Balkinization  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

First time tragedy, second time farce

Sandy Levinson

By many historical accounts, FDR was deeply worried at the beginning of 1935 by the possibility of a challenge from Huey Long, the extraordinary Democratic senator from Louisiana (who was simultaneously serving as governor of that state) who was a leading critic of the New Deal from the left. Long, of course, was a remarkable orator who was speaking to many genuine realities of life, including corporate oppression, in Louisiana and elsewhere. He was also a fascistic, dictatorial demagogue (think, perhaps, of Mussolini). For better or worse, FDR could relax in 1936 not because the New Deal had suddenly started working so much better (indeed, the Supreme Court was busy invalidating much of it) , but, rather, because Long had been assassinated in Baton Rouge. Long is an endlessly fascinating figure who inspired a fine (albeit, like Long himself, over the top) novel by Robert Penn Warren that has been filmed at least twice, as well as recurrent biographies that make the reader at once realize Long's genuine appeal and his menace. He might well rise to the level of a tragic figure, and not only because of the way he died.

Then there's Sarah Palin, who is clearly attempting to fill the Long role for our own time. (Or is it George Corley Wallace who is the proper analogue, given his disdain for "pointy-headed bureaucrats"? It is fascinating to read a forthcoming book by Laura Kalman, Right Star Rising, about the rise of the right wing in the 1970s and to discover that Richard Viguerie, a leading figure in the contemporary far right, dreamed of a Reagan-Wallace ticket and was disappointed when Reagan chose to remain in the Republican Party and (unsuccessfully, of course) challenge Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976. I wonder what his dreams are now ) But, of course, there is not one ounce of grandeur in Ms. Palin. Unlike Long, who had a real vision of where he wanted to take Louisiana and in fact transformed the state, for good and for ill, her visions come out of comic books. Nor, obviously, is she willing to do any hard work, by, for example, even filling out her term of office as Alaska's Governor. Did she leave any enduring impact on her own state? Yet Barack Obama, the most potentially-transformative President since FDR, must be fearful of her candidacy, with consequences yet unknown (though they do seem to include giving up any real commitment to traditional norms of criminal justice and a hesitancy/unwillingness to name any judicial appointees who might actually be genuinely appalled by the direction of the Supreme Court over the period of conservative Republican hegemony). Unfortunately, I think this demonstrates less the tragedy than the truly farcical nature of contemporary American politics at present (though perhaps it does demonstrate a tragic flaw in the otherwise remarkable President).

Comments:

Didn't Robert Penn Warren write a "novel" about John Brown?
 

Isn't your title a bit misleading considering Long was attacking FDR from the left and Palin is attacking Obama (who's about as transformative as a Prius running into a tree) from the right?

A much better title would be "First time tragedy, second time TBA"
 

But, of course, there is not one ounce of grandeur in Ms. Palin. Unlike Long, who had a real vision of where he wanted to take Louisiana and in fact transformed the state, for good and for ill, her visions come out of comic books. Nor, obviously, is she willing to do any hard work, by, for example, even filling out her term of office as Alaska's Governor. Did she leave any enduring impact on her own state? Yet Barack Obama, the most potentially-transformative President since FDR, must be fearful of her candidacy...

I am not often rendered speechless, but that passage sure did the trick.

Palin accomplished more in her first term as Wasilla mayor than Obama did in his entire political career before arriving at the White House.

Palin ran multiple members of her own political party out of office on corruption charges. Obama was simply another corrupt Chicago pol with a gift for gab.

Palin took on the oil companies, raised their extraction taxes and returned the money to her constituents. Obama has dithered for a year over whether executive bonuses are good or bad.

Palin shoots and skins elk. Obama shoots hoops.

Palin's nickname is Sarahcuda. Obama doesn't have enough personality or accomplishment to have a nickname.

It has been said that Obama was a blank slate upon which his supporters drew the person they wanted. However, you are taking that particular projection way, way, way too far by comparing Obama to FDR.

I disagreed with almost everything FDR did apart from WWII. However, FDR proposed his own legislation, pushed it through and convinced the nation to love it - in short, he was an outstanding leader.

In stark contrast, Obama has offered nothing but platitudes and speeches, has handed off policy making to Congress and then crumpled like wrapping paper when things got a little tough. Transformative my ass. Obama has yet to measure up to Jimmy Carter - a perennial occupant of the worst five Presidents in American history club.

Obama needs to fear a Palin candidacy because she is more qualified and far tougher. Given Palin's relatively slim resume, that fact is pathetic.
 

Palin took on the oil companies, raised their extraction taxes and returned the money to her constituents.

Doesn't that make her a communist?

Obama needs to fear a Palin candidacy because she is more qualified and far tougher

No one, outside the GOP power brokers, fears a Palin candidacy. She is clearly an imbecile, and her poll numbers indicate that a lot of people are very much aware of that fact.
 

Here's our intrepid former backpacker:

"I am not often rendered speechless, but that passage sure did the trick."

Alas, the trick was soon over, followed by 35 lines. Pointless, yes. Speechless, no. Perhaps this speechlessness will appear in our yodeler's work of friction [sick!] in progress on Obama's two terms.
 

Our intrepid former backpacker's ears must be ringing with George Will's OpEd in today's (2/18/10) WaPo titled "Sarah Palin and the mutual loathing society" that closes with this:

"Political nature abhors a vacuum, which is what often exists for a year or two in a party after it loses a presidential election. But today's saturation journalism, mesmerized by presidential politics and ravenous for material, requires a steady stream of political novelties. In that role, Palin is united with the media in a relationship of mutual loathing. This is not her fault. But neither is it her validation."

Perhaps this will fill the vacuum between our yodeler's ears.
 

I tend to agree: Portraying Obama as FDR is more than a little over the top. FDR, for all that I loath his policies, was a fairly competent President. Obama is something of an empty suit, must have been a real shock to his system to discover that Presidents couldn't vote "present".
 

I grew up in New Orleans and Huey Long was still a divisive figure in the 70s and 80s. The elites still despise him. I remember listening to a professor of law school denounce Long in class. His reforms were necessary as were perhaps the means he chose to effectuate those reforms. Perhaps the better comparison might be to one of the populist leaders in Latin America on the left (Hugo Chavez comes to mind). The best biography is T.H. Williams, Huey Long. He starts the book by saying that Louisiana is the northernmost tier of the banana republics. The question of the day is whether given the deep divide between elites in the US and their inability to compromise on such basic matters as a budget deficit that we might be witnessing the Latin Americanization of American politics. Some of the features of the "new" politics of the Americas are that personalities matter more than programs and that excessive power will be ceded to presidents in the vain hope that they can solve intractable problems.
 

Judge Richard Posner has an interesting book review (titled: "1937, 2010") in The New Republic (2/18/10) available at:

http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/1937-2010

on Jeff Shesol's "Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court"

with some interesting comparisons between FDR in 1937 and Obama in 2010.

Brett has given up on subtlety apparently with this:

"Obama is something of an empty suit,"

Compare this to the intellectual nudity of George W. Bush for 8 years.
 

I tend to agree: Portraying Obama as FDR is more than a little over the top. FDR, for all that I loath his policies, was a fairly competent President. Obama is something of an empty suit

# posted by Brett : 6:34 AM


Brett, after 8 years of Dumbya it's easy to understand why some would compare his successor to FDR.
 

Shag from Brookline said...

"Obama is something of an empty suit,"

Compare this to the intellectual nudity of George W. Bush for 8 years.


After this past year, I cannot believe you still want to go there. What ever you think of him, Bush was always in charge. Bush got his way when the GOP held Congress and still got his way when the Dems took Congress.

In contrast, Obama does not even have a plan or a clue. Obama believes that the presidency consists of a series of speeches and parties - both of which he holds a first year record for. The signature substantive accomplishment of his time in office has been an $835 billion pork bill that he had Congress write as it wished.

That is it, unless you count helping destroy his party's standing with voters in record time. Even you on the left are somewhere between disappointed and pissed off with Obama's dithering weak sister routine.

Thus, it is unsurprising that merchandise with Dubya's fratboy grin and "Do you miss me yet" is selling like hotcakes.
 

After this past year, I cannot believe you still want to go there.

You must be fucking kidding. You assholes created an epic disaster. We're going to be reminding everyone of George W Bush for the next 50 years.
 

Our yodeler continues in his search for that pony in the pile of political excrement left behind after 8 years of Bush/Cheney.
 

Some of the features of the "new" politics of the Americas are that personalities matter more than programs and that excessive power will be ceded to presidents in the vain hope that they can solve intractable problems.

It sounds to me as though the very fundamentals of self-government, either republican or direct, should be examined. Ceding power to an office holder mostly by default seems to be yearning for monarchical structure. Sure we can vote the individual out of office in due time or try to frame an appropriate impeachment based on undesirable policies but these do not help the country during need or even crisis.
It seems to me that the means of discussion and influence held by citizens at large is insubstantial. Could we create a better way?
 

Folks:

The expiration date on "Blame Bush" was last summer when the Obama and Dem polls started their historical free fall. If you wish to campaign against Bush in 2010 and 2012, please be my guest. Voters know who is in charge.

Interestingly and tellingly, no one is attempting to defend Obama against my rather brutal assessments.
 

The expiration date on "Blame Bush" was last summer

# posted by Bart DePalma : 10:59 AM


Wishful thinking on your part. There is no expiration date for reminding people of the disaster you clowns created.

As for your other claims, one only has to consider the source. You are self-refuting
 

There is no statute of limitations for political idiocy so that our intrepid former backpacker and the Bush/Cheney Administration will continue as fair game, although both are getting gamy.
 

"Yet Barack Obama, the most potentially-transformative President since FDR"

I don't know what Barak Obama you're talking about. Did you sleep through 2009?
 

Seriously, Baghdad, Bush/Cheney was an epic disaster. Do you really think we're not going to shove that down your throat for the next few dozen years?
 

if we are to believe that the expiration on the "blame bush" show was some time last year, the first year of the obama administration, i would like to know when our friends on the right believe the "blame clinton" nonsense expired.
 

phg said...if we are to believe that the expiration on the "blame bush" show was some time last year, the first year of the obama administration, i would like to know when our friends on the right believe the "blame clinton" nonsense expired.

About the same time in the first Bush Administration.

The GOP did not run on "Blame Clinton" in 2002 or 2004.
 

The GOP did not run on "Blame Clinton" in 2002 or 2004.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 1:56 PM


Clowns like you are still running with it. Hell, you're still running on the blame Carter platform.
 

Just to be clear Bart,

I don't feel any need to refute anything that comes out of your delusional neo-fascist mouth. I've done it too many times already.

There isn't any reasonable person reading this blog who doesn't understand exactly what a malicious subversive and congenital liar you are -- a total waste of time, carbon, and oxygen.
 

The Dem polling firm PPP is coming out with an interesting poll tomorrow. 59% percent of Americans (not registered or likely voters) think that Palin is unqualified to be President, but 22% of those would still vote for her over Obama.

PPP observed: "I guess Republicans could make the argument that Obama's just so bad that any Republican would be better than him, whether they consider that Republican to be qualified or not."

Well yeah, that seems to be what the numbers indicate.
 

PPP observed: "I guess Republicans could make the argument that Obama's just so bad that any Republican would be better than him, whether they consider that Republican to be qualified or not."

# posted by Bart DePalma : 5:22 PM


These poll numbers are GREAT NEWS for John McCain!!
 

There isn't any reasonable person reading this blog who doesn't understand exactly what a malicious subversive and congenital liar you are -- a total waste of time, carbon, and oxygen.

I consider myself a reasonable person of the legal persuasion. I cannot speak for other reasonable people, but for the beenfit of future empirical study I think that description is right on target based on my year or so of reading Prof. Balkin's fine blog and its various contributors.
 

it still boggles the mind that any serious observer of US politics would try to atribute any power to the figure head that presidency has become in this country... real power is not top down in this country... that is why grass-roots types who have a track record of bristling against falling in with the party line and; for better or worse; insist on following her own tack, represent a real hope for change to those who do feel that it is the only way to get it. Especialy since the "Great Hope" has so far fallen into the party (and one could argue that both parties are essentialy the same ideologicaly) line and, instead of continued with all the policies that the voters that put him there thought he would change (which some would argue he couldn't in the first place).
I'm not defending her or agreeing with all her views or attacking Obama just offering a perspective on why she has the popularity she does.
 

Sec. Sebelius told the press yesterday that President Obama would support a public option if the Senate does first.

Transformative presidency indeed!
 

So he did find a way to vote "present" despite being President, after all.
 

Brett, the president doesn't get a vote.
 

Metaphorically speaking.
 

It doesn't matter what metaphorical bullshit you're trying to sell, he, or she, does not get a vote.
 

it still boggles the mind that any serious observer of US politics would try to atribute any power to the figure head that presidency has become in this country... real power is not top down in this country... that is why grass-roots types who have a track record of bristling against falling in with the party line and; for better or worse; insist on following her own tack, represent a real hope for change...

I don't mean to pick on 'Jay's stuff' here. I just want to point out an instance of confused pro-Palin thinking because a) it's right here in front of me and b) it supports my belief that one would have to be confused to support Sarah Palin as potential candidate for the presidency.

So: if the presidency is a powerless office then why look to a presidential candidate? Nothing in the aforementioned comment "explains" Palin's popularity, since a potential presidential candidate doesn't gather support amongst people who are blessed with the insight that the office of the presidency is essentially powerless.

Otoh, people who are fundamentally confused about how the political process in this country works and who the two major parties really work for do in fact seem to flock to Palin.

Palin shoots and skins elk. Obama shoots hoops.

Palin's nickname is Sarahcuda. Obama doesn't have enough personality or accomplishment to have a nickname.


Q.E.D.

*Add to that, mentally incompetent zealots like Bart DePalma, who make egregiously ludicrous claims of upholding the law of the land (the US Constitution) while simultaneously arguing that the president is above the law and can order any damn thing done he wishes as long as it can be construed as an act of warfare, are exactly the sort of fools who would carry the Palin banner and wreck the debate at blogs like this.

**Although if the software of Balkinization was changed to allow mentally incompetent zealots to be banned things would change around here.
 

More Palin/Tea-Party/Axis of Lunacy antidotes
 

As to what mattski said... one importance here is that the President sets forth an overall mind-set and in various ways (putting aside appointments and such) furthers a certain ethos that has many ripples like a stone in a pond. So, it's not like s/he is a potted plant, even if not as powerful as some give them credit for.
 

In fact, the assumed unimportance furthers the support: if the President is in effect powerless, why not just elect someone who we like, who we like to have a beer with or whatever, as a symbolic gesture?
 

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