Thursday, January 21, 2010

Obama and the Tragedy of Hope

On his blog at the New York Review of Books website, Garry Wills, who in the past has brilliantly analyzed Obama's rise to prominence, writes a despairing essay about Obama's first year. I posted a response to Wills beneath his essay; both the essay and my comment can be found at this link:

NYRblog - After Massachusetts: His Hopes Did Him In - The New York Review of Books

The gist of my observation, particularly regarding Gov. Schwarzenegger and his struggles in Sacramento, was influenced by a fascinating (if almost comically repetitive) book by former Republican state Assemblyman William Bagley titled California's Golden Years: When California Worked and Why.

Bagley's argument can be summarized in one sentence: If you want a government that works, don't elect ideologues; they don't know how to govern.

An interview with Bagley, which nicely conveys his straightforward exuberance, can be heard here:

Unlike Obama's predecessor, and to the continuing frustration of the liberal ideologues among those who elected him, our current president didn't arrive in Washington and immediately dictate to Congress what to do and how to do it. Instead, he arrived and said: Legislate. He asked his former colleagues to collaborate in the act of governance. He said, Write a bill, debate the bill, pass the bill, and bring it to me. He asked them, in short, to be public servants and to act like adults.

But with Republicans, seemingly without exception, simply refusing to govern—they do not, after all, as they'll tell you themselves, presently believe in government—and with Democrats clumsily struggling with the cacophony of voices that has historically been the Party's moral strength, Congress has been unable to govern.

Democrats now want Obama to rule like Bush. They want him to become what Obama has worked to reverse: the American President as King, as despot, ruling with no tolerance for deviation, ideologically pure, deaf to opposition, above—indifferent to—the law.

This excellent article from The New Republic nicely articulates both the logic and the contradictions of Obama's approach:

So the question presents itself—for both California and the nation: If our legislators decline the invitations of the Executive Branch to govern, abdicating their constitutional and moral duty as members of the Legislative Branch, if they continue to substitute obstructionism and ideological intransigence for collaborative governance, will the Republic survive?

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