Obama The Nudgeocrat
Here are a few posts I composed in my head over the past couple weeks but didn't get around to publishing:
1) Tim Geithner Must Be Attacked With a Broken Beer Bottle (Fox-Built Hen-House, Economy)
2) Is Barack Obama An Idiot (Land War, Asia)
3) Damn You Human Xanax (Look Homeward, Asshole)
4) He Will Kill Us All (Negative Affect, Schizophrenia)
Plenty of pundits have been handing out report cards on the first hundred days, during which time I've been holding off from lambasting the 44th President, with the exceptions of the Bail-In and Afghanistan while watching the mess closely, biting nails and tongue. There is much to be not happy about. Aside: do you remember those old-fashioned vacuum-tube television sets? When you threw a can of ptomaine-ridden tomatoes through one's screen at the town dump, it was truly a vacuum and would violently suck air and glass inwards before spitting out silver dust, mercury vapor and various fine particles of deadly heavy metals. Deeply satisfying.
These days when you hurl a dense object like an unopened can of beer at a TV all the screen does is fracture into tiny outwardly radiating visual shard-fields and triangles, some lit, some not. You can still watch the random segments and try to reassemble a skewed digital kaleidoscope into coherence. Which is not satisfying at all. Media has changed a great deal since then.
We have a process-oriented centrist at the helm after two full terms of a gut-driven, divisive strength of convictions knee-biter. We could arguably use more of the latter now, and one trouble with process-oriented people is they're hard to figure out. Another is they patiently employ methods which countenance delay. Example A:
"Words are good and understanding is good, but ultimately it has to translate into concrete actions...These things take time, and the idea is you lay the groundwork and slowly, over time, if you make small efforts, they can add up into big efforts."Obama made that statement in a town hall with Turkish students on the last day of his opening world tour through Europe and the Subcontinent. Repeat: town hall meeting. Not here. With students in Turkey. Why? He was following a rigorous process. Here it is:
1) talk with the animals; learn their languages
2) make some of them happy and offer a deal
3) let their radical fringes cut themselves out of the deal
4) wait for the needles of their opposing opinions to shift in your direction
This technique beats out consensus like dust out of a rug on a clothesline and Obama is nudging badly soiled processes back to better directions. When he met Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, a sworn enemy of the United States, he smiled, shook the dictator's hand and said, "Como estas?" Chavez beamed like a kid with ten bucks in a candy store, and it was cheap. It was easy. You take what you can get and in so doing you start to load the bases before maybe hitting a double, a triple, a home run.
When he met with the House and Senate Minority Leaders about health care legislation, on the other hand, he reminded them seven times that they voted party-line against the stimulus package and said in effect, "I'm disappointed. You are acting like radical fringe who want to cut themselves out of the deal." He doesn't need them to pass what he wants by October under a technical process known as reconciliation. He warned them he's going to ram it home, and their continued bitching won't mean squat because we all want it. Get with the Program.
The remaining Pug choice is to shift left or be further marginalized. They are brittle and conflicted and have not yet burst asunder, so it's hard to tell what they'll do. But when Obama took office, only 8% of Americans polled thought the country was "moving in the right direction." Now 50% do. That's a 42-point shift in 100 days. I can rail about wedding parties being blasted in Afghanistan or Geithner felching gerbils with his friends on Wall Street, but there was a tremendous turnabout in opinion and many public hallmarks of masterful leadership in that time.
Arguing over the merits of Obama's tactics is unwise. The Nudge is working, and is effectively applied. Some arguments are even more fundamental. Bigger questions beg and sniff around if there's enough time to fix what could not be broken, yet is, and if it's really worth trying to restore our Standing in the World.