Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

IF I WASN'T SO OLD, I WOULD CRY

There is no way of construing the loss of Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat as anything but a stinging defeat for the Democrats and for Obama. There is plenty of blame to go around, and it is being dished out generously this morning. I want to try to get some perspective on the event, if only for my own sanity. I spent a very troubled night.

I have already indicated why I believe that the sixty vote majority was inevitably temporary. That margin in the Senate simply does not correspond to the balance of forces in the country right now. It was the result of some brilliant campaigning, some cold-eyed compromises in the choice of candidates, and the fallout from the disaster of the Bush years.

Health care reform hangs in the balance. Perhaps the House will pass the Senate bill, which would make it law. I tend to think they will, though that is by no means certain. As I have many times observed on this blog, the messy and distressing compromises written into both the House and Senate versions of the bill were inevitable. Neither the House and Senate leadership nor Obama is in any way to blame for those defects.

But what dismays me is the fact that Obama has, at this point, almost completely lost control of the public discourse, despite the fact that he has been doing an extremely mature, intelligent, creditable job of running the country. I remember the campaign -- it was only a year and a bit more ago. Obama offered Americans an adventure, a movement, an uplifting transformation in American politics. That is why so many people, myself included, worked so hard for his election.

He conducted that campaign brilliant -- no one in several generations has done as well. But since taking office, he has failed to sustain the emotion and commitment of that campaign.

My guess is that the severity of the economic crisis, which was really unprecedented, so absorbed his energies and attention that he was deflected from the role of cheerleader-in-chief. I think he could have sold the necessary compromises to his progressive supporters, had he undertaken to explain to them clearly why those compromises were necessary.

There is simply no way that we should have lost a Senate seat in Massachusetts.

Will Obama learn from this defeat? On the evidence of the campaign, I would say probably yes. But you don't have to be a fly on the wall in the Oval Office to know that the inner circle is busy explaining why the loss isn't their fault. That, I would imagine, is their primary concern at this moment. It ought not to be, of course, but people who make it to that level in politics are always more concerned about justifying themselves than they are about solving problems. If they weren't, they would long ago have been weeded out at the lower levels.

The upside of all of this is that, come what may, Obama is President for three more years, and, if the Republicans continue on their current self-destructive path, seven more years. In a Parliamentary system of government, Obama would be in danger of losing a vote of confidence at this moment. Chalk one up for the Founding Fathers.

On a lighter note, here is a picture of my grandson at his fourth birthday party. Pretty cool!



3 comments:

Lawrence said...

Obama ran on a change campaign. Like it or not, true or untrue, there is a stong perception that he has not delivered on that change. While it may be impossible for him to have done what he promised to do, and while the American public is incredibly fickle and may blame Obama for what he inherited, he does not appear to have pushed for the change he promised. As you mention, he has somehow allowed the 'anti' forces in the country to define the public discourse, time after time. Massachusetts is perhaps the culmination of this - a republican was able to define the democrat,non-washington insider, as the washington insider and as the anti change candidate. Witness the supporters of Scott Brown chanting 'yes we can' last night. Whether legitimate or not, people don't see a lot of change going on - 2 wars, a watered down healthcare bill that has been framed as the product of back room deals and politics as usual, and an economic team that could have been part of the Bush whitehouse... that has been slow on pursuing policies that would help regular people as opposed to wall street. It may be more perception than reality (perhaps you can tell that I think there is more than just perception going on here), but in politics the failure to realize that 'perception is reality' is a pretty big failure, and the consequences of such a failure are disastrous for this country.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I agree with most of this. It was always going to be the case that a health care reform bill would be the product of deals and compromises. You cannot reform 15% of the American economy without complex deals, etc. But still.
People I know who know Obama say that Obama's besetting weakness is that when he is convinced that he is right about some issue -- EVEN WHEN HE REALLY IS -- he cannot see that he must bring others along, and persuade them of the necessity of what he is doing. The deals were necessary, but the failure to frame them in a way the public could understand is disastrous. Now the question is: Can he learn from what has gone wrong?

Rev. Elizabeth said...

That is one handsome, delightful grandson. I ought to know, as I'm his Grandmama.