very good job, room for improvement

December 29, 2009

Looking back over 2009 without getting into details, I’m convinced historians will positively view Obama’s first year in office. I think historians will say Obama succeeded in attempting to “set the table” for the “dinner” that is ultimately to come. You can see this in his outreach to the muslim world. And, in his approach to reforming health care, by working with Capitol Hill in a way that came perilously close to too much “hands off.” The stimulus plan epitomizes this approach, since, by definition, the benefits are suppose to come soon-after in the near to medium term.

From what I can glean, Obama is detached in a cool, Kennedy-like manner; but, unlike Clinton in his early years, his team doesn’t appear to let things spiral down into chaos because of this cool detachment. No one is mistaking the detachment for lack of concern or discipline.

Obama’s business model appears to be working.  He gives the Capitol Hill big wigs room to do their stuff, and lets them get the credit. So, in Obama 2009, the public did not see an over-reaching figure trying to meet certain benchmarks for this or that agenda item, and, in so doing, running rough-shod over the public or Capitol Hill.  Of course, Republicans belly-ached — but that’s an expected part of political kabuki, right?

In contrast, Clinton, in my opinion, over-reached with his health care reform by failing to include the public, an approach many pundits say was responsible for undoing that earlier reform effort.  (But, let’s remember that, for every Moses, there’s got to be an Aaron).  By taking his time and including the public, Obama inoculates his team and the Democrats against Harry and Louise and fulminating right-wing Republicans.

So, yeah, Obama’s polls might me down; but that’s to be expected.  There was bound to be some amount of fog that would surround, befuddle and even scare Joe and Jane Q. Public.  But the fog will eventually lift, and, when it does, we’ll see were moving on the right path.

But all of the above is about how Obama “managed” 2009 very well. For that, history will applaud Obama. But for history to really take notice of Obama, he’s going to have to take his presidency to another level. That doesn’t mean scolding pols holding out on health care reform even more, or wagging an angry finger in the direction of Wall Street. No, Obama needs to think along the lines of what Lincoln sought to do with his Gettysburg Address, as Garry Wills convincingly writes.

I’d love for Obama to give a presumptively low-profile speech (perhaps delivered on a Friday morning to a gathering of bleary-eyed Rotarians or Lion’s Club members) that, in a candid-speak manner that Obama is capable of, connects health care reform, the global economic system, and America’s role now and far, far into the 21st century.  As the pre-eminent leader in the world, America has an obligation to be a beacon of hope and freedom, and to see that these ideals are strengthened and woven into international regimes, accords, and norms of behavior. Yet the economy we are in is characterized by ebbs and flows the likes and magnitudes to which we are not yet accustomed, although 2008-2009 was certainly a wake up call.   This will not change.  Against this larger backdrop, things like health care reform matter by offering Americans a firmer footing in a global economic regime characterized by flux. Innovation, capital- and business formation matter. Rather than undoing it, we want to and must continue to be the leader in this fast-paced new economic order. Can you imagine a world where an economic giant like China becomes the driving force behind the norms and principles of international regimes and agreements?


on the public option . . in whatever form

December 15, 2009

“If not now, when; if not us, who?”

— Ronald Reagan quoting the Rabbi Hillel as the then-governor of California embarked on efforts to “clean the mess in Berkeley”

embarassing, yes, but not like mathias rust

November 30, 2009

Remember when Mathias Rust flew his plane from West Germany to Finland to Moscow back in 1987?  He parked that baby right in the middle of Red Square, of all places.  Now that caused damage of monumental proportions, to the old Soviet regime at least.  So, yeah, the intrusion into the White House party embarrassed the Secret Service and maybe even President Obama (though I doubt it); but, in the end, it wasn’t damaging like what Mathias Rust did over twenty years ago. . . . But in the meantime let’s tighten up the security.

proud of obama

November 16, 2009

I do not know the details of what President Obama said in China yesterday, but from what I am reading in the papers, I think his think history will look back at the talk about the Internet is as a signature moment. [note: update December 15, 2009]

kudos . . . now let’s move on

July 24, 2009

Kudos to the president for discussing the Professor Gates situation, laying the issue out there as it really is.  And double kudos to the president for trying to ratchet-down the controversy.  Like he said, it was a teachable moment all around.  Now, let’s get back to work.

xerox and the demise of the soviet

June 9, 2009

Ronald Reagan and Jackson Democrats gave the push that ultimately toppled a USSR hobbled by the weight of rampant paranoia that stifled innovation needed to keep up with the United States.  The Russian Communist Party kept close watch on all forms of communication fearing that users of something as simple as the xerox machine would be up to no good.  Scientists and entrepreneurs could not operate effectively in this climate of suspicion.  Repeated decades of stunted growth finally caught up to the Communist Party, who by the late 1970s found that they did not posses the economic base and intellectual capital to keep up with the West.  Efforts by Gorbachev to reform and open up the economy through perestroika were too late.  The Soviet system gasped its last breath in 1991. In clamping down on the free exchange of ideas via the Internet by requiring all computers to include web-filters, strangely enough, we find the Peoples’ Republic of China repeating the paranoia of the old Soviet, inviting the same consequences born by the Communist Russia onto itself.   Will these communists never learn?

mon dieu! foie gras!

June 8, 2009

Mon dieu!  Le President ate foie gras while in Paris.  San Franciscans would not be pleased.

identity politics and sotomayor

June 1, 2009

How we see the world is intimately tied to who we are.  The lens through which we see the world is made from the raw materials of personal history and background.  Those who have always known privilege will tend, more or less, to see and order the world from that framework.  Likewise, someone who has not experienced privilege will tend to order her or his world accordingly.  Therefore, identity politics should and must factor when considering appointees to high positions along with a host of other important factors.  Thus, I am okay with Obama’s emphasis on empathy in selecting Supreme Court appointee-Sotomayor.

100 days

April 24, 2009

“I think Obama has done a great job of putting us in the right mood. We can argue the policy details or minor mis-steps like the Chavez thing — as pundits, politicians, and policy wonks will certainly do. But in Obama we see we’ve got a leader who’s doing things (maybe even experimenting) within reason to get us out of our funk with respect to the economy and global issues like the war on terror or g’warming. Had McCain won you would have seen more of the same that we’ve seen, well, since 1980. On global warming, all others either said there isn’t a problem, there might be a problem, or there’s a problem but I’m not going ‘to the mat’. On terrorism, others would say pass the ammo, maybe talk later. The point is that in Obama we see a level-headed guy who’s trying his hardest to solve deep-seated problems the magnitude of which all of us know will grow even more if we continue with half-measures of the past. So, 100 days into Obama’s term, we’re hopeful, saying, ‘Finally!'”

(note: originally posted on CBS’ Facebook page in response to a query on assessing Obama’s first 100 days)

european vacation

April 2, 2009

Come on!  What’s not to like about the President and First Lady’s trip to Europe this week?  Having Europe and the world over warmly receive the both of them like they did makes you optimistic, that while we might be down economy-wise, soon enough, if we all stay positive and stick to a good plan, we’ll all have our game back and everything is going to be all right.  And, leading the pack through it all will be the good old U-S-A.