, writing in Time magazine, who went so far as to reassure his fellow progressives that “it’s precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he’s surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home.”

All during the campaign, there was not a single Democrat, candidate or supporter, who had a good word to say for the policies of the hated Bush administration. Candidate Obama himself exceeded all his rivals in denouncing them and branding himself as the candidate of “change.”

You remember “change,” don’t you? I seem to remember that it included change not only from all taint of Bushery but also from Clintonism. Could the media have forgotten that already? And yet here he was adopting Bushite measures and Bushite and Clintonist men (and women!) precisely in the area-defense and foreign policy — where “change” had been most expected and being congratulated for it. There seemed nothing that he could do which would turn the Obamolaters into critics. The New York Times was even discounting the possibility that the new president might, in spite of his very specific and explicit promise, keep the prison for foreign terrorists at Guantanamo Bay open.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts on the FM site about the Obama Administration:

  1. Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay, 3 March 2008 — We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them. 
  2. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008 — The Presidential campaign rolls on in the seventh year since 9/11, with the only debate about the Long War being in which nations America should fight. We see this even the speeches of the most “liberal” candidate, Senator Barack Obama.
  3. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008 — At what point does criticism of Obama’s charisma and rhetoric become criticism of leadership itself — and blind faith in technocratic solutions so loved by policy nerds?
  4. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008 — Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.
  5. These days all American Presidents are War Presidents (part 2), 13 September 2008
  6. Biden’s gaffes are a threat to American’s complacency!, 13 September 2008
  7. America gets ready for new leadership (or is it back to the future?), 14 November 2008
  8. “Don’t Let Barack Obama Break Your Heart” by Tom Engelhardt, 21 November 2008
  9. Obama supporters mugged by reality (and learn not to believe in change!), 9 December 2008
  10. The transition between Imperial reigns: what will it mean for America?, 16 December 2008
  11. Lind explains why Obama’s foreign policy will fail, 14 January 2009
  12. About Obama’s coronation – wisdom from Fred, 23 January 2009
  13. Obama opens his Administration with a powerful act that will echo for many years, 4 February 2009

28 thoughts on “Change you should not have believed in”

  1. This linked article probably should go with #13 in the list above which is about how, even with all the issues discussed in the lead-in to this thread, some sort of substantive ‘process change’ is already underway, in this case in the manner in which Obama has conducted a recent Town Hall meeting. To me the most interesting sentence was:

    “What’s more, Obama invited two critics of his package along for the Air Force One ride to Indiana: Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who both voted against the bill.”

    As noted earlier, I continue to think that although he has to bow down to the powers that be in most ways – and sincerely so – he also is attempting to shift the culture of US politics, in Asian philosophy known as the ‘feminine lineage’ approach versus confronting obstacles head-on which usually only serves to solidify them further.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This echos one of the major themes in the mainstream media coverage of the Obama Administration, seeing change when Obama acts just like Bush. Bush opened with birpartisan gestures, such as his joint education bill with Senator Ted Kennedy. Obama brings change by similar outreach. The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” has cited quite a few, such as:
    * “A New Rendition of an Old Song“, (rendition policy)
    * “Meet the New Tone, Same as the Old Tone” (opening with an outreach to the Arab’s in the Middle East.

  2. The problem with Obama with “change” is precisely the same as Bush with “democracy.” Both are so vague and amphorus that they could mean anything. Plato explained this in the Phaedrus.

    Other such words would include “freedom,” “justice,” “liberty,” “capitalism,” “terrorism,” “evil,” and many others.

    Charlatans can manipulate such words, Plato notes in many of his works; but he also notes that the greater danger is that one can be self-deluded by using them.

    There has been a certain “bait-and -switch” quality to Obama’s post election behavior. “You failed to notice subparagraph 3(a)iii(A) in my position paper, where I clearly did state that I was open to high executive salaries for bankers.”

    But what’s worse is that apparently he really has believe – despite all human history to the contrary – that it really would be possible to govern a country by having politicians all hold hands and sing together.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I have never understood the point of saying things to the effect of “words are vague.” And the alternative is? We work with what we have. Unless we implement a project concieved by the professors at the Great Academy of Lagado (source):

    The other was a Scheme for entirely abolishing all Words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great Advantage in Point of Health as well as Brevity. For it is plain, that every Word we speak is in some Degree a Diminution of our Lungs by Corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortning of our Lives. An Expedient was therefore offered, that since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for all Men to carry about them, such Things as were necessary to express the particular Business they are to discourse on.

    And this Invention would certainly have taken Place, to the great Ease as well as Health of the Subject, if the Women in conjunction with the Vulgar and Illiterate had not threatned to raise a Rebellion, unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues, after the manner of their Ancestors; such constant irreconcilable Enemies to Science are the common People.

    However, many of the most Learned and Wise adhere to the New Scheme of expressing themselves by Things, which hath only this Inconvenience attending it, that if a Man’s Business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged in Proportion to carry a greater bundle of Things upon his Back, unless he can afford one or two strong Servants to attend him. I have often beheld two of those Sages almost sinking under the Weight of their Packs, like Pedlars among us; who, when they met in the Streets, would lay down their Loads, open their Sacks, and hold Conversation for an Hour together; then put up their Implements, help each other to resume their Burthens, and take their Leave.

  3. FM note: This is over the 250 word limit in the comment policy, but I do not feel like editing or truncating at this time. Be warned, however!
    Obama’s “change” that isn’t proves what astute observers of our political process have long known. The real (political) divide in America is not between the GOP and the Democrats, but between the political class and everyone else. The political elite always take care of their own first, and then – perhaps if it suits them – the rest of us. One could also add elites from the uber-wealthy, cultural institutions, NGOs and non-profits, members of the educational establishment, and the media elite.

    These folks move in the same circles… their children attend the same fancy secondary schools, and the same list of top-drawer universities, just as they did before them. The elites eat at the same restaurants, attend the same charity functions, and join the same country clubs. They also sit on one another’s corporate boards, vote one another raises, and otherwise stratch one another’s backs while doing their best to ignore the “little folk” (i.e. the common citizens of this nation outside of the elites). They also give eachother jobs, promote one another, and mantain channels for information that the rest of us do not enjoy. They can afford to buy a better treatment under the law, and a higher standard of medical care, not to mention material comforts beyond the imagination of most of us.

    In short, America’s elites comprise an unelected aristocracy, a separate society apart from mainstream America, one that favors those with money, fame or power at the expense of anyone else.

    The problem for those who favor the rule of law is not that there are rich, powerful “elites” – but that these elites have amssed such unaccountable political and economic power, power not subject to the check of the ballot box, or – increasingly – the laws of the land.

    Partisan political types will point to specific members of either party, guilty of this corrupt act or that, but for every example from the Democrats, there is one in the GOP. The systemn rewards venality, and promotes those who bend or ignore the rules and laws the rest of us must follow, or risk a visit from the IRS, or one of our law enforcement agencies.

    Whatever one thinks of Sarah Palin, one should ask why was she attacked so viciously? She is apparently a well-liked governor with a moderate level of experience, who has risen on her own merits, at least as much as her peers have done in other political offices around the nation.
    She has her flaws, but are they so much worse than so many mediocre politicians elsewhere?
    Why the hatred from the establishment? Answer: She isn’t one of them, and wasn’t vetted by them, and therefore poses a threat. Obama, every bit as much of a rookie as Palin, faced no such hostility because he belongs to an aggrieved minority, attended an elite university, and knows all the right insiders in the established order of things.

    Those familiar with Chicago-style patronage politics will not be surprised at Obama’s performance so far, which comes chapter-and-verse from the Daley machine and the Democrat scorched-Earth political style so long established in the Land of Lincoln. That, and a bit of Saul Alinski thrown in for good measure. In short, Obama has shown nothing to hint that he is anything but another partisan hack out to feather the nests of his supporters and cronies.
    I’ll gladly eat my words if it turns out differently, but something tells me not to buy that bottle of steaksauce just yet…
    Fabius Maximus replies: Folks tend to think their candidate was treated esp unfairly. I usually find these discussions tiresome and baseless. “Obama is a radical leftist.” “Obama is a secret Muslim.” “Obama is a radical black seperatist.” “Obama is not an American citizen.” Are these so different from the attacks on Palin? Also, at what point during his term can we expect apologies to the American people for these deceitful attacks?

  4. This article strikes me as naive (as perhaps are many Obama supporters). Obama had to get elected first, and he did this by doing what he does best: winning the rhetorical battle. President Obama has proven himself superior to the most skillful Washington insiders in staking out the rhetorical space, staying on message and thus creating a positive image. He also planted the seeds of a personal mythology quite early via his popular writings. Whether this was contrived from a very early date is arguable and intriguing. The result of his rhetorical gamesmanship was an image as a Reaganesque progressive, a populist representative of a new nation that recognizes its diversity as a strength. Does the image match the man?

    The “change” I wanted to see was COMPETENCE…
    Fabius Maximus replies: If you wanted competence, perhaps you should have voted for someone with a bit more experience. There were folks like that in both primaries.

  5. Really, the ‘left’ just hates Bush and the Republicans and is happy to see them gone. Obama will get a lot of slack with them, before they get upset.

    In general, people think things will be back to normal in a year, even though they won’t be.

  6. Hardly anyone seemed to remember by that point how central to the early Obama candidacy had been its complete and total opposition to the Bush administration’s defense and foreign policy.

    Bowman’s article annoys me because I think he’s playing a rhetorical game. First, Bowman somehow, in his own mind, exaggerates the vaguely liberal, hope-y dopey, centrist candidate I supported into a guy with “complete and total opposition” to the status quo. Next, he looks at the first month of Mr. Hopey’s actual vaguely liberal, centrist performance, and concludes that because he’s not a complete and total departure from the status quo, he must have been a fraud! This kind of perceptual trick does nothing for me.

    Also, what graham knopp said.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Correct or not, there are similar observations from some on the Left. So it is not just a conservative playing a “rhetorical game.” For example, see “Obama Reneges on Justice for Torture Victims, Embraces Bush Secrecy Doctrine“, by Valtin, posted at The Daily Koss, 9 February 2009.

  7. Pete mentions “The political elite … the uber-wealthy, cultural institutions, NGOs and non-profits, members of the educational establishment, and the media elite.” In other words, the Villagers, cynical, superficial and impatient, incapable of anything but comment, and obsessed with who is up and who is down and the 24-hour news cycle.

    Unfortunately the article by Bowman falls smack dab in the village square. The President has been in office for three weeks. It would be ridiculous for him not to get people in place and have in-depth policy analyses before announcing anything in terms of changes in the two wars he has inherited that have gone on for six years or more. Had he done something radical already… nuked Pakistan, started a pell mell manic withdrawal from Iraq… one expects that Bowman and the rest of the Village, no doubt joined by unrepentant neocons dreaming of a restoration if the economy stays down… would have been all over this neophyte acting hastily and too soon to please the left and cash in on his overblown rhetoric. It remains true… try to learn, do right, act with wisdom, and you will offend somebody; and if you do not, you will offend somebody. Yesterday he went before an unscreened audience and engaged with people who disagreed with him, on the merits, and went before the press and public and told the truth. It will take some time, perhaps forever, for Villagers to acquire a taste for this.

  8. We wanted competence, we got a perpetual oppositional campaigner. What do you do when your “leaders” simply can’t lead? When they take what is broken and break it even further? Children playing as adults, with their finger on the trigger. Wonderful.
    Fabius Maximus replies: He’s been in office 3 weeks. Your conclusion seems premature.

  9. Swift said the political world is divided into two classes: knaves and fools. You are either one or the other. Greg seems to say if we are not realists (the knaves of the political elite) we are fools (“villagers”).

    Duncan’s reference to Plato is more useful. We, citizens in general, are chained to our seats, facing the rear wall of the cave where the political guardians project a series of shadow images to distract us. The truth, symbolized by the sun, is outside the cave, but we are condemned to think only in terms of shadow play and myths.

    Plato’s pupils, those are who seeking real knowledge, have loosened their chains, and are staring blinkingly toward the mouth of the cave. FM himself has cagily slipped past the guardians and is pointing the way outside.

  10. I found the whole notion of “change” to be silly. The fundamentals of how the Founding Fathers setup our Government were done so *precisely* to minimize change.

    With that said, there are some “changes” that could be made, and I wonder if that’s what Obama and his team really meant … a change in political direction. “Undoing” what was done by “W.” Its my understanding that “W” did a lot to shift more power to the Presidency … I wonder if Obama will “change” that as well …?

    I suppose it seems blatantly obvious, but other than changing the political flavor in office, I can’t see how Obama will affect any sort of fundamental “change.”
    Fabius Maximus replies: Despite you opinion about it being “silly”, Obama won the election on a platform of “change” (and little else). Also, despite the Founders’ intent, we had a period of massive change called the New Deal.

    If this downturn is long and deep, Obama might have the opportunity to redeem his campaign pledges. Even if much less so than the 1930’s, as these things are often easier the 2nd time.

  11. What do we want! “Gradual Change”!
    When do we want it! “In good time”!

    Progressives were not the only people to vote for him, my brothers, both very middle of the road and one quite conservative on social issues voted for him, his strategy seems to be more about peeling off moderate republicans and isolating the right wing of the republican party than appeasing his base.

    perhaps he will have his nixon moment yet. See this excerpt from the movie Nixon (1995), showing Nixon at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Fabius Maximus replies: All current affairs mirror scenes in that great classic film Buckaroo Banzi. In this case, a rally at the Red Lectroid’s secret base on Earth:

    Lord John Whorfin: “Where are we going?”
    The Red Lectroids: “Planet Ten!”
    Lord John Whorfin: “When?”
    The Red Lectroids: “Real soon!”

  12. Someone has said that there are two kinds of people: those who divide people into two kinds, and those who do not. I’m in the latter group;-). “Villager” is Internet slang for the media and political elite, who in their constant trivial tracking of who is up and down in the 24-hour news cycle exhibit a provincial triviality as far from any real notion of ‘sophistication’ as possible. It is not meant in any context to insult real people who live in actual villages who engage in productive activities without pretension. And if there is anyone provably incapable of being either knavish or foolish, please point me in that person’s general direction, for I have yet to encounter one such human being, ever.

  13. Here is precisely what the Phaedrus has to say about uncertain language:

    Soc. When any one speaks of iron and silver, is not the same thing present in the minds of all?

    Phaedr. Certainly.

    Soc. But when any one speaks of justice and goodness we part company and are at odds with one another and with ourselves?

    Phaedr. Precisely.

    Soc. Then in some things we agree, but not in others?

    Phaedr. That is true.

    Soc. In which are we more likely to be deceived, and in which has rhetoric the greater power?

    Phaedr. Clearly, in the uncertain class.

    Soc. Then the rhetorician ought to make a regular division, and acquire a distinct notion of both classes, as well of that in which the many err, as of that in which they do not err?

    Accordingly, for Obama to have campaigned on “change” is one thing. For him to have campaigned on the promise that he would nominate Judd Gregg to the Senate {FM: to Commerce Secretary, not Senate}, insist upon a Republican replacement, and allow Greg to recuse himself from supporting important Obama legislation would have been quite another.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand your comment. Nobody runs on such a detailed platform. This might be a political masterstroke (if a Democrat takes the seat in the next election), allowing him to advance his agenda. Who can say today?

  14. firedoglake today cites a report that Rahm Emanuel is pushing Heath Schuler to counter Reid and Pelosi in order to undermine Obama’s stimulus plan. (“Rahm Emanuel’s Puppet Heath Shuler Blasts Reid, Pelosi“, Jane Hamsher, posted at Fire Dog Lake, 9 February 2009)

    How bout that — his own chief of staff conspiring against him! One interpretation might be they are trying to create an excuse for failing to meet some of his campaign and pre-inauguration promises.

    I agree we shouldn’t judge him too quickly. He may have weasly tricks up his sleeve still to be unveiled.

    Greg: thanks for the clarification.

  15. That candidate Obama cooly and dispassionately hung the Iraq War around the necks of those who brought it about and supported it amounts to “smearing?” Ridiculous! This is the man who ignored the advice of us partisan Democrats and eschewed the many opportunities he had to truly smear his opponents. Some of us feel that he should have called attention to the fact that his ten years of legislative experience compares most favorably to the experience of Mrs. Clinton, a housewife and corporate lawyer for most of her career. Or that Obama should have pointed out even more forcefully the inconsistency of Sen. McCain, who abandoned everything that made him an attractive “maverick” and embraced old-line GOP orthodoxy in a transparent effort to hang on to the sacred “Base.”

    But no, Obama stayed on the high road and prevailed. He knew what he was doing. Which is why I find it laughable that two weeks into his presidency so many of my colleagues on the Left are willing to write him off as just another “partisan hack.” Oh, and by the way, last night’s press conference was the first such presidential event in 8 years where I wasn’t embarrassed to be a citizen of the United States.

  16. Bowman seems to be missing (perhaps deliberately) the actual relationship of Secretary of Defense Gates to the Bush administration’s more malignant policies. Gates came in in the last two years of the administration, picked very consciously as someone who would mark a distinct break with the egregious misjudgments of the Rumsfeld/Feith era. Obviously he was appointed by Bush and is a “holdover” in the Obama administration, but tarring him glibly as of one piece with the whole sweep of Bush policy is either ill-informed or disingenuous. Gates has, in many of his decisions as well as his public pronouncements, stood in opposition to both the philosophy and the specific policies underlying the worst excesses of the Bush era.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Color me skeptical of this protrait of Gates, as I believe there is little evidence supporting it other than some nifty speeches. For more about this see:
    * “Secretary Gates would be a hero – if speeches could reform DoD“, 6 May 2008
    * “I was wrong about SecDef Gates – here is a more accurate view of him“, 7 May 2008

  17. The Presidency takes hold of the person filling office and takes them for a ride. Few remain the same going in as coming out. Sometime a President can ride the bull to the bell and look good doing it. Often, unforeseen events dictate the course and if any direction is applied, it’s coming from the clowns. If the President can describe this ride to suit him, over the general din, he becomes master of his own legacy.

    The only recent President who didn’t embellish his own works (while in office) was Carter. He was honest to a fault but this transparency made him an ineffectual (one term) leader. To appear successful, to be successful, you must play a good rhetorical game. Strait talk doesn’t work.

    Bush had a rough ride because he was a rotten player! Had he been better at the art of discourse there would be a totally different view of his Presidency. Even with the same ride and the same clowns! As for Clinton and Reagan, well, they were masters of the game weren’t they? How else could they have ridden out Iran-Contra and Monica.

    Obama will be judged primarily on his eloquence. That’s just the way it is. Bipartisanship was a central theme of his campaign last year. A big part of the “change” he said he wanted to bring to Washington. It appears that he has abandoned that goal for now. Straw man attacks and long-winded, non directional replies seem to be working so far.
    Fabius Maximus replies: IMO no American President has been or “will be judged primarily on his eloquence”. Certainly not Obama, possibly facing challenges on a scale not seen since FDR and Truman.

  18. Bob Woodward wrote a book based on inside access to the events in the White House right after 9/11. He emphasizes how he was struck by the group dynamic of meetings where ineluctably, time and again, all eyes turned to the President, and the question was,”What do you say we should do?”. Any fantasy that others will intervene, or compensate for Obama’s foibles or deficiencies is apparently just that. We better hope he’s good, because if not, he is still “The Decider”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Is it true that Woodward’s 4 books about President Bush Jr paint very different pictures of him? Perhaps “playing to the stands”, as his readers’ views evolved?

  19. I do not understand your comment. Nobody runs on such a detailed platform. This might be a political masterstroke (if a Democrat takes the seat in the next election), allowing him to advance his agenda. Who can say today?

    To the contrary, you do understand it; you simply don’t agree with it. You would not write the platform that I would write while you might very well consider the Gregg nomination.

    So you do not concur with what I have said, but I have not mislead you into thinking I am advocating something nifty-keen while actually I intend otherwise.

  20. I was impressed by Mr. Obama’s many years of experience voting “present” in the state legislature. When he came to Washington and did the same, while running for president, I was truly astounded. What a man, what a candidate! What’s that you say? He’s not a candidate any longer, he’s the leader of the free world? Could have fooled me!

  21. I don’t know, but the book I’d like to see from Woodward is an honest assessment of how “Deep Throat” was able to manipulate him, and Ben Bradley into taking down the president. It’s a fascinating story only he can tell.

  22. Re: FM response to #17

    Your informed skepticism is one of the main reasons I read your comments — you are of course right to be so. In addition to SECDEF’s speeches (necessary, of course, to lay the groundwork for any reform, but clearly not sufficient to implement it), I’d say there’s been some pretty decisive action with respect to, for example, the U.S. Air Force. You might argue, quite credibly, that firing the top leadership there was simply reactive, driven by immediate failures in nuclear weapons security, but I believe the action had more to do with bringing back under control a recalcitrant service which had been vigorously resisting Gates’s direction on shifting emphasis to winning the current fight and to rebalancing in favor of “irregular warfare” capability more generally.

    I think the proof of this pudding, or some proof, anyway, may lie in the results of the ongoing strategic reviews following the change of administration, both the immediate review of Afghanistan/Pakistan regional strategy and the more comprehensive Quadrennial Defense Review. These may give some indication as to how successful Gates will be in shifting DoD in directions more closely aligned with the realities of the modern world.

  23. re: your reply to #6

    First, thank you for the link to valtin’s Kos diary. That is indeed a very sobering, disturbing view of a legal legacy of the Bush administration which Obama appears to be embracing (a policy of state secrets which cannot be challenged by the courts) I will read up on it more.

    Second, the writer Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” Perhaps I am letting my cynical point of view color my assessment of Bowman. So just allow me to restate what I’m trying to say about him without my customary sarcasm.

    I find it strange that he originally believed Obama to be offering some kind of radical governmental reform. I never had that picture of Obama. It seemed to me that, at best, Obama represented a partial and compromising departure from the toxic neoconservative insanity of the Bush administration. I moderate my expectations of government in accordance with the reality principle. Bowman, however, really seems to have believed that Obama was some kind of radical reformer, and furthermore, to consider his actual performance (after only 3 weeks on the job, yet!) evidence of fraud. In my patiently cynical judgement, both of these reactions lack sufficient adherence to the reality principle. And so I am left bemused.

  24. Guantanomo’s a good test case for ‘change’ — since the Dems and the media have been hounding Bush on the immorality of holding terrorist suspects there, with extremely slow trials. I understood Obama to have promised to close G. down, sort of within the first 100 days. That’s one change many of the ’embarassed to be American’ types seemed to be supporting Obama for.

    Since 2004 & Abu Ghraib, Obama and the Dems have had 4 years to study the question. Why more study now? Because there’s probably not really a better policy than Bush had. If 2 years of Dem domination in Congress isn’t enough to have a better answer than G. to the question of terrorist detainment, I have no confidence that another year of study will give a better answer.

    In fact, every solution has good points and bad points, but the media, and the Dems, and Obama’s rhetoric (like tax cuts for 95% of Americans), seem to promise only the good points or, if bad points (higher taxes), only on a few. The richest 5% or so.

    There seemed to be no question ‘off limits’ to be asked of Palin — but how often in the 2 years of campaigning was Obama asked what he would really do with Guantanomo? I don’t recall reading of his answer, tho rhetoric like ‘restoring American moral leadership’ and such was quite prominent. Allowing the true believers to believe what they wanted, while not quite specifically promising anything that, were he to not do it, would make him a promise breaker.

    I think he lied, knowingly and deliberately misleading his supporters. But I also think he is making the right decision now, as I thought Bush made the right decision, in keeping G. open. And troops in Iraq. And increasing troops to Afghanistan. And accepting some rendition of some prisoners. I’m much happier with him as a campaign liar/ promise-breaker who makes the pro-freedom decision when he must decide, than to lose in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or allow terrorists to leave G. and kill more.

    I feared he was telling the truth in his campaign, but now I’m relieved. He wasn’t.

    (Oh, on the economy, BIG BIG Gov’t is coming; I fear that too — but that mostly means little middle class growth among non-gov’t workers, and less suffering for the irresponsible. Tax cuts would be better than boondogles, but late stimulus is likely to be needed in a year and in two.)

  25. BTW, Fabius, do you still thing the Judd Gregg nomination was such a smart move?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Quotes! Why cannot I not get folks making comments on this site to use quotes!

    Comment #13: FM said “This might be a political masterstroke (if a Democrat takes the seat in the next election), allowing him to advance his agenda. Who can say today?”

    I suspect Kinder refers to this: “Gregg Withdraws as Cabinet Pick, Cites Policy Clashes“.

    IMO people are far too quick to draw conclusions about events. This is probably apocryphal, as it has been attributed to Mao, Lin Piao, Chou-En Lai — and probably others:

    Q: What was the impact of the French revolution on world History?
    A: It is too soon to say.

  26. Update: more evidence that Obama’s promises of change were just a con

    (1) “Solicitor general nominee says ‘enemy combatants’ can be held without trial“, LA Times, 11 February 2009 — “Elena Kagan tells a senator she agrees with Attorney General Holder that the U.S. is at war and therefore may detain suspected terrorists indefinitely.” Excerpt:

    Harvard Law Dean Elena Kagan, President Obama’s choice to represent his administration before the Supreme Court, told a key Republican senator Tuesday that she believed the government could hold suspected terrorists without trial as war prisoners.

    She echoed comments by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. during his confirmation hearing last month. Both agreed that the United States was at war with Al Qaeda and suggested the law of war allows the government to capture and hold alleged terrorists without charges.

    If confirmed as U.S. solicitor general, Kagan, 48, will defend the administration’s legal policy in the courts.

    During the Bush administration, the solicitor general argued for the White House’s war-on-terrorism policies, including the president’s decision to imprison foreign fighters and alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    (2) “Panetta takes back remarks on detainee rendition“, AP, 6 February 2009 — Excerpt:

    The United States will continue to hand foreign detainees over to other countries for questioning, but only with assurances they will not be tortured, Leon Panetta told a Senate committee considering his confirmation as CIA director.

    That has long been U.S. policy, but some former prisoners subjected to the process — known as extraordinary rendition_ during the Bush administration’s anti-terror war say they were tortured.

    “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta said Friday in his second day before the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I intend to use the State Department to be sure those assurances are implemented and stood by, by those countries.”

    Panetta formally retracted a statement he made Thursday that the Bush administration transferred prisoners for the purpose of torture. “I am not aware of the validity of those claims,” he said.

  27. WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will continue to hand foreign detainees over to other countries for questioning, but only with assurances they will not be tortured, Leon Panetta told a Senate committee considering his confirmation as CIA director….

    “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta said Friday…

    …Panetta told senators it’s time for the agency to move ahead, rather than dwell on the harsh treatment of foreign detainees in the previous administration


    Leon Panetta approaches the Uzbeki-kitty-Land Consulate flanked by silent guards in dark sunglasses. Two of the guards are holding a handcuffed, blindfolded, long-snouted, furry prisoner.

    Panetta: Hello Mr. Cat, I have someone to extraordinarily render to you.

    Mr. Cat: Ooohhh Mr. Panetta! Why you’ve brought us a new meal, I mean a new freind! How purrrfectly wonderful. Look, it’s a mouse, how meowvelous.

    The long-snouted prisoner struggles in the guards’ hands. Mr. Cat licks his lips and his tail swishes in anticipation.

    Panetta: Yes, Mr. Cat, I have brought you a terrorist mouse. He was caught crawling into the kitchen, and we believe he was plotting to blow up the house. Or, at least that’s what we were told by our allies. They must have been telling the truth, we paid them handsomely for this mouse.

    Mr. Cat: Well how delicious! I mean excellent!

    Panetta: Yes, Mr. Cat, but before we give this terrorist mouse up to you, I need to seek assurance that he will not be treated inhumanely. Can you give me this assurance?

    Mr. Cat: (Tail still swishing) Ooohh, meow, absolutely Mr. Panetta… we won’t harm a hair on his head. (Stops, begins to cough.) Pardon me Mr. Panetta… cough.. hiss… (goes behind desk and begins coughing up a hairball)

    Mr. Mouse: (Shouting in a hoarse, squeaky voice) Mr. Panetta, the last fifteen mice you gave to the Uzbeki-kitties were tortured for days, then eaten! Don’t leave me with them, they’ll kill me!

    Panetta: Oh, you terrorist mouse, don’t you know it’s time for the agency to move ahead, rather than dwell on the harsh treatment of foreign detainees in the previous administration?


    “Hope may be a lying jade, but she does at any rate lead us to the end of our lives along a pleasant path” – La Rochefoucauld

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