The Non-Power of Words

If even a professional follower of political rhetoric like Westen never realized basic, repeated themes of Obama’s speeches and remarks, how could presidential rhetoric — sorry, “storytelling” — be anywhere near as important as he claims? The clear reality is that Americans pay hardly any attention to what presidents say, and what little they take in, they forget almost immediately. Even Drew Westen.

[Source: Drew Westen's Nonsense | The New Republic] This essay by Jonathan Chait was in response to Drew Westen’s much-circulated op-ed in the NY Times on the Left’s disappointment with Obama. The falsehoods aside, it underscores the American fascination with the seemingly all-powerful executive when it is anything but. The executive’s power was severely curtailed after the Nixon debacle and although Bush tried to bring it back, it ended up being the reason why people hated him so much. People are often obsessed with the idea of a benevolent dictatorship or at least someone who agrees with their worldview. Republicans have no problem when a Republican President signs executive orders but scream tyranny and bemoan Congressional oversight if a Democratic President does so. On the other side, Democrats hated Bush because he often acted unilaterally without consulting them but now insist that Obama act the same way.

As Chait points out, people pointing fingers at Obama for not getting things done fast enough fail to see the various blocking mechanisms that the American Constitution has put into place. E.g. the filibuster that has been used by Republicans on almost every issue however minor so much so that now it regularly needs a 60+ majority to get anything passed in Congress before it reaches his desk. To put things into perspective, the gay marriage legislation in NY state would’ve never passed had it been for a similar filibuster at the state level. To complicate matters, now it is a Republican House that refuses to compromise let alone in good faith and often holds the threat of bringing about the collapse of the world financial markets on our heads. Remember the executive order shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison? Well, the Senate voted 98-0 to disallow moving any prisoners to the U.S. mainland. Is the U.S. also expected to outsource its terror suspects?

The bully pulpit isn’t that unless a bully wields that position. In fact, Kurt Anderson writing at the NY Times this week pointed out that Obama’s failing is that he does not make a convincing ‘madman’. You know things have reached a dismal level when we have to compete to see who makes a better madman. Liberals in America often suffer from this contradiction that they want a reasonable, logical, and intellectual candidate who in reality acts like the candidate the Republicans would nominate. If liberals really want a hard-ass in the White House, they better not pretend otherwise during election time. Otherwise the Republicans and Democrats ought to give up the pretense of liking a democratic process and instead opt for a monarchy that they fought to get rid off. At least then we’ll have the royal wedding to obsesses over instead of some jaded reality stars.