Celebrating The Abandonment Of Transformationalism

Candidate Barack Obama famously said in 2008:

I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times. I do think that for example the 1980 was different. I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

(Emphasis supplied.) Today, Ezra Klein celebrates President Obama's abandonment of transformationalism:

The strength of Barack Obama's young presidency has been its depressing realism about the limits of legislative achievement in the age of the filibuster and unrelenting partisan polarization.

While I disagree with this admiration - I for one thought Obama could have been our FDR - it is a striking admission of the smallness of President Obama's vision and goals. How far (in a bad way) we have come.

Speaking for me only

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    Safety First (5.00 / 2) (#1)
    by mmc9431 on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:36:00 PM EST
    There has always been unrelenting partisan polarization. If you read what it took to get Medicare through or the Civil Rights Act this would be clear. These goals were accomplished with vision,leadership and hard work. Three traits lacking in the Obama administration.

    More than anything else I think Obama lacks courage. He prefers not to try rather than to risk failure.

    Except for war (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:40:46 PM EST
    He'll try some war :)

    No, even there ... (none / 0) (#41)
    by Demi Moaned on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:35:11 PM EST
    he lacks the courage to stop the wars that are in progress. Though (to his credit) I don't think he has any particular fire to start new wards.

    He (none / 0) (#51)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:25:24 PM EST
    may have an eye on Iran.

    Obama's motto: (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by NealB on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:37:10 PM EST
    Expectations breed disappointments.

    Contra Klein, it's this president who (5.00 / 4) (#4)
    by robotalk on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:46:41 PM EST
    has diminished himself and his opportunity.  Our expectations remain the same.

    BTD (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:05:42 PM EST
    how on earth did you ever think Obama could be our FDR? The guy who votes present when the going gets tough? Or simply votes present because he's too afraid to do anything else? The guy that runs and hides every time there's controversy?

    You weren't fooled by a lot of his other lies so how did you fall for that one?

    His ego (5.00 / 5) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:12:03 PM EST
    I thought his ego (which can be a great thing) would have led him to WANT to be our FDR.

    Personally, despite the Obama Bot line, I can not imagine he is happy with the way his Presidency is going.

    I suspect he may be rolling some heads in his inner circle sooner rather than later.

    I also wonder if he will find himself drawn closer to Bill and Hillary Clinton and look to them for some good advice.

    He is a brilliant person but perhaps too loyal to those that brung him. I also think he had unwarranted confidence in Rahmbo, who is working for himself, not his President.


    Dunno, BTD (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by smott on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:29:44 PM EST
    Certainly agree his ego is huge.

    As for rolling heads...? Has he done that in the past? Stepped up and shaken things up and gotten good results from it?

    Re gettign closer to Bill/Hill - that would show good judgement and I'd love to see it. But see Ego, above. I'd be stunned if that happens, publicly anyway.

    And as for brilliant, dunno there either. Smart? Yes. Capable? Yes. Hard worker/motivated? Not so much.

    But if he really is brilliant, then he's underachieving to a humongous degree....


    Regarding the Clinton's (none / 0) (#19)
    by CST on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:50:20 PM EST
    "I'd be stunned if that happens, publicly anyway"

    You mean like offering Hillary Secretary of State?  His ego didn't seem to get in the way of that.


    Well (none / 0) (#22)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:58:25 PM EST
    when you consider the fact that she wouldn't campaign for him until the lawyers talked to him it was probably decided by her that that was what she wanted. I personally think she made a mistake wanting it but it's her decision.

    Not really sure what you are talking about (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by CST on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:01:48 PM EST
    regardless, campaigning with her and then offering her secretary of state seems like a pretty public embrace of the Clintons.

    Not to mention, whether it was discussed beforehand or not, once he was elected it was completely up to him whether or not to offer her that post.  It's not like he had any binding agreements.


    IMO (none / 0) (#31)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:12:55 PM EST
    his team has done a pretty good job of presenting the pair together.  They seem to work well, respect each other and enjoy each other's company.  The lack of bizarre Hillary Clinton stories is probably a testament to that.

    My (none / 0) (#37)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:16:06 PM EST
    point is how do you know he offered it? Maybe it's what she said she wanted and he went along with it.

    Whether she (none / 0) (#45)
    by CST on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:57:15 PM EST
    asked for it or not, or even demanded it (which I HIGHLY doubt) or not is irrelevent.

    He was the president - it was his to offer or not.

    I still don't see how you can argue it was anything but a very public embrace of the Clintons.  Regardless of where the idea originated.


    Still (none / 0) (#55)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 06:28:19 PM EST
    don't see it as an embrace because of all the things that were coming out of the WH dissing the Clintons after Obama took office. If all that hadn't happened then I might agree with you.

    Campaigning (none / 0) (#48)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:16:45 PM EST
    with a former adversary is the stock and trade of every election.
    Kerry and Edwards couldn't stop hugging each other - they were real good friends...

    I thought he had to convince her (none / 0) (#27)
    by nycstray on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:04:20 PM EST
    to take the position? Seems like everything I've read has him wanting her, not the other way around. There were campaign debt discussions after she dropped out, iirc.

    Well, (none / 0) (#32)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:14:28 PM EST
    I think the S of S offer was a booby prize.
    He threw her a few crumbs. She would be working for him and spewing his bs to foreign leaders.
    Veep would have been more appropriate and would have shown some magnanimity on his part. But no.

    I'd hardly call (none / 0) (#34)
    by CST on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:21:46 PM EST
    Secretary of State a few crumbs, but whatever.

    I would have liked VP too, but it was clearly a political calculation.  VP is an election year post, Secretary of State is more of a governing one.  

    My original point though, whatever you think of the Secretary of State job, was that he doesn't seem to be afraid of publicly embracing the Clintons.


    I'd (none / 0) (#47)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:13:30 PM EST
    hardly call it an "embrace of the Clintons".
    It just felt like some kind of payoff to me.
    To pacify her followers - or those who were disgusted at the nature of the campaign hurled against Clinton.
    And also possibly in exchange for support at the convention and during the campaign.

    umm (none / 0) (#57)
    by CST on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 07:08:49 PM EST
    you are aware of the fact that the apt. of sec. of state was made after he won the general election.

    so i am not sure who there was left to pacify, or what convention support would have to do with it.


    Mmm.... (none / 0) (#58)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 08:43:31 PM EST
    Don't forget the little tete-a-tete they had had Dianne Feinstein's house.  Don't be too sure the appointment decision was made after the election.  My guess is that was the topic of discussion - he gave her what she wanted (and SoS is actually more visible and she's not really second fiddle and invisible next to him), in exchange for releasing the delegates so no floor fight would intrude upon his coronation.

    I think Hillary as SOS was (none / 0) (#33)
    by dk on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:18:28 PM EST
    mutually advantageous for both of them.  Hillary obtained a position of international stature where she could work on causes important to her, which was too good for her to pass up.  And Obama got Hillary out of the country, which left him as the sole leader of the party.  I can totally see why both of them agreed to the idea.

    In any job ... (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:43:59 PM EST
    you're ultimately only as good as your weaknesses.  Because any power system will task your weaknesses, rather than play to your strengths.

    This is true of any job.  But it's been made dramatically clear in the story of our Presidents.


    I'm (5.00 / 1) (#50)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:22:27 PM EST
    beginning to wonder if Obama has any strengths?

    Well (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:56:41 PM EST
    he's apparently not doing anything to recitify the situation if he's unhappy though I disagree with you in regards to his presidency. I think that he's fine with it simply because he never wanted to do the work of a president and said as much. It seems to me that he really just wants to be an ex President who can do speeches and earn money. He's already succeeded at doing what he wanted to do: be the first African American president. He's never had an allegiance to issues or had any core convictions other than getting himself elected so I'm seeing him as the same way I did last year during the primaries. None of this surprises me one bit. If you look at his actions in the past it's much more indicative of who he is and what he will do than anything he says.

    As far as Rahm goes, I dont think he knows how bad that situation is. Obama may be book smart but he's not very politically smart imo but then he has very little experience. A few years as a part time state senator and a few years in the senate really dont prepare you for this kind of job. I dont think that he's capapble of fixing the mess that we're in as a country right now because he came of age in Reagan and empraced that philosophy.


    I'm (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:09:07 PM EST
    not even sure about the "book smart" part of his intelligence.

    I believe that endless pandering renders one bereft of any kind of intelligence.


    I was reading a couple of days ago (none / 0) (#20)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:51:15 PM EST
    I cant remember where that he was considering dumping Biden and asking Hillary to run as VP in 2012.  is that even possible?

    It's (none / 0) (#30)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:11:29 PM EST
    purely speculation - but now that he's sending 30,000 more souls to Afghanistan - if we're still rummaging around in caves trying to make sense out of their half-a-government, Obama may find himself in Lyndon Johnson's position of turning down a run for a second term.

    I generally buy the Afgh-VN (none / 0) (#35)
    by brodie on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:33:38 PM EST
    parallels, but there are some important differences re the Obama=Lyndon angle that give Obama an advantage.

    First, Obama is at least coming clean early on with the public about what the policy is, what's about to happen.  LBJ deliberately sought to obfuscate his early escalatory moves and never gave the major timely address to the public explaining he'd decided to cross the Rubicon.  Second, Obama is apparently going to strongly emphasize the non-open ended nature of a relatively limited commitment of US forces.  Johnson never talked in terms other than staying the course, not cutting and running, and further endless commitment nonsense.

    Third, the size of the troop commitment:  Obama, some 50k troops additional overall, vs Lyndon's 500,000, and the casualty toll:  in Afghan, less than 1k killed so far, but under Lyndon something like 30,000 US dead by the end of his presidency.

    Finally, unlike the hard to like Lyndon with his wheeler-dealer smoky backroom rep, personable and charismatic Obama is able to connect with the public, and especially the youth, and so, like Kennedy before him, will be given some room, w/n reason, to make a mistake in FP.

    If the exit timetable is real and sincere, as JFK's was in 1963 announcing an end to the US commitment by 65, then the public should be supportive if the troops in fact do begin coming home  no later than 2012.  Though Obama would be better off starting the withdrawal a little earlier ...


    "sincere, as JFK's was" (none / 0) (#36)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:04:39 PM EST
    lets hope and pray it doesnt end the same way.
    its a little ironic that you keep hearing LBJs name as the person he needed to be more like to get healthcare reform passed isnt it?
    tonight he is the former president he wants to be least like.

    Nifty summary re LBJ and Obama. (none / 0) (#38)
    by brodie on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:22:28 PM EST
    Though I've tried to argue here, often, that LBJ's alleged ability to just twist an arm and get results has been vastly overestimated, and that he was greatly aided by the changed overall political landscape post-Dallas and post-landslide 64 election.

    Tonight it looks like Obama is going to take a page from Lyndon in re amping up the US military force, and a partial page from JFK -- not a deadline for ending US involvement, it turns out (see Greg Sargent's blog which I just checked), but a beginning point for withdrawal (July 2011) --  Kennedy in Oct 63 announced that he would be beginning US military net withdrawals by the end of that year.


    Dont (none / 0) (#39)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:25:05 PM EST
    count on Obama when it comes to withdrawl. he said we'd be out of Iraq next summer and he's already backed down on that promise.

    Actually (none / 0) (#40)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:26:27 PM EST
    as far as past presidents and wars he reminds me most of Nixon. He keeps saying we're getting out but draws down the troops and then moves them around and then escalates in certain areas like he's doing with the new surge.

    LBJ would not raise taxes for the (none / 0) (#52)
    by KeysDan on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:25:33 PM EST
    Vietnam War since it would make the war unpopular so he stuck  to the mantra "guns and butter".  It took a long while for the economy to get over it.  Obama, similarly, will not raise taxes, although he does have a better case to make what with the drag it would have on an already shaky recovery.  But, LBJ had the draft and we know how that influenced the war; Obama has a volunteer army other than the non-voluntary re-runs that affect a smaller part of the population.

    Well (none / 0) (#56)
    by Ga6thDem on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 07:07:24 PM EST
    I see Bush in more of the LBJ role w/r/t the war except that bush took not raising taxes to fund the war to the laughalbe extreme of trying to finance one with tax cuts.

    Ego (none / 0) (#49)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:20:36 PM EST
    To make the ultimate example: I don't think Jesus had any ego at all.

    Well, when the Good Book on Obama (none / 0) (#53)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:58:53 PM EST
    is written, he won't have one, either :) His handlers have a way with words, you know.

    ditto BTD (5.00 / 1) (#46)
    by pluege on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 05:09:58 PM EST
    Obama always was hot air. If he understood the moment and had the underlying fundamentals of a true progressive, his presidency could have been truly momentous. But it was too early for him, he is too immature, and he hasn't the underlying fundamentals to accomplish much more than mediocrity. A complete waste of the opportunity of the moment. It will now take far greater tragedy than bush visited on humanity for such a moment to return if it ever does for the US.

    As I said the night of Obama's win in Nov-08, I fear that by being elected, Obama has already peaked. His election was no small accomplishment and a great step forward for diversity, but a complete waste of the opportunity of the moment in terms of policy and improvement for the people.

    BTD (none / 0) (#5)
    by Capt Howdy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:49:58 PM EST
    this is a bit OT but maybe not.  could you point me to a post or series of posts that lay out your view of Afghanistan and how you came to it?  I have been quoting you to support my own views on the subject  and a couple of times I have been asked for a link to your posts explaining your take on the subject.  I scanned your more recent posts and found mostly small stuff referencing the fact that you are hawkish on the subject but not why.  I know you have been writing about this for years and I balked a scanning that far back.

    Wait for my post speech post (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 01:55:19 PM EST
    It's going to be a big night in the (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:14:03 PM EST
    little kitchen :)

    Insert "Kitchen Debate" joke ... (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Robot Porter on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:30:21 PM EST

    There's a chance it could work out well (5.00 / 2) (#23)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:59:37 PM EST
    of course.   But it's sad to see all the good domestic stuff be compromised and be told to STFU about an expensive war.

    I was struck (none / 0) (#10)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:16:34 PM EST
    by the admission on Ezra's part in the same article:

    Helping 30 or 40 million people is a big step forward, but it is not reform of the health-care system. It is an expansion of it. [emphasis supplied]

    Maybe this is the new Administration line?  "It's not reform, don't worry!!!  It's expansion!"  Well, that could get you 60 votes I suppose.

    Oh well.  At least 11 dimensional chess is dead.  All that's left is the bully pulpit theory, thank God.

    I think Ezra is attempting to cover his a$$ (none / 0) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:20:08 PM EST
    thinking that there could come a time of anger and pitchforks where this health-care business is concerned :)

    Maybe he just had (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:26:56 PM EST
    another nice lunch conversation with Yglesias:

    There are a lot of different attitudes one can take to the fact that the senate makes it (a) difficult to pass major legislation and (b) especially difficult to pass major progressive legislation. But the situation ought to be seen for what it is. If people want to see more progressive legislation pass in the future, they need to implement a strategy in which incumbent senators of either party are at serious risk of losing their seats on election day to challengers from the left. At the moment, very few senators fit that description. Obama deserves some of the blame for this situation but I think it's a huge stretch to say it's primarily his fault.

    Legislating is just hard, man!  

    I think the bipartisan crap is holding Obama back from accepting the razor-thin margins Clinton was willing to accept in order to make legislating...well, not so hard.


    All of Ezra's many many windy writings (none / 0) (#42)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:43:54 PM EST
    sure didn't give Obama any aid in using those razor thin margins either.

    It is a good demonstration (none / 0) (#44)
    by lilburro on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:50:17 PM EST
    of how Beltway writers create and reinforce political reality - complain mightily about the filibuster and how Obama can't do anything about it, and guess what - nobody thinks Obama can get around the filibuster or do anything about it.  Self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Ezra has had a change of tune today from what I posted previously though:

    If passed, it will be, without doubt or competition, the largest piece of progressive social policy since Lyndon Johnson established Medicare and Medicaid. If this isn't worthwhile, then progressives should pack up and go home, because nothing Congress passes in the foreseeable future will even come close.

    I get confused sometimes about the name-calling rules here, so I guess I could say that I think he has a lot in common with the Democratic mascot.  :P


    "Expansion" of government... (none / 0) (#54)
    by pluege on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 06:07:31 PM EST
    how the hell would that ever sell in today's US of callous insanity.

    only someone like Obama would make (none / 0) (#11)
    by iceblinkjm on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:17:09 PM EST
    such comments in a room full of gay democrats. I personally hold Reagans' hubris responsible for the death of many friends and an "Uncle".

    I find it harder to get past (5.00 / 5) (#16)
    by gyrfalcon on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:43:13 PM EST
    those admiring comments of his about Reagan than anything else, even the Clinton racism smear.  Reagan was transformative.  He set us back 50 or 100 years, or at least it'll take that long, if ever, to even get back to where we were when he took office.

    I'll (5.00 / 5) (#26)
    by lentinel on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:03:57 PM EST
    add to the the ruination of the Union Movement - another accomplishment of Mr. Reagan.

    Obama's genuflecting over Reagan was a real stomach-turner - but it didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of his "progressive" supporters. I'll never quite understand why.


    I agree, and at another level, (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by KeysDan on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 02:47:10 PM EST
     Reagan's cut-back on poor children's school lunch costs by counting catsup as a vegetable should give pause to any "grand trajectory" comments.

    Reagain was a sick (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 03:01:07 PM EST
    demented fascist in many ways, his AMA fear mongering was diabolical.  He seemed to have a good attitude about the USSR though.

    Yeah, I grew up waiting for mushroom (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Dec 01, 2009 at 04:48:11 PM EST
    clouds to engulf me and all my dreams and desires.  His wife had to keep harping at all of us to say Just Say No to Drugs because growing up under the bull honk Reagan tuteledge left a soul with few funner things to aspire to or look forward to.