Sunday, December 1, 2013


The unpleasant debate regarding universal healthcare is, in reality, more complex than the decibels pro and contra which hijacked the "heart of the matter."  President Obama has, willingly or not, set in motion what some perceive as a correction of the American psyche.  By doing so, the extremes occupy the "conversation."  The record of the current administration has become an afterthought, overshadowed by an often paranoid larger dispute between Democrats and Republicans. The gridlock in Washington is widening by the day, absorbing former civility and rational thinking. The healthcare battle is more an alibi (the website will work eventually.)  It is the tip of a larger political iceberg, a veil covering a debate over the existential direction the United States will take internally (redistribution) and externally ("pragmatic stick" versus "big stick.")

The dispute being waged is over a fundamental differential between the adherents of less and the proponents of more.  The public does not always realize what they are marching for or against, but senses intuitively that what is at stake is a "reformation", which unsettles some and is felt as contrary to the more familiar Thatcher/Reagan "happy-feel" Anglo sphere.  One hears many misplaced arguments, accusing Obama of standing in the way of the continuation of an American "experiment" based on individual principles, a form of Deism and bottom-up entrepreneurship. Hence the accusations of socialism (few know what this covers), Euro copycat, and indifference towards religion.   

The administration has a flawed defense or attack strategy, insofar as it seems too often aloof and unwilling to engage on the core issues, which loom much larger than "glitches." Overall, the White House has often been an unwilling communicator, both on internal and external affairs. It should engage Congress and mobilized public opinion gurus and intellectuals so that its bona fide agenda can be clarified.  Instead, it uses Congress when it shouldn't (on immigration) and ignores it when it should (on healthcare).  With regard to other issues (Benghazi, IRS, intelligence, Iran, Afghanistan, the pivot towards Asia), the Obama inner-circle fails equally to come forward with a coherent narrative (which is probably there, confined to the inner sanctum). It is losing favor because it is seen as snobbish almost, unwilling to explain or to entertain.  In this vacuum there is plenty of room for legitimate criticism, but also for a perverse personalized hatred, unlike anything we have seen before (Kennedy comes close).

All this is worrisome. America is still the world's steward.  From the relief to the Philippines, the tensions in the East and South China Seas, Iran, the former Arab Spring, the American role is surpassed by none. The growing American energy independence might push the United States to become more distant, not by necessity but by choice. Such a move could further boost isolationism, at a time where a world in tatters and with divergent agendas needs a leader and arbiter. America might no longer be alone as was the case after the end of the Cold War, but it remains ubiquitous by its presence and absence alike.

I still believe that the President has better intentions which can appear, admittedly so, too over-intellectualized.  He is a particular persona.  Remember the Obama from the first presidential debate in 2012?  He looked uninterested, bored, almost despising the explanations he was supposed to deliver.  He only got his mojo back after a collective SOS from his own panicked staff. Too often he retreats into academic ruminating, forgetting that politics are mostly about praxis.  Republicans should not be marginalized, otherwise they will fall prey to their parochial right-wing and become a party of bygones.  Obama should not be misunderstood.  There is fire in this glacier but it needs ignition. The Democrats still have lots of ways to trap Republicans who think that the mid-term elections will be a slam-dunk.  It is too early to predict. The doomsday spin-doctors of the Tea Party better start to argue in a more sophisticated manner some of the acceptable issues they pretend to defend.  It is not enough to be right, one has to sound it too.

The debate between the rights of government and the states is as old as the Federalist Papers and the rift between Jefferson and Hamilton. The added moral and intellectual values thereof should not be left to amateurs, soundbites or unpredictable "iconoclasts." If the discussion does not attain the level it deserves, it might lead to social dysfunction and populism. The President should enter and own the issues before it is too late. He still has a lot going for him but he is running against the clock. The country is not in a foreign policy mood and his possible success there will remain obscure as long as internal matters remain in limbo. He needs the Republicans to tackle immigration, climate change, debt, and the shutdown.  Only the combination of a bi-partisan double and fast-track on such matters as foreign and internal policies or free trade agreements can bring some respite.  The choice is simple:  to choose to engage or to continue to ignore. William Styron's "Darkness Visible" might be recommended reading.

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