August, 2009

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Obama's True Waterloo

by Thomas G. Vincent

Interested readers are invited to check out Tom's blog "Single Doubt"

Okay, it’s time to play “compare and contrast” again. Consider the following two quotes from recent news.

Barack Obama's presidency will be defined by the extent to which he attempts to right America's (badly adrift) moral ship. Peter Daou – "Huffington Post"

If we’re to stop Obama on this, (healthcare) it will be his Waterloo, it will break him. "Sen Jim DeMint"

At first blush these two statements might seem diametrically opposed to one another. But I believe there is an element of truth to both. Senator DeMint may have correctly surmised that Obama has a Waterloo, but I do not believe it will be over a single issue such as healthcare. As Daou points out, whether Obama “wins,” whether he goes down in history as a great president or not, will have more to do with the administration’s ability to focus on: “Placing less emphasis on the political insiderism, Rahm-style deal-making, image-management and perpetual campaigning...” and more emphasis on: “...using the bully pulpit to champion bedrock principles of justice, fairness, and equality of opportunity.”

Candidate Obama did an admirable job using his intelligence and trusting his political instincts gut rather than listen to his handlers. He gave inspiring speeches and appealed to lofty moral goals. President Obama appears to be relying more on "pragmatic" advice from a team of policy "experts," like Timothy Geithner, Robert Gates and Rahm Emmanuel, many of whom don't appear to have truly signed on to his call for change. He no longer is making speeches about doing the right thing. Now he only talks about whether doing the right thing is practical and whether the benefits of morality outweigh the costs. In short, we voted for a hero. What we got was an accountant.

On top of his other missteps, in my opinion Obama is also making what I consider to be a classic strategic blunder: thinking your opponent wants the same thing you do. Conservative Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, (and the corporate masters which they serve) do not think in terms of what's best for the country or the world; they just want to see Obama lose. They don't just want to see one or two of Obama’s policies fail; they want to see them all carried off the battlefield in body bags. Obama’s opponents have made it very clear they are not going to be content just tearing down the walls of the New Deal; they want to scorch the earth and sew salt into the fields.

And they will not stop hounding him - ever. From "tax tea parties" to "birthers" the republican party is filled with people who will go to any expense to turn people against him. Obama may believe in his heart of hearts that “the pursuit of power is no longer a zero sum game,” but he will never convince the small minority of americans with large stock portfolios that it is so. To act as if he can, to act as if Kindergardeners like Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Jim DeMint will be reasonable and share their toys is worse than naive. It is an exhibition of hubris; like entering a Texas Hold ‘em tournament and expecting everyone to share their chips.

In poker terminology, Obama is acting like a whale playing against a group of professional card sharks. The longer he sits at the table, the more he plays by republican rules, the shorter his stack of political capital will become. The only way Obama – and the nation – will come out a winner is if he refuses to play the political poker game. Obama has to stop fighting trench warfare. He has to rise above the fray and speak directly to those who put him where he is: you and me. As Daou points out, this is: “...what swept Obama into the White House, the soaring ambitions, the pervasive sense that he would be the ethical antidote to Bush/Cheney, the hope that an Obama presidency would be the dawn of a new and better America.”

In short, the only way Obama will prevail at his Waterloo is if he stops acting like an accountant and starts acting like a true leader, inspiring all of us to fight for the principals he once espoused, like freedom, justice, equality, change and yes, hope.