A few years back I was involved in an extraordinarily complex business transaction. It was complex not only because our legal system makes even the simplest transaction a mess, but also due to the nature of both sides of the transaction. On my side, I was set as the chief negotiator of a group of peoples whose perceived best interests neither coincided with mine nor with each other, but who expected their respective laundry lists to be fulfilled. On the other was a group of people who I suspect had the same problem, but from my standpoint their modus operandi was, in a word, bizarre.
The whole process took far too long and had far too many “bumps in the road,” to use their terminology. My counterpart on the other side was what I would describe as a huffy, moralistic social liberal whose favourite habit when I hung tough on certain points was to browbeat me with the accusation that everything that was going wrong was my fault and that I should just capitulate on that account. His ostensible goal was cooperation, but that was belied by his methodology. In the end, however, we finally got the deal done.
After that, when they were in the driver’s seat, things didn’t go well for anyone. When I would bring up problems, I would get the same huffy, moralistic response I got before. Seeing the same style of mind going both ways, I understood the life lesson in front of me: if you believe that everything in life that goes wrong is someone else’s fault, you’re a failure, even if it really is someone else’s fault. To put it another way, you can blame others and in some cases it will stick, but it doesn’t make for success.
That, in many ways, is the lesson our President has yet to learn in the wake of the debt crisis, the downgrade and the subsequent volatility of the stock market. Every speech he makes seems to be an exercise in finger-pointing: it’s a “Tea Party downgrade,” the Republicans won’t compromise, etc.. Political analysts attempt to explain this rhetoric as an attempt to appeal to independents, who supposedly love compromise more than life itself. But such an appeal will only stick as long as the independents are focused more on the political process and less on their own swelling indigence.
Others attempt to excuse our President as having a community organizer, Saul Alinsky “lead from behind” style. Mobilise the masses, they say, and same masses will roll the opposition, as Mao Zedong predicted (and ultimately made happen) in China. The difficulties of making that effective should be evident by the situation in Wisconsin. They mobilized the masses, all right, but that hasn’t translated into defeat of the opposition.
It should strike one as odd, though, that the President of the United States, with broad executive powers, would feel compelled to resort to such tactics when he has a much more powerful arsenal at his disposal. Mao was a revolutionary on the run when he reported on the peasant movement in Hunan, and one who didn’t have the undivided support of his party (to say nothing of the Soviets.) A more pertinent model can be found across the Gulf of Mexico with people such as Juan Peron, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, who used both their popularity with “the people” and whatever executive authority they commandeered to cement their position and reward their supporters.
I don’t think that Barack Obama’s program will succeed any more for the country than it did for the countries of any of the aforementioned revolutionaries and heads of state. But from a left-wing standpoint, the frustration with Barack Obama is justifiable. Obama could have called the Republican’s bluff in a big way during the debt ceiling debate; he did not. He could have decided to let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010 and gotten away with it; he didn’t do that either. Instead he’s reduced to a whiny blame game where his own failures—from his standpoint, not necessarily the country’s—are the fault of others. It’s bad enough when you’re a failure from your opponents’ view, but when you become one from your own, you’re really in trouble.
At this point the country has the worst of both worlds. The left cannot get their nirvana of “social justice” with the level of patronage for their clients and the bureaucrats they desire. The right cannot get the victory either; they’re stuck in a country where too many people are of the same style of mind as the President. So we have deterioration and failure on every side.
But my original life lesson from negotiations long ago remains: if you believe that everything in life that goes wrong is someone else’s fault, you’re a failure, even if it really is someone else’s fault. In that respect Barack Obama is a failure. The only thing he is accomplishing is to be the American equivalent of the Roman Emperor Honorius, who presided over the first sack of Rome and the loss of Britain. He had a very long reign, and Barack Obama has a better than even chance of getting his second term. Personally, however, I wouldn’t want to be remembered in that way. Contrary to usual American thinking, the history of this country will be written after it is gone and people will only care about its—and his—success or failure.