The Lame-Duck President

Clarice Feldman knows why he squawks.

It’s all he knows how to do.

[Update a while later]

Thoughts on the brilliant political strategery of Maureen Dowd:

One interesting thing about Ms. Dowd’s description of “hardball” political tactics is just how dainty and genteel her brass knuckle suggestions actually are. A speech, an appeal to reason: there is nothing here about lucrative contracts for political supporters, promises of sinecure jobs for politicians who lose their seats, a “blank check” for administrative backing on some obscure tax loophole that a particular politician could award to a favored client; there’s not even a delicate hint about grand jury investigations that can be stopped in their tracks or compromising photographs or wiretaps that need never see the light of day. Far be it from Ms Dowd to speak of or even hint at the kind of strategy that actual politicians think about when words like ‘hardball’ come to mind. Ms Dowd speaks of brass knuckles and then shows us a doily; at some level it speaks well of Ms. Dowd as a human being that even when she tries she seems unable to come up with an offer someone can’t refuse.

This is more broadly a problem of gentry liberal politics. Gentry liberals desperately want politics to be clean, to be about the “issues.” And they yearn for their heroes to eschew all those nasty tricks of machine politicians. Thus liberal columnists like Dowd give liberal heroes like Obama two contradictory missions: fight the fight cleanly, but win big. Even when she’s buffeting President Obama over the head with her laptop, screaming at him to fight harder and dirtier, she can only think in terms of ineffective gestures, talking points more clearly recited, and speechmaking.

Maureen Dowd will clearly not be in much demand as a political strategist after this column, but the President needs to pay it some attention. Many liberals like Ms. Dowd have extremely unrealistic ideas about where the country stands and how politics work. They genuinely believe that a huge majority (90 percent!) is slavering at the bit to get more liberal legislation passed. They genuinely believe that the presidency is invested with awesome and numinous powers that can translate the will of the 90 percent into sagacious liberal laws without doing anything dirty or distressing.

When, inevitably, reality falls short of their hopes, they don’t re-examine their ideas about how politics work or where the country stands. Instead they blame the President for failing to deliver what he clearly could if only he were willing to try.

The delusions have no end. Not to imply, of course, that the president is competent. But as this failed presidency gets longer in the tooth, the long knives will be out among the Left against its author. Revolutions always eat their own.