The President presidenting: “President Barack Obama meets with Amy Rosenbaum, Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients, Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director, Council on Environmental Quality, Senior Advisor Brian Deese and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in the Oval Office, June 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”
I don’t mean the day he was inaugurated. And I don’t mean the day he was elected. It might have been the day he clinched the election, although if you look at the polls going back into the summer, it looks pretty clear that he was well on his way to winning before either convention, but people were temporarily fooled by McCain’s post-convention bounce. But what I mean is that this was the day when Barack Obama became President in that it was to him the country began looking for the leadership and reassurance we always look for in our Presidents in moments of trial and crisis.
By Thursday, September 18, 2008, however, the big picture had grown so unstable that the small picture had become nearly incoherent…On Monday, Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch, having announced $55.2 billion in losses on subprime backed CDOs, had sold itself to Bank of America. The U.S. stock market had fallen by more than it had since the first day of trading after the attack on the World Trade Center. On Tuesday the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it had lent $85 billion to the insurance company AIG, to pay of the losses on the subprime credit default swaps AIG had sold to Wall Street banks---the biggest of which was the $13.9 billion AIG owed to Goldman Sachs. When you added in the $8.4 billion in cash AIG had already forked over to Goldman in collateral, you saw that Goldman had transferred more than $20 billion in subprime mortgage bond risk into the insurance company, which was in one way or another being covered by the U.S, taxpayer. That fact alone was enough to make everyone wonder at once how much of this stuff was out there, and who owned it.
The Fed and the Treasury were doing their best to calm investors, but on Wednesday no one was obviously calm. A money market fund called the Reserve Primary Fund announced that it had lost enough on short-term loans to Lehman Brothers that its investors were not likely to get all their money back, and froze redemptions. Money markets weren’t cash---they paid interest, and thus bore risk---but, until that moment, people thought of them as cash. You couldn’t even trust your own cash. All over the world corporations began to yank their money out of money market funds, and short-term interest rates spiked as they had never before spiked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had fallen 449 points, to its lowest level in four years, and most of the market-moving news was coming not from the private sector but from government officials. At 6:50 on Thursday morning when [FrontPoint hedge fund manager Danny Moses arrived at work], he learned that the chief British financial regulator was considering banning short selling---an act that, among other things, would put the hedge fund industry out of business…
…At 10:30, an hour into trading, every financial stock went into a free fall, whether it deserved to or not…
It had been four days since Lehman Brothers had been allowed to fail, but the most powerful effects of the collapse were being felt right now. The stocks of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were tanking, and it was clear that nothing short of the U.S. government could save them. “It was the equivalent of the earthquake going off,” [Danny] said, “and then, much later, the tsunami arrives.” Danny’s trading life was man versus man, but this felt more like man versus nature: They synthetic CDO had become a synthetic natural disaster…
Bush had already absented himself from the job. And McCain panicked, pretty much letting everyone know who didn’t already he didn’t have what it takes to be President. I’d have to do some rummaging through the virtual library, but I think it was about then that McCain became a supporting player in his own campaign and Sarah Palin, God help us, took over the starring role. But Obama remained what had always been his most Presidential quality, steady. If anything, he got steadier. Calmer. People looked at him and they saw their President already at work. That was the day Mitch McConnell lost too. And Mitt Romney. There would be plenty of people who didn’t like seeing him as the President. Who wouldn’t vote for him no matter what. Who would never admit he’d actually won. Who still can’t admit it.
But from that day on there were always going to be a majority of Americans who would look at him and see---not our President---the President.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation's original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas.
He didn't know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group -- the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court -- in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that.
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley -- -- how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond -- not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.
Not going to be systematic about turning my notes from the Clinton Global Initiative into posts so they won’t be appearing chronologically. Blog might read like one of those novels full of flashbacks and flashforwards for the next few days. Probably when I’m done I’ll go back and rearrange things. Right now I’m starting out near the end of the day Tuesday with this from President Obama’s remarks closing the plenary session.
Here’s the set up. Chelsea Clinton’s baby is due soon. Very soon. Like any day now. And the the New York meetings of the Clinton Global Initiative always coincide with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly’s High-level Meetings and General Debate and the two events together flood the streets with convoys of limos and armored Chevy Suburbans. Traffic lanes and whole streets get blocked for blocks. Makes getting around by car not fun. So…
President Obama walks onstage Tuesday afternoon, pauses on his way to the rostrum to have a few words with Bill Clinton, and when he steps up to the mic opens by letting us know what he said to Bill.
I was just discussing with President that if Chelsea goes into delivery while I’m speaking, she has my motorcade and will be able to navigate traffic. Cause actually it’s pretty smooth for me during the week. I don’t know what the problem is. Everybody hypes the traffic, but I haven’t noticed.
Maybe you had to be there. They say it’s all in the delivery. Cracked Matt Damon up anyway.
One of the ways I’ve counted myself one of the blogosphere’s luckiest bloggers over the past ten years is that I’ve always had terrific commenters---smart, thoughtful, articulate, witty, knowledgeable, opinionated but even-tempered, fair-minded, and considerate.
Last two days I’ve been even luckier, because, thanks to a link from Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns & Money, the comment thread on my post Smarter than the President? has been filling up with the thoughts of folks trooping over from LG&M, whose commenters are almost a match for my regulars. An interesting discussion on what if anything to do about ISIS has developed and I urge you to check it out, starting with one of our cherished own, Falstaff, who wrote:
I'm kind of in the same boat as you here, Lance. I'm faintly reminded of the scene in Christopher Stasheff's Her Majesty's Wizard where the title character realizes that while he might know a fair amount about a diverse range of subjects, all that means is that he's not an expert in any of them, and so that knowledge doesn't count for a lot. (Of course, unlike him, I haven't been transported to a plane of reality where all my apparently-useless knowledge makes me into a skillful magician who can defeat bad guys, fight armies, and rescue princesses. Ah, well.)
To answer the question you pose, I don't know. My inclination is that we ought to do something, although exactly what we ought to do I have no idea; I don't think we should move in ground forces, and I don't think we should continue bombing. Times like this, I struggle with my Quaker belief system -- I'm committed to peace in all things, but good God, someone must do something to help the innocent people being oppressed and killed over there. I wish I was wiser and knew what that was.
I happen to have been right about Iraq (this is no great claim to fame; plenty of people smarter than me were right for better reasons), and I do feel that President Clinton failed morally (I don't know enough about geopolitics to really say otherwise) on Rwanda. But if I'd been there, and if by some strange chance he'd taken leave of his senses and asked a kid just out of high school (I've forgotten just what year that went down, but I think that's about right) what exactly he should be doing, I wouldn't have had the first idea how to advise him.
It's actually kind of infuriating. On the other hand, I'm just a former mailman and once-again student; all my training's either been in, you know, sorting, transporting, and delivering mail or esoteric stuff like comparative religion, history, American politics, and obscure sports trivia. On the other, isn't this the sort of situation where we have presidents, senators, congresscritters, and their advisers for?
To answer the rest of your questions for the record, even though I do take it that the point you're trying to make is in the asking, not in whatever answer we might give:
Kuwait was a mistake, I've always thought -- not because of the end result, which I have no problem with (anything that increases the power of men like Saddam Hussein is at best morally questionable), but because I didn't like our motives and our mucking around for the umpity-umpth time in Mesopotamia. The Kurds have been comprehensively screwed for the last few centuries, and we should have kept our promises to them; likewise, I think that it was both just and right to intervene in Kosovo, because good God, if we stand by and watch genocide happening and do nothing, what good are we as a people?
The Tora Bora campaign I felt was a useless dumb show, more about President Bush and his administration looking like they were tough warriors than actually accomplishing any of the stated goals. I have a suspicion that I'm one of very, very few Americans who was and is angry about the death of Osama bin Laden -- not because I carry any water for that miserable, evil man, but because I don't believe that the state (even when "the state" is the United States, the country I believe in and love most) should ever go around murdering people. I would have been very pleased had he been arrested and put on trial in a civilian criminal court, and then, presumably, locked away where he could do no harm ever again. (I feel that way very strongly about all terrorists, actually.) And Libya... hell, I don't know. I suppose it was handled as best as one could expect, but still, what a mess.
I’ve said it before, it was a lot easier to be smarter than the President when the President was George W. Bush.
A major change in the tone, tenor, direction, and focus of this blog occurred sometime in the late summer of 2011 when it dawned on me that this President is smarter than me.
Of course I knew this already. I’d known it since 2004 when he made the speech at the Democratic convention. It’s one of the reasons I was happy to vote for him in 2008. But there’s knowing a thing and then there’s knowing a thing. Vanity is a powerful mind-altering drug. Even though I knew he was way smarter I hadn’t adjusted my thinking about my own thinking accordingly. I’d blogged merrily along as if although I might not be smarter than him on every issue there were plenty on which I could still teach him a thing or two (because of course he read my blog and asked himself every day, What does Lance think about this?). I’m not sure what exactly caused it, but once it finally sank in that compared to him I’m dumber than a box of rocks, it became nearly impossible for me to criticize him or his policies anymore.
This didn’t mean I decided he couldn’t or shouldn’t be criticized. I certainly didn’t start thinking he was never wrong.
What happened was that I realized that in order to criticize him I had to make myself smarter by making myself more knowledgeable. Once I set out to do that, though, I was in trouble. The more I learned, the more I learned I had to learn. Worse than that---worse as in a bigger blow to my pride---the more I learned the more I learned that I wasn’t smart enough to learn a lot of things I needed to learn. It’s as Richard Feynman was fond of saying in various iterations: The more I know, the stupider I get.
I found myself having to admit that for seven years I’d been pretty much blogging off the top of my head (If you do the math here, you’ll see I just told you I’ve been at this for ten years. In fact, today is the blog’s Tenth Anniversary.) and that had to stop.
It was ok to bullshit my way through some arguments. I do know stuff, lots of stuff, and am not really dumber than a box of rocks.
There were times when I still felt smart enough to write about politics: when the targets of my criticism were the Political Press Corps, just about every Democratic politician who is not Barack Obama and every Congressional Republican, and priests, preachers, and their yahoo congregations.
I can be fairly confident I’m smarter than almost every single member of the Press Corps but that’s not saying much, and it’s only because the conventions and practices of their reflexively group-thinking profession make them stupid. Plenty of individual journalists and pundits are way smart but they only get to show it now and then while they’re in DC and it only comes to the fore when they get the hell out of town and stop spending their time among other insider journalists and pundits.
Plenty of politicians, left and right, are smart too, but they’re all too often pressured by political realities into not doing the smart thing because the smart thing hits pocketbooks, upsets apple carts, gores oxen, and hides cheese or, to put it in actual English, getting the smart thing done usually costs money and requires people to change their minds, change their expectations, and give up things they like, trust, and rely on to try to do what usually hasn’t been tried before because it was the smart thing to do.
When it comes to the priests and the preachers it’s practically a no-brainer. I mean that almost literally. Their object is to keep people from using the brains God gave them.
Still, the truth was I wasn’t as expert on the political and economic issues I blogged about as I’d taken for granted I was and as I felt I had a responsibility to be.
And once I faced up to that I had to ask myself, “What other subjects have I been blogging about as if I’m such a smart guy but where I’m actually showing myself up as a pettifogging, derp-acious, logorrheaic horse’s patoot?”
After serious self-reflection and review, I concluded there were only three subjects on which I had done the required homework that I could rely on my stored knowledge enough to be reasonably sure I knew what I was talking about and ask readers to trust I wasn’t just making it up as I went along.
Shakespeare, Discworld, and movies. Superhero movies, in particular, although not a few readers will tell you I’m not all I’m cracked up to be on that one either. Hello, Gary.
Of course I didn’t give up writing about everything else. But I wrote less and less often and with, I think, less certainty---except when the target was Right Wing Republicans, the priests and preachers, and their yahoo congregations. I’m still certain I’m smarter than all of them. Smarter enough, at any rate.
But since then there’ve been all numbers and kinds of issues, events, and topics du jour I’ve shied away from that once upon a time I would have “nailed” with easy confidence.
Which brings me back to the President and on to ISIS.
I have no idea.
I think we really need to do something to stop ISIS.
ISIS is an army of mass murderers led by a genocidal maniac. Whether or not that maniac can lead his mass murderers into an attack on the United States (he probably can’t and probably doesn’t want to) is a separate question from whether or not we should do something to stop them in Iraq. What blood-thirsty warmongers like Dick Cheney, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and their stooges in the political press corps say we should do is beside the point, too. They always think the answer is killing more brown people. Everything they say is noise and posturing and has no real bearing on the question of whether we should set our sights on destroying or at least driving back ISIS. The fact that John McCain is always wrong shouldn’t figure into our trying to decide what’s right.
What we should do and how that would work are the next questions.
The President, smart as he is, isn’t much help on this. He doesn’t seem to know the answers. Of course one of the signs he’s smart is that he generally admits, tacitly but sometimes explicitly, he’s not certain what to do or whether or not what he’s planning to do will work or if it’s even the right thing to do. Another sign is that he takes his time making up his mind. Anyone who criticizes him for being indecisive has to explain what good it did when we had a Decider in the White House.
But the liberal blogosphere hasn’t been any help either. Seems a great deal of the discussion on the left side of the bandwidth is based on naturally fading memories of the run up to the invasion of Iraq and the smug certainty that Since we got it right then, we must be right now.
Republicans would like to forget George W. Bush was ever president. I think a lot of liberals have forgotten exactly what he did that makes them want to forget.
Bush and Cheney and company weren’t wrong generally about Iraq. Just as with everything else they put their dirty and bloody hands to, they were wrong specifically every step of the way, starting with their decision to let bin Laden and al Qaida get away in order to clear the decks for them to indulge Bush’s personal vendetta against Saddam and Cheney’s ambition to own all the oil.
That Iraq and with it the rest of the Muslim world was a democracy waiting to be declared was a lie they told themselves to justify their other lies but they believed it and based their military strategy on it.
“We’ll be welcomed as liberators!”
This seems a little different place to begin than where the President is beginning now.
He may be working from wrong assumptions, but he’s not working from the same assumptions.
Here is where a lot of internet doves lose me. Their arguments seem to me to be based on the assumption that we should get ourselves out of the Middle East no matter what because there’s basically nothing we can do to make things better and just by being in there we make them worse by stirring up suspicions and hatreds. Those are the smart ones. But I would think that since I’m inclined to agree.
I’m inclined to agree. That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree.
There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”
I’m not bothering with any arguments that are based on the assumption that whatever we do is wrong because we’re the ones doing it.
So I’m asking for help.
Should we do nothing? Why or why not? What should we do and how would that work? And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.
Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?
Before you re-introduce your head to your desk, read the whole thing. You’ll notice that while the editors say the poll shows that Americans think the country would be better off if Mitt Romney was President the percentage who actually thinks this is less than the number who actually voted for him in 2012. And in the ranking of best Presidents, Obama comes in fourth, behind Reagan, Clinton, and Kennedy, Feel a little better? Ok, here’s my take.
What the poll likely really shows is that liberals who were polled, in our earnest humorless way, took it seriously, actually deliberated with themselves before giving thoughtful answers, and in the process wound up dividing their votes for the worst President between Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush and their votes for the best between Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton, and Obama, while conservatives saw the poll as as an opportunity to tell liberals Fuck you.
Oh, that’s right, there was an election a couple weeks back, wasn’t there?
Our guy win?
Yeah, I crack myself up.
Naturally, Republicans have been casting around desperately for a reason for their loss, looking to blame anybody or anything but themselves and their message. They seem to be settling on Mitt himself. God forbid they consider that the President just out campaigned them or, gasp, that more people in the country just liked him better. Better instead to blame God Himself or, at any rate, an act of God.
It boils down to his claiming it was unfair that the country got to see the President being the President so close to the election.
Of course the possibility that the President would have to be the President at some point during the campaign should have figured in Mitt Corp’s thinking and planning from the start. Apparently it didn’t, and probably because, since they never let themselves see the President as the President themselves, it didn’t occur to them that anybody else would ever see him as the President either even when he was busy being the President.
Scratch that. It wasn’t that they could never see the President as the President. It was when they did see him as the President, they saw him as a particular President who wasn’t Barack Obama.
But it was also the case that Mitt never saw the President as the President because he never saw himself as the President. I’ve said this before. He apparently never thought about what it means to be President.
And it’s why he was lucky people weren’t paying attention to him during Sandy. If they had been, they’d have seen him making a fool of himself again by not acting Presidential. His stunt collecting canned goods the Red Cross told him it did not want was a cheap gimmick that, if voters had noticed, made him look like a small time huckster trying to cash in on a tragedy.
Which is what he was.
Not. A. President.
This guy is a President.
The President being the President. Photo courtesy WhiteHouse.gov: “President Barack Obama listens to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood speak during a briefing on the response to Hurricane Sandy at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Oct. 31, 2012. Pictured, from left, are Secretary LaHood; Energy Secretary Steven Chu; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”
"President Barack Obama fist-bumps custodian Lawrence Lipscomb in the
Eisenhower Executive Office Building following the opening session of
the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth. December 3, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza." Courtesy of the White House and the President.
Somehow, though, I think the President likes it and means it.
The President got hugged while campaigning in Florida, but as any good reporter will tell you, there’s always a local angle. Jeremiah Horrigan found it for our local paper, the Times Herald-Record:
He was in his sweats, swinging away on a driving range Sunday when he got an excited call from the manager of his pizzeria.
"The president's coming here, in like 18 minutes!" the manager said.
"The president of what?" a mystified Scott Van Duzer wanted to know.
As all the world now knows, the president whom Van Duzer immediately ran off to greet was the president of the United States, Barack Obama.
You could say, as most already have, that Van Duzer's greeting was an uplifting experience for President Obama: after high-fiving him, he gave the president an exuberant bear hug and lifted him off the floor of Van Duzer's Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant.
But who, you might reasonably wonder, is Scott Van Duzer? The short answer is he's a local boy — he was born in Cornwall and lived there until he was 7.
You may have heard that vindictive Right Wingers with too much time on their hands decided to try to punish Van Duzer for the sin of liking it that the President of the United States visited his pizza joint by hate-spamming Big Apple’s Yelp entry.
I don’t watch the daily polls and I don’t like anybody who does.
Ok. I don’t like it when anybody does. My Twitter feed is full of poll obsessives who alternately drive themselves nuts and launch themselves into states of giddy euphoria as they watch the polls go up and down. People seem to think that any minute now a new poll’s going to come along that will decide things once and for all right now so we can all relax and stop worrying about November. I’ve actually unfollowed a number of people I like and admire as bloggers and twitterers because of their poll watching compulsions. Months before an election I don’t need to know. And I don’t need to spend the months before an election alternately driving myself nuts and launching myself into states of giddy euphoria over politics! I’ve got too much else to make me crazy and even a few other and better reasons to be euphoric.
Plus, there’s some arrogance at work.
I don’t feel I need to watch the polls because I’ve predicted the outcome of every Presidential election since I was a kid long before the second Tuesday in November. Every election has been decided in my mind by late spring. The only one that fooled me a bit was 2000. I thought Gore would win it a little more handily.
So I’ve been trying to ignore the polls, even when they’ve been good news for the President, which, the last few days, they certainly have been.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Two things have been at work. The first is that it’s been a theme of Mitt Romney’s life that the more people get to know him the less they like him. It goes way back. It’s the subtext of the bullying and assault of that kid in prep school. Mitt was doing it to try to get the other students to like him. I don’t know why he’s had this effect on people. Probably lots of different reasons. I used to like him. Sort of. When he ran against Ted Kennedy. Massachusetts is kind of our second home state and I followed that race. I didn’t want him to win. But while I wouldn’t have voted for him against Ted I might have voted for him if he’d been running against some other Democrat. Massachusetts has produced some pretty lousy Democrats and I don’t mean of the Republican-lite variety. I mean corrupt, stupid, inept, or otherwise useless. Mitt didn’t strike me as so bad next to some of them. I didn’t like him as much when he was governor though. I liked him less when he ran for President in 2008. I couldn’t put my finger on why. But this time out I positively loathe the guy and I can tell you why. I have told you why, in about a dozen posts. Boils down to this. To him people are costs to be controlled. He’s the first person to run for President on a major party line who believes human beings are a problem.
If that’s what people are picking up on, it’s no wonder nobody likes him.
And virtually nobody does.
That’s one thing that has been consistent in the polls. People do not like him. Even people who plan to vote for him. This has been a point pundits and analysts in the Village media have studiously ignored, because they’ve been wedded to the idea that the President is doomed and if they included Mitt’s personal approval in their analyses they would be predicting that the American people are bent on putting a man they don’t like in the White House.
When has that ever happened?
Nope. Liberals didn’t like Nixon. Most people did. My grandmother loved him.
But my feeling---and that’s all it is, my feeling, not a prediction---that the President is on his way to re-election isn’t just based on Mitt’s being unlikeable and his convention giving more people the opportunity to learn not to like him.
I also expected the President’s convention to be just that---the President’s convention.
I expected that the more people saw of the President outside of the filter of Village Conventional Wisdom, the more they would remember that we don’t need a new President. We already have a pretty good one. I’m not talking about his effectiveness at getting this or that bill passed. I’m talking about his ability to be the many things we need our Presidents to be, all of which add up to giving us confidence that he is in command.
And if you think being in command means being able to make political opponents drop to their knees and beg for mercy with just a frown, you have watched too many episodes of The West Wing.
Even George Washington couldn’t do that.
FDR couldn’t even do it to his political allies.
Being in command or, rather, giving the people confidence that the President is in command, means giving them the confidence that the day to day running of the country is being taken care of and that if something happens, if there’s a crisis, the President will act swiftly, decisively, and competently to put things back to right. Again, this isn’t a matter of doing the right thing by anyone’s ideological lights or by Paul Krugman’s lights (bright and focused as they so often are). It’s more a matter of the passengers trusting that when the car spins out on the ice the driver isn’t going to panic and steer us off a cliff.
And this has been the basis of my “predictions” of who is going to be President. The guy who gives the impression of being the better driver wins. The re-election of George W. Bush would seem to refute this, but there are always other factors at work as well, and one of them is that Americans tend to like their Presidents and it takes a lot of work on the part of one to make them dislike him. Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter worked at it.
W. didn’t. Well, he didn’t work at anything. But people still liked him until Katrina hit and he proved that he wasn’t in command, and then it was too late.
What happened at the Democratic Convention is that people were reminded that we have a President. Bill Clinton tore Mitt Romney to pieces but afterstarting with the point that Barack Obama is Bill’s idea of a good President. From there on, everything he said about Mitt was an implicit or explicit comparison between Mitt and the President. And then, Thursday night, the President took the stage.
He didn’t come out as that hopey-changey guy from 2008. He emphatically put that guy in the past. He stood there as the President of the United States.
And a lot of people’s hearts swelled with pride.
I think the debates will accelerate both these trends, that the more people see of Mitt the less they will like him and the more they see of the President the more they will accept it and like it that he is the President.
That’s what I think. I’m not predicting. I’m just saying what I think and why. I think the President will be re-elected because he is the President.
The Village talk about the polls has been all about what a tight race it is, but the focus has been on the polls of likely voters and, for reasons of prudence, those polls have been based on a very strict and limiting definition of likely. The talk, though, hasn’t been simply a matter of prudence. It’s been colored by a number of assumptions. One is that that even though the President has generally been up a few points even among likely voters, because his lead is within the margin of error, the error will correct in Mitt’s favor. The other assumption is that the President is running against history.
Here’s the CW in a nutshell: “Obama’s in deep trouble because no modern President has won re-election with economic numbers as bad as the numbers the President has had to deal with.”
“Modern” means since World War II, so how many incumbent Presidents are we talking about?
Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush.
I’m not including Gerald Ford because he’s a special case.
How many other un-elected Vice Presidents who became President because the sitting President resigned in disgrace and left town one step ahead of the law and who then pardoned that disgraced President ran for what wasn’t in fact re-election but election for the first time?
But here’s the thing.
They’re all special cases.
Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush were running for re-election when the unemployment numbers were bad but not as bad as they are now, true. But weren’t other things going on too?
Off the top of my head I can think of a few things that might have hurt Carter beside unemployment.
I could write a whole post about how this all adds up to people having the sense that Carter wasn’t in command. Maybe I will. For now, though, the point is that it’s not just the economy, stupid.
By the way, the sign Carville put up in campaign headquarters was “The economy, stupid” not “It’s the economy”. It was a reminder to anyone talking to the press to stay on message. Keep the focus on the economy because that was President Bush’s main weakness. Mitt Corp went off message. Probably because they realized that the economy wasn’t going to be as much of a weakness for the President as they hoped it would be and panicked. But that’s yet another post.
So, that’s what I think has been happening. I also think that as the election gets closer more people are going to move into the likely voter category and more of them will be people who plan to vote for the President.
But we’re still two months out. All kinds of things can happen. Even if the trend continues in the President’s favor he’s still going to need every vote he can get.
One more point.
It’s not enough that the President gets re-elected.
We need to take back the House and hold the Senate and I haven’t seen polls showing that either is guaranteed.
But then, like I said, I’m trying to ignore the polls.
President Obama reading Where the Wild Things Are at the White House Easter Egg Roll. Photos by Susan Walsh of AP, gif created by Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg for the Atlantic. Via the Queen of all Wild Things, Wev McEwan.
Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men doesn't try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon itself.
The Master does his job and then stops. He understands that the universe is forever out of control, and that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Because he believes in himself, he doesn't try to convince others. Because he is content with himself, he doesn't need others' approval. Because he accepts himself, the whole world accepts him.
Bored to Death’s novelist and unlicensed detective hero Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) on a case that’s more Harold Lloyd than Raymond Chandler.
HBO’s Bored to Death isn’t everyone’s bowl of tea. (That’s a pot joke, folks. Pot figures prominently in the lives of the characters and regularly in the plots on Bored to Death.) It puts the blonde on the floor. One of the most discerning, creative, and intelligent people I know feels that the characters are her friends. But I know a man of refinement, wit, sophistication and taste the show leaves as cold as mackerel. (Hello, Jim!) I get a kick out of it, mainly for Ted Danson. It’s his best work since Cheers. I also enjoy the way it makes use of New York City. Not as a backdrop. As a character, which is what it was on Law and Order.
The show’s producers know their way around town and expect us to as well. When Jason Schwartzman’s character makes an escape from an S & M club in the Village and appears to run from there up to and through Times Square it isn’t a case of the director sending viewers post cards: “See, folks at home, our show is set in New York City! Enjoy these lovely, random shots of familiar sites you’ll recognize from movies and other TV shows set here!” It’s a joke. We’re meant to get that Jonathan has run a specific route and that that’s a very long way to run, especially encased head to toe in black leather.
But what I really like about Bored to Death is that it’s one of the last great detective shows on TV.
Schwartzman’s character, Jonathan Ames, is a novelist who has set himself up as private detective. He’s not a cop. He’s a real P.I. “Unlicensed,” as he’s always scrupulous to point out, but still, as an impressed character in this season’s finale calls him, a shamus. Jonathan is a modern knight-errant. Like Marlowe. Like Spenser. Like Travis Magee and Don Quixote.
Yep. Bored to Death’s creator, also named Jonathan Ames, also a novelist, but not a shamus, except in his imagination, compares himself and his show’s main character to Don Quixote.
Although only the TV show’s Jonathan sallies forth into the world to tilt at windmills, Ames says that they both suffer from the same delusive daydreams and the cause of the daydreams is the same as Quixote’s. The old don’s brain melted from incessant and obsessive reading of medieval romances. He was, as Ames puts it, “driven mad by literature.”
Ames and Jonathan were also driven mad by literature. Incessant and obsessive reading of detective novels melted their brains.
Tuesday night at the Paley Center for Media, Ames sat down to talk about wrapping up Season Three of Bored to Death with Dick Cavett, in a nod to Cavett’s cameo as himself in a recent episode. (Ames asked Cavett if he’d had any trouble playing Dick Cavett. Cavett said no, he had lots of prior experience playing the Dick Cavett roles nobody else wants on a number of sitcoms.) In that episode, Cavett has Jonathan on his show and the interview is interrupted by Jonathan’s nemesis, the sneering, effete, literary poseur Louis Greene, played by the incomparable John Hodgman, crashing onto the set while hanging upside down on a rope.
Sad to report, Hodgman was not to be found at the Paley Tuesday, upside down or right-side up. But Ames and Cavett carried on, getting their laughs right-side up and without acrobatics, through wit, charm, bad jokes, and demonstrations of amazing and useless verbal talents---Cavett has a gift for creating anagrams, Ames can repeat any word he hears immediately backwards.
By the way, although much of the material for Bored to Death takes off from incidents and characters from Ames’ real life, he doesn’t have a nemesis like Greene. Greene is the incarnation of voices inside Ames’ own head when he gets down on himself, which he does regularly. The sort of spiteful and insulting things Greene says to Jonathan, unprovoked and apropos of nothing, whenever they meet---“Your most recent publication was unwarranted and undeserved. Did you know that?”---are the sort of things Ames will say to himself of himself.
“I’m my own nemesis.”
Bored to Death started as short story for Esquire Magazine, Ames told Cavett. He was spending the night at the apartment of a “very nice young lady” and, unable to sleep, sketched out the whole story in his head.
I had always wanted to be a private detective and had thought of putting an ad on Craigslist but didn’t because I knew there would be legal ramifications and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I just wanted to follow people and get into fights and do heroic things. So I didn’t put the ad up. but then I got the idea that a character with my name could do that and then I could live it out in the story.
Cavett asked if Ames saw himself as a sort of Raymond Chandler figure like Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep? Not exactly, Ames replied. More like that gaunt and ramshackle figure in rusty armor out of Miguel Cervantes’ great novel.
I was intrigued after reading Don Quixote by the notion of being driven mad by literature. And so the same way Don Quixote came to think he should be a knight by reading all these books about chivalry and basically lost his mind…my idea was that I had read so much detective literature that I thought I should be a knight. So I wouldn’t actually be cool like Bogie. I’d be more deluded, like Don Quixote. So that’s what Jonathan is. He’s also a Don Quixote.
Responding to a question from the audience, Ames cheerfully admitted to being a fan of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But although there are resemblances---one being the presence of Ted Danson---the two shows have different tones and sensibilities due in part to the way they’re put together.
Curb Your Enthusiasm is entirely improvised. The actors are given nothing more than an index card with a short summary of the character they’re playing, the set-up of the scene and where it’s supposed to head, and that’s it. Ames made a guest appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He was playing an accountant. Somehow, whoever was supposed to give him his index card forgot to give him his index card.
Bored to Death is tightly scripted. Danson and Schwartzman often make suggestions in rehearsals about how to make this or that line sound more natural. Zach Gallifianakis will actually be encouraged to ad lib when it’s felt his character needs to do or say something really crazy. Hodgman will sometimes add a flourish or two at the end of a line to make the line more “Louis Greene.” But for the most part what’s said on screen is what was written in the script.
Wrapping things up, Cavett told Ames that working on Bored to Death was one of the most fun things he’d done on TV in a while. Ames said that Cavett was a delight to work with and invited him back on the show, which prompted Cavett to ask if they’d had any guest stars they didn’t want back, any prima donnas throwing their egos around?
Ames said no, the only trouble he could think of having with a guest star was with an actor who wasn’t a star and didn’t get to be a guest. Ames had cast him, thinking he’d be hilarious in a part, but when they had the first table reading of that week’s script, the actor was terrible.
Afterwards, Ames conferred with the director, the writers, and the stars. Everybody agreed. The actor was terrible.
Even Ted Danson, who is apparently one of the kindest, least critical people in show biz, said, mildly, “I don’t think he’s going to work out.”
The decision was made. Fire the guy. Decisively, Ames took action and pleaded with the director to do the firing.
Some time afterward, Ames was on the Brooklyn ferry and realized that that actor was sitting right in front of him.
The final two episodes of Season 3 air on HBO Monday, November 21 and Monday, November 28 at 9 PM Eastern. Before Ames and Cavett got to talking, Ames screened those two episodes for us. Not going to tell you much about them, but I can’t resist a couple of spoilers. I’ll try to be cryptic, but you might want to stop reading here.
First, it turns out there’s a reason Jonathan is able to turn into a real detective in a pinch, sometimes even displaying a Mike Hammer-esque talent for fisticuffs and gunplay.
Second, fans of Super Ray will be glad to hear there’s a Raymobile!
Seems every day the President does something new to disappoint me or make me mad at him, and at the end of every day, no matter how much I twitter about it, blog about it, fuss about it on Facebook, or just bitch and moan about it around the house, some things just don’t change.
At the end of the day, he’s still smarter than me. Still harder working than me. Still more self-disciplined. Still in better control of his temper. Still better able to handle frustration and disappointment.
Obviously, he is way more successful, but that would be true even if he’d never become a United States Senator, never mind President of the United States.
And although I believe he hasn’t done enough or enough of the right things in the right ways as he could have and should have done, it’s still the case that he has done good things for the country that far outweigh whatever good I could hope to do in ten lifetimes. In fact, he does more good for the country in an hour than I have done in this lifetime. I could boast that I haven’t been anywheres near as destructive. I don’t kill people on a daily basis. But then I don’t have fleets of predator drones at my command, nor is it my responsibility to keep crazy and evil people from murdering American civilians.
On top of all this, he is taller than me, better looking than me, thinner than me, younger than me, and generally all around cooler than me, and he’s a nerd! This nerd is cooler than me!
And he’s a better basketball player to boot.
For all I know he’s even a better husband, although that’s a question the blonde and Michelle would have to sort out together.
I suspect he’s a better father than me but comparisons are tricky on that score. He has girls. Different problems and different criteria for judging. Malia and Sasha seem to adore him, but my guys are teenagers and when they were the Obama girls’ ages they seemed to have a higher opinion of their old man than they do now. Let’s see how the President’s doing when Malia starts dating.
There is one area in which I am superior to him.
I am not a slave to cigarettes.
I can go days without a smoke.
In fact, I have gone decades without a puff. I never picked up the habit.
The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others […] Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity…
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad […] We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.
That’s from a post at the New Yorker by David Remnick. There are all kinds of terrible ironies in this. At the time, Barack Obama had good reason to think his own short political career was over. We’ll have to wait until he writes his autobiography and tells us what was sort of future he was imagining for himself then, but it’s unlikely he was picturing the words Guantanamo, drones,Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, Osama, death of appearing in the indexes of biographies and histories in which he was a central figure.
There are some things to keep in mind.
Although the Seals killed him, he was really brought down by police work. Not by torture, not by harsh interrogation techniques, not by waging two expensive, deadly, and unnecessary wars.
We could have had him ten years ago but Bush and Cheney decided they wanted a war with Iraq instead, and the Media cheered this idea and helped sell it.
In the grand scheme of things, Bin Laden is more responsible than George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Barack Obama for the wars and the deaths. He was proud of this. He wanted it. It’s what he planned for. He wanted the bodies piled up in the streets. Not just American bodies. It’s even a question as to how much he really cared about killing Americans. We were a means to an end. He wanted Muslim bodies in the streets all over the Mideast. He wanted to see his world burn. If ours went up in flames along with it, all the better. In 2001, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama wrote about “the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness.” It’s a task it can’t be said that as a nation we’ve ever really tried to undertake. We still need to try. But at least for today it’s all right to just understand this. Osama Bin Laden was an evil human being who got what he deserved because he’d already gotten so much of what he wanted.
I don’t have much more to say. Smarter people are saying smarter things all over the web today. Crazier people are saying crazier things too. I don’t know if it’s better to ignore them or not. But I hope you won’t mind if I end this on a lighter note.
Saw three funny tweets this morning. The first two were by Slate political correspondent John Dickerson.
Bin Laden lived in the suburbs. Half expect interviews of neighbors in which they say "he was a bit of a loner."
Embarrassed officials say that when they said Bin Laden lived in a cave they meant "man cave" --he had a keg & flat screen in Abbottabad.