Personal Politics


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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33 Responses

  1. Really cool post Chris and I think pretty insightful as to what really drives these folks.

    To address your very last throwaway point, the Constitution describes a President who functions more like our contemporary version of Sec. of State, basically serving as America’s representative to the rest of the world. Obviously that role was quickly revised and has continued to evolve over time. I think TR best defined the role of the President. He used the office to do grand things for the good of the whole country (Panama Canal, National Parks, etc) and when it came to smaller issues like immigration or race relations he mainly only served as one voice with a big microphone. I have no problem withthe President offering his opinion on any one of a million smalltime domestic issues, but Congress, state and local governments have to do the heavy lifting.Report

  2. She possesses that George W. Bush lack of curiosity or self-reflective openness. To be fair, in Bush’s case, in private he actually sort of does possess that but for political reasons (i.e. for his base) played his cowboy tough-guy act.

    Can you enlarge on that? As far as I can tell, Bush’s lack of curiosity or reflection when it came to presidential decisions was quite real.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      maybe. although there are stories of Bush reading some fairly decent tomes in his free time at the White House and having some interesting back and forth with folks. But it’s probably true he never showed that (even as Gov. of Texas) same level of thought relative to policy or governance.

      Isn’t the story that when Paulson rushed him the bailout bill he said something like, “Why am I signing this again?”Report

  3. Avatar Sam M says:

    Lots of good points here, but I am not sure I agree with how you apply them. For instance, you say HRC’s tendency to surround herself with people like Mark Penn, and things like that…

    “… are relevant personal facts with regards to how those individuals would actually govern, i.e. their actual political practice.”

    But isn’t Obama’s tendency to ally himself with people like Wright and Ayers central to… his political practice? Do we accept that his decision to interact with these folks was wholely apolitical? Wright is just a preacher, like any other? Ayers is some dude from the neighborhood?

    Similarly, Palin’s kids. Her personal biography was the reason for her candidacy, for better or worse.

    Even more “inherent” stuff. Didn’t Obama’s race matter? A lot? I mean, not only in terms of his electability, but in terms of how we might expect him to act as president? Or should we have all refused to talk about that in favor of his policy proposals with regard to… anything? If this were the case, I suppose we could have elections not with secret voters, but secret candidates. We assign everyone a folder and they put policy proposals in there, completey devoid of personal history. No names. Just voting records.

    I think that you can make the case that there is a very real connection between GWB’s personal foibles and his actions as president. Same as WJC and Ronald Reagan. As much as I hate to say it… have at it. I can’t much stand to read Sullivan go at it anymore. But I don’t see the alternative.

    Ultimately, as with everything, what happens is that standards change. USed to be that experimenting with marijuana was political poison. Now Obama gets to talk about doing some blow, just for fun.


    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Sam M says:

      Obvi, I can’t speak for Chris, but I think the HRC-Obama analogue is different. Penn was an inner-circle ally-strategist who basically designed her campaign.

      Ayers was only tangentially connected to then private citizen Barack Obama (though admittedly more forthrightness would’ve been a better approach than, “he just lives in my neighborhood.”), and though Wright may have been a pastor and close-ish family friend, his official influence was nil and less relevant to the campaign than Penn’s. Again, had the President done his race speech in close proximity to the Wright speech, rather than well after dancing around the subject, we’d be having a different discussion.

      I think what Chris is saying is that aspects of personality that show themselves in a candidate’s civil work or public life are fair fodder but inane personal choices and familiar quirks aren’t.

      Thinking about this some more, I think where what Chris runs into trouble is in journalism and the importance of identity politics. With journalism, we no longer live in an environment where measured research and writing stands up to cherry-picking and controversy-trolling. Who’s to say Hillary’s choice of Penn is a personality quirk or a one-time mistake? Well research is to tell. Costly research. Who’s to say that the social gospels of various pastors have had a strong effect on Obama’s worldview or political philosophy? Research. When you have an industry that stays afloat by constructing narratives with hints, innuendos, professional talking heads who get paid to have insta-opinions, the research gets lost in the shuffle and, when done, enters into a prejudiced environment.

      The second is the role of identity politics on both the left and the right. There are conservatives who like (and presumably some liberals who dislike) Sarah Palin because of her “family values.” Which makes seemingly trivial issues regarding her family values, relevant. See also, John Ensign. Or better yet The Frank Rule on Outing.Report

  4. Avatar Kyle says:

    Lots to agree/compliment you on.

    I’d only add that sometimes the trivial things are useful, insofar as they are stimuli for actually relevant personality traits/quirks.

    For example, with Wright (more than Ayers) I think his controversy showed two rather important things about the President (and his team).

    1.) The alacrity with which they’ll get rid of liabilities or, “throw them under the bus.”
    2.) The attack – casting the center – professorial moment strategy of Team Obama, one they use almost all the time. First, attack the critics (often while obliquely mentioning the criticism), second cast the personality or the policy at hand as moderate. Then finally, wade into the fracas with a speech, interview, or statement that’s vaguely explanatory, noncommittally resolved, and about 60/40 head of state/government.

    Granted that isn’t a reason to keep throwing trivialities at politicians in the hopes that they’ll take the bait and reveal something of themselves, however, I would say there is some value to them, in that they’re more likely to get someone off script than other stories.

    That said, you get major bonus points for this statement:
    “For one, I don’t live in the US, so I’m not sure it’s right for me to vote on decisions that will affect domestic policy which I’m not there for. “Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Kyle says:

      Thanks for the bonus points.

      #1 for sure. Van Jones comes to mind. I guess Greg Craig is the latest victim.

      #2 good point. In a campaign I can see the effectiveness. I’m not entirely sure though it’s working that well for them in the White House.Report

      • Avatar Bayesian in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        Re the Rev Wright –

        ISTM that Obama tried fairly hard not to throw him under the bus, but Wright himself would have nothing of it (i.e. he made it impossible for Obama to do anything else). At the time I interpreted it (not throwing him under at the first useful opportunity) as emotionally driven (personal loyalty), although I’m aware of alternate interpretations (not seeming weak or vulnerable to the opposition).

        I agree that Obama’s general political biography shows him cutting ties or losses when an ally/subordinate/minion outlives his usefulness (ISTR Larison making that point quite well during the campaign) – quite in contrast to GWB.

        Unlike what I suspect is the majority opinion, I think that’s overall a good thing. I want our CEO/President to be a ruthless visionary pragmatist, not some nice guy that people want to have beers or clear brush with (yeah, I understand that he can’t be too harsh if he wants to maintain the loyalty of his Dunbar circle).Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Kyle says:

      “2.) The attack – casting the center – professorial moment strategy of Team Obama, one they use almost all the time. First, attack the critics (often while obliquely mentioning the criticism), second cast the personality or the policy at hand as moderate. Then finally, wade into the fracas with a speech, interview, or statement that’s vaguely explanatory, noncommittally resolved, and about 60/40 head of state/government.”

      This is an excellent point. I guess if I thought a lot about the thesis in Chris’ original post, I’d venture this is the Platonic archetype of it. It’s not just the groupies and the apolitical for whom Obama does this, but also for the President himself. I believe Obama is an intelligent man, but as a practical matter he has little interest in looking at the heart of our problems. For this reason I tend to cut him more slack on Afghanistan than some, just because it’s the one exception to this rule.Report

  5. Avatar Zach says:

    Was in a conversation quite similar to this yesterday, and I mentioned that not only is Md. Senator Ben Cardin the only nonmegalomaniacal politician I’ve ever seen at his level, but that this seemingly positive fact works against him regularly in politics. He nearly lost the Senate nomination to literally the worst campaign in Maryland history.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Zach says:

      no…Michael Steele worst campaign ever? No way. Didn’t he get all giggy (or something else pseudo-hood lame ) with the peeps of Maryland?Report

      • Avatar Zach in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        Was talking about Kweisi Mfume’s primary campaign, actually. The only ad I ever recall seeing of his was him sitting on a stoop in Baltimore saying something or other. He pretty much refused to do any campaigning for himself or for the ultimate Dem ticket in the state until the last few hours before the general election. But, he had an ego and Cardin did not.

        Steele’s campaign wasn’t horrible. He did as good a job as possible distancing himself from the Republican brand in Maryland (w/ several tactics verging on outright duplicity) seeing as how he was the sitting Republican Lieutenant Governor. He beat the incumbent governor’s vote share, too. Busing in poor people from Philly to canvas for him at the last minute was probably the stupidest/most notorious decision he made.Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Zach says:

      We’ve got a few salt of the earth types in the GOP, Tom Coburn comes to mind.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Great post Chris but I have a question:
    Why would neoliberalism be mentioned as a negative when listing Obama’s flaws? Are we thinking of different neoliberalisms?Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to North says:

      I think it’s a negative relative to the financial situation we find ourselves in. I mean he put Geithner and Summers back in power, the guys who had a serious part to play in this whole speculative bubble in the first place.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        Hmm that’s fair. We may have to wait a little longer to see how it all plays out but it’s possible that they may tidy things up more when the economic dust settles. Still as a bit of a neo-lib myself I was relieved Obama wasn’t as far to the left as his most passionate right wing opponends and left wing supporters claimed.Report

  7. Avatar Sam M says:

    “I can’t speak for Chris, but I think the HRC-Obama analogue is different. Penn was an inner-circle ally-strategist who basically designed her campaign.”

    In a sense, doesn’t this make that relationship almost a WORSE judge of character? The act of running a campaign is an intensely… cynical thing. Especially at that level. Hardly any of the candidates “react.” They strategize and do whatever else it is they do. For instance, is anyone really opposed, in principal, to negative ads? Sure. Until they think negative ads will work.

    Now, I think there is a lot MORE to learn from someone’s acts as an elected official. Who they appoint. Etc. But barring that… we can learn a lot about people from who they marry, etc. I mean, looking back, I think viewing Bill Clinton through his choice of Hilary for a wife offered a lot of insight into his governing style.Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Sam M says:

      I don’t know if the issue is judging character so much as paying attention to things that illuminate who these people are. Chris start off talking about the egoism involved with campaigns of this nature and, really, that step alone could tell you all you want to know a person.

      However, running a campaign is a matter of selecting the right people, focusing on the right goals, and following the right strategy. In the specifics, different from governing, but not so different that we can’t see if a candidate/President is more likely to be loyal (Bush-Clinton) or pragmatic (Obama).

      That said, I think choosing a spouse need not have the same rationality behind it. So, in certain cases it could be illuminating and in others not. I’m less inclined to find it useful.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Sam M says:

      well just to point out that nobody really knows , especially conservative critics, what was in BC’s heart. so trying to infer something from their marriage is based on fantasies and nasty innuendo. if you are going to argue that the personal nature of a persons life should be part of your political judgment that is fine. but there should be some standard for fact and not sleazebag lies and vicious projections by no nothing critics.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to greginak says:

        “well just to point out that nobody really knows , especially conservative critics, what was in BC’s heart.”

        Really? It seems to me we know as much as we need to know. That is, the Clintons’ marriage tells us how heavily the Clintons (and the other team in general) are invested in political status.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Koz says:

          except you have no knowledge of what was in their hearts or minds. what you have is projections that you happen to like because they validate your opinion. (Or least those who invested themselves in psychoanalysis of their relationship.)Report

          • Avatar Koz in reply to greginak says:

            “except you have no knowledge of what was in their hearts or minds.”

            Maybe yes maybe no, but the point is I don’t have to. Whatever the nature of “true feelings” of Mr. & Mrs. Clinton regarding the failure of sexual fidelity in their marraige, they were clearly outweighed by the fear of adverse political consequences arising from the same (or anything else for that matter). Moreover, and I would argue more importantly, that apprension was widely shared among liberal/Democrat partisans, poisoning the well of political discourse to this day.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    I was one of the first to suggest that Palin should/might choose the teflon realm of the private sector, far from the fangs of the snakes in politics. This is her way to power and influence. The political class will destroy her if she plays their game, but in the private realm she can run for virtual president and quadruple her income in the process. From Facebook, she can moon every psychotic political player who blathers on about her children and moose-hunting, and all they can do is hiss and twitch.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    good for her.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      Agreed Mike. Ensconced in the private field I can happily ignore her as the Alaskan answer to Coulter. I wish her well (except for when she’s out shooting wolves, then I wish her a flock of seagulls in her helicopter rotors).Report

  10. Avatar Koz says:

    For me Sarah Palin is much less complicated now than she was when she was on the ticket, in that she has transformed from a political figure to cultural one. The bad news is that she exposes the extent to which the other team is invested in being on the wrong end of the culture wars.Report

  11. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    “on the wrong end of the culture wars.”

    There are simply competing cultural views in the private realm. Choose, and go on about your business. As long as government stays out of it, no one is coerced — everyone chooses according to whatever flips their switch.Report

  12. Avatar Katherine says:

    Good post. To me what’s worrisome about the prospect of Sarah Palin in high political office – other than her utter ignorance on most relevant matters of policy – is the lack of self-analysis or ability to acknowledge errors, and the compulsion to blame anything that goes wrong on someone else. That’s not precisely uncommon among politicians – I couldn’t get more than a chapter into the memoir of Canadian PM John Diefenbaker because of the overwhelming tone of nothing-was-my-fault – but it’s unhealthy and undesirable. In addition, the fact that she takes critcism from any quarter extremely personally. Obama’s good at detachment in politics – he can laugh off political attacks, or ignore them, he doesn’t make politics personal. Palin’s not. You criticize her – or even do something that results in her looking bad, like Katie Couric – and she’s your enemy.Report

  13. Avatar Mike Farmer says:

    “he can laugh off political attacks, or ignore them, he doesn’t make politics personal.”
    That’s odd in light of criticisms that he’s thin-skinned and reacts to every little criticism against him, even from talk-show hosts. You must be talking about the Obama image created in the media. Google “Obama, thin-skinned”Report

    • Avatar Katherine in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      No. You’ve got specific complaints about him, you can make them instead of referencing anonymous “critics”.

      When Hillary was doing her whole Obama-can’t-protect-you schtick, when Bill was comparing him to Jesse Jackson, Palin basically calling him a terrorist sympathizer, people calling his wife a racist black nationalist, people at rallies calling for his death – he didn’t get all bitter and furious and blame everybody else if the campaign took a downturn. Now with the crap about death panels and Beck calling him a fascist and the Republicans calling him a waffler over Afghanistan, it’s the same – he doesn’t take it personally.

      Responding to things like death panels by pointing out they’re bunk is one thing. He’s good at not taking political attacks personally. Palin takes everything personally.Report

  14. I thought the Palin Bashing was improper. My problem is she abandoned her fellow Alaskans 2 times first for the VP job and then when she resined.Report