Protests in Other Countries

Businessman protester, Tehran, Iran, 13 June 2009

What’s amazing about protests in other countries is what pedestrian affairs they are. Look at this protester from Iran. In his right hand is a menacingly large piece of concrete. Obviously you don’t throw something that big and hard without intent to do serious damage. But look at his left hand. He’s got his briefcase and a folded up newspaper. And look at his outfit. He’s wearing his kakis and a work shirt. And are those the earphones of his iPod in front of his face? (I can just see Apple’s next iPod commercial: colored silhouettes of protesters in street battles, their white iPod earphone cords snaking about them as they hurl rocks and overturn cars strangely in time to, say, Rage Against the Machine or Public Enemy) This is like the Office Space of protesters. He’s in the middle of his commute when he decides that he’s mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. It was the same way with the lawyers’ protest in Pakistan where you had all these black besuited rock-hurlers.

Contrast this with the United States. If our black-robed mullah’s pronounce on an election, we all just roll over and take it. Meanwhile there’s a designated social class who participate in protests. They have a special set of tropes that includes a special garb, preferred hairstyles, a prescribed set of protest products. You go to a political protest in the United States and you could be excused for mistaking it for a 3k walk for breast cancer.

The Hegemony of Neoliberalism

A roundup of some recent thinking on the hegemony of neoliberalism:

  1. Taking off from what Matthew Yglesias calls “Prestige Cross-Pollination1 and Ezra Klein “The Tyranny of the Economists,”2 Mike Konczal at RortyBomb relates of the,

    … “credibility gap” between sociologists and economists, even when they deploy the same methods, when it comes to the public debate over the issues we face.3

    It helps to have a paradigm, and in recent years economics has rather forcefully acquired one.4

  2. In his review of Steven Teles’s new book, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement,5 Henry Farrell makes a brief assessment of the state of the tyranny of the bureaucracy:

    If you win the technocrats (and [the law and economics movement] arguably has won the technocrats), then you very nearly have won the entire game.6

    This strikes me as about true. The shift rightward of the economics and policy intelligentsia since the New Frontier / Great Society heyday of Keynesian fine tuning has played a significant part in the general right-ward drift of the polity. There aren’t exactly dais upon dais of unreconstructed Keynesians offering policy makers intellectual cover on the Sunday morning shows.

  3. Via Charles Mudede7, Steven Shaviro reacts to Peter Ward’s new book, The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?8 Using the purported instability of ecological systems — one of the paradigm cases of self-organization — Mr. Shaviro sets himself against emergence, evolution, complexity, network theory, et al. He identifies Friedrich Hayek as one of the key thinkers of self-organization — the market would be one of the other paradigm cases —

    But the most significant and influential thinker of self-organisation in the past century was undoubtedly Friedrich Hayek, the intellectual progenitor of neoliberalism. … inspired by both cybernetics and biology, Hayek claimed that the “free market” was an ideal mechanism for coordinating all the disparate bits of knowledge that existed dispersed throughout society, and negotiating it towards an optimal outcome. Self-organization, operating impersonally and beyond the ken of any particular human agent, could accomplish what no degree of planning or willful human rationality ever could.9

    Friedrich Hayek, cyberneticist.

Combine these three and where are we for policy making and policy debate?

  1. Yglesias, Matthew, “Prestige Cross-PollinationThink Progress, 2 June 2009
  2. Klein, Ezra, “The Tyranny of the Economists,” The Washington Post, 2 June 2009
  3. Konczal, Mike, “Economists, Methods and Government,” RortyBomb, 3 June 2009
  4. The Future of Economics is Here: The Arational and the Irrational,” This is Not a Dinner Party, 28 September 2008
  5. Teles, Steven, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008)
  6. Farrell, Henry, “Fabians and Gramscians in Law and Economics,” Crooked Timber, 30 April 2009
  7. Mudede, Charles, “Self-Made,” SLOG, The Stranger, 28 May 2009
  8. The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009)
  9. Shaviro, Steven, “Against Self-Organization,” The Pinocchio Theory, 26 May 2009

Without the Bugaboo of the Soviet Union

Marx display, Borders at 14th and H Streets, Washington, D.C., 19 May 2009

Well of course — this is just the media pushing its left-wing agenda. I doubt it. The media has their finger to the wind. During the Bush years they shamelessly kowtowed to Ari Fleischer’s admonition to watch what they write and now that the times are a’ changing, the media is putting up sails for new seas. The mood questioning capitalism is welling up from the ranks with the media wondering how to be relevant. Witness:

“Until 2004, we sold less than 100 copies of Das Kapital per year,” Schuetrumpf [managing director of the Berlin-based publishing house Karl-Diez Verlag, publisher of the German edition of Marx’s collected works] said. “In the 10 months of 2008, we have sold more than 2,500 copies. It is clear that people are interested in learning what Marx has to say about why capitalism does not work.” (Godoy, Julio, “Economy: Turning the Pages Back to Marx and Keynes,” Inter Press Service, 7 November 2008)

And from the picture above, apparently Borders thinks there’s enough interest amidst their customers to turn the Marx collection face-out.

Craziest of all, according to a recent Rasmussen survey, a whopping 20 percent of Americans currently believe that socialism is superior to capitalism (“Just 53% Say Capitalism Better Than Socialism,” 9 April 2009).

During the Cold War, Americans’ strongest association with socialism was the Soviet Union, and after the collapse of communism we were told that left-wing economic ideas had been roundly refuted by events. So the right currently believes itself to be effectively tarnishing the program of President Obama by labeling him a socialist. But it turns out that the existence of the Soviet Union wasn’t just culture jamming socialist ideas, but the negative associations that it generated was lending undue credibility to right-wing ideas as well. The collapse of communism may end up not so much taking left-wing ideas down with it, as depriving those of the right of their cudgel of existent socialism. The association of socialism with Stalinism has lost its effectiveness now that the Soviet Union has become just another historical anecdote. This might explain the even more pronounced positive view of socialism among young respondents in the survey (33 percent of young people favor socialism versus 20 percent among the general population).

Republicans would be advised that in constantly pointing to the popular President Obama as the primary exemplar of socialism, the outcome isn’t so much to tarnish President Obama so much as to burnish socialism in the minds of the young generation. “If Obama is socialism,” they think, “I guess that makes me a socialist.” (Yglesias, Matthew, “The Declining Unpopularity of Socialism,” ThinkProgress, 9 April 2009).

Marx is Back!

April-May 2009, Marx is Back! / 1 de Mayo immigrant's march posters

Out of character for the city, there have been a number of lefty signs around. Some of my recent favorites are the two above. The one on the right is for a Mayday immigrant march. Notice that the flag in the hands of the native American is the United States as a tree with its roots in the shape of the rest of the world. The little plaque on the man’s chest reads both “Sise puede” and “Yes we can.” And the rally is meeting in Malcolm X Park, the unofficial name for Meridian Hill Park (Google Maps | Wikipedia).

I love the socialist conference poster. “Marx is back!” One may wonder where he ever went. I guess some people though that Marxism went into remission after the end of the Cold War. But everyone is on notice that he’s back now.

March 2008-May 2009, Newsweek, Foreign Policy and BusinessWeek, varying degrees of questioning capitalism

With Newsweek going beyond declaring us merely Keynesians now and portraying George Bush, Jr. in the style of Che Guevara, Foreign Policy putting Marx on the cover of their “Big Think” issue (“Why he matters now”), BusinessWeek making Ben Bernanke look like Lenin and including Henry Paulson in Stalinist Soviet style collages and Richard Posner titling his current book A Failure of Capitalism, things are feeling positively European.

But the return of Marx is more than just media camp. With respect to national security, Charles Krauthammer referred to the liberal internationalism of the Clinton years as a “holiday from history” (The Washington Post, 14 February 2003, p. A31). Robert Kagan is now referring to the post-1990s as The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Supposedly September 11, 2001 and the ensuing clash of civilizations has woken us up from our Fukuyam-esque ex-historical state. Similarly, we might refer to the phenomena of “Marx is Back” as the return of history to the economic sphere after 20 years of economic dreams (given that the current crisis has wiped out nearly 15 years of stock market value, it does seem as if it was all a dream). Just as September 11, 2001 broke the exclusive claim of liberal internationalism upon the thinking of the foreign policy establishment and showed that the future would be one of continuing world-historical ideological contention, so the holiday of political-economy that was the Washington Consensus has been knocked askew. The future of the economy will be one of political conflict.

But I kid myself. The legitimacy of capitalism within a given polity has nothing to do with the soundness of ideas and little to do with events. It is primarily a function of the Gini coefficient: the more money there is sloshing around in the upper social strata, the more inassailable the reputation of capitalism. And since that’s hardly going to change in the current crisis, I doubt that the Washington Consensus will emerge with anything more than a few fast forgotten slights.

In this regard the conservatism of the Obama administration should be noted. They are doing whatever they can to handle the current situation with as little enduring systematic change or publicity as possible. And I guess I’m in favor of this. While I may sympathize with dialectical materialism and Marx’s critique of the corruptions of capitalism, he was grossly wrong in his assessment of capitalism as ineluctably hell-bent-for-crisis. I’m essentially an advocate of Keynesian tinkering in a mostly stable system. And besides, alienation is a feature of capitalism, not a bug. The last thing I want is to be railroaded into a syndicate with a bunch of hippies. Those guys are fascists.

The Iconography of Barack Obama: The First American

26 January 2009 The New Yorker and 14 February 2009 Economist, both with Barack Obama as George Washington

See what I’m sayin’. A lot has been made of President Obama’s appropriation of Abraham Lincoln, but why stop there. Obama is the every-president. The 26 January 2009 issue of The New Yorker put Drew Friedman’s illustration, “The First” on the cover and the 14 February 2009 issue of The Economist has for its cover a parody of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, both featuring Barack Obama as George Washington.

Presidential Restraint and Congress

As a part of my Whig Liberalism, I believe that Congressional supremacy is part of the Constitutional design of our system and I consider Andrew Jackson a villain of history and good governance insofar as he was able to go farther than any other president to reverse this proper ordering. The array of images, gestures and protocols that presidents have at their disposal to reify this Constitution-turned-upside-down version of tripartite government is myriad.

Among them, and one that constantly annoys me, is the protocol of congress-president relations. The president deigns to speak to Congress once a year, and then only as a pretext for a television spot; the president is never required to submit to Congressional questioning; when the president wants to influence Congress, he stays put at 1600 and sends some flunkey down Pennsylvania Avenue; but when Congress wants to deal with the president, not just some charging, but the members themselves go, and then not some junior Representative, but only the highest ranking members are allowed to participate. It sends a clear signal of executive supremacy and Congressional supplicancy. The king keeps his court. Presidential aloofness is a show of presidential authority.

I have been impressed with President Obama’s first week in office. On Wednesday he suspended military tribunals; on Thursday he ordered the closing of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, acts of confidence in the U.S. judicial system to handle these issues and a surrendering by the executive of the power of judgment and justice to its proper place in the Constitutional order. One branch accuses, another adjudicates: that is the division of powers. Also on Wednesday he ordered full compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and rescinded former President Bush’s order allowing the executive branch to resist normal declassification of presidential records. (Glaberson, William, “Obama Orders Halt to Prosecutions at Guantánamo,” The New York Times, 21 January 2009; Mazzetti, Mark , “Obama Issues Directive to Shut Down Guantánamo,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009, p. A1; Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, “On First Day, Obama Quickly Sets a New Tone,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009, p. A1)

But of the things that have impressed me so far, none has done so much as his visit to Congress today to meet with the Republican caucus to explain, to answer questions and to advocate for the administration’s stimulus plan (Zeleny, Jeff, “Obama Visits Capitol to Press Republicans on Stimulus Plan,” The New York Times, 27 January 2009). This is how a president should behave toward Congress: as a co-equal branch.

I fear that Congressional Republicans plan on dealing the Obama administration a souring lesson on partisan intransigence in Washington, D.C. and that the administration will revert to presidential maximalism, but I hope (there’s that word again) that this is the start of a presidency of true consultation and of executive restraint. Such an example would be an accomplishment of its own.

Freedom Safely Delivered to Future Generations

Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Listening to President Obama’s Inaugural Address with the variable sound quality on the Mall, I thought it was okay. An inaugural address should be more high principle and values than policy specifics and argumentation. Does the President know that he has a State of the Union Address in like 20 days? Save all of the detail and proposals and the laundry lists for then. And there was a too much of the boilerplate political rhetoric about our children and the future and freedom, et cetera.

But on a second listening, the rhetoric remains a little too detailed, but the overarching structure of the Address stands out to me, and within their context, a few lines become brilliant. The Address is constructed as a meditation on Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware (above; higher resolution version here).

As SLOG’s reporter onsite Christopher Frizzelle points out (“A Review of the Speech from the Third Row,” 20 January 2009), the Address is bookended by images of storms and ice. The new President starts by saying,

The words [of the oath] have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.

And ends with similar imagry:

… in this winter of our hardship … let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come

Mr. Frizzelle characterizes it thus:

He is doing there what poets, namely the Romantic poets, used to do better than anyone — expressing the emotional / psychological plane of reality in terms of weather, pastoral phenomena, landscape.

The coda of the speech, the closing invocation of ice and storms, is a description of one of the darker moments during the Revolutionary War. In July of 1776 the British had landed on Staten Island and for the remainder of the year dealt a string of defeats to the Continental Army, capturing New York City, driving the Continental Army into retreat up Manhattan, across New Jersey and across the Delaware river into Pennsylvania. Washington’s army had been reduced from 19,000 to 5,000 and the Continental Congress abandoned Philadelphia anticipating British capture when the campaign season resumed in spring. It was, as President Obama described it, “a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt.”

The Continental Army encamped at McKonkey’s Ferry, Pennsylvania where General George Washington plotted a surprise attack back across the Delaware River. It was an especially unconventional move as the British had assumed the campaigning season over and established winter quarters. As President Obama relates, prior to the Christmas night crossing of the Delaware River General Washington ordered that a reading be made amidst the soldiers. The words are not General Washington’s, but those of Thomas Paine. Mr. Paine had been traveling with the Continental Army and his pamphlet, The American Crisis had just been published. It was this from that General Washington judged that the night’s inspiration would be drawn. The line that President Obama quoted from Paine is this:

Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.

The victory won at the Battle of Trenton resulted in a turn away from the flagging morale of the Continental Army. When the British attempted to retake Trenton on 3 January 1777, they were outmaneuvered and quite nearly driven out of New Jersey.

The central arc of President Obama’s speech, set between the two snows and storms, reflects Thomas Paine’s image of “the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive.” Since it’s Barack Obama, the hope part goes without saying at this point, no? So the body of the speech addresses itself to the virtues by which the country will meet our “common danger.” Here I would like to make a list of examples, but the surprising thing about rereading this speech is how his description of the various virtues defies a simple list. They are often painted in contrasts, or without directly saying their name. I think something like constancy is a good example. “We are the keepers of this legacy.” “… the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.” For an obvious example, he says,

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.

Even when listing other values, constancy — “these things are old” — underlies them all. One of the best parts of the speech for me, especially as a leftist, was the President’s paean to workers, especially “men and women obscure in their labor.”

Among all these virtues, one receives particular recognition: unity, self-sacrifice, the common good, the gaze toward something greater than one’s self. “[Our predecessors] saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.” “We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” The cynics have forgotten “… what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose …” “… more united, we cannot help but believe … that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve …”

Look again now at Mr. Leutze’s painting. It’s most outstanding characteristics are an imposing river of ice between the Continental Army and the New Jersey shore, a tumult of citizen soldiers raging in boats and on the near shore. In the midst of this chaos and struggle rises the figure of General Washington, unperturbed, resolute, beyond the fray, his face fixed on distant goals and illuminated by the bursting sky.

Then study the crew of the boat. It is a microcosm of the colonies. The two oarsmen in the bow of the boat are a Scotch (note the Scottish bonnet) and an African American. There are two farmers in broad-brimmed hats toward the back. The man at the stern of the boat is quite possibly a Native American (note the satchel). There is an androgynous rower in red who is perhaps supposed to be suggestive of women. “… our patchwork heritage is our strength.”

Return now to President Obama’s Address. In this winter of adversity what persists are our virtues, above all unity. The icy currents of the bookends of the speech are the Delaware River, the middle arc of the virtues of the nation are the boat with its diverse crew of rebel irregulars. And consider the last line of the Address, “… with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” It is a description of General Washington, father and symbol of the nation, rising out of the clamor of peoples — out of many, one — illuminated, gazing toward the future of freedom safely delivered over to the other side.

I’m not exactly a nationalist or a collectivist. I’m not so hot on all the unity talk. I more prefer an individualist, contending interest groups theory of politics. We are most markedly not one people and to say otherwise is the propaganda of an agenda. But if you dig Romanticist nationalism, then President Obama in his Inaugural Address is your artist-president, poet-in-chief.

The Politics of Philosophy

There are three things that someone in philosophy might do. First is philosophy as traditionally understood: an autonomous science with real contributions to human understanding to be made in the existent sub-disciplines of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics; explicating, scrutinizing, clarifying and shoring up the foundations or logical superstructure — depending on whether you prefer an under or an over metaphor — of our more day-to-day beliefs. Philosophy as the agent of redistribution of the field of force, to use Quine’s analogy. Or philosophy is the avant garde of knowledge, preparing the ground for the eventual arrival of natural science. These activities would be philosophy’s on-label use, so to speak, philosophy per se or philosophy proper. The second common activity of people operating under the rubric of philosophy is the study of the history of ideas: decoding and deciphering what a philosopher of yore meant, study of how a philosopher came to the position that they did, the who-influenced-who game, genealogy of an idea down through the ages. These are the activities that people have in mind when they think of philosophy and this is how most philosophy institutions — university departments, publishers, journals, societies — bill themselves.

But there is a third, lesser known, and conspiratorially hidden practice within philosophy. It is philosophy as a sort of rarified politics, as inter-philosophical polemic.

It is the rare philosopher who satisfies themself with a small problem. A philosophy is a Weltanschauung, a worldview, an all-encompassing world system, a tiny nucleus of belief from which all the rest of belief might be derived. A metaphysic and an epistemology usually entail an ethics and a politics. There is hardly a philosopher in the world who is not reformist in their beliefs, who doesn’t want to see one set of ideas about things abandoned in favor of another, for the sake of the political and societal consequences it will entail. The very act of writing affects a desire for influence, to persuade and to change the world. When philosophers contend with one another about some seemingly impartial issue of ontology or logic, they are in fact arguing about what sort of society we are to have, just via a peculiar proxy. And as they do so, they are very much conscious of a series of relations where memes lead to real world consequences and this or that change in fundamental beliefs might lead to a new social organization.

I think the tendency of the non-philosophically oriented is to dismiss this as ridiculously detached — philosophy is just a parlor game! — but philosophy is the natural destination of some fairly commonplace behaviors. It has been said that science is the continuation of common sense. Philosophy is a result of a similar tact. Philosophy isn’t a dispassionate pursuit, cut off from and largely irrelevant to society, culture, politics, the economy, technology and the sciences. All of these fields are subject to contentious, political debates amidst their disparate practitioners, participants and communities. On the ground political difference is often derivative of our more upstream positions on fundamental questions. Or, perhaps more realistically, if also more Marxist and cynical: we build elaborate ideological superstructures as a means to justify our political and economic interests. The more disparate our political views, the more fundamental the disagreement that is their source. In this sense, there are factions in politics built upon philosophical affinities. In such a situation, philosophy becomes a sort of fall-back fortification after our more forward positions have been overrun. Depending on the degree of difference amidst individuals and groups, debates can be either genial, superficial affairs or can, in the quest for rhetorical supremacy, rent the fabric of our day-to-day beliefs and devolve into questioning the fundamentals of all underlying arguments. For example, it is amazing how quickly a discussion of tax policy — a discussion really only suited for specialist attorneys, OMB officials and SSA actuaries anyway — degenerates to one about human nature, the constituents of freedom and to whom we have a social responsibility.

As the breakdown of philosophical practice goes, my intuitive sense is that philosophy proper is the least practiced of the three activities and history of ideas is the second most oft engaged activity. Actually thinking a problem through, on its own terms, originally, on one’s own, is hard work. Thinking about someone else’s thinking, or thinking about how someone else thought about a problem, or application of the thought of someone else to a problem that they didn’t consider is easier — still hard, but easier — and to some extent more natural. But it is the third philosophical activity, philosophical politics, that actually constitutes the majority of what goes on amidst philosophers. In fact, the bulk of those other two philosophical activities, while performed under the pretext of philosophy per se or history of ideas, are really philosophy as politics too. Philosophers are of a certain worldview and a great deal of their reflection and reading is undertaken with the aim of strengthening that worldview, gathering intelligence on opposing camps, stress-testing their ideas by simulating critiques, rehearsing defenses and sharpening one’s own critiques of contending systems. It is philosophy as a sort of ideological fortress building. A great deal of historical explication consists of attempts to appropriate the legitimacy of some philosophical great to one’s own contemporary camp, or to delegitimate the man or idea of a rival camp.

Again, people tend to see philosophy as somehow ethereal, lofty, set apart from the hurley-burley of the world. But it is not. There is a perfect continuum between politics and philosophy. Philosophy is merely politics conducted in a more apocalyptic mode.

The Pink Pentagon

Has Foggy Bottom become the pink Pentagon? It now seems that it will be a routine part of every presidential administration — or at least of their supporters — for the next couple of cycles to tout its advanced thinking on gender issues by pointing to its high-level appointment of a woman to the position of Secretary of State.

Two out of the last three Secretaries of State have been women (Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice). Candidate Obama seemed to have Samantha Power on the Secretary of State shortlist and now it seems as if Senator Clinton is on the way there, purportedly to mollify her female supporters by providing the Senator with some role.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon remains an impenetrable bastion of masculinity. And not just men, but manly men. Donald Rumsfeld practically snorted puffs of superheated testosterone out his nose. Not only are women inconceivable, but apparently even so effeminate as Democrats at large are no longer allowed at the Department of Defense. President Clinton selected a Republican to head the Pentagon (William Cohen) and President-elect Obama has rumors emanating that he will retain Secretary Gates for a period, or of Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

Nominating a woman to run the Pentagon would cause a political firestorm of retrograde gender imaginings, still lurking just below the surface. It will be the true, last hold out against female equality.

The two institutions have both obviously become overloaded with psychological meaning. The State Department, with its constant bias toward diplomacy, is the redoubt of verbal skills, much denigrated now that it turns out that women possess them in spades over men. And the State Department has only become an acceptable appointment for a woman as the department has declined in stature. It’s budget has been allowed to deteriorate away over the years, ambassadorships have become powerless rewards for campaign contributors and responsibility for real foreign policy making has all moved over to the Pentagon. Now that it’s the department of international social work, it’s safe to leave the place to a woman. The State Department has even got a double entendre in its unofficial name — Foggy Bottom — to suggest that it’s the proper place to send the skirts, especially the bulging middle-aged ones. They may as well run a knitting circle out of the Secretary’s office suite, whereas the Pentagon is a bastion of manly action.

If what is required is someone who can talk our enemies to death, why not go with one of the original rumors, and make Senator John Kerry the Secretary of State? If Senator Clinton is going to get a role other than leading the charge for healthcare reform in Congress, then let’s retire this gender-reifying myth and send her to the Pentagon.

The Transition from Idealism to Power

For all the idealism and slogans of the campaign trail, what I see in the moves of the last few days — in the selection of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, in his politicianly reticence at Friday’s press conference, in his meeting with Senator McCain — is a man making preparations for the actuality of governance, of the exercise of power, of making the necessary compromises between idealism and the hard reality of the achievable.

Along similar lines, here’s Ezra Klein (“Legislator-in-Chief,” TAPPED, 16 November 2008):

… the success of Obama’s presidency is dependent on his ability to navigate an increasingly dysfunctional Congress, and that the ability to pass bills through the institution requires pretty fair knowledge of how it works and pretty good relationships with the key players. Clinton didn’t have that. He entered office and showed very little respect for congressional expertise, surrounding himself with trusted associates from Arkansas and young hotshots from his campaign. Obama is not making the same mistake.

I’m essentially pro-establishment. All that hoary stuff of Sarah Palin on the campaign trail about shaking up Washington and the evils of Washington insiders is just junk pander to an ignorant public. Washington, D.C. — any center of power — is a complex place. Knowledge of the workings of Congress, of the bureaucracy, of all the hangers-on, especially the unofficial, undocumented byways, counts.

A point that S. made this weekend is that there is a difference between being an advocate and being a policy maker in a position of power. Al Gore has said that he feels he can best advance his agenda from outside of government and that may sound like something that someone in his position just says. But Mr. Gore can adopt an uncompromising position that the United States should be completely off of fossil fuels within ten years. And President-elect Obama has embraced that position on the campaign trail. But here is the contrast of actual governance. President Obama will probably pursue a more mixed agenda on energy and climate change because he has to make policy of principle and that will involve grabbing at what can be had in the current political environment, bringing in fence-sitters and even some opponents to a comprehensive, compromise package.

I would say that so far President-elect Obama is looking pretty shrewd and his choices are already giving me confidence.