The Divide

I think Obama summed up the reason why so many in the progressive blogosphere are having trouble with his administration in his Saturday video address this week.

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation – the future of our children and grandchildren – depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

Since its inception a few years ago, the role of the progressive blogosphere has been to “shake our fist across the divide.” That was certainly what initially drew me to these kinds of conversations back in 2003/04. First of all, it helped us not feel so alone in our rage. And secondly, that’s about all we could do. It was clear that Bush and Cheney weren’t interested in anything we had to say. And Congress, even after the 2006 elections, wasn’t paying much attention either.

Obama is right that shaking fists across the divide is what those in Washington have also done. Its been interesting to watch the Republicans as they sometimes have to work to position the divide so that they can continue to shout across it.

But one of the things I have questions about these days is “where exactly is the divide we should be shouting across?”  

As many have noted over the last few weeks, the Republicans are in a death spiral and shaking fists at them seems to only give them a form of credibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

So we are increasingly seeing folks develop the divide between themselves and Obama. From the standpoint of many of the issues we care about as progressives, that makes some sense. Obama has provided fodder for that in many instances, just as the Democrats in Congress have been doing since 2006.

The one thing that I’d like to challenge about all of that though, is that we all need to recognize that there is validity to the different roles that insiders like politicians and outsiders like bloggers play.

Obama, as President, is tasked with getting things done – not just espousing his ideals. If you want a look at his ideals, read the commencement speech he gave this week at Arizona State University. When it comes to actually getting things done, he not only has Congress to deal with, he has a huge entrenched system to challenge and move with him…not to mention years of sludge to clean up from the last administration.

I also think that Obama is looking for long-term lasting change – not short-term fixes. That not only means bringing the system along with him, it means doing so in a way that doesn’t continue one of the biggest challenges to our constitutional democracy that was left as a legacy of Bush/Cheney…the unitary executive.

We have heard Obama state clearly on a few occasions that he prefers for change to come legislatively rather than from executive orders. He is well aware that executive orders can be altered in the future at the whim of the person in office. But changing legislation is a different matter.

And this week, NCrissieB wrote a very thought-provoking essay putting forth a theory about why Obama might be sending many of the executive privilege questions back to the courts for a ruling. If he simply negates them by executive order – the framework of a unitary executive is still in place for future administrations to exploit.

The only way to restore our constitutional system of checks and balances is if the other two branches of the government are empowered to weigh in on these issues and do their jobs. Its interesting to me that the framers of our constitution seem to have understood the value of partnership in a representative democracy in ways that we have sometimes forgotten.

As for us progressive bloggers, I think that its our job to hold on to our ideals and shout them from the rooftops- all while recognizing that its a different task altogether to get them implemented. For me, that means paying close attention to judicial nominees and working to get Congress to stand up and do their job. Shouting across the divide means restoring the system of checks and balances that are provided for in the separation of powers – not just focusing on a President who is but one of those branches.

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  1. to the unitary executive?????

    • Edger on May 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I do like the idea of giving him the finger, and I also think that the cartoon was meant sarcastically as a parody of what he is doing and that it really should be one of the crowd across the chasm reaching and inviting Obama out of the past and into the future.

    Here’s one example…

    Obama Turns Back on New Deal

    By Matthew Rothschild

    The Progressive, May 13, 2009

    Soon after getting into the White House, Barack Obama said bemusedly that some of his opponents were still fighting the New Deal.

    But now it looks like Obama himself may chip away at one of the cornerstones of the New Deal: and that is Social Security.

    After announcing that the recession has shrunk the payroll taxes that fund Social Security, Obama’s pathetic Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner signaled that cuts in the program may be in the offing.

    “The President explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically,” Geithner said.

    Obama’s OMB director, Peter Orzag, came out with a paper several years ago calling for reductions in benefits for all recipients who are currently 55 or under. The cuts would be from 2 percent to 9 percent.

    Obama himself uses the derisive term “entitlement” for this benefit, as if the elderly and the disabled are acting like entitled little brats to expect to have any government help.

    There are many many other examples, with torture, and war, and imperialism, but I’ll leave it to others to cite them for now. SGIvin old people is good enough for Sunday.

  2. Even before looking closely at Obama’s change of mind, I understood immediately what had taken place, as soon as I heard the report on the radio. President Obama was, in fact, speaking for the national security bureaucracy in announcing his change of mind. I knew it would happen at some point. Although his first instinct had been to release the pictures, as he had released the new Justice Department torture memos, it was clear he had been turned around, and I was certain it was the work of the national security bureaucracy.

    My hunch was confirmed by the AP report, which explained, “American commanders in the war zones expressed deep concern about fresh damage the photos might do, especially as the U.S. tries to wind down the Iraq war and step up operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.” How do the commanders know this to be the case? How do they know that it is the not the case that, to the contrary, more people around the world might admire us for openly correcting past mistakes? In fact, you can be certain “the commanders” do not truly know that the photos will harm America’s image, but they do know how to protect the national security bureaucracy, after having risen to its top ranks. This is exactly what is going on here, and the explanation was pure bureaucratic excuse-making.

    The National Security Bureaucracy

    On average, it takes about 100 days for the great Executive Branch bureaucracy to begin to work its way and will on the new officials, and that threshold has now been crossed. If anyone believes a rookie president and his new team can take over the executive branch, and actually run it without the cooperation of the permanent people, those who remain in place as presidents and their appointees come and go, he or she does not understand how Washington really works. Political appointees come and go, but the folks who actually run the government have an ongoing agenda of trying not to let these part-time political people screw it up too badly. Nowhere are there more of these permanent career professionals than in the departments and agencies that constitute the national security community.

  3. The agenda is totalitarian fascist global parasitic boot in your face government.  That just doesn’t sell.

    As always read between the lines.

    Check your doublespeak dictionaries.

  4. to some people. On reason I  like DD, Im in good company here. heh. Thanks for this great essay, NL.

    Wanted to point to two articles I saw last night… and dont have time to write full essay today but they both relate back to this essay so Ill plunk ’em here.

    Both links at Common Dreams dot org.

    From John Dean, The Politics of Excusing Torture in the Name of National Security who talked me down a bit.

    I would encourage those who are demanding exposure and prosecution to keep pounding their drums. Clearly, they are on the right side of this issue, and Obama knows it. While he is going to placate the national security bureaucrats from time to time in order to lead them effectively, hopefully the pressure for him to deal with the atrocious behavior of Bush and Cheney is only just getting started.

    and I really liked this one, edger, you might like it… he really speaks my heart here. From Howard Zinn, Changing Obama’s Mindset …

    Some people might say, “Well, what do you expect?”

    And the answer is that we expect a lot.

    People say, “What, are you a dreamer?”

    And the answer is, yes, we’re dreamers. We want it all. We want a peaceful world. We want an egalitarian world. We don’t want war. We don’t want capitalism. We want a decent society.

    We better hold on to that dream-because if we don’t, we’ll sink closer and closer to this reality that we have, and that we don’t want.

    and

    What’s required is a total turn­around. We want a country that uses its resources, its wealth, and its power to help people, not to hurt them. That’s what we need. This is a vision we have to keep alive. We shouldn’t be easily satisfied and say, “Oh well, give him a break. Obama deserves respect.”

    But you don’t respect somebody when you give them a blank check. You respect somebody when you treat them as an equal to you, and as somebody you can talk to and somebody who will listen to you.

    Not only is Obama a politician. Worse, he’s surrounded by politicians. And some of them he picked himself. He picked Hillary Clinton, he picked Lawrence Summers, he picked people who show no sign of breaking from the past.

    We are citizens. We must not put ourselves in the position of looking at the world from their eyes and say, “Well, we have to compromise, we have to do this for political reasons.” No, we have to speak our minds.

    PS I finally got a new mouse and that fixed my problem! ha! No more double posted comments, I hope. Thanks, edger, for the nudge on that!.

    Mouse mouse Pictures, Images and Photos

    • kj on May 18, 2009 at 1:28 am

    making your points, nl.  i had some thoughts about the divide (going back to dean/kerry primary days, where, had we known one another would have been on different ‘sides,’) but pretty quickly realized they aren’t necessary to make, they would be too ‘nuanced,’ which is of course, a hysterically retro funny word in my own silly head.

    love the emphasis on “unitary executive,” hope to see a continuation of this theme as it resonates so well with the idea of ‘leadership’ and/or ‘partnership’ and all that i know you have synthesized from the dean experience.

    and no, please don’t pony this comment, anyone.  it wasn’t made for agreement or disagreement.

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