Tag Archives: obama

Dragging Down Obama

Check this: Karl Rove is trying to lead a challenge to Eric Holder’s nomination as AG of the US. I don’t think Rove or any other part of the GOP cares particularly about Eric Holder per se, they care about Holder’s connections to Clintons, who they would like to tie to Obama.  It’s an effort to re-inscribe the partisan frame around Obama and his Administration  – and points out the risks O took in bringing so many Clinton-types into the fold when building his Administration.

First the ‘Surge,’ then the ‘Reboot’

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freaks flickr

ctrl-alt-del. from corture.freak's flickr

I love the recent electronic/electric metaphors flying around US foreign policy these days – first the Bush “Surge” metaphor used to describe the war, now the Obama “reboot” metaphor for his approach to the ‘Muslim world’ (btw, what is the ‘Muslim world’? This term probably needs some unpacking too…).

The ‘Surge’ was such a great metaphor – it invoked a jolting, devestating pulse of energy that was simultaneously momentary and fleeting – a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak.  It reduced a complex military operation to a word (more condensed than the played ‘Desert Storm’ type names), and got the ball rolling for making the escalation happen.

The ‘reboot’ metaphor does other equally interesting things – it isolates the problem in US-Muslim diplomacy as a glitch or virus that can be wiped away with the flip of a switch, it invokes the technology that will be a prime medium for the policy shift (and echoes Obama’s tech cred),  and its inward-focused, almost repentant sound.

The real question is what a properly-operating US foreign policy OS would look like – Obama seems to think there is something inherent that the ‘Muslim world’ should see in the US, and I’m interested to know what his ‘Safety mode’ boot would look like.

The Declining New York City Power Center

Good ol Robert.  Finally put to rest.  from bckspcr

Good ol' Robert. Finally put to rest. from bckspcr

I’m totally fascinated by this too-quick New York Times article on the decline of the New York City power-centers.

The article shows one problem with eliminating term limits – it creates an inability to pick hard political battles like really saving the MTA when constantly in the running for a third or fourth term.  Regardless of the high re-election rate for incumbents, the media attention on a candidate for re-election means they shy away from real battles.

The main point of the article is more interesting.  It shows the dearth of symbolic resources for politicians in the city- Robert Caro’s point at the end that the issue is also one of ‘vision’ points out that no one really has a clear sense of what the city should or does look like.  Obama harnessed the decline of machine politics on a national level by latching on to a fundamental set of American Myths that propelled him to prominence.  In New York, the myths may be just as powerful, but they certainly don’t unite in the same way – glam NYC clashes withcorrupt or mafia New York, intersects with multicultural diverse New York.

The decline of hard-and-fast power centers, and the lack of real and easy symbolic center puts a particular emphasis on grassroots organizing.  Groups like the Working Families Party and sites like ChangeNYC will be the key to shaping the future of the city.  With no quick paths to power or easy levers to pull, the emphasis returns on creating coalitions and organizing disorganized groups with potentially converging interests against the developing rapid changes overtaking the city.

The Good Cop

I have no doubt in my mind that this NYT article on Rahm Emanuel would have been much different were it written about a Republican.  Seriously: for the past few years ‘industry ties’ has been a kind of buzzword for ‘corruption’ under the Bush administration, and I don’t see why that should change under Obama.  I don’t think that this provides evidence of a left media bias because Emanuel isn’t that left, which is really the point – the obsequious media coverage of the Obama campaign/administration, forecasting change and lauding the team of experts starts from some fairly shaky assumptions.   Mainly it rides a partisan/Manichean frame that associates the “last 8 years” with failure, and any ‘change’ with ‘hope.’  The other implicit assumption is that Obama-as-is is the only change we could ever really see, when in reality there could be many different Obama Administrations, depending on how much critical pressure the media and an organized opposition places on him.

Government Governs.

still scary. from capt Kodaks flickr.

still scary. from capt Kodak's flickr.

Welcome to the technocracy: Obama is looking to govern for the sake of government as a technocrat in the center, rather than the left-wing ideologue that both the GOP and Democratic bases mistook him for.

Instead, he’s appointing Democrats and Republicans including old political rivals.  History says that non-partisan apointments get the job of government done best – which should return attention to questions about what government should be doing, if anything at all.

In many regards, left criticism has been hamstrung by George Bush in the Oval Office.  Folks got very confortable with lambasting every policy failure as a failure of incompetence or stupidity.  No doubt things will continue to go wrong under an Obama Presidency, but we don’t yet have the language to describe any impending failure in a particularly useful way.  For instance – while the current Bush-created budget problems will no doubt make Obama’s policy agenda difficult to implement, the focus on that issue alone sets us up for another 4 years of blaming Bush, rather than making forward-thinking criticisms of Obama (who, as the inheritor of the Bush Imperial Presidency and a unified government, will be the most powerful president in modern history).

Hopefully cutting off the head of the Bush-king will encourage people to think about the role of government on the whole, and reflect on whether it needs to do as much as we think.  I am encouraged by people who would like to see police officers reduced to basic first-aid responders and directors of traffic, and I think we need to do more of this type of reflection during an Obama Presidency.

The Issue is Issues

but first end torture. from jezobeljones flickr

but first end torture. from jezobeljones' flickr

This excellent cross post to ACLU’s blog by Glen Greenwald shows just how effective Obama was in framing his candidacy as one about ‘issues’ without really stating what those issues are, or where he stands on a great number of them.  Greenwald points out the host of questions that remain about just civil liberties even after Obama’s fairly extensive 60 Minutes interview – I think it’s particularly important to note that ‘closing Guantanamo’ could mean a wide variety of things, including some that would be much worse than whatever it is now.  The camp provides a visible symbol that you can visit and monitor, but if prisoners are moved to black sites around the world, then everyone will have a much harder time keeping tabs on them.  Obama somehow made an end run around actually discussing any of these things, but still managed to berate McCain for avoiding ‘the issues.’