Politics as “the art of the possible;” politics as a synonym for utter stupidity

For all my efforts to keep track of important articles, I occasionally miss one and regret it. And of course a Google search is at this point useless because the words I remember are far too frequently used in far too many contexts utterly irrelevant to what I’m looking for. So now I can’t find the article I want, which is the very point of accepting the risk of getting slapped for copyright violations. (I’m happy to honor the intellectual part and, at this point, thoroughly disgusted with the property part of “intellectual property” for a variety of reasons that are not my topic today.)

But the point I was looking for was a comment that the Obama administration has been weaving a course intended to protect his poll ratings by avoiding appearing either too far to the left or too far to the right. It is, we would understand, a thoroughly pragmatic course that, apart from a notorious corruption, is a hallmark of Chicago politics.

But the policies in question do not merely violate campaign promises and do not merely bely former law professor Obama’s constitutional scholarship. Nor is it even that these policies are grossly immoral but allow us to weigh ends against means. Rather, these policies are abject failures which undermine a presidency progressives hoped would reverse decades of a rightward shift in policy, making it clear that politics as “the art of the possible” is not merely cowardly but foolhardy and that faux-progressives who remain steadfast in their support for Obama, no matter how many Bush-era policies he perpetuates and enhances, are not merely hypocrites but fools.

A few commentators, but not nearly enough, responded to the recent McChrystal fiasco not by pointing to the disparaging remarks that Obama understood to undermine civilian control of the armed forces, but to those remarks from soldiers on the ground saying, “we’re fucking losing this thing [the Afghanistan war],” remarks reflected in the comments of one of McChrystal’s senior advisors that “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”

As Jacob Heilbrunn wrote for the Huffington Post,

The signs of failure are everywhere. A shyster Afghan president who’s enriching his family rather than rebuilding his country. An American ambassador who believes that the war plan is doomed. And a scorching new report from Rep. John Tierney called “Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan” which shows, as the Washington Post puts it today, that the “U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country…” And now the American General who’s heading the effort is tearing down the commander-in-chief.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote for the Atlantic,

Obama’s gamble on somehow turning the vast expanse of that ungovernable “nation” into a stable polity dedicated to fighting Jihadist terror is now as big as Bush’s in Iraq – and as quixotic. It is also, in my view, as irrational, a deployment of resources and young lives that America cannot afford and that cannot succeed. It really is Vietnam – along with the crazier and crazier rationales for continuing it. But it is now re-starting in earnest ten years in, dwarfing Vietnam in scope and longevity.

Gareth Porter wrote for Inter Press Service that McChrystal’s firing was more a consequence of military failure than disparaging remarks, that “it had become evident in recent weeks that McChrystal’s strategy is not working as he had promised, and Congress and the U.S. political elite had already become very uneasy about whether the war was on the wrong track.” An analysis by STRATFOR that I received in email (included here) concludes that “whoever replaces McChrystal will continue to struggle with a war that remains deeply intractable with limited prospects for success.”

While Tim Porter, writing for Salem-news.com, thinks that Petraeus will buy off the Taliban, a consensus emerges rather that Obama is doubling down in Afghanistan with his appointment of Petraeus to replace McChrystal.

It’s hard to ignore that Obama is doubling down on a stupid bet. Here’s the part that Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele got right in an otherwise very silly argument:

It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be in Afghanistan. Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right, because everyone who has tried, over a thousand years of history, has failed. And there are reasons for that.

UPDATE: Juan Cole offers a correction, that “it is actually only since Afghans began learning how to manufacture [in artisan style] hand-held firearms that they have become truly formidable, i.e. from the late 1600s.” If anyone can know this, it would be him. Thanks, Juan.

As Greenwald points out, Steele also blamed the war on Obama, neglecting that Bush started it on the false pretense of responding to the 9-11 attacks. But then there’s the Democratic National Committee (via the Washington Post):


“Here goes Michael Steele setting policy for the GOP again. The likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham will be interested to hear that the Republican Party position is that we should walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban without finishing the job. They’d also be interested to hear that the Chairman of the Republican Party thinks we have no business in Afghanistan notwithstanding the fact that we are there because we were attacked by terrorists on 9-11.

“And, the American people will be interested to hear that the leader of the Republican Party thinks recent events related to the war are ‘comical’ and that he is betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan. It’s simply unconscionable that Michael Steele would undermine the morale of our troops when what they need is our support and encouragement. Michael Steele would do well to remember that we are not in Afghanistan by our own choosing, that we were attacked and that his words have consequences.”

Greenwald calls the DNC statement “Rovian” and points to the sheer stupidity–among other things–of it:

I understand and even accept the need to use the other side’s rhetoric against them, though once you start doing that, you forever forfeit the ability to complain when it’s used against you. More to the point: the 2006 and 2008 elections proved that this “against-the-Troops/cut-and-run” rhetoric is now as ineffective as it is ugly. That’s why the GOP lost so overwhelmingly in those elections while relying on those smears; why would the DNC want to copy such ineffective tactics?

But this is more pernicious than mere tactical error. The DNC’s behavior is bolstering the poisonous, manipulative premise that to oppose an American war is an “affront” to the Troops and their families and the by-product of a cowardly desire to “walk away from the fight” with the Terrorists. When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it’s clear that something toxic is taking place. By all means, the ludicrous hypocrisy and illogic of Steele’s attempt to place all blame on the Democrats for this war should be screamed from the mountaintops — Obama inherited and (with the overwhelming support of the GOP) escalated the war, but he did not start it — but equating war opposition with disrespect to the Troops or cowardice is destructive and stupid no matter who is doing it. How revealing that the one time Michael Steele speaks the truth, he’s being swarmed on and attacked by both political parties.

It might be one thing if the stupidity were limited to the war in Afghanistan. It might still be that one thing if we expanded the stupidity to the war in Iraq, a war that is also unlikely to end on schedule, or to his expanding and mostly secret wars, mostly against Islamic countries. We might attribute Obama’s call to expand offshore oil drilling just a few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster to bad timing. We might even excuse Obama’s waffling on issues of race as something many (stupid) rich blacks do.

But I have consistently decried the malice with which Obama declared with regard to unemployment, “We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times.” It was a prelude to sheer inaction and a hypocrisy that banks were worthy of a bailout but that the deficit was more important than the unemployed.

Today, we have the results. I don’t have a link because John Mauldin’s analysis of the latest unemployment numbers came to me by email (you can subscribe here). I have included the text here, and as reading goes, it’s a little on the heavy side. Mauldin, who leans towards emphasizing the deficit, makes some telling points about so-called birth/death adjustments in those numbers, intimating that the unemployment numbers are far worse than reported:

The B/D adjustments say that we added 65,000 construction jobs in the last two months, over half the total number of jobs created. Really? US single-family homes set an all-time low sales number this week. Mortgage applications are way down. Home construction is off. Commercial real estate construction is down. Where are those construction jobs?

158,000 new jobs have supposedly been created in the hospitality and leisure industry in the last two months. And that is consistent with what normally happens in summer time. Typically, these are lower-paying jobs. (I worked a few myself while in college.) In the actual numbers, as surveyed, they estimated only 33,000 new jobs in L&H, so the B/D adjustment accounted for nearly all the positive number.

So a consensus from yesterday’s coverage that the numbers indicate a weakening recovery rather than a plunge into a second dip of a double-dip recession or into a depression is in fact wildly optimistic. And no one I’ve seen, except perhaps those incompetent–as well as malicious–idiots at the White House, now thinks the employment situation will help the Democrats in November.

So a Chicago-style pragmatism is about to backfire badly on Democrats and upon those faux-progressives who continue to excuse Obama’s policies. Not only has Obama done wrong things, but he has done stupid things that have cost us any opportunity to reverse the increasingly barbaric and self-destructive course that this country has set itself on.