Tag Archives: The Presidency

Really, Mr. President?

The Jay Leno appearance didn’t bother me. Filling out a NCAA bracket for ESPN was kind of cool. But a $500,000 advance for a book deal? Had Bush done something similar, we’d all be braying about gross dereliction of duty. Granted, context matters, and so far the Obama Administration is nowhere near Bushian levels of incompetence. And yet we still don’t have a coherent bank plan. The economy continues to tank. And I’m left wondering why Obama is so consumed with antics more suited to the campaign trail or a post-presidential goodwill tour than a harrowing first-term presidency.

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On Presidents Day

Presidents Day invariably sets off another round of competing rankings. Sorting presidents is inherently arbitrary and therefore very fun, but I don’t have time to make a comprehensive list. A few quick thoughts:

  1. The best presidential biography I’ve read so far is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Edmund Morris is an elegant writer, and the source material is pretty fantastic. Favorite anecdote: A wife showing off her big family under the sign “No race suicide here, Teddy!” at a whistle stop in Montana (or was it Wyoming?).
  2. I’m baffled by the rise of anti-Lincoln sentiment on some quarters of the Right. Freeing the slaves ought to count for something. Moreover, letting the South go and hoping for the best (voluntary manumission, perhaps?) seems like wishful thinking. I’d also argue that Jim Crow would have been a lot more durable had the South gained independence. Patrick Deneen’s assessment is a bit more balanced.
  3. Placing Bill Kauffman’s defense of Millard Fillmore alongside John Hood’s entry on the war-mongering James K. Polk was a nice touch. Well done, National Review.

UPDATE: I forgot to tip my hat to William Brafford for this link. His thoughts on the Civil War are also worth reading.

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Filed under History, Worthy Links

The Case for Chilling Out

I’m probably not going to vote tomorrow. I’m also pretty sanguine about my decision. Over the past several months, I’ve had my share of harsh words for both candidates. But despite incessant media hype and the elevation of every minor dispute to world-historical importance, I’m fairly confident our country will continue to stumble forward no matter who is elected president. The invasion of Iraq and the president’s tacit acceptance of torture are two issues that continue to animate me, but I’m reasonably confident that this year’s election marks a strong rejection of the Bush Administration’s policies in both areas. A McCain withdrawal from Iraq will undoubtedly be slower and more considered, but his vision of a one hundred year occupation is so far out of sync with most voters’ views that I doubt it will ever come to pass. On torture, Obama’s repudiation of Bush is also somewhat more forceful than McCain’s, but both candidates’ condemnation of detainee mistreatment promises an end to this odious practice.

On other issues I care about – reducing the size and scope of government; drastically scaling back the United States’ presence overseas; confronting the growth of the surveillance state – neither nominee is particularly satisfying. One hopes that Obama or McCain will grow in office, and perhaps they’ll discover a healthy suspicion of big government once they come face-to-face with the Leviathan. But I doubt it.

As for the candidates themselves, I think it’s worth remembering that both are impressive men in their own ways. For the past eight years, I’ve endured a president whose style of governance and personal foibles are antithetical to everything I love about the United States. Bush’s personal history exemplifies nepotism, cronyism, and ineptitude. His tenure as president has been absolutely disastrous. I consider myself a patriot, and will remain one no matter who claims the Oval Office, but there’s something to be said for feeling a thrill of pride at the sight of our elected representatives. McCain’s gruff heroism and Obama’s eloquence remind me of what I admire about America. After eight years of Bush, that’s no small accomplishment.

If your opinions differ or you’re simply more optimistic about the candidates’ platforms, I sincerely hope you’ll go out and vote your conscience. I also hope you’re not too disappointed when our next president inevitably compromises or fails to live up to expectations. As for me, I intend to spend election night polishing off a keg left over from Halloween. The more things change . . .

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Filed under Participatory Democracy, Presidential Politics

He Speaks To Me

As someone who self-identifies as an intellectual (however pretentious that may sound), Obama’s argumentative approach is incredibly appealing. It’s often described as professorial, detached, or cerebral, but when I watched clips from last night’s “town hall,” I felt like I was judging a particularly good college policy debater. Even when he stutters or stumbles, I know (or at least think I know) that the wheels are turning inside his head. Here, for example, is Obama on Iraq. Granted, I’m predisposed to agree with him on the issue, but I can’t help but marvel at his fluency:

Even on healthcare – where I don’t share Obama’s position – I can scarcely fault his compelling, methodical presentation:

I think this goes back to a point made in this excellent dialog. Obama’s persona – his thoughtful, cerebral approach to argument – is incredibly attractive to professionals, experts, and intellectuals. His calm demeanor, his air of competence – all of these suggest a leader who will be up to the task of managing a crisis.

It’s an interesting window into the culture war, because the very feature I find most obnoxious about McCain – namely, his tendency to recklessly insert himself into whatever emergency presents itself – is touted as evidence of real leadership by his backers. Obama’s thoughtfulness, on the other hand, is mercilessly caricatured by Republicans. He’s “too thoughtful” to lead effectively; “too intellectual” to rally the troops. When I hear Palin or McCain, on the other hand, my immediate reaction is something along the lines of “wow, they really don’t do nuance,” but to their supporters that very quality is another indication of superior character or leadership ability.

UPDATE: See also David Brooks:

Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I’m getting nowhere with the interview, it’s late in the night, he’s on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he’s cranky. Out of the blue I say, ‘Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?’ And he says, ‘Yeah.’ So i say, ‘What did Niebuhr mean to you?’ For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.

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