September 21, 2011

Joan Walsh - a good take on the new Suskind book

I put a link, and a snippet of her comment, on my "Obama the incompetent" post, but Salon editor Joan Walsh long take on Ron Suskind's new book is a generally good one, despite being a mild Obamiac herself.

Beyond Obama himself, and his Reaganesque work habits (with a more fractious Cabinet) that Mojo Dowd has reported, Walsh raises an interesting idea -- is Obama blinded by his heritage? Not his ethnic heritage (but more on that later), rather his Ivy League "meritocratic" heritage. Here's the graf:
If we take Obama's answer a step beyond where Suskind leaves it, if we examine Obama's story, and look at the "American exceptionalism" that made his presidency possible, I think it also explains his worldview, and his priorities: Obama believes he is the creation of a fundamentally sound American meritocracy, which is often but not always distorted by race; where a kid whose father came from Kenya and whose mother came from Kansas, mostly raised by his grandparents in Hawaii, could get the opportunity, despite his race and his funny name, to rise and just keep rising -- Punahou Prep, Columbia University, Harvard Law School. Is this a great country, or what? It helps explain how an administration made up of Ivy League standouts, "the best and the brightest," to use David Halberstam's chilling phrase about JFK's team, updated for the 21st century, could wind up in an economic quagmire to rival the one Kennedy's men created in Vietnam.
Emphasis at the end is mine. And, yes, it does explain that. JFK's best and brightest thought they "knew better" on foreign policy, and didn't talk to people in the field. Obama's best and brightest, though, DID talk to people in the field. Sadly, they limited their "field" to Wall Street. And, whether because he felt like he was still a junior member of the Establishment, or he's that inexperienced as an executive manager, or he's that incompetent, or that Kumbaya, or whatever, he let Geithner et al run on.

The better analogy is LBJ feeling "stuck" with JFK's team. Not knowing the full deal of the Cuban Missile Crisis, ie, not knowing that Kennedy agreed to removing our Thor missiles from Turkey and Italy, he thought Kennedy was a foreign policy genius that he wasn't.

That said, Walsh's take on the book is also about the psyche of Obama besides that.

Here's one takeway, which says a lot about Dear Leader:
Suskind frequently stops mid-narrative to grapple with the central question of his book: Was the problem mainly with Obama's staff, which can be corrected by a staff shakeup, and with the president's early inexperienced leadership, which can be ameliorated by experience? Or is there something missing in Obama himself, in his vision and values, that led to the lack of bold action to solve the nation's biggest problems?
 "You need to ask yourself why you want to do this. What are you hoping to uniquely accomplish, Barack?"
Answer? It's about the legacy:

Obama answers:

"The world will see us differently. Millions of kids across this country will see themselves differently."
That's of little help to a black America that gets shortchanged in schools, where the president won't push for more serious reforms, that gets shortchanged by unequal justice, and more.

The one downer is that Walsh believes the last week or two of Obama's faux populism is the real thing. Soon, we'll have a "new Obama," like a "new Nixon."

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