Thursday, December 04, 2008

UNFRIENDLY RIVALS

Lisa Pease writes about “Obama’s Risky Team of Rivals” on the ConsortiumNews site (here).

Doris Kearns Goodwin, noted historian, recently opined that Lincoln himself had appointed a Cabinet loaded with gentlemen who thought they either could do his job better or should have had his job. Not a prahblum, implies Goodwin; it will give Obama a chance to shine.

Shrewd and strategically so, that message of Goodwin’s. It implies that Obama is in the same league as Lincoln, while simultaneously greasing the skids (successfully, We now know) for Hilary to get into the Cabinet.

As far as Obama being another Lincoln, I can only intone From Goodwin’s lips to God’s ear. And at this point, it’s hard to know whether he is simply being deeply shrewd in making do with incorporating numerous fixed and immovable objects into his plan, much as the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall, or whether he is simply buckling to the now impossibly entrenched Beltway ‘consensus’ which postulates a single Party – for all practical purposes – with one ‘wing’ being in office and the other not far away.

And even if he’s being deeply shrewd in his selection-strategy, it would then remain to be seen whether, having brought all these wildebeests into the center ring, he can actually make them sit down or stand up at his command. And using the whip is now considered ‘insensitive’.

I’ve said that he faces a challenge as great as Lincoln faced in 1861, aggravated by the fact that the problem isn’t as clear as ‘secession’ was back then.

But Goodwin’s note strikes me as false, and so obviously so that it makes me wonder. Lincoln faced no Beltway bureaucracy; back then it really could be a mano-a-mano between Lincoln and this or that Cabinet member. If Lincoln outplayed Seward or stared him down, then ‘State’ would do what Lincoln and the now-chastened Seward wanted. Ditto Stanton and the War Department or Gideon Welles (much more cooperative anyway) and the Navy Department.

Not so now. Even if Obama manages to outplay or stare-down a particular Cabinet Secretary, there are now layers of bureaucracy beneath that gentleperson, where all but the most direct application of Presidential power and presence, sustained at high heat like a blowtorch, will be needed to prevent the Presidential vision from being broken up into manageable bits and quietly chewed into oblivion or twisted and deformed until it’s unrecognizable to its erstwhile ‘master’.

And nowadays, all of his Cabinet will have spent their professional – you should pardon the expression – lives going along to get along, taking their swag and shutting up, breaking or allowing to be broken whatever ‘eggs’ necessary to make the consensus omelette served 24-7 and 365 at the Beltway Buffet.

I wonder, really, if We aren’t seeing a prime example of the corruption of the public intellectuals. I envision Goodwin being chatted up by her sistern – male and female – to the effect that she has to do something to help ‘our’ Hilary stay at the Table. And that whatever the ‘fit’ or the outcome of any particular Hilary performance, the ‘symbolic’ value alone will be worth it. We’ve seen this gambit played recently in the promotion of that female Army general in the striped pants and the sensible shoes.

Rummaging around in the notes of her recent productions, Goodwin dutifully blurbs the Lincoln ‘story’.

And the media, many of whom might not be able to pick the 16th President out of a lineup, let alone any of his Cabinet members, distribute such ‘historical wisdom’ far and wide. And afterwards they all go to a dinner party in Georgetown and klatsch volubly about a golden future. Selah.

But Pease actually might have missed what I think is the most significant element in her story. Obama need not imagine a John Wilkes Booth towards the end of his ‘great work’. JFK, RFK, and MLK all got ‘ahead of’ the Beltway in that ominous decades of the Sixties, and all met with ‘unfortunate accidents’, as the Mob would say.

In a way, Obama has – theoretically, at least – opened himself up to such an unhappy possibility. Surrounding him and for several layers beneath him in the line of succession, are solid Beltway regulars, starting with the former Senator von Banken und Kreditkard. Should ‘change’ start to actually manifest itself in such a way as to upset the numerous official and under-the-table Beltway Macher then … it’s enough to give even a serious drinker pause.

He is now in an Augean Stable where the monsters who made the monstrous piles of poisonous poo are still in their stalls, horns and hooves sharp and – the wonders of the human species! – all ‘breathing-together’ (Latin: ‘conspiro’) and thoroughly in agreement as to how the Stable should be run.

I wonder if perhaps that was part of the reason Carter let his own Party – led by the Master Bull Tip O’Neill – run roughshod all over his administration and its initiatives. Has every Democratic President since JFK pulled his punches, always with a wary eye to who out there in the expensive smoky haze beyond the ropes, or even right there in the ring with him, would be quietly calculating the odds … ?

If so , We have been a banana republic for a lot longer than is usually thought.

And as the citizenry declines further and faster into a short-order, short-memoried peasantry, We are headed even further back down along that jungle road from which, in 1787, We emerged, borne on the shoulders of giants.

No wonder they’re assigning the Army for domestic duties. Sooner or later folks are going to figure out just how long and well they’ve been diddled, or there will be an ‘accident’, and the ruling claques will need more protection and muscle than your local SWAT team can provide. Of course, it will all be done in the name of ‘national security and order’ (Ja!) and, de rigeur these days, ‘for the children’. Janet Reno, Madeleine Albright, and Hillary herself – ‘bellipotentes virgines’ all – have demonstrated themselves quite capable of that; breaking eggs morning after morning in those kitchens for so long prepared them for high office, whether wearing an apron, a dress, or – watch for it – striped pants.

In that regard, I can’t do better than quote Michael Rowe, who in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ (‘New Regimes’, November 21 issue, p. 23) describes the French Army’s ‘success’ against the Communards after the failure of the Uprising in Paris: “the massive reprisals against the Parisian insurgents carried out by the army, which now employed its primitive machine guns to far greater effect against the columns of chained prisoners than it had done against the Prussians a few months earlier.” The machine guns are a lot less primitive now. It remains to be seen whether the guns’ wielders will prove as primitive. They will have recently come back from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Yes, the challenge facing Obama is as great as that which faced Lincoln. The President-elect will need all the help We can give him. While We still can.

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