Pundits Don’t Understand Politics: Obama 1st Anniversary Edition

Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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31 Responses

  1. North says:

    Wow, that’s some great stuff. Oddly enough made me feel better about Obama. Then again I usually do feel better about him when I read about him acting like a politician.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Is there a point at which we will be able to judge Obama?

    Will we be discussing in 2023 whether anything was done or whether we still don’t quite understand how deeply he planted his seeds?Report

  3. Nob Akimoto says:

    I think the better question is: When will people start holding CONGRESS accountable for their failures (including both GOP obstructionism and Democratic institutional stupidity) rather than blame it on a president who for all purposes seems to have set his legislative agenda about as well as he said he would during the campaign.

    It’s true that Obama made the choice to defer to congress on the content of healthcare reform, financial reform, etc, but that’s hardly unexpected, is it? I thought for a moment part of why we wanted him in office was because the presidency had become overextended and powerful during the Bush era and tried to dictate everything from the White House to the party on the hill…was that off?Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Nob Akimoto says:


      agree completely.


      one thing westen would say (that i do agree with) is that for those who support Obama’s policies, he has stopped being able to articulate how these policies fit some larger vision. He began talking about an ownership society but that’s largely dead now as far as I can tell. He’s gone back into aloof professioral mode and/or oratorical flourishes of the high-minded which is always bad for him and bad for his party. He needs some frame that will capture how these various pieces fit together–not classically Democratic nick-nack arguments about the .1% better efficiency of random sub-point QZA1 versus QZA2.

      Beyond that though I’m not sure what he does. I’m mean Bill Maher wants paternalism revived, but I sure as hell as don’t. The country needs at this point (imo) large scale domestic change and that is Congress’ job not the President’s. And the Democratic Party isn’t the GOP. It’s not unified–it’s really 2 parties. I wish we had a more structurally responsive Congress, but we don’t and so it’s basically this game of waiting to see if Congress ever grows up.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        It seems that we’re back to Schroedinger’s President.

        (Please don’t get me wrong: if it turns out that Obama does nothing of note for 8 years, there won’t be anyone happier than I am.)

        Obama gearing up to change how stuff is done looks exactly like Obama failing to change how stuff is done and nobody is yet able to accurately say which is going on.

        If we have not yet hit the point where we can say “okay, we’ve looked in the box and the cat is X” (and, sure, I’d agree that we haven’t), I’m curious as to when we can agree that we know whether we’ve looked in the box or not.Report

        • Chris Dierkes in reply to Jaybird says:

          I don’t know so much about the feline nature of this prez. I think (and said) that he should be criticized for a whole mess of things. Will has a very good post on one such element (War on Terror related). Though again I will say that even there, it is Congress that should pass a legal regime relative to the War on Terror, not relying on President’s to ad hoc do law abiding things. They won’t. All The Supreme Court can do (and has done) is say what things the President can’t do not what he should do (calling Congress).

          But in general I think US President’s structurally just can’t do that much domestically. They can only have real effect in foreign policy (or intelligence/justice dept issues). And wrt to the economic stuff, anyone who knew the guy’s record had to know how he was going to come down on this. you can criticize or not criticize that, my only point was why are all these people acting so bewildered when the guy is doing basically exactly what he said he was going to do.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

            I imagine that many Democrats (or Progressives, or Leftists, or whatever term you would like to use) believe that Bush got a lot of his agenda passed.

            Whether or not that’s true, of course, the perception is out there that Bush did whatever he wanted and didn’t take crap off of nobody and, for God’s sake, why can’t Obama do the same?

            Indeed, if you look at the numbers in the House/Senate, you’ll see that Obama is in a somewhat more favorable position than Bush was even in 2002-2006.

            I guess if you believe that Bush got what he wanted, it wouldn’t be that hard to jump to belief that Obama ought to be able to do similar.Report

            • North in reply to Jaybird says:

              Uh Jay, part of Obama’s pledge was to peddle back some of the executive excesses.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to North says:

                Honestly, I didn’t really pay attention. I sort of figured that he’d be lying no matter what came out of his mouth and didn’t really pay attention to much more than the tear-stained faces laughing as they read the election results.

                (I admit to having been creeped out by those.)Report

              • Scott in reply to North says:

                That he did, which is why I find it so amusing that in some respects he is really Bush lite.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      I think the real question is how to hold Congress responsible. There’s a lot that goes into this, starting with: campaign finance reform that doesn’t entrench incumbents, as well as redistricting reform, to ensure more competitive elections; Mark’s proposal for a nationally elected speaker; institutional changes like ending the filibuster and making the Senate more responsive generally. But at the end of the day, activists need a way to bring pressure against the legislature as easily as more organized interests do, and until that happens I don’t hold out much hope for institutional reform.Report

  4. Ian M. says:

    “He used to be a community organizer–that was a formative experience in his life–and community organizers are generally conflict averse tactically. Or, less negatively put, they let everything play out in front of them and then try to get the group to take responsibility on their own, form a coalition at the end, and then seek to take credit for the whole thing. Or at least substantial parts of it. ”

    The taking credit part is unmitigated crap. Community organizers try to develop leaders within a community and have them take charge of their situation. Community organizers are tactically averse to open conflict because it derails the discussion away from issues and towards tactics. Also, they are almost always in a position of lesser power. My wife (you guessed it – community organizer) regularly turns down media interview requests because she is not the point. Community organizing is about empowering the community, not the organizer.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Ian M. says:


      Sorry that part came out wrong. I’ve deleted (per your comment which on reading it I realized you were right) the offending section on taking credit.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        also Ian,

        I agree with your point as to why (structurally/tactically) community organizers would be conflict averse. What I said wasn’t intended to be like a psychological critique. I brought it up because people who would have done any research would have known that prior to Obama’s run and should not be (as I haven’t been) surprised that he is acting as he says since taking office.Report

  5. EngineerScotty says:

    Many on the left didn’t want Obama to roll back executive power; they instead want him to use the weight of his office to steamroll the GOP, as was done to them.

    Obama isn’t on board with that, obviously.Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to EngineerScotty says:

      true and I agree. Still I think the same point applies–why did they even bother wanting him to do something they should have known he would never do. Oh because he said he was going to get rid of the lobbyists? Fat chance on that one.

      If that is what they wanted, they should have voted (and maybe some did) for Hillary in the primary.Report

      • JosephFM in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        Hillary Clinton, really? Who was still defending the Iraq invasion through 2006, that HillaryClinton? Whose husband was the most conservative Democratic president of the entire 20th century? This is whom the hard left should have trusted in? Not Obama, certainly, but the fact is that both of them were proposing nearly identical policies. The only actual leftist in the race was, as usual, Kucinich. (And arguably Dodd, though given his ties to the banking industry he never could have won either.)

        I do think a lot of people on the left thought Obama could “wake people up” from being Republicans and leave them to die and are outraged and disappointed that his election didn’t represent a fundamental change in American culture.Report

        • JosephFM in reply to JosephFM says:

          And I also think said belief was and is silly and naive.Report

          • Chris Dierkes in reply to JosephFM says:


            hillary’s more left on domestic policy more hawkish undoubtedly foreign policy wise. arguably edwards made her move a little left in the primary. really I think of HRC as more interventionist/activist in her approach. She’s more paternalistic and I imagine she actually would have gone more heavy handed/confrontational given the economic situation.

            I’m not saying that would have been a necessarily better option just that if someone holds that view of politics, Obama was never ever ever that guy.Report

  6. krogerfoot says:

    It’s chalk full? Full of chalk? Don’t those people have whiteboards?Report

  7. Kyle says:

    Well put Chris.

    What frustrates me about complaints that the President has too much of a focus on bipartisanship is it completely ignores an important distinction and the tactical role it plays.

    First, there’s warm, genuine bipartisanship. With the stimulus, Republicans weren’t shut out of the process and in the midst of both a crisis and overwhelming GOP defeat, I actually think that was the smarter move, rather than running to the left a month after the inauguration.

    The second type of bipartisanship has everything to do with optics. If the President doesn’t make the attempt, he’ll look partisan to independents who care more about results than ideology. By casting his preferences as a reasonable middle he makes the Republicans choose between looking bad and voting for something they don’t really want, being Republicans they choose the former.

    Tactically, bipartisanship is necessary for caucus control. Republican votes, especially in the Senate, wrangle his own caucus. You’re more likely to get a left-leaning bill by negotiating with Olympia Snowe than Ben Nelson and if you can’t get votes from the other side of the aisle, that just means more concessions to conservative, moderate, and skittish Democrats/Joe Lieberman. Moreover, Republican votes make opposition from his own party much, much less likely. Snowe, Collins, formerly Specter, they didn’t just provide votes, they provided cover for Lincoln, Landrieu, Pryor, Bayh, Nelson, and Nelson.

    To pretend like the President is sacrificing progressive policies at the altar of bipartisanship, ignores the various ways in which both the attempts and the successes are sometimes necessary and almost always beneficial. I mean this goes back to the point about the three parties but I don’t see why liberal pundits so routinely miss this pointReport

  8. Barry says:

    ” Easy–anyone who studied the thing knew from the get go Obama was a University of Chicago Democrat. ” And a Harvard man.

    I’m beginning to feel that Harvard and Chicago are very, very bad things for the USA. And it’s not because of some stupid leftists – anybody who believes that is not very smart. It’s because both of those universities train and nurture a samll set of economic elites who have gotten so much power that they’re not just drawing goodies from the country, but are actively sucking it dry.

    As for ‘bipartisanship’, what infuriates a lot of liberal IMHO is that they look at the current situation, and ask what the GOP would have done with 60 seats in the Senate, and the momentum of coming in from an abysmal failure of a Democratic administration (e.g., what if Clinton had fouled things up like Bush did). The usual answer is that the GOP would have been able to make radical, sweeping changes, and lock them in for decades. That leads a lot of liberals to figure that the economic elites in this country have things so well nailed down that not even a catastrophe can dislodge them.Report

    • JosephFM in reply to Barry says:

      With its current makeup, even if the GOP did have a 60-seat majority, I doubt they would be any more unified than the Democrats are. But it’s also true that, per Kyle, the left-liberal Democrats really don’t have that kind of majority. The problem is the shift of centrist Republicans into the Democratic camp distorts the actual number of partisans.

      I agree about there being WAY too much power restricted to grads of a handful of elite universities though. (Though this also doesn’t keep me from supporting a Harvard grad for FL AG.)Report

  9. Ben Hall says:

    Hi Chris,
    Could you explain in more detail your view, “that both endogenous and exogenous causation are mutually arising and self-interacting.”Report

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Ben Hall says:


      Basically I use a model called the quadrants view which sees each arising moment as consisting of individual and collective interior and exterior dimensions. Each of which is not caused by the other but all of which moment to moment “fourly” (or tetra) cause.

      So by that model the standard social sciences view would constitute the material collective dimension of any moment. While the socionomic view would argue for the collective interior (“consciousness as mood” as in Heidegger) dimension of said occasion. Both models (standard and socionomic) claim that one side causes the other but I would say both arise together and are mutually causative.Report