This is the question on the cover of Newsweek magazine that greets its buyers:
This cover line question teases Andrew Sullivan’s article in Newsweek titled How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics. It’s a longish read (so stick with it), but one of the fairer accounts of the Obama Presidency I’ve seen (and a better case for his Presidency that I think that even the Obama folks have made themselves). And this is written by a conservative ex-Republican (he claims to be an independent now), who has had more than his fair share of issues with Obama policy, politics and process throughout the last three years.
The first half of this is very good — taking on some of the rhetorical BS that is routinely unchallenged, like economic conditions are worse than when Obama came into office or that taxes have gone up, etc:
The right’s core case is that Obama has governed as a radical leftist attempting a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life. Mitt Romney accuses the president of making the recession worse, of wanting to turn America into a European welfare state, of not believing in opportunity or free enterprise, of having no understanding of the real economy, and of apologizing for America and appeasing our enemies. According to Romney, Obama is a mortal threat to “the soul” of America and an empty suit who couldn’t run a business, let alone a country.
Or for the left:
But the right isn’t alone in getting Obama wrong. While the left is less unhinged in its critique, it is just as likely to miss the screen for the pixels. From the start, liberals projected onto Obama absurd notions of what a president can actually do in a polarized country, where anything requires 60 Senate votes even to stand a chance of making it into law. They have described him as a hapless tool of Wall Street, a continuation of Bush in civil liberties, a cloistered elitist unable to grasp the populist moment that is his historic opportunity. They rail against his attempts to reach a Grand Bargain on entitlement reform. They decry his too-small stimulus, his too-weak financial reform, and his too-cautious approach to gay civil rights. They despair that he reacts to rabid Republican assaults with lofty appeals to unity and compromise.
For both, he proceeds to rebut alot of overdone rhetoric and makes a very plausible* case for just how successful this administration has been in the face of fairly disastrous conditions.
The second half is where he starts to lose me — he tries to make the case that this has to do with a “long game” that the President is embarked on that none of his opponents or critics seem to get. I don’t quite see this — mostly I see a man who sets himself a task and gets to the end of that task in a way that gets done what he wants. The long game is a more ideological one and one that needs some allies that have your time horizon in mind, and I don’t see this at all among Democrats. Mostly I see alot of pragmatic moves to get his projects done. Even though Sullivan attributes this to a long term game, it is nothing but pragmatic to not beat up on your Republican opponents when you need some of them to get to your 60 votes. And I fail to see anything pragmatic or long term about not investing in perp walks for those who melted down the economy. There were perp walks, trials and jail time for some of the worst offenders in the Savings and Loan debacle and the long term effect of that was not just regulatory change, but now those bankers had to price in the risk of jail time for any new shenanigans. Today’s bankers should have to make the same calculations, and I expect that this might be about the only thing they would understand.
The cover line that Newsweek uses doesn’t exactly relate to what Sullivn is doing in this article, but does highlight that the more unhinged (either from the far right who see Obama as their sole front in a new cold war or the far left who get more vehement the more you point out that Obama never was going to lead the progressive revolution) critiques don’t have much basis in reality — meaning that what is left is a pretty big hole where useful criticism (and even better useful political action) could be.
Make sure you read the whole thing.
*He does gloss over the expansion or use of expanded Presidential power and doesn’t discuss at all any of the civil liberties questions.