The mystery man

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There seem to be two theories about Barack Obama. One is he’s a spineless invertebrate and a terrible negotiator, who keeps being outmaneuvered by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.

The other is he’s fiendish Machiavel, who only pretends to be a Democrat and who achieves Republican goals while appearing to be outmaneuvered by Republicans.

I am not sure either is true. If you look at his behavior in areas where he has control — foreign policy, war and security — he has continued and expanded Bush policy. He has continued two illegal wars and added four more (Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia). He has kept Guantanamo open, along with a worldwide system of illegal detention. His Justice Department has refused to go after Wall Street criminals, but has been active is going after whistle blowers and peace and environmental activists. Check Glenn Greenwald’s fine blog for details on all of this.

This makes him look like a Republican — or a Democratic hawk, of which there have been many. His natural impulses seem conservative and authoritarian, and he is obviously interested in managing appearance, rather than changing reality.

However, when you look at his legislative history, which is not fully in his control, he looks less like a fiendish 11-dimensional chess player and more like a clueless idiot.

Look at the debt ceiling mess, which went on apparently forever and ended in a terrible deal and a downgrading of the country’s bond rating. Obama looked dishonest and inept throughout.

In what way is it fiendishly smart to ignore global warming? Is he planning to move to Mars?

There are other examples of ineptness — The government’s response to the BP oil spill was not impressive. Nor was its failure to deal with a terrible economy and its root problem, a corrupt and bankrupt financial system. The year-long struggle to create a national health plan resulted in a godawful mess of a bill, which does not solve the main problem: the cost of health care.

Now — you can say these are all signs that he’s a weasel working for the bosses. But remember that capitalism is not monolithic. There are corporations that would benefit from infrastructure repair, clean energy, affordable health care, honest banks, and a planet which can be inhabited…

How is it good for capitalism to have a financial system that might collapse tomorrow, or an economy that may never recover, or a planet that is largely desert?

If you can’t see and deal with obvious problems which threaten your existence, you are not much of a fiendish plotter in my book. My villains always have a clue.

Footnote from the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:

Machiavel [mak‐yă‐vel], a type of stage villain found in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and named after the Florentine political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, whose notorious book Il Principe (The Prince, 1513) justified the use of dishonest means to retain state power. Exaggerated accounts of Macchiavelli’s views led to the use of his name—sometimes directly referred to in speeches—for a broad category of ruthless schemers, atheists, and poisoners. Shakespeare’s Iago and Richard III are the most famous examples of the type.

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