Hope, Shoes, and Inertia

On all of this, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to lend a hand to Obama’s transition team and, in the process, help institutionalize the imperial transition itself. Like the new money arrangements pioneered in the 2008 elections, it surely will remain part of the political landscape for the foreseeable future. From such developments in our world, it seems, there’s never any turning back.

There’s nothing strange about all this, of course, if you’re already inside this system. It seems, in fact, too obvious to mention. After all, what president wouldn’t move into the political/governmental house he’s inheriting as efficiently and fully as possible?

The unprecedented size of this imperial pre-presidency, however, signals something else: that what is to come — quite aside from the specific policies adopted by a future Obama administration – will be yet another imperial presidency. (And, by the way, those who expect Congress to suddenly become the player it hasn’t been, wielding power long ceded, are as likely to be disappointed as those who expect a Hillary Clinton State Department renaissance under the budgetary shadow of the Pentagon.)

On January 20th, Barack Obama will be more prepared than any president in recent history to move in and, as everyone now likes to write, “hit the ground running.” But that ground — the bloated executive and the vast national security apparatus that goes with it (as well as the U.S. military garrisons that dot the planet), all further engorged by George W., Dick, and pals — is anything but fertile when it comes to “change.”

Tom Engelhardt, December 08, 2008

I have to admit that I almost– almost– felt sorry for our almost gone and not-to-be-missed president when I saw that shoe toss in Baghdad. He’s been reduced from the most powerful man on earth to a hapless, pathetic clown. It’s an almost too convenient metaphor for his legacy. Sabotage has a shoe-origin, too.

I imagine many people share the shoe tosser’s angry, frustrated exasperation. The thing about a presidency is that it has a certain inertia– it keeps going in the direction it been pushed for a long time, even after a decision to change course. That’s why so many of Obama’s fellow travelers have become so skeptical so quickly.

Given this imperial momentum, in other words, tossing a few shoes might well be a good choice. I am not sure, though, that I am ready to declare disappointment. For one thing, I want to keep my expectations reasonable. A president is just a president, not a revolution, and so there are limits to the sorts of change we can expect.

On the other hand, there’s a Nixon in China scenario here that I think is being ignored. It’s long been recognized that only Nixon could have gone to China; anyone else would have been called a communist sympathizer. We might optimistically hope for the same thing in the Obama administration.

Perhaps only Clinton– known for her Hawkish predilections– can credibly lead a State Department-focused foreign policy. Perhaps only Tom Dashel– as pragmatic as they come– could create a visionary transformation of health care. Perhaps this motley collection of Republicans and Washington insiders can make change work.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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