8th 2011
11-dimensional chessmasters checkmated by “reality”

Posted under: American history, bad language, unhappy endings, wankers, weirdness

Scott Wilson has an interesting article in the Washington Post today about President Barack Obama’s political troubles and how they may be connected to his dislike for retail politics at any level–he never stays on a rope line for more than 15 minutes, big donors are shocked by how little face time they get, and he delegates the management of Congress to Vice President Joe Biden.  Members of Congress are getting a lot more sleep than back in Lyndon Johnson’s day–there are no more “Senator So-and-So, this is your President” calls at 2 a.m. 

But then, they’re apparently not the only ones getting plenty of rest.  Obama’s schedule shows striking deference to his children’s schedule and needs–but remember how we all laughed and laughed at President Ronald Reagan and “Mommie” being in their jammies by 7 p.m. to watch re-runs of Little House on the Prairie?  I’m not convinced that Obama’s days are significantly longer:

Where Clinton worked a room until he met everyone, Obama prefers to shake a few hands, offer brief remarks and head home to spend the night in the residence, so he can have breakfast with his girls the next morning and send them off to school. That may be good for his mental health, but it’s a challenge for those in the reelection campaign assigned to manage the whims of big donors.

Unlike Obama, Clinton reveled in not only the strategy of politics, but also its personal elements. To his advisers’ chagrin, he sought advice far outside the White House and outside the Democratic Party. He lobbied intensively for his legislation. Emanuel once recalled being awoken at 3 a.m. by a phone call from Clinton, who wanted another list of on-the-fence members of Congress he could call to secure passage of his crime bill. (Emanuel pointed out the time, then gave him the names.)

After hours, Obama prefers his briefing book and Internet browser, a solitary preparation he undertakes each night after Sasha and Malia go to bed.

Sure makes those late-night Clinton administration pizza parties and college-style bull sessions look a little bit better in retrospect, no?  It seems to me that in the case of the U.S. Presidency, being well-rested is something that can wait until retirement.

In any case, go read the whole Wilson article–it’s worth it.  I thought that this section of the storyabout conflicts among Obama’s inner circle of advisors was especially interesting:

And within the White House, a divide grew between those who helped engineer the president’s victory and those who joined the administration during the transition. The newcomers thought policy was being developed in a political vacuum, and they watched many of the administration’s proposals have a difficult time moving forward, even in a House and a Senate with large Democratic majorities.

To veterans of the campaign, though, it was more a matter of Washington not understanding the leadership upgrade that had just taken place. “He’s playing chess in a town full of checkers players,” a senior adviser and campaign veteran told me in the first months of the administration. Obama had a “different metabolism,” the aide explained.

“It’s not cockiness,” the adviser added, “it’s confidence.”

Can you believe this guy?  (And yes, I’m pretty sure it was a guy.)  “It was more a matter of Washington not understanding the leadership upgrade that had just taken place.”  To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, “you have to govern with the town you’ve got, not the town you wish you had.”  What a delusional–I mean “confident”–a$$hole.  Compare this to a famous anecdote Ron Suskind related in 2004 from his research on the Bush Administration for The Price of Loyalty:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

What can I say?  Democratic a$$holes are just as faith-based and delusional as Republican a$$holes, only they seem to be less politically successful.


68 Responses to “11-dimensional chessmasters checkmated by “reality””

  1. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Oct 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Historiann, I am surprised that you would carry water for a hacktastic hack like Wilson, just because this particular piece of abject hackery fits your narrative that Obama is terrible in every possible way forever infinity bajillion.

  2. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    What’s your evidence that it’s Wilson who’s the hack, here? (And who’s “carrying water?”)

  3. MCO on 08 Oct 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    You want Obama to… what … give more face time to big donors? More meetings with the GOP? His issues don’t seem schedule related.

  4. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    I’m OK with little time for big donors, but I thought the big picture that Wilson assembled was insightful for understanding why Obama’s approval/disapproval ratings are at all-time lows/highs. *Not* engaging with legislators and the public clearly aren’t working for him or whatever is left of his political agenda.

    Everyone’s free to make their own judgment–CPP is right that this analysis of Obama fits “my narrative,” but I’m unaware of any reporters who are writing stories about how energetic, focused, and connected Obama is. (That is, it’s based on my reading and analysis of what’s available, measured against his political success since November of 2008.) All of the stories coming out now are about how listless, distracted, and disconnected Obama and his team are. Maybe all reporters are captive to the Official Narrative–we’ve seen this before. But, most of the insights into (for example) the Bush II WH, from Suskind to Bob Woodward & others seem to have borne up over time.

  5. koshembos on 08 Oct 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    The Comrate shows that there always are survivors to any catastrophe no matter how bad it was. Hell, there are still Nazis in Germany and Stalinist in Russia.

    Wilson notwithstanding, we are experiencing one of the worst administration ever.

    Is it possible that in addition to not being smart, lacking a spine, sleeping too much, Obama is also agoraphobic?

  6. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Oct 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    I’m unaware of any reporters who are writing stories about how energetic, focused, and connected Obama is.

    That’s because the fuckebagge media scum don’t get any eyeballs that way. Basing supposedly substantive political analysis on who and what gets talked about in the media and why is the worst sort of diversionary bullshit that only serves the sicke-fucke insane billionaire plutocracy.

  7. Historiann on 08 Oct 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    Well, but as they say Comrade, journalism is the first draft of history. It’s all we’ve got to work with now, and it’s much of what historians of the future will have to work with. I agree that one must be skeptical of any source, but in the absence of memoirs of admin intimates, it’s all we’ve got to go on now.

    I feel pretty good about my historical judgment at this point, save my naive belief that the Dems really were better than Republicans and that electing them would make a difference for the better. I’ve been right all along for going on 20 years about the stupidity of various administrations’ policies: the nomination of Clarence Thomas; NAFTA; the 2001 Bush tax cut; the 2003 invasion of Iraq’ and the vexed “health” “care” “reform” bill of 2010 both in its Byzantine conception and execution.

    Perhaps historians of the future will judge Obama better than his approval rating looks right now. (In fact, I think that’s quite likely. Historians will surely note the fierce and united opposition he’s faced in congressional Republicans all along.) But the fact of the matter is that a key means by which historians judge presidencies is by their popularity in their time and their success in convincing others to follow their agenda.

  8. Comrade PhysioProf on 08 Oct 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    Sounds good, if you want to base your analysis on the worst of the worst corporate-owned drivel of the WaPo, NYT, or whatever plutocrat propaganda rag. If you want to judge a president’s “popularity”, you would do well to consider assessments other than those of propaganda organs with powerful interests in seeding perceptions of unpopularity. As I have already pointed out, I am surprised that this needs to be explained to you.

  9. Janice on 08 Oct 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    I thought the contrast drawn with Clinton was telling because, in both cases, the president’s behaviour was criticized, to wit, of Clinton:

    . To his advisers’ chagrin, he sought advice far outside the White House and outside the Democratic Party.

    You can’t win if you’re a real people person or a loner. At least you can’t in the eyes of the chattering classes inside the Beltway. I think that Clinton sold himself well beyond those confines. I’m waiting to see if Obama will do that when he starts his run-up for re-election, but I’m pretty sure he’ll sound a lot different from our last Democratic president.

  10. Charlie on 08 Oct 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    Really, Historiann? The gist of this article is a). Obama thinks his job as a parent is really, really, important. Gee, I thought one of the big wins that the feminist movement scored for everyone was making it a generally accepted truth that parenting by both genders is important labor that must be respected and protected, no matter what your job is. The other main point of the article was b.) Obama is not Bill Clinton. I think we already knew that.

  11. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2011 at 3:25 am #

    The article is a perfect example of the worst sort of anonymously sourced insider Village gossip designed to titillate and distract. As a historical document, it tells the vivid story of the sad degeneration of the Third Estate, but nothing about Obama.

  12. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2011 at 3:28 am #

    Sorry: the Fourth Estate.

  13. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 4:59 am #

    My problem isn’t with the source of the story, though if you really want to win Historiann over, CPP, not that WaPo is the newsletter of a for-profit education giant.

    My issue is with Historiann’s polemical re-reading of it. A detail that Obama cherishes and protects his time with his family is juxtaposed with the image of the Reagans going to bed early, when nothing in the article implied anything of the sort, in fact, it gave an opposite image of quiet engagement through research and preparation. Historiann both suggests Obama should be more aggressive and disrespectful towards the personal time of his staff and Congress, by calling people in the middle of the night a la LBJ and Clinton. Wasn’t there just a post here slamming the arrogance of male big dogs like LBJ who actually made staffers follow him into the bathroom and keep talking whilst he dropped a smelly deuce? And in suggesting Obama be more like LBJ, do I really need to remind Historiann that the political parties in the 1960s were two heterodox, realigning coalitions, making the possibility of bill-by-bill vote solicitation a far more possible reality than in our hyper-polarized partisan present?

    The claim that Obama hasn’t lobbied for his bills is just plain wrong. You may disagree with his decision to hand bills over to Congress (with his health insurance reform, that was largely a reaction to the perceived tactical errors that sunk Clinton-era health care reform), but to imply it was some sort of failure ignores the whole raft of legislation that passed from 2009-2010, which was the most productive congress in since LBJ. And that was against a record number of fillibusters and the fact that a 60-seat Dem supermajority (counting Joe Liberman) only lasted four months (from the seating of Franken to the death of Kennedy). One quote about chess not checkers that was in the short run, not exactly wrong given the extraordinary legislative accomplishments of Obama’s first two years, is juxtaposed with the infamous “reality-based community” remarks. Both quotes are fine evidence of the overconfident, arrogant, and dismissive tone of Presidential staffers who are a little drunk with power, regardless of gender. But it’s incredibly shoddy logic to imply that one chest-puffing comment about debatably mishandled Congressional tactics is on the same par as a far more insidious attack on reality and evidence that was uttered in the context of that Bush administration’s disastrous imperial adventures.

    Look, Historiann, you disagree with Obama. We get it. I’m more partial to some of his arguments and more proud of his accomplishments than you are, but I like reading critiques of him from the left, especially your posts on ed policy. But maybe you should think about whether you might have a deep-seated personal distaste for the man, when it comes to the point that you’re actually complaining about him being a good father.

    The guy fucks up plenty. Can we save the angry, heavily-italicized rants for when he actually fucks up on a matter of substance, not when you decide to exaggerate some Beltway hackery that isn’t particularly damning?

  14. Sisyphus on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:09 am #

    totally off topic, there’s another article about selling the shininess in k-12 education:


  15. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:23 am #

    I wasn’t “complaining” about him being a good father. I was contrasting the coverage of his “good fatherhood” to that of Reagan and the mockery of his old age and sleepiness. No, the article didn’t invoke Reagan, *I* did because I remember the Reagan administration myself. Also, I wasn’t slamming LBJ. Far from it.

    I seriously wonder if a woman president would be wise to be home in the residence for dinner with her children every night and refuse to have meetings after the children went to bed.

    But why, if you find my commentary so dubious or worthless, does it bother you so much? Like I said: I feel pretty darned good about my historical judgment over the past 10 years. I for one think it’s fascinating that a pol who coasted to victory on a wave of uncritical good press has seen his fortunes with the media turn around so quickly and so unanimously. That seems interesting and worthy of consideration.

  16. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:29 am #

    And, the original point of this post wasn’t to ding Obama (again, I admit.) It was more the close comparison between the Bush toadie’s and the Obama toadie’s delusional comments about changing the “realities” of how Washington works. No one has yet commented on that, strangely. (That was going to be the only thing I commented on, except that I ended up leading with the Daddy’s Home/Bedtime for Bonzo angle, because I thought it made an interesting comparison with the ways in which the press covered Reagan’s and Clinton’s bedtimes.)

  17. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I’m confused by this. You seem to think spending time with your children is the equivalent of sleep or something, and also rather selfish (you quote: “That may be good for his mental health,” as though it’s all about him), and that “in the case of the U.S. Presidency, being well-rested is something that can wait until retirement.” But of course time with your children can’t wait until retirement. What an odd idea.

    “After hours, Obama prefers his briefing book and Internet browser, a solitary preparation he undertakes each night after Sasha and Malia go to bed.”

    Sure makes those late-night Clinton administration pizza parties and college-style bull sessions look a little bit better in retrospect, no?

    Why? People could say the same about your blog reading and writing. I don’t understand why it would be better for you have history pizza parties with people you know and agree with.

    For me, this has nothing to do with the individual who’s the subject of the post. You’re joining in deriding a person for spending time with their family, raising their children, and working in a more scholarly than a social manner, calling them lazy, selfish, and arrogant for doing so.

    but remember how we all laughed and laughed at President Ronald Reagan and “Mommie” being in their jammies by 7 p.m. to watch re-runs of Little House on the Prairie?

    No, to be honest. I didn’t. And with the horror of the policies he aggressively promoted, I can’t imagine how any significant number of people could have found it worthy of note.

  18. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Sigh. I guess “spending time with his children” should be the point of a presidency? Srsly?

  19. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:35 am #

    because I thought it made an interesting comparison with the ways in which the press covered Reagan’s and Clinton’s bedtimes.)

    Where does it talk about Obama’s bedtime? It says he puts his daughters to bed and then works more.

  20. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Those of you who are happy with Obama’s leadership, engagement on the issues, and his theory of the Presidency: bless your hearts.

  21. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:53 am #

    I seriously wonder if a woman president would be wise to be home in the residence for dinner with her children every night and refuse to have meetings after the children went to bed.

    Does the article say this? That he refuses to have meetings after his children go to bed? It seems to me it says – and the extent to which the assertion is accurate I don’t know – that he prefers “solitary” (assuming that describes the internet or reading briefings) work at night.

    In dramatizing and criticizing this, you’re not doing any future woman presidents – or the possibility of a woman being elected – any favors. Obama’s determination to do the job without abandoning his job as a father probably does help.

    Sigh. I guess “spending time with his children” should be the point of a presidency? Srsly?

    No, not seriously – that’s a silly straw man. No more than it should be the “point” of being a historian, a surgeon, or the head of an NGO. But it’s a significant part of the point of being a parent, and shouldn’t be attacked as lazy, selfish, or inconsistent with important jobs or positions of leadership. And I say this as an anarchist nonparent who’s highly critical of the Obama administration.

  22. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:55 am #

    Those of you who are happy with Obama’s leadership, engagement on the issues, and his theory of the Presidency: bless your hearts.

    Oh, good grief. Whatever.

  23. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Thanks for pointing out the awesome powers I personally have over the future possibility of electing women to the U.S. presidency. I had no idea!

    Once again: if you find my analysis so worthless, why does it bother you so much? There are all kinds of idiots writing uninformed opinions on the internets, but I don’t bother with lecturing them on their idiocy, leaving comments that are progressively longer and angrier. But, maybe that’s just me.

  24. quixote on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:02 am #

    Very interesting. And I guess the re-election campaign is getting into full swing because you seem to have acquired a group of Obama defenders whom I don’t recall seeing before. Before the 2008 election, even my tiny blog would suddenly get pro-O comments when I tried to point out who he was.

    And check the IP on Comrade. This one seems to have a different writing style than the CPP I know and love.

    To those of you defending the Good Daddishness of Obama, note that it would be nothing but a plus if he was taking care of the country’s business the way he was elected to do. His job is President, you know?

  25. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Thanks for pointing out the awesome powers I personally have over the future possibility of electing women to the U.S. presidency. I had no idea!

    Once again: if you find my analysis so worthless, why does it bother you so much? There are all kinds of idiots writing uninformed opinions on the internets, but I don’t bother with lecturing them on their idiocy, leaving comments that are progressively longer and angrier. But, maybe that’s just me.

    I think you’re losing it. The question is whether we have a culture that sees being a real, involved parent – mother or father – as a) praiseworthy and b) compatible with the presidency and other important positions of leadership.


    To those of you defending the Good Daddishness of Obama, note that it would be nothing but a plus if he was taking care of the country’s business the way he was elected to do. His job is President, you know?

    Right, his failings as president are due to his excessive attention to being a father.

    How ridiculous.

  26. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Your analysis on higher ed, academia, and Early American history is wonderful, which is why I read this blog. Your critical takes on Obama are often sharp and get me to rethink my position. But when you end up in the deep end of claiming that devoting time for his family and NOT calling up staffers in the middle of the night is a FAILING, I wonder if you might be betraying your otherwise fine critical faculties. That’s all! Something to think about.

  27. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Do you all seriously think this post was about Obama’s fatherhood or the compatibility with parenthood and the U.S. presidency? Please re-read the second half of the post, especially the second block quote from the Wilson article, the 2004 quotation from Ron Suskind, and consider the final sentence.

    I’m sorry that you were all so terribly distracted by my comments about how he spends his after-dinner time compared to the press coverage of Clinton’s and Reagan’s after-dinner time. I apologize that my choices as a writer were so confusing to many of you.

  28. Another Damned Medievalist on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:21 am #

    When I read this, I saw none of it the way you did, Historiann. Where you say “rest” I say, “processing time.” Where Wilson says “loner” in that pejorative way, I say, “classic introvert.”

    We live in a culture that privileges extraverts. Period. The reasons many people voted for Obama was because he was smart and thoughtful and seemed to have many of the values that we have. I’m somewhat surprised that you aren’t more critical of the language and use of sources here, especially:

    Wilson cites someone as calling Obama a chess player in a town of checkers players, and someone else as saying he has a different metabolism. There is nothing to suggest that anyone but Wilson is calling it a “leadership upgrade.”

    And yet your framing of suggests that that is the part you have taken to heart — some weird idea that it’s arrogance that keeps Obama distant.

    Try it this way, instead:

    Chess is a game that can go on for ages, because the players have to think many moves ahead and consider allowable moves for different pieces, because those variables create different scenarios. It is a very thinky game, and requires coming up with alternate strategies.

    Checkers also requires a bit of foresight, but basically, it’s not a game full of variables, and it can’t be played more than a couple of moves in advance, period. It moves faster, and required only short deliberation.

    So the metaphor is not for “Obama’s an arrogant intellectual in a working-class bar, ” which is the image Wilson creates. The metaphor is that Obama is concerned with long-term consequences and thinking things through in a town where people are playing a shorter-term game that moves faster and doesn’t require as much thought.

    Then, if you look at the metabolism quote — it’s linked to that same sort of thought processing.

    Many, if not most, of our greatest presidents have been introverts. Some, like Bill Clinton, are clearly extraverts. Our world, right now, especially in the US, is one where extraverts are privileged and thrive. But if Obama prefers to sit quietly and process by himself, and it means that he is able to come to meetings with well-considered questions and policy ideas, how is that not a good thing?

    Bush surrounded himself with advisors who found ways to support what he already wanted to do. Clinton relied on a much bigger circle and expected people to roll with it when he woke them up in the middle of the night for things that really weren’t life-or-death and could have waited till the next morning.

    Obama doesn’t.

    So as far as I can tell, Obama’s greatest flaw here is that he is not “friendly” enough. He’s too much of a loner. And loners are bad.

    Maybe that’s a problem in terms of effectiveness, because people do expect more face time with the POTUS. I get that making more personal connections with people is an advantage.

    But this? your post AND the Wilson piece?

    It’s the “we want a president we can have a beer with” conversation all over again. Except this time, it’s not just anti-intellectualism, it’s condemnation and distrust of the introvert who just isn’t seen as “normal” in US society.

  29. SC (Salty Current) on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:29 am #

    I apologize that my choices as a writer were so confusing to many of you.

    Yes, it’s confusing that someone would write a post whose first half makes an argument and then consider people reponding to that argument to have been unreasonably distracted. I didn’t respond to the second part of your post because it wasn’t of interest to me. It sure seems like you’ve realized the problems with the first part and now wish to distract from it rather than revise your position.

  30. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:31 am #

    ADM, you are right for calling me on Wilson’s wording about the “leadership upgrade” comment, which was not wording attributed to the person quoted on the chess v. checkers game. I went along with that uncritically, and that was wrong.

    I also think your points about the loner personality are interesting. Again, if his leadership style was getting better results, I’m sure his press coverage would be different. But I think that the history of the presidency suggests that loners are typically not successful U.S. Presidents! FTR, I have no interest in having a beer with Obama or with any pol. (I don’t think they’re very interesting people.) I also thought that the time he “had a beer” with his constituents–most famously Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his arresting officer–was among the most unconvincing moments of the Obama presidency. He shouldn’t have gone there–so I agree with you that the “beer” conversation is ridiculous, but I don’t think I’m contributing to it here.

    I guess I see more parallels between the Bush and Obama presidencies than you do. To me, the bubble of the presidency was an evident problem for both of them. This may be a coincidence, but it also may be just a fact of the modern presidency.

  31. Indyanna on 09 Oct 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I’d echo Quixote, above, here. There’s a whole lot of lecturing tonality in (some of) the critical comments. Disagreement is fine but the “…just don’t get it” part is Spring, 2008 all over again. For the record, my Hillary poster still hangs high in my office window, mostly because I’m less inspired to risk my neck now to get it down than I was then to put it up. That said, I’m somewhat less critical of Obama (himself) than Historiann now is, but the post really was a lot more about the ethos of the “transformative” team mentalite than about White House parenting styles. Bringing a chess board to a checkers tournament may be a good way to ramp up the ambitions of third tier law review staff, but no way to change the political equation in a continental-sized polity. And either way on either issue, he’s been a pretty ineffectual president to this point, whatever the legislative scorecard. Indeed, almost an invisible one as the forces to defend the 99% struggle to occupy the public spaces and imagination.

  32. undine on 09 Oct 2011 at 11:10 am #

    In one of those dimensions, it would be nice if Obama could ask the Big Dog back to schmooze with the donors and pols while he plays his 11-dimension chess. Win-win. Just saying.

  33. cgeye on 09 Oct 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I agree with ADM concerning the privileging of extrovert Presidential tendencies in this era — but dammit, when there’s a recession masking a Depression, I expect a man who wanted the job of holding the nuclear briefcase 24/7 to *make an effort*, with a catastrophic economic sitch that feels just as bad as a suitcase nuke, to the under- and unemployed.

    You can’t run on the hopey-changey thing, without at least trying some of that changey thing yourself, to help your country? At least let us acknowledge that Obama’s backers play to his desires for presidential anonymity, and help minimize
    his contacts with funders through massively large corporate donations that don’t require a handshake line… just the death of American democracy itself.

  34. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Just in response to the idea that I (and the unusual number of dissenters here) are bunch of Obamabot trolls, I felt compelled to say that I’m a regular lurker and also an (aspiring) academic. I love this blog and recommend it to people and other teachers all the time, and will continue to do so, because Historiann’s a terrifically opinionated and fearless blogger with lots of passion. I guess I just need to go back to agreeing to disagree on Obama and not commenting on those posts.

  35. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Charlie–no one called you a troll. No one called anyone a troll. You are the first person to type that word in this thread.

  36. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I was referring to the Quixote post above, which suggested “you seem to have acquired a group of Obama defenders whom I don’t recall seeing before.” I thought “troll” was a pretty good shorthand for that, but I suppose this is just another way that my reading comprehension has failed me today.

  37. Another Damned Medievalist on 09 Oct 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    I think the president definitely needs to work on communicating whatever his message is more effectively. But I think that means being more pro-active, calling more press conferences, etc., not necessarily shaking more hands.

    The thing is, loner isn’t the same as out of touch. Bush’s policies were very clearly not in touch with what the vast majority of people in this country say they want — but he was able to convince them that they were, because he was a folksy guy who seemed to connect with them. Obama’s problems with connecting with people don’t have to do with his policies. And they don’t have to do with any innate ability, as far as I can tell. He’s an amazing orator. He’s also pretty good, from what I’ve seen, answering questions to smaller groups and coming across as genuine. I do think he’s just been unable to deal with seizing the conversation back. It’s not something most presidents have to deal with, but it’s been an issue for Obama for ages. There needs to be more and better communication from the White House to our tvs, radios, and desktops.

    But those things weren’t really Wilson’s targets or yours. It was the introvert stuff and the not being an artificial glad-hander.

    And those really are the things that say to people, “he’s not a guy I could hang out with.” “He isn’t really one of us — he doesn’t get us.”

    If you want to argue that Obama doesn’t get it — that he isn’t able to communicate messages and celebrate his triumphs effectively (and again — that’s something that just feels wrong to many people on a fundamental level, but it’s also something that all of us have to do in order to get grants, get tenure… stay president!), yeah. Not a lot to argue with there.

    But that’s not really what you argue (partially because of the misread I noted and you agreed with). And even that doesn’t go along very well with the Suskind quote. Even though you point out that the bold part is the part you object to, it’s Obama’s being a “reality-based” person that is his greatest flaw up to that point.

    So basically, Obama isn’t flawed because he’s an introvert and intellectual.

    He also isn’t flawed in my book because he’s one of the “reality-based” people.

    The flaw is that the Bush aide is right — reality has nothing to do with being successful, unless you can seize the initiative and control the reality. The pity is that Obama is unlikely to do that to the extent he needs to.

  38. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Oh yeah and I don’t do emoticons, but that should be followed by the sign for “smile, wink, let’s just be collegial and not go back and forth just because someone on the internet is wrong.”

  39. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Charlie–I get you. I don’t know if you were a blog reader back in 2008, but there were a number of us who weren’t Obama supporters who were dogged by really jerky, patronizing commenters who overwhelmingly presented as men online. So, I think that’s the context that quixote thought was relevant. To some, it looked like a coordinated onslaught. I don’t think it was so much coordinated as expressive of the intense feelings that many Obama supporters had for their candidate, and also no small mixture in there of hatred and fear of Hillary Clinton.

    ADM, thanks for your reply. I think there are a LOT of great things about introverts–but being in politics is probably not among most of their competencies. Again, if Obama had a 60% approval rating, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Whatever he was doing, however he was handling the job, would be just fine with at least 60% of us. But, that’s not the case here.

    I disagree that the Bush aide was right, though. The reason that 2004 quotation was roundly and righteously mocked was that it was so expressive of the Bush Bubble, and it was a portentious omen of what happened to the Bush presidency as of mid-2005 with Hurricaine Katrina and Hurricaine Harriet. Obama’s team claims to believe that good policy makes good politics. I think they’re right–I just think they’ve made fatal errors as to what is good policy. That’s the reality that I think the majority of Americans grok right now: whatever they’re doing isn’t working outside of the top 1%.

  40. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Ah, I started reading in 09 which probably explains this somewhat, as I had no idea. Thanks for sharing this, as I think it makes me realize why exactly my too long post on this post probably set of a lot of mansplaining alarm bells. FWIW, I was genuinely torn between Obama and Clinton in the primaries, as I volunteered for her 2000 Senate campaign and always felt (and still feel) she would be a terrific president. I was genuinely baffled by the inter-Democrat rivalry then, as I thought (still feel and, though you may disagree!) that we were blessed with an embarrassment of riches.

  41. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    I thought (mostly) the same thing at the time. I recognized his strengths as a candidate even as his background & experience gave me little hope that the reality could live up to the hype. I thought that he was (being set up? setting himself up?) for a fall. Given people’s expectations, there was no way for him not to disappoint, sooner or later.

  42. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    See this is why I really didn’t like the article and though you may have over-read its claims. Of course Obama’s aides circa 2009 look like jackasses now! These last two years have been so horrible for the economy, for the country (and for Obama) for anyone to claim they just had some chessmaster vision of the future then looks like a total douche. With you there. And yeah, Obama’s not Bill Clinton. I happen to think (and I suspect you agree) there’s good and bad things about that. I know you’re not saying he should neglect his daughters, but I thought like CPP (if that’s really him!) that you were giving some WaPo hack way too much credit. But whatever. As you said, your skepticism may rub me the wrong way but it’s not misplaced as your general track record here isn’t off. (I get depressed reading the blogger Atrios, who’s pretty down on the administration, but I have to admit, he’s pretty much always right.) And to be fair, when you rip on Obama it raises my hackles, but I love love love seeing your trademark snark being directed as educrat asshats or David McCullough.

  43. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    Regardless of how much Obama does or doesn’t totally sucke and is the worst or best president ever, the WaPo article cited approvingly in Historiann’s post represents the worst of the worst of the degenerate press we now suffer in this country. In the long run, the abject complete capture of the press by the sicke-fucke plutocrat class is a much more important problem for us than Obama’s interpersonal skills.

  44. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Thanks, Charlie. I don’t *aim* to pi$$ people off, but it happens sometime. (Like when I write about some men, including but not limited to Lawrence Stone, John Updike, and believe it or not, Charles Brockden Brown.)

  45. Historiann on 09 Oct 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    So, Comrade, how do you explain the press “capture” BY Obama in 2008? Where did he lose it, when, and why? I think capture might explain both the irrationally great press and the bad press he’s getting now–but it’s clear that in the case of Obama, it’s not a simple story.

    People like Wilson have access to sources and stories that the rest of us don’t. (He’s the WH reporter for the WaPo.) Like I said, they’re the only ones generating the primary sources we have to go on, for now. Until Emmanuel, Summers, Romer, Geithner et al start writing back-biting memoirs, that’s all we’ve got.

  46. Charlie on 09 Oct 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    Nothing wrong with pissing people off! Again, I LIKE some polemics. And some things are worth fighting over. Also, I don’t just want to read people I agree with 100%.

  47. quixote on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    (Indeed. I wasn’t calling anyone a troll. None of the comments were trollish, just polemical as Indyanna says.)

  48. Mamie on 09 Oct 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Charlie says the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate for four months, but it was actually far less: July 7, 2009 (Franken takes his seat) to August 25, 2009 (Kennedy dies). And I’m not sure how much of that time Kennedy was actually up to voting.

    I do sometimes wonder what would happen if Obama told the Republicans, “fine, go ahead and filibuster. See how that plays.” But I recognize that the Republicans have had that power and have been threatening to use it for, essentially, the entire time Obama has been president.

  49. LadyProf on 09 Oct 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Well, I enjoyed the post, even if some newcomers/lurkers have questions. And I agree with quixote on Comrade PhysioProf: it didn’t sound like him until we got that trademark shitte and fucke. What’s up with dudes lecturing female-identified people on which opinions are acceptable?

    On the Wilson piece (which does indeed sniff of inside- the-Beltway, you’re right, CPP): A close friend of mine, a Chicagoan, would lie down and die for the President. She and I agree to disagree. She volunteered on his first and only Senate campaign back before he became a rock star. In 2004 I was struck by her saying that Obama had met her a few times but always needed to be re-introduced. From her description he sounded glassy-eyed. She said he was just busy.

  50. Shane on 09 Oct 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    As a long-time reader of this blog, I’m not sure why this post has come in for so much criticism. The part about how much time Obama spends with his daughters isn’t the main point. What seems to me to be one of the problems with Obama’s political style is that there’s a large disconnect between the claims he’s transcended politics and his actual method of government. Much like how its been spun over the years that he transcended partisanship, when more often than not he just caves in on what the Republicans want. And even if it might sometimes be futile, even the *perception* that Obama’s working his butt off to achieve something good would really be an improvement. Hence the contrast with someone like LBJ, who for all his flaws was sure as hell going to do all he could to get a certain desired piece of legislation though without pre-compromise or claiming it was too difficult to achieve. And like Bush aides claiming they could construct reality, there’s sometimes a feeling among fans of Obama that he can construct/alter reality with a well-delivered speech, as if that’s all that matters about being a good president. Or that his 11th-dimension chess methods are so advanced that critics are foolish for not recognising what he’s apparently trying to do. Which is a fairly flawed defense.

  51. Shane on 09 Oct 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    That should be, “The part about how much time Obama spends with his daughters isn’t the main point, in my opinion.”

  52. Emma on 10 Oct 2011 at 1:18 am #

    He’s the President of the U.S. running 2 wars and in the middle of another depression. His wife and his mother-in-law live with him. Of course he should neglect his daughters to run the country. For pete’s sake, we really need to correct this fetishization of parenthood as some overriding ultimate good.

  53. Charlie on 10 Oct 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Mamie, there’s also the time when Kennedy’s placeholder Paul Kirk served (late Sept. to December 2009). In addition, Republicans did filibuster, again and again and again, as the modern procedure does not require the classic Mr. Smith style constant speechifying. All that has to happen is a simple vote to deny cloture that takes no extra effort of the “filibustering” Senator’s time. That’s part of what’s made it so terrible and so abused in recent years: since filibusters are no more difficult than ordering take-out, the abuse of them essentially rewritten the rules of the Senate to make it a body that can only pass controversial bills with a supermajority. Theoretically, Dems could have fixed this at a couple point in the last decade, but folks like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (who have all their outsized power in the caucus precisely because of this constant abuse) have refused.


  54. LadyProf on 10 Oct 2011 at 5:52 am #

    Well then Charlie, the President has to push back against Nelson and Lieberman and the obstructionist clique inside the Senate. He doesn’t get a free pass for failing to work. Post-partisanship is exactly the worst response to the problem OutsideTheBeltway identified. What Shane said.

  55. Historiann on 10 Oct 2011 at 6:34 am #

    As usual, my commenters offer a more nuanced & clearly explained analysis than I did in my original post. Thanks, Shane & LadyProf, for your thoughts on the fantasy of PPUS “transcendence” when it’s really just “avoidance” that hasn’t in fact been effective.

    Per Shane’s evocation of LBJ’s determination: what do you all think the big daddy from the Pedernales would have done with a 59- or 60-seat *majority* in the U.S. Senate? Do you think he would have flung his arms into the air and complained that the majority wasn’t *big enough*? (And yes, I’m talking the Senate of 2009-2011, not the Senate of 1963-1968, which I recognize was different and worked differently.)

  56. Charlie on 10 Oct 2011 at 6:49 am #

    I was just clarifying my claims and bringing up the complexity of the filibuster rule which I have found confusing too. I really am not interested going back and forth about whether this is in Obama’s power to change. We can agree that the abuse of this practice is bad, right?

  57. SC (Salty Current) on 10 Oct 2011 at 7:02 am #

    I recognized his strengths as a candidate even as his background & experience gave me little hope that the reality could live up to the hype.

    Of course he was never going to live up to the hype. He wasn’t going to do what people on the left wanted him to, and it has nothing to do with his being a good parent, or not a schmoozer, or any of that. It’s because his administration is going to work in the interests of the wealthy just like any other administration that could have come into power. It’s representative “democracy” in a capitalist empire. About the poor and powerless, they either aren’t particularly concerned or are unwilling to stand up to the rich and evil. Honduras is a case in point, and would have been absolutely the same had Hillary Clinton been president. (A key player has been Lanny Davis.) It is not a matter of Obama vs. Hillary or Obama as alleged “loner.” It’s incredible that so many people expected so much more from anyone without the equivalent of Occupy Wall Street X 1000.


    Of course he should neglect his daughters to run the country. For pete’s sake, we really need to correct this fetishization of parenthood as some overriding ultimate good.

    Dumbest comment by a fairly wide margin.

  58. Historiann on 10 Oct 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Oh, absolutely. There really are no rules for the U.S. Senate–just an accumulation of traditions, midrashim, and mythology. The Constitution is remarkably brief in describing the rules for engagement. But I think the corruption of the filibuster is among the first things that need reform. If people want to filibuster, then filibuster it old-school, order in the cots and stand up and talk for 15 hours straight on the floor. None of this “intention to filibuster” crap.

  59. Historiann on 10 Oct 2011 at 7:15 am #

    Salty Current: you’re contributing exactly nothing to the conversation and you persist in being a jerk. Buh-bye!

  60. Charlie on 10 Oct 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I agree entirely Historiann! And the best step towards that is primarying and removing shitty Dem Senators.

  61. PhysioProf on 10 Oct 2011 at 9:02 am #

    The Village media sucked asse just as bad in 2008 as they do now. Here’s what you need to know about how and why they behave the way they do:

    (1) They are corporate millionaires (or aspire to become corporate millionaires) and represent the interests of the corporate millionaire class.

    (2) They worship power, and crave nothing more than to be seen as insiders of power structures.

    (3) They are lazy, and it is much easier to spew titillating narratives built on the anonymous sourcing of interested parties than it is to engage in real journalism.

  62. Historiann on 10 Oct 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Where is this “real journalism” of which you speak? The fact is that institutional legitimacy (working for the WaPo, the NY or LA Times, etc.) gets one access, but it’s also true that institutional legitimacy also means that there’s more identification with the millionaires and to crave more insider info/power.

    People working for small city weeklies and/or nonprofit publications probably find it easier to be honest & remain unseduced by access to power, but that’s largely because they don’t have the access of the first kind of reporters. After all, it was you CPP who wrote recently, 1) there is a club, and 2) you are not in it.

  63. Emma on 10 Oct 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I think my needs for a President wo looks out for my interests far outweigh his kids’ needs for a daddy.

  64. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Oct 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Here is an example of how you do real journalism about people and entities with an interest in obscuring the truth:


    Yes, there is a club, and no, none of us are in it. You don’t need to be in this club to be an effective journalist.

    The kind of access that being a member of the Villager club provides is to anonymous gossip and unsubtantiated claims by those with a tremendous interest in pushing their own political and personal agenda. Villager media people crave this stuff because it makes them feel like they are part of the power structure. People with real power *use* people like Wilson by exploiting their craving for insider status.

    BTW, this is not some kind of novel insight of my own. Political media critics like Digby and Driftglass have been documenting and analyzing this phenomenon in excrutiating detail for years.

  65. anonymous on 10 Oct 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Historiann, I certainly agree with your point that Obama is engaging in Bush Bubble-like behavior.

    But I don’t understand the article’s critique that he’s spending too many nights at the White House (something very UNlike Bush), particularly when donor disappointment over short face-time is part of the complaint. Who cares (other than donors)? Why would that make him less effective, or his work hours shorter?

    I guess “lazy”(!!) just isn’t on my long list of complaints about the President. I think he’s tone deaf and aloof and Bush Bubbled because that’s the way he works, not because he’s not working. I don’t like the way he works and I’m mad that he’s not working for the right things. I certainly understand why many citizens are pissed about meaningful access, I just disagree that cocktail party donor massages are worth getting worked up about.

    (I also strongly disagree with the article’s implication that he would be lauded for staying late at parties.)

    Short hours, laziness, overparenting…I don’t see it.

  66. Historiann on 10 Oct 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Comrade: I understand your point entirely. As a reader of political blogs for the past decade, I’m well aware of the arguments made about the “beltway/establishment/mainstream media.”

    It is you who fail to understand my point, which is a historian’s point that there is no such thing as the perfect, objective, fair, balanced, and truthful primary source. Wilson and other WH correspondents are much better placed to report on the court politics than most. They are captive to their own biases, of course, but this is true of absolutely every primary source ever written or recorded in human history. Anyone who picks up a pen or takes a photograph or video or opens a laptop has an agenda. Historians who wait around for the Platonic Objective and Truthful primary source to magically appear will die without ever publishing anything.

    I guarantee you that anything you might read about presidential administrations of the past century–and perhaps longer back in U.S. history–make heavy use of contemporary reportage like Wilson’s. It’s all we’ve got to work with, and unless and until a storm of conflicting sources appears, this seems to be in line with what’s coming out right now. It may turn out to be a false narrative–but we can’t tell without the further passage of time and more reporting and insider “tell-all” published reports.

  67. Comrade PhysioProf on 10 Oct 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    Of course, the use of sources such as Wilson in a historical mode of “ok. this is what some people wrote at a certain time about some certain things. what are their biases and interests and how can we interpret what they wrote in light of them and what does it tell us about the time and its circumstances?” is exactly what historians do (at least as I understand it).

    But that was not even close to the rhetorical stance of your original post, Historiann.

  68. What was excellent advice in 2008 looks positively prescient now! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 30 Oct 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    [...] from powerful people in the Democratic Party–were clearly evident more than four years ago.  I know people don’t like it when I say this, but the President’s isolation, stemming from his refusal to use a great deal of the [...]

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