Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.
I don't particularly find myself in agreement with the final paragraph, Mike, and I didn't feel that was the main thrust of what you were talking about, so I kept silent. I don't mind talking about my thinking, here, I only want to be clear that I'm not doing so to be truculent, only to follow up on a request.
I enjoyed his rhetoric during the campaign. I was disturbed about the stories that were coming out about his time at Harvard Law, that he had campaigned for president of the Harvard Law Review by playing up to the left, but that he was unwilling to back up his leftish rhetoric at that time and ended up being fairly cozy with the more rightish folks in the law school. I was nervous that he might do that again.
When people ask psychologists or psychiatrists to predict behavior of people they're giving expert opinions on, you'll often get a statement that says something like, "You really can't predict individual behavior, and it's a mistake to even try." This is true enough, but when you have to do it, for example, when you have to make a decision about whether it's safe to give a patient a day pass or something of that sort, you'll get another story. That story is, "What I said before is true, but if I have to make a decision, then the best predictor of the future is past behavior."
That goes for political behavior as well, I think, and not simply predictions of violence or sexual misbehavior.
If the President faked left and went right at Harvard, it's likely he'd do so in The White House and with the congress. I think it may have to do with not really wanting to alienate people if possible, and especially not wanting to alienate authoritarian sorts of people if he can help it. That's my take on who The President is and where he comes from.
I don't believe that you've got to have run a business or a state to be a successful President. I think that the skill set is different, and that the suggestion that you've got to have that sort of experience before going into politics is a result of the country confusing Democracy and Capitalism. Or believing that the skills of one are the same as the skills of the other. In fact, if you try running a country like a company, the companies in the country tend to become somewhat scared that you may be competing with them, and it's entirely possible that they will try to close your administration down. Capitalistic skills are prized only under specific circumstances; capitalistic skills are skills at making money, and private business wants to make the money. They'd rather the country stay out of the marketplace.
Remember how the various banks got upset when the government decided it wanted to go into the student loan business directly? That was a great capitalistic decision for the government. The government was in the position of actually making money on student loans by cutting out private business as middle men, who wanted to use government money as their own private funding source, to earn interest on at zero risk for themselves. It was like being handed the keys to Fort Knox.
They certainly didn't want any capitalist making the decisions there, though they were willing to say they did so long as they thought that position would get them a pro-business administration. They certainly wouldn't want the real thing actually wanting to put the government on competitive footing with the Pirate Sector (please forgive my little pun).
It's not simply the Republicans who bring the subject up, of course. Anybody who thinks they can get away with making the charge and getting a boost in the votes is likely to do so, I don't care which party they represent. I think it's simply poor reasoning no matter who makes that particular pitch. I don't think it makes any particular difference. You will need people who understand money, but those will probably be economists, who have a better understanding of the whole picture rather than Capitalists, who have some notion about making money.
Countries aren't in business. The purpose of countries is not to turn a profit and to pay money to investors and to minimize the liability of those investors. That's an entirely different language and set of values than the language of politics and country. The meaning and purpose are different. The expertise in one may or may not help in the other.
Lincoln was not a Capitalist, nor was he a distinguished legislator, nor was he more than a member of the House before he became President. By the argument put forward here, he should have been a terrible President. Grant was not a particularly good President by most accounts. He was not a legislator at all, and he was a failure in business. I happen to think that he was a fine General, but we weren't talking about the military as background. Nixon was not a particularly good businessman, Eisenhower was not fond of him as a V.P., and his legislative career was — pardon the pun — Checkered, to say the least.
Nobody can or should even try to take away his achievement in helping to re-open diplomatic relations with China. I don't think a Democrat could have done that politically, only a Republican, and he and Kissinger both deserve a lot of credit for that, and I have spoken up for them often. I have had to, because of other actions that almost destroyed the constitution and even today leave the country in very fragile condition. Again, in my opinion.
I believe that President Obama's time in the Senate was very much affected by the likelihood of his running in the 2008 election. Had he spent time before that in the senate, I don't know what his record would have looked like. I suspect that any record would have made it more difficult for him to run, and the fewer absolutely iron clad votes that he cast, the better off he was politically for 2008. It certainly seemed like a more solid strategy for him that the more identifiable strategy followed by Senator Clinton, which left tracks for opponents to follow and a record for them to point to. It is pretty much the strategy that the Younger President Bush followed — leave no tracks — and it seems to have works as well for President Obama as it did for President Bush Minimus.
The negatives are there to be pointed to, as they are in the paragraph we are discussing; among the positives is the increased possibility of election. Both of the last two Presidents chose the same rough path. You may recall the same criticism was leveled at President Bush when his record was stacked against Al Gore. In both cases, the fact that there really wasn't much of a record and that the two contenders presented themselves as outsiders worked in their favor.
I don't know that they should have; but they did. I think the criticism in this regard in the Times Article simply didn't take this into account. Given the amount of consideration that it may have mobilized in the minds of voters, perhaps it should have been.
As for the suggestion that President Obama didn't do essentially anything before his election to the Presidency, I think we can dismiss that. The amount of rage and the number of pages that Republicans and those who sympathize with them in this area have devoted to The President's concern with community organizing and with ACORN specifically should belie the suggestion of inactivity on the part ,of those who are sympathetic with this position. Those who don't feel sympathy with the right should already be aware of the value of community organization and how it can change the picture on a precinct by precinct basis. The charge that The President did nothing is risible on the face of it for exactly that reason, and the fury of the Republicans at this fairly mild mannered slightly right of center guy is really all the proof that anybody should need.