11-dimensional chessmasters checkmated by “reality”

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.

69 thoughts on “11-dimensional chessmasters checkmated by “reality”

  1. 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.


  2. 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.



  3. 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.


  4. 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.)


  5. 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?


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. 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.


  9. 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.


  10. 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.


  11. 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.


  12. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. Pingback: What was excellent advice in 2008 looks positively prescient now! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  15. Pingback: What was excellent advice in 2008 looks positively prescient now! | Historiann

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