Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bits o' Bama

Voting for a third party and hoping that Obama is defeated because you think that it will result is The Great Progressive Awakening is like hoping you get cancer because you’d like to lose a few pounds. (TBogg, September 4)
Daily Mail, April 19 2012.
Questions you thought Obama never got asked

Obama gave Jessica Yellin on CNN an interview in which he answered a lot more questions than you might have imagined on the subject of drone strikes, here. I heard about it at Columbia Journalism Review, where there is another, less forthcoming interview.

He doesn't confirm or deny the Kill List, beyond noting that what you see in the papers is not always exactly true, which you probably already guessed. I do wonder how this works. Assuming that Scott Shane is not simply writing fiction on the one hand, but is nothing like an eyewitness on the other, what exactly is it that he gets wrong?

Are Shane's anonymous informants eyewitnesses who are giving him a distorted picture, whether to glorify themselves or the president or to cover their asses against some accusation, perhaps actionable? Is he confusing things himself, because he mishears or because what he hears doesn't match some stereotype he's working with?

I can't make myself imagine a true story that would be similar to Shane's story but different enough to make Shane wrong. (You fool, what is this Thomas Aquinas crap? The president only reads Kierkegaard when he's deciding whom to kill!)

Also from a narratological standpoint, I have no trouble accepting Obama's assurances that the drone strikes are ordered with excruciating care for the protection of the innocent, or of whomever they consider to be innocent. He could be wrong, and there's no question but that the protections fail from time to time, but he's not lying, for whatever that's worth, because why would he? Like Thomas Friedman cares?? It's because he cares himself that he chooses to talk about it. 

I'll be getting to this again and again over the next weeks. But when you're wondering why those cowardly journalists never ask Obama some particular question or other, keep in mind that somebody may actually have done so.

Update 9/9:

Emptywheel's take on the interview is in a headline that bites like the Onion,

Obama Looking for Structures to Ensure He Abides by Rule of Law

as in "I'll stop myself from violating the Constitution if I have to pursue myself to the ends of the earth," and expands the point pretty fairly, I think:
He’s looking for structures and institutional checks to make sure we don’t go down that slippery slope where we forget rule of law. And yet his Administration has repeatedly avoided the one mandated by the Constitution: courts.
Which, according to his own logic, means he’s not using the tool that would best work to keep us safe from terrorism.
Freddie Bartholomew as Little Lord Fauntleroy, 1936, from Stars Color. A much more imaginative account of the picture is found at the unhappily short-lived homepage of the Ministry of Information for the Free Democratic Peoples Republic of Koskovia.
The speech

There were so many really great speeches at the DNC, in such a wealth of different styles, that one started feeling a little sorry for the Republicans, with their plastic faces and Freddie Bartholomew delivery, and their need to repeat the exact Luntz-tested verbage (though I have to admit the Democrats have something of that too, and I sure wish they would start working on an alternative, say, to "marry who they love").

And some no doubt felt that President Obama's speech at the end was a bit of a letdown, sober and un-oratorical, after all those fireworks. But to me the very sobriety was climactic, like the poet speaking at the end of Schumann's Kinderszenen, and then he did give it its big peroration, only very quickly, after that gorgeous apostrophe to "you", meaning us, the people, the agents of change. Tom Junod did a beautiful analysis of this at Charlie Pierce's place.

There were two things I really needed to hear that I heard. One was in the discussion of energy policy, and was really pretty cold comfort:
unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country's energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We're offering a better path - a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet.... And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet - because climate change is not a hoax.   More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.   They're a threat to our children's future. (Transcript by New York Daily News)
Cold comfort in that he seems to see carbon reduction only as a happy byproduct of the quest for energy independence (including "clean coal", safe hydrofracking, and why not unicorns on treadmills?). But at least he remembered to stick it in there, and gave it much of a paragraph.

The other thing was that appeal to Lincoln that has been much spoken of:
And while I'm proud of what we've achieved together, I'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, "I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go."
Remember sunny George W. saying he couldn't think offhand of any mistakes he'd made?  Obama can think of plenty—he just isn't allowed to discuss them in public. But seriously, that means young Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi. It means all the thousands of immigrants that have been hunted down and deported by an insanely overreactive Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It means awful things, no doubt, of which we know nothing and will perhaps never know anything. But just that he feels it—that he's not so psychopathic he can't feel it—means something to me.
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
The mitigating factor is that of self-awareness, which Lincoln had in abundance, and psychopaths wholly lack, and it makes enough of a difference.

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