Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hoping Obama Succeeds

Ever since Rush Limbaugh, the GOP’s driveller-in-chief, said he hoped Obama’s presidency would fail, liberal critics of Obama’s banker-friendly “bail out” plans have felt obliged to repeat ad nauseum how much they hope Obama succeeds. To date, liberals have been less vocally opposed to Obama’s plans to fight on in the endless wars Bush started. But, from that quarter too, expressions of hope that Obama will succeed abound.

Not wanting to take on a popular President directly, obstreperous Limbaughites in Congress – the ludicrous Eric Cantor, for example – have lately been more nuanced in what they say about their hopes. Needless to say, they express ambivalence for all the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, they are right to be ambivalent.

There is a sense, of course, in which ambivalence is unwarranted. Obama is, as it were, the Jackie Robinson of presidential politics. As such, it is his burden to be better than his rivals, and better too than his successors. One can therefore only hope that he be, or seem to be, among the “great” American presidents – one of the few that leads the country in a sound direction through extraordinary and difficult times. Since judgments of presidents are always comparative, that should not be too difficult a challenge to meet – especially in the circumstances Obama inherited. After Cheney and Bush, “greatness” in the sense in question has become indispensable even for minimally satisfactory job performance – for the first time since the Roosevelt era. As a highly intelligent, well informed, articulate and even eloquent leader, Obama should be up to the task – of besting all presidents since FDR. One must hope that he is.

But hoping that he “succeeds” in Afghanistan and Iraq is another matter. Inasmuch as both profoundly ill-conceived wars are already lost, succeeding in them amounts just to saving face. Elite opinion in the United States is unanimous on the necessity for that. But just the opposite is what the people, in contrast to their rulers, need. For the United States to make a successful soft landing in the turbulent times ahead, what is required, above all, is an Iraq-Afghanistan Syndrome that dwarfs the salutary but short-lived Vietnam Syndrome of the 1970s. We will survive and flourish only to the extent that our leaders are forced to relinquish their imperial ambitions. To that end, defeat is not enough. There must also be the appearance of defeat. But this is precisely what Obama proposes to spill yet more blood to avoid. One can only hope that he fails.

With regard to his economic policies, the situation is more ambiguous. On the one hand, whatever staunches the misery is unequivocally welcome. If only for this reason, one must hope Obama’s efforts succeed. But inasmuch as those efforts are, for now, more about saving bankers than saving banks, inasmuch as they aim to restore the old regime, not to replace it, “success” will likely mean more – even greater – trouble ahead. Obama’s liberal critics have done fine work explaining why. Why, then, do they also claim to hope these plans succeed? Is this not yet another example of liberals not taking their own side in an argument!

Had liberals been more obstreperous in the days when Bush and Cheney were doing so much harm some of that harm might have been averted. Instead, they were intent on being “reasonable” --cooperative, “bipartisan,” cowardly. They still are. In this regard, there is actually something to learn from their morally and intellectually “challenged” rivals in Rush Limbaugh’s and Eric Cantor’s Greater Evil Party.

No comments: