Friday, July 2, 2010

Alter's book

I've been reading Jonathan Alter's new bestseller, The Promise President Obama, Year One, for the last week and a half. I agree with most of the reviews (slow start, picks up nicely, good read, etc.). I would encourage everyone to read this book; if you're in Indy, you can borrow my copy.
Lefties want FDR, or who they believe FDR was. He and Obama are quite different. FDR was open to improvisation, infighting between aides and showmanship. Despite his considerable gregariousness, FDR wasn't at all affectionate in private. He never saw the need to soothe the feeling of those around him and, I suspect, played their insecurities like a fiddle. He was a great president, no doubt, and remembered fondly by friends and family but he was not the man we believe him to be today.
Obama's amazing speechifying abilities lead people to think of him as a superstar (or showoff, according to Fox News), but he's really not. He may appear to be Marlon Brando, but he's much closer to Arthur Miller. He's a writer. He doesn't act without a road map and he's inclined to let the map present itself. If it takes a day, great; if it takes a year, so be it (health insurance reform, anyone?). Obama would never resort to court packing, or using troops to shut down the federal theater; he would anticipate such things and maneuver away well before hostilities broke out.
Is Obama better the FDR? No, of course not. FDR knew the robber barons would back off at some point for fear of the streets filling up with pissed off working people, and he exploited that repeatedly.
Some will recall the story about the wealthy cabal that wanted to put Gen. Smedley Butler in charge of the Cabinet and make FDR a figurehead during his first term. Butler blew the whistle on them, but they had covered their tracks by the time Congress got around to investigating. I doubt FDR lost much sleep over it. He knew who he was up against and assumed they would never really risk their comfortable homes on Long Island Sound.
Obama, however, is conciliatory by nature. He means it when he talks about bipartisanship. No matter how many times he's rebuffed, it's always going to be his first impulse. The other side can't make nice with him and continue raising money from Wall Street and those wealthy Birchers funding FreedomWorks, teabagging and the like. There is enough of a supply-side bent among the populace to provide a base for the anti-Obamites to fight from. It's a loser in the long run, but these people don't take the long view. Nonetheless, Obama will keep sticking his hand out because it's his nature.
I personally would love to see him start going after the preening Blue Dogs (Ben Nelson, I'm looking at you) and publicly recruit young progressives to run for state house and Congress seats. Decently funded progressives run strong everywhere outside the Deep South and would really benefit from Obama's seal of approval. It will cost Obama a few votes in the suburbs, but not enough to put himself within striking distance of the GOP's pathethic presidential bench for 2012.
FDR had a country ready for a little socialism to beat back the robber barons. Obama has a country blissfully ignorant of how things have gotten so bad and how much worse they are likely to be. The working man was a hero in FDR's day; the working man is a nuisance today.
Keeping this in mind, I give Obama some slack and take solace in his deliberate way of doing business. I just hope he cuts loose this fall and scares the mouthbreathers.

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