Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
Location
New England, USA
Title
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
Bio
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.

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Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 6, 2009 7:10AM

Lame Duck Season’s Coming Early

Rate: 11 Flag

The Tipping Point

Saturday Night Live gave voice this weekend to what I think a lot of Americans, even (and perhaps especially) Obama supporters, have been thinking—that hope is rapidly dwindling.

We endowed our elected officials with a pretty clear mandate on various issues, and nothing has been done on much of any of them. Some of that is the fault of Congress, but the Chief Executive’s job is to find a way to lead them on issues that matter. My personal issue, for example, was Climate Change, and I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am at his feeble actions on that matter.

Of course, some issues are just plain hard. The economy has been kept from collapsing and that’s no small matter. The Saturday Night Live piece was a bit unfair in characterizing that as having no result. It could be a lot worse by now—we aren’t in a depression, for example. But it’s also not over, and it could still turn worse.

What I think is really bugging people is this business of incessant compromise from the outset. It’s as if we were trying to bargain for a position between $0 and $2, and everyone knows it should come out $1. But the Republicans bid $0 and Obama replies with $1, out of a spirit of compromise, and then we bargain down to $0.50.  All this while having a voting majority on the outcome!

And speaking of that, there are many who have called for the President to simply call the Republicans’ bluff on the filibuster. It’s been suggested that even if some Democrats might vote yes on cloture (to stop a filibuster) even though they want to vote no on the bill itself. That means that we don’t have to have 60 votes to get something passed, just a simple majority.

For that matter, even if we don’t have 60 votes, it could well be that on many issues, the Republicans won’t actually risk a real filibuster. They’re perhaps hoping the procedural threat is enough. But if they had to really use silly-looking procedural means to stop something that most people want, it could play very badly for them.

But one way or another, and there seem to be several techniques in play, Obama is leading from a position of weakness. As Bill Maher is fond of observing, when Bush was in office he simply used the office to get what he wanted and claimed, in effect, that the people had elected a temporary king. Well, either Obama doesn’t really want what he says he wants, or he doesn’t have the will to get it, or he doesn’t have the competence to get it. But either way, he’s not serving us right now in the way we need him to do. We elected him to correct certain wrongs, and he’s not doing it. He’s not even visibly trying.

At this point, unless something drastically changes, he’s a walking lame duck. There is zero chance he will be re-elected as things stand now. If he would just see that, it occurs to me, it could give him finally the freedom to do the one good thing one can do as a lame duck: act your conscience. At the point where you finally think you’re not protecting your position, you might as well do what you really think is right. Demand not just a Public Option but Universal Health Care. Admit there’s no problem with gays serving in the military. If he can’t do it because it’s what we sent him to office with a gigantic mandate to do, at least let him do it because he thinks he’s got nothing left to lose. Who knows? It might just get him re-elected after all.

But I frankly am no longer willing to bet on it. So that brings me to my last observation. It’s been the goal of the Republicans to bring Obama down, and it seems they might get their wish—not because of anything they did, but because Obama committed political suicide from the outset by not even seriously pushing any of the causes he ran on. It begs the question:

Who will replace Obama in 2012?

The assumption on the Republican side is that the heir apparent to Obama’s failure will be a Republican. That could easily be if the rest of the Democrats play nice and insist on being deferent to their sitting President in the way loyal party members often do. No one wants to undermine a successful President. But the rest of the field better take notice soon of the fact that this President is failing and some candidates better step forward soon to challenge him or there will not be time. The Republicans are naturally gearing up and the Democrats need to be in a strong position, too.

Perhaps if he sees Democrats rally to overthrow him, Obama’a concern about this will be enough to show him the matter is more severe than he perceives. Perhaps he still has time to turn around his own Presidency. I doubt it. But I just don’t see how it can hurt. He supposedly doesn’t shy away from honesty and wants to hear it like it is. So let’s not sugar-coat it.

The honest truth is that Saturday Night Live hit too close to home. Barring a miracle, it’s time for others to run.

Please don’t tell me the only choice is Hillary. Many people like her but she comes with an awful lot of baggage. If she wants to run, that’s fine, but let’s field some alternatives, too. Besides, in her present position, she can’t really be out campaigning without getting fired, so she’s crippled in her ability to come up to speed at the right time.

I’d personally like to see Howard Dean run. He’s shown himself effective. He understands the issues. I never understood why once yelling "yeehah" was enough to disqualify one for office. I understand he didn’t run this last time because he had committed for a time to run the DNC. But he’s done that now, and done it well. He’s shown himself to be competent and statesmanlike. Let’s see him take another go.

But whether it’s Dean or Hillary or someone else, now is the time for the Democrats to offer the public a credible option—both in Health Care and in the Presidency.


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Ah, schadenfreude, sweet schadenfreude.

I think either Clinton or Dean would be an improvement over Obama, who got elected at just too early a stage in the process of his political maturation.

Of course, my choice would be Lieberman, whose head is screwed on right. I think McCain's biggest mistake was not giving Joe the VP slot. Then, regardless of policy differences, at least we'd have an adult at the wheel.
(Youtube links have copyright issues. The SNL skit can be seen at nbc.com.)

I think you're right that Obama deserves credit (luck? the Fed?) for avoiding a Depression. You go back to what people were saying a year ago, and the US is doing better now than pretty much anyone dreamed we would be by this time.

As for the rest, the SNL skit has a point. But I think you're going to far to abandon Obama already. He's only been in a year, and we haven't even gotten to midterm elections yet. I agree it's disappointing that, with so many Democratic advantages, Obama doesn't seem to wield power nearly as effectively as Bush did with much less.

But politics changes quickly. We've just been through a traditional slow political summer. I bet if you look at this same essay a couple of years from now, you'll conclude at that time that you aren't currently thinking about the important issues in the Presidential election, that will be concerning you then.
Don, I'm mindful of the fact that this piece may look funny with the perspective of time, but I figured I wanted to make the point even at that risk. My goal is not to speak conservatively, it's to speak in relevant ways that reflect my best opinion at the moment. And here's my problem:

It's not so much the “where are we now” thing that bugs me. I know politics can take a while. But when I look at what's taking a while, a lot of it is that Obama is pre-compromising and that is giving the things for which he had a mandate what I perceive to be a worse bargaining position. And I think people are growing tired not just of not getting their way, which everyone knows a risk, and not just of things going slowly, which everyone knows happens, but of seeing it be the result of deliberate action or apparent inaction on the part of Obama. He's the President. Look at how much Bush got done with really no support from a very large segment of the populace just because of the power of the office.
"We've just been through a traditional slow political summer."

The many congresspersons who were roasted on a spit at town hall meetings will be relieved to hear it.

That underscores one of the principal reasons for Obama's slow progress: the people are no longer with him, thank God.
I came to pretty much the same conclusion last week, but I don't think I could have posted a better compilation of reasons. Personally, I'm not so sure Dean is a good choice, but so far he is hands down better than anyone who has stepped forward. He did a fairly good job as Governor here, and I am pretty sure (had he not given up his spot to campaign for a higher office) the people of Vermont would have voted him back until he was too old to run the state.
I am not so sure that it's too late for Obama to save his presidency. If he can push through the tough choices, and there is still a little time to do that, it could still work out well for him. But time is something that he does not have an infinite supply of, and people are getting more than restless.

Thumbed. Nicely done, as always, Kent.
It must be frustrating Kent. And mystifying to me as a Canadian. I mean I could understand this feebleness if you had a parliamentary system and there was a danger of the government being thrown out. But he's got four years. It's a rule of thumb in government to make the most unpopular changes in your first year so that everyone will have forgotten about it by election time. If his administration is THIS feeble now, there's not much hope...
Gordon, you wrote, “the people are no longer with him.” That is certainly not an accurate summary of my thoughts and probably note of many others. I am still with his stated agenda. I still like the man. I am less confident of his ability to deliver, but unless you're just a frustrated minority, I don't understand why you'd say “thank God” for a President who is having trouble accomplishing what the majority wanted him to do. It's not like I or probably many others think there's anything wrong with the plan he's outlined, nor even that it couldn't work. I just think he's not making it work.

Bill, thanks for the positive words. If you think of someone other than Dean, let me know. I'm open. He's just the one who I've seen who's been very Presidential. I'd take Gore, too. But I doubt he'll run.

Juliet, thanks for stopping by. I agree with your analysis. And, yes, it is frustrating.
I think I disagree with the underlying premise of this post: failure equals lame duck. That Obama's presidency has been to this point a failure seems to me beyond dispute. but it is hard to imagine a bigger failure than George W. Bush and he still managed to get re-elected. Politicians win election; leaders produce results. Obama remains a tremendously skilled politician, even if he isn't much of a leader, and that was precisely the Bush formula. At this point, Obama's popularity remains above 50 percent despite the absence of accomplishment. That number is unlikely to swing toward the Republicans unless and until they formulate policies that go beyond saying no to everything except wars that a distinct majority no longer wants.

Obama has been an abject disappointment as president but he is not by any means a dead politcal article--which is more than I can say for Howard Dean, despite his policy acumen.
Libertarius, I'm not just following the trend line for the purpose of making headlines, but rather pointing out that if he's going to fail, then in 3 more years we're going to wish that those of us supporting his agenda had planned better for someone to take over, because I can tell you for certain that the Republicans are planning right now to say “He failed, therefore you must take us.” That makes no logical sense, but it's the kind of argument I can imagine the American populace buying. They haven't always shown tremendous judgment, and sometimes when they're sad or mad they do kneejerk things that hurt themselves. Moreover, it's important to send a good strong signal to Obama that he's being seen as a disappointment so that he doesn't indulge the illusion that what he's doing is what the voters wanted him to do. If we had wanted to elect a pre-compromised opponent, frankly, we'd have gone with McCain. Actually, my main reason for not voting McCain was a competence factor—he seemed little more than a gambler at a time when we didn't need that. And I don't dismiss the good that Obama at least not being that has done. But we need more than merely being passable. We need, well, change we can believe in.
I dispute none of what you say as a matter of strategy. I only wonder whether Obama's weakness as president will necessarily translate into electoral weakness. And that finally depends on where health care and the unemployment figures are when the time comes. There may be equally important issues--climate change for you; civil liberties for me--but there are no issues that can move the needle like those two.
"That is certainly not an accurate summary of my thoughts and probably note (sic) of many others."

I wasn't trying to summarize your thoughts; I was stating mine.

In a campaign, a successful candidate throws enough bones in enough directions to forge a winning consensus. The problem is that Obama doesn't realize that the campaign is over. So he's still throwing bones, but the right certainly isn't satisfied, and, it would seem from your very thoughtful and well written post, either is the left. So, to put it as elegantly as I can, he's fucked.
He's been in office 9 months. He's held up the economy, he's attempting health care reform, he's attempting gay rights issues, he's attempting climate change issues AND he's doing all the normal President stuff while negotiating with Iran.

I don't think he's failed in the least. Since when was being a tyrant and pushing a single party agenda been what the people wanted? Isn't that what Bush was criticized for? Why is it now ok just because your/our/the other guy is in office? Obama ran on the idea of compromise and bringing the parties together. If anyone's to blame for sluggishness it's Congress, the members of which feel that their own agendas matter more than getting stuff done.
Kent,
Your gift for taking the complex and breaking it down into understandable, thoughtful, and even debatable parts is wonderful.

Having worked very hard to get President Obama elected I have more than a few concerns (from equal rights to Afghanistan to the economy, to health care to 4th amendment issues) as I observe the widening chasm between what I believe was promised and what is actually taking place.

I temper that growing sense of discouragement with the hope that our President, who usually waited until the last minute during the campaign to take decisive action, may yet surprise us - having spent less than one year in office.

And yet many of these issues - where the distance between what was promised and hoped for versus what is actually taking place - are matters of principle.

Though politics can never be dismissed principle must win the day. The growing concern with me has been wondering if the principle actually exists in our President. Or to quote the brilliant writing of Robert Bolt for Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”,

“I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”
Kent,

I’m really surprised by this post, since you have been a bit defensive with Obama’s critics, including me, up to this point. I can’t necessarily speak for others who have criticized Obama, but my own view, in the first place, was that he came into office like a “wimp”. Americans don’t like that, which is why Bush managed to do what he did. Those who voted Obama into office were fed up with having right-wing bullshit shoved down their throats for 8 years, and the destruction of those politics needed to be undone, which has not happened. Obama came into office with a great mandate, and he immediately, not gradually, threw it out the window. He’s been, for lack of a better word, a total “pussy” about EVERYTHING, except ignoring and abandoning the mandate he was given, as well as though who gave it to him.

One thing I have never quite understood, though, is that Obama gave clear indications BEFORE being elected, that this was exactly how he would approach things. He did not give any indications, at least not that I recall, that he would operate in any different fashion than he has from day one.

Those who are saying “it’s not too late”, etc, are possibly correct, but only insofar as that statement concerns his reelection. At this point, Obama has “compromised” the mandate into such a hole that all he can do now is attempt to dig us back out of that hole. And as long as that’s all we’re doing, we really aren’t making any “progress”; we’re just treading water, and maybe not even succeeding at doing that.

I’ll say this; Obama hasn’t even been in office one year, and midterm elections could create an interesting dynamic, so now we’ll just have to see whether Obama can turn this thing around or not. Personally, I do not believe he WANTS to turn it around; I do not think he was ever what so many people thought he was, but that’s just my sense of things, which I blogged about more than once.
nine months isn't an awful long time to undo thirty years of neglect and eight years of catastrophic mismanagement, especially when starting in the hole of the worst economic crisis in almost eighty years

that said, I've been a mouthy critic of Obama, but not because of his lack of accomplishments so far, but because of his complicity in the abuses and crimes of the Cheney "war on terror"

the health care battle is far from over, it's early to judge the outcome, and I'm actually cautiously optimistic that something decent will come out of the House/Senate conference, which is after all the only version of the legisation that matters

the TARP and auto industry bailouts were Bush administration policies that O got stuck with, but I agree that climate change policy is going to take a much bigger effort to educate the public over the right-wing noise machine's distraction, maybe publicity coming out of the Copenhagen conference will help, if American news media deign to cover it and have the capacity to understand it

the guy's a disappointment, but still I think the best leadership we've had in this country since at least LBJ with all his warts and flaws
Alicia, I don't begrudge him the time it takes to get something done, I question whether we're about to get the health bill without provisions that he promised and which I perceive he has gone out of his way to not get in there. I'm not big on holding politicians per se to promises—I know that sometimes the things they say are unachievable and that they are forced to say them in order to be elected. So if a politician says “I'm going to paint all the houses green” and you later find that only some are painted green but others are national landmarks, so you can't, or some have to be red for safety reasons, that's ok by me. But if he instead starts painting right away with orange paint, that's not ok with me. So it matters how he fails.

As to why it would be ok with me to push a bit and it wasn't with Bush, I actually liked that Obama started by reaching out his hands to the Republicans. I'd have been willing to see him compromise. But he didn't compromise. He opened with a bid he perceived would be the compromise, giving all the ground unilaterally. That's bad enough. But moreover, when his extremely generous opening bid did not succeed in winning people over, he should have taken it back and said “tough luck, Republicans, you should have dealt fairly while you could.” Bush made no such overtures and no attempts. I'm proud Obama made some attempt, but I think he both botched it on the detail and is now botching it on how to recover from inaction. He has a real opportunity to teach the Republicans something here about how to be fair and he's not. Fairness is creating an opportunity for balance, not offering yourself up as a doormat.
Dennis, you should know I love that play, having stage managed it in high school. What a brilliant work of writing. Almost every line is quotable. And this one is quite apropos. Thanks for that and your other thoughtful words.

Rick, I guess part of why I wrote this was to identify that although there were some like you who have thought this all along, others like me are losing patience. I'm kind of hoping that it will get back to him that even those who have defended his way have their breaking point. He may yet surprise me, and I'd be glad for that. But a lot of why I wrote this was not to criticize him (which is the part of the article everyone has focused on) but to talk about what planning one must do if he is going to fail. Hardly anyone seems to be speaking to that. But I really think it's the interesting area.

I recall a game of computer chess I saw in college. Computer chess, at least then (it's surely different now), was played off in another room and the person that wrote the program would often interpret the moves. Once a program we were watching made a very strange move and the person writing it said he wasn't sure it was purposeful. The person playing opposite didn't know this, since he was sequestered away. It took him a long time to analyze the move by the computer. Eventually, the human concluded the computer was moving at random, and he moved in a way that he had wanted to move quite some time ago. Instantly, the computer moved again because it had had this very long time to analyze the human's next plausible move but on the clock of the human player (who had wasted his precious time pretending that the prior computer moved mattered, and who knew immediately that he had been had). Somehow I'm feeling a sense of deja vu as I imagine the Republicans using the Democrats' clock time to their own advantage. Increasingly they know they're going to get their chance, but either way they have to prepare. Meanwhile, the Democrats, not admitting they have to prepare, are procrastinating on that. Bad plan, I'm guessing. So every minute of delay the stakes go up and the more it's like he's shooting the moon (to employ the metaphor from the card game Hearts).
Speaking narrowly to libertarius's argument--that failure does not equal lame duck--I have this to say: How we define "failure" is relevant. I think we here are talking about failure to achieve policy agenda, but the Bush first term, libertarius's opinion to the contrary, was perhaps not considered a failure by those who voted for him. So they voted him in the second time precisely because they didn't see him as a failure. Therein lies the difference, given that many liberals consider Obama a failure. I think it's a truism that conservatives are a tighter tent, and that their elected politicians have an easier time being reelected. I have nothing to back that up, of course.
Great points, Lainey. You've articulated well something that I was trying to get at. It's not a question of how historians will view him or what's fair to say about him—the ruthless question is whether he's presently satisfying enough people to get him re-elected, and while I think it's hard to get good polling data, I think he's at risk of being what I heard someone today call Carter II.

I think Carter is an apt analogy, by the way, since I think Carter was (a) very honorable and well-meaning, (b) scrupulously honest and easy to respect, (c) very intelligent and forward-thinking and, in retrospect, correct on what he was trying to do with things like energy policy, etc., and (d) killed by the fact that notwithstanding his many good deeds, the voters had as an absolute requirement their own jobs. Even just on that one point, Obama is at risk. But given the number of things he took on, the issue isn't how many of those is he doing well at, but rather how many of those give him an opportunity to disappoint every single voter. That's the dark side of being elected by a coalition of people wanting different things: you either satisfy them all or risk losing the coalition the next time around.

Hence, I think there will be enough irate that someone else will win out. The Democrats should line up an alternative so they have their best candidate ready for the primary and not assume that simply re-running the incumbent is wise. And they will not have a better candidate if they don't start fielding people now to find out what things people are resonating to as alternatives. I've never said the Republicans are incompetent, only that I don't like many things on their agenda. Their spin machine his highly tuned and the Democrats would be wise to assume it can't be gone up against lightly.

Expect that one of the things the Republicans will be saying is “don't trust anyone smart.” That will, of course, be disastrous for the environment. Nonetheless, if Obama doesn't show his intelligence can be useful in governing, he's going to have teed them up but good.

Really someone needs to tell him honestly right now that he's just plain losing and that he needs to shift strategy quickly, with no more Mr. Niceguy. I think that would do a world of good and perhaps get him back on track. If he loses, it's going to take a lot of work to figure out how to repair the damage.
Kent,

I found your computer-chess analogy relevant to the point I was making about us digging ourselves out of the hole that Obama and the congressional Dems have put us in. The problem Obama’s critics on the Left have had from the start is exactly what you state: “…every minute of delay the stakes go up and the more it's like he's shooting the moon”. Wasting time, wasting time.

I’m not sure the Dems can “plan” themselves out of the hole they’ve dug; throwing support to someone else would admit Obama is a failure, and if he does ultimately prove to be a failure, they won’t really be able to throw their support behind him, either. And it’s easy to see how this will divide the Party and lose all of those uncommitted voters who also helped elect Obama.

At this point, the best thing the Dems have going for them is that the Repubs have NOTHING. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of this leads to a real push for a third Party? Maybe that’s where the “planning” should be taking place; in the “third party” camps…
Rick, most third parties fail because they are alternate variants of one or the other party. To really work, absent preference-order ballots or the like, a third party must draw from both parties, injuring both more or less equally. Otherwise, it will just poison its own party. See my The “Two Unprincipled Parties” System from last October to understand why ordinarily we retain equilibrium by balancing the two parties. Radical change is tough because it's all or nothing—another strategy of shoot the moon, in other words. Although if very carefully planned it could be otherwise. Still, ironically, it would have to hit the middle to do that, and hence would be like pre-compromising, which is what the people upset don't want. The upset people are on the edge, not in the middle.

Complicated. I'm going to sleep on it. I'll look forward to reading any further thoughts you have when I'm up again tomorrow. :)
Roy, sorry I skipped replying earlier. My point is not to criticize Obama for the purpose of making him feel bad. I'm trying to just be businesslike and say “if that's the way it is, then we must move forward from there.” He's under tremendous pressure, has to get a lot of things right. Yes, yes. But that could just mean it was in the cards from the start that he would lose—honestly, I think the Republicans thought that and were glad not to win. On my more cynical days, I think somehow they got Palin on the ticket to insure that McCain didn't get in and give the Republicans the same black eye that Obama would so willingly take. I like Obama. I'm just seeing him as lacking the resolve to play the necessary hardball. I sincerely hope it's not because he's taking bad advice from someone against his own intuitions.
Well, Kent, I think, because of the fact that both of the major parties seem to be extremely lacking in any confidence from the public, this would be a good time for a third party to come in and point that out.

One of the major strengths a new party would have, even if appealing to the middle, would be that they have no real ties to the corporate world; certainly not like the two current parties have. The current healthcare debate is floundering exactly because of those corporate ties. Having said that, the point I was actually making was that this might be an opportunity for third-party advocates to make inroads into the general public psyche, even if they couldn’t actually put a candidate into the White House.

Another aspect of this concept is the possibility for more third party candidates to perhaps land in Congress, which would also lead us away from the current stagnation we are experiencing as a society. You say, “…ordinarily we retain equilibrium by balancing the two parties”, but it seems to me that we have lost that so-called “equilibrium”, and it has become simple stagnation of a one-party system.

It seems to me that there is more and more momentum building toward a repudiation of the current corporatist-ocracy that has become our government. I think it would be possible to appeal to the middle without affiliation to either of the two major parties currently running us into the ground.

At any rate, concerning the “planning” concept in your post, I think this would be the most interesting development because regardless of who the Dems or Repubs put up, it will just be “business as usual”. So any planning the Dems might do, for maintaining the status quo, won’t exactly be of much interest to me. I don’t think I’m so far outside the mainstream in my thinking that there would not be a huge swath of the American citizenry that would see it the same way. So my question is this: would appealing to the middle be more or less meaningful coming from one of the two current parties than from a third party, especially for congressional candidates?
Frankly, Kent, I think it's WAY too soon to start planning the funeral for the Obama administration. I'm with Alicia, I don't think Obama can be termed a failure after less than a year in office. I won't call him a failure until and unless he hasn't passed any of his agenda by his final day in office.

I think he's grappling with immense problems, and learning to do the hardest job on earth. Battling an opposition that wants to see him fail not because he has an agenda that's bad for the country, but because, like Gordon, they hate him for taking their power away.

I still have hope, even when I feel frustrated, and I'm not giving up on this president by a long shot. My frustrations rest very much with Congress, where I wish my party would get a clue and STOP pandering to Republicans, and start acting like the majority party.
Shiral, this really has nothing to do with Obama. It seems superficially like it does, but it's about those who might survive him. Consider this: Suppose you have a serious disease, but something that may well be treatable. Do you (and your family): (a) make appropriate preparations for what could happen to your family if you die or (b) say that it's way too early to worry about your family and focus exclusively on your own situation. No matter how positive you are on your own outcome, I allege the thing most people are immediately driven to do is to cover their bases for the people that depend on them “just in case.” It doesn't mean you don't focus on your own situation, but it's foolhardy to say you don't begin the planning for the unwanted eventuality just because you prefer it not to happen.
Rick, the equilibrium I was discussing was that yes, those two parties taken together assure a stable single-party where what people really get is what neither party wants to offer but which is haggled out at the middle by the cross-over voters. But you're also right that when this stability is stuck on a local optimum that doesn't serve the people, there is nowhere to go. I think that's the case now. We are facing new crises we've never faced and hoping that the same old things will fix them. I think they won't. And the present system is an engine that forcefully seeks to re-elect itself.

My concern about your approach is not that it's a bad idea in theory, it's that the present crises must be solved now. The financial problem is something most people won't ignore. Ditto health care. But at some level, dire as those are, I think they are somewhat endurable by the society in the sense that society itself would still be there if they bumbled along as is. (I'm not arguing for this and not saying this would be good for many individuals, but hear me out.) Climate Change, in my view, has to be fixed now, not in 4 or 8 years. That will be too long a delay. I don't think your third party will succeed first try. Eventually it might. Maybe over a longer term. But we don't have it.

So I'm inclined to think we have to somehow work with what we have, which is why we have to get Obama to do something reasonable. But he won't do something reasonable if he doesn't clearly understand that he's losing his grip in real time.
Kent,

To “…work with what we have” is to say, “Work with what doesn’t work”. There won’t be any of the kinds of actions of the sort of which you speak; not from working with what we have. That’s the problem that I see. There are some members of Congress who do not identify with either party, and perhaps getting more of them would help.

In the end, I guess you’re just more hopeful than I. I do not see a lot of forward-thinking from our politicians; they’re mostly wrapped up in the immediate issues of maintaining corporate profits and ownership, not to mention access to resources of other nations. That seems clear to me when little else does.
Rick, not so much hopeful as pragmatic. If you're stuck on a desert island, you can complain all you want about not having the right tools but they're what you have. Here the constraint is to fix certain real and pressing problems now, not in 10 or 20 years. We can't (I think) get your system installed in that time. By my accounting, you're more hopeful than I when you say we can. I'm the pessimist... in this situation. :) Or at least the pragmatist.
(Crap - my LONG comment flittered away - where was I?)
Well - your dollar metaphor is spot on - I'm also disappointed in this "compromise," in health care - a third-grader knows how to manipulate better than that ... it SEEMS, so surely he's going to pull a rabbit out of his ass and dazzle us with a brilliant plan that constitutes "change we can believe in."

The problem is that this excellent slogan is a catch-all for each individual image of "change." One man's junk is another man's treasure - "change" can be anything from learning to use our words in amazing diplomacy to rallying the citizens to a new way of seeing activism, to thinking outside of the box - a lot of people were bound to be disappointed if their vision didn't match Obama's - and I rather suspect that THIS isn't even OBAMA'S vision of "change you can believe in." It's got to be harder than it looks, and with all on his plate, it looks REALLY hard.

I, too, am disappointed, but I'm more worried that as his supporters lose confidence, his work becomes even more difficult. It's up to all of us to send those cards and letters to Congress - it's a big wagon to have Obama pull alone. I don't intend to whitewash his failings, but he's not superhuman, and we are only 9 months into what seem superdisintegrating institutions with powerful support.
Hi, Travellini. I'm not encouraging people to stop sending letters of support to Congress. I'm encouraging them to realistically confront the possibility that he might not carry through on what they're lobbying for, and that we might need to get someone else to take over. Sort of like “walk softly but carry a big stick” or “trust, but verify.” Those are both parallel approaches that seem to conflict, but don't really. Einstein said “you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” which is perhaps closer, but I think he was wrong dead wrong on that one, even if it is catchy and even if he said a great many other interesting things, both technical and philosophical.
Kent,

All I’m saying is this: if you have two identical hammers, and the one you’re using doesn’t work, picking up the other hammer expecting a different outcome won’t help. All the planning in the world won’t make the other hammer work any better. I don’t think what I’m talking about means working outside the system, anyway.

You mention there are problems that need to be fixed “now”, not 10 years from now. Yet, most of the legislation addressing any of those problems approaches 10 years, or more, in accomplishing anything, and even then, what that legislation will accomplish is negligible. About the only thing “planning” might accomplish is to get the other hammer into office. And as I’ve pointed out many times, Congress is where we can make real change, sooner, and if we don’t, it still won’t matter whether it’s just the other hammer that gets in, or a different style of hammer; it still won’t get the job done.
Rick, no two individuals are the same. There is a world of difference between individuals. I'd have traded Bush 43 away for Bush 41 in a heartbeat, for example, and you might make an equal claim that they were of the same stock. They were not. There is a war internally for the heart of both existing parties, and that war matters. It may be the only one that can be one.

I don't begrudge you your attempt to start a third party, I just don't expect it to succeed. If you field a decent candidate, I might vote for it. But I don't think you'll be able to. You haven't articulated a set of party principles that I think will do anything other than assure that one of the Big 2 Parties will win. Unless you identify a magnet that draws equally from both parties—a very tricky proposition—it will just a be a spoiler for one of the existing parties and cause the alignment of the existing two parties to zing way to the right or the left, probably the right since you'd probably not pick a heavily Republican set of principles. So you want something that is (a) different than the two parties now [or else it's not worth your personal bother] but (b) of equal appeal to both parties so it can compete without throwing the election to one side. That's a very tall order.

You talk like you can't do worse than what we have now, and I don't agree. That's not to say I'm happy with what we have now. That's not to say we can't improve on what we have now. But in the nearterm, the time that really matters, absent a concrete plan for a specific something better, not just a bunch of vaguery, what we have to work with are these parties. I've frittered away enough hope on random third parties in the past to think otherwise without a specific plan. But sure, surprise me.
Kent,

I think you are really missing my point here. I’m not so much saying I want to start a third party (although I think we should), or that doing so could happen soon. What I’m really getting at is that there are individuals who could run within our current framework while advocating a different position on policy. Edwards garnered a fair amount of support with his anti-corporate rhetoric, and that’s really where I see the possibility for someone who is not so die-hard cast into either party’s character to really make a push with some ideas that would lean away from anything currently supported by both parties.

The current healthcare debacle has really shined a light on the problem of corporate corruption and power, and this would seem to be an ideal time to push against that structure, of which, by the way, Obama is a solid component. In fact, as things currently appear, the entire political process appears to be nothing more than a support system for that corporate power structure.

So, what I’m really saying here is that the type of planning you are advocating --- planning to put another Dem candidate into the White House --- does not necessarily take us in a new direction, and in fact, by itself, probably would not. However, even before we get to that point, even with Obama in the White House, if a number of favorable changes could occur in Congress, I think we could see things move in a better way. Despite Obama’s corporate leanings, I think he would go along with legislation and policy that presented a truly progressive direction if it were presented. He does not strike me as solidly opposed, just not particularly interested in putting himself out there for it. At times, I’ve even had the sense that he is waiting for Congress to pull him along in that direction, but unfortunately, the current batch of congressional Dems aren’t going to do that because they are too much a part of the corporate machinery, themselves.

I don’t misunderstand your point about planning for the possibility that Obama might fail. And in that case, if the Dems want to remain in power, they will have to be prepared for that with a different presentation to the public. My main point is that, because they are part of the problem, the likelihood that they will present something that truly leads us in a new direction appears extremely remote, at best. That is what causes me to view your perspective as more hopeful than my own. Congress is the key.


In the end, it appears once again, that the best solution is to remove all of that money from political campaigns and get back to actual policy, which is something that also appears unlikely.
Rick, are you saying this Edwards-like character would do his work within the party? I don't see it. The party is too powerful and would reject someone coming from out of the blue. If the DNC didn't control the party, it might be different; if it was grass-roots at the party level, there could be a shift. But recall that last time around there was talk of having the national committee simply override the votes of the delegates. Anything as strong as what you're talking about would be seen as and spun as an attempt to hijack the party. The problem isn't that someone might not see serious numbers gathering behind it, but rather they'd have trouble believing those numbers would be there (or they would spin it as such for fear of losing power). I think with basically 99.99% certainty that it can't happen from within.

I predict a bumpy ride because in 2010 we'll get more Republicans back in office due to the “vote the bums out” pendulum swinging back the other way, and that in turn will cause Democrats to get less done, leading to Obama being voted out for inaction that's even easier for the Republicans to achieve after the mid-term election. (Today's Nobel Peace Prize for Obama will only intensivey the ire of the Republicans and the frustration of any Democrats that don't get what they want.) This is Obama's only chance here and now.

So either Obama rescues himself now, or we're nearly certain to have a Republican in 2012 if we don't start planning a better candidate now, and probably through the Democratic part. (I, incidentally, am not a Democrat. I just happen not to like the Republican offerings nor the Republican platform, if it can be said to have one. I have zero philosophical problem with another party, only practical concerns.)

You can say all you want about the goodness of having a third party candidate, but that is not going to happen. The tactically best outcome would be a third-party Republican wannabe candidate, who would spoil the Republicans' chance to unify, leaving another Democrat a possibility. There is some hope/risk the Republicans will do that to themselves, especially if Palin is allowed to run. Her running could be one of the best things that could happen to the Democrats.
Kent,

I think you are being somewhat self-contradictory. On the one hand you say the Dems are the party to get done what you want to see be done, yet it seems clear that even you recognize they aren’t going to get it done. Your statement about the DNC and its obstructionism of the public will seemingly indicates this.

I’ll just close by saying; I think you are right that the smart move for the Dems would be to start creating a “plan B” --- the main point of this post. But I don’t think that, even if they are successful in doing so, it will give you the results you want regarding climate change legislation, healthcare reform, or any other major issues that are currently on the table, or perhaps “off the table” is a more accurate depiction.
Rick, it may well not. But I care even in the case where I don't get what I want about getting something better than I have now. If you can get an effective third party going, I think that's great. But my expectation is that most conceivable attempts at a third party will end up having taken a step backward, and while in simpler times I'd say that was the cost of moving ahead, I just am not sure it's the right thing just now. It's something of a Kobayashi Maru situation, I guess.
"I care even in the case where I don't get what I want about getting something better than I have now."

I think you're losing focus with that statement. I have to say that what's happening right now isn't going to leave ME better off than I am now; only the insurance corporations, and their cronies. I don't see the DNC taking us in any other direction 3 years from now, but if you think they will, then I hope you're right.
Will? That's a bit strong. It's possible. The probability of Congress doing something useful may not be 90% but it's also not 0%—just for conversation, I'll put the chances at 25%... nothing I'm banking on, but certainly worth paying attention to. I think the probability of getting a third party going (that does anything other than spoil the party it grew out of and assure the victory of the party it most opposes) is close to 0% (on the first try—it might do better with many coordinated tries, if we had the time to wait and the funding to do it). But I'm not a big party person anyway, and the odds against an individual independent succeeding are also low absent preference-order voting, which I would favor as well.
Ihave stated in posts and in comments that the President's problem stems from a lack of a full, complete and comprehensive understanding of the power of the office of President and how to use that power to get things done....I have stated that the surest way to get elected president for a second term is to BE president during the first term....Obama's immediate inner circle have him functioning as though he were still running for office....That's what they know best....But there is a universe of difference between getting there and being there.....You can't change the rules of the game unless and until you have become fully knowledgeable and competent with the rules as they are....Obama has compromised and common grounded his way to where he is....it is now time for him to draw some lines in the political sand and get the job that he was sent to the White House to do, done.....He should be constantly reminded that if LBJ and MLK had compromised on civl rights and voting rirgts he wouldn't be president today.....
Andrew Sullivan has a different take on what Obama has accomplished so far. Sullivan seems to think that Obama is a master political strategist. I'm not sure that I agree, but it's probably worth considering this opposite interpretation.
Thanks for the pointer, Don. I commented there (though it's pending moderation). I'd be happy to be wrong on this one. It isn't my desire that he fail. My concern is that he be aware that he's not succeeding now, and I don't see signs of that. Maybe that's just savvy calm. But it looks a lot similar to the obliviousness or tone deafness that comes of a blind spot. I guess we'll see.