The most disappointing president

Just thought I’d pass along this note from interfluidity, one of my favorite bloggers:

I no longer trust my own government to be the provider of a civilized society. No government is perfect or without corruptions. But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration. In 2011, I view my government as the sharp edge of an entrenched kleptocracy, engaged in ever more expansive schemes of surveillance and arrogating powers of ever less restrained brutality. At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership. Whenever I hear the President speak and am impressed by the quality of his intellect, by his instinct towards diplomacy and finding common ground and rising above petty struggles, I despair more deeply. Not just because a leader of high quality failed to restore passably clean and beneficient government. It is worse than that. The kleptocracy has harnassed this man’s most admirable qualities and made them a powerful weapon for its own ends. He has rebranded as “moderate”, “adult”, “reasonable”, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities. He has demostrated that the way grown-ups get things done in Washington is by continually paying off thieves in suits. Perhaps it is unfair to blame Barack Obama for all this. Maybe he has done the very best a person could do under our present institutions. But then it is not unfair to detest the institutions, to wish to see them clipped, contained, or starved.

In a roundabout way, it leads to a kinship (that he leads the post with) between seemingly far-flung communities: there are both left- and right-wing types who think we need to take substantial steps back from the ominously powerful State that we currently have. Of course, I disagree strongly with the content of many of those proposals, but I can’t fault them for thinking that our government does terrible things. Sometimes, it does.

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2 thoughts on “The most disappointing president

  1. Sorry, devin, but I’m not sure I’m buying into what this blogger’s rolling out with (sorry…). “At a visceral level, I dislike President Obama more than I have disliked any politician in my lifetime, not because he is objectively worse than most of the others — he is not — but because he disproved my hypothesis that we are a country with basically good institutions brought low by poor quality leadership.” So, based on the point that he’s actually not the best leader (an individual in a fairly silly form of government) anywhere, it shows that the US is bad? THAT’S his reason for losing faith in the American mission? Man, oh, man, do I have some hum-dingers from US history to enlighten him. He’s going to be even more pissed off than when he wrote this piece.

    I also think this blog give the previous admin a HUGE pass. 1) “But in 2007, I thought I lived in a remarkably well-governed nation that had gone off-kilter under a small and mean administration.” and 2) “He has rebranded as ‘moderate’, ‘adult’, ‘reasonable’, practices such as unaccountable assassination lists and Orwellian nonhostilities.” Hmmm. These are things which have roots in a shift of US foreign policy since the fall of the USSR and the extremist reaction by the government after 9/11.

    I think the blog slowly gets at the cause towards the end, blaming the institutions (Washington’s really a revolving door for the privielged) rather than President Obama. I disapprove of him on a lot of things, too (predator drones anyone?), but most can’t be pinned on him.

    But, great topic to bring up for debate!!! Nicely done.

  2. I could be misreading him, but it seems to me that your (understandable) indignation may be mistargeted here.. I don’t think he is giving the previous administration a pass in terms of blame for current outcomes (Orwell/assassination), I read it as he thought that the previous administration was to blame. As in, the outcomes from the previous administration were due to the previous administration being terrible/evil/cynical/etc–it was due to the kind of administration they ran. It was due to Bush and Cheney et al as people. And I think his hope (as was many of ours) was that removing those people from office and installing Obama (or Hilary or whoever) would lead to an improvement in those outcomes.

    And while he only brings up institutions at the end, that was his argument from the beginning: he isn’t disappointed in Obama for “not being the best leader”, he is disappointed because Obama has disproved his hypothesis: the problem wasn’t simply that Cheney was Darth Vader, the problem was that the current institutional arrangement–the whole shebang–is fucked up and leads to bad outcomes. I didn’t read it as pinning things on Obama that aren’t under his control, but rather anger/disappointment that even someone as good as Obama is unable to redirect the ship. And that is very worrisome indeed.

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