Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Thoughts on the transition

I've been talking to my students in various contexts this week about the election and President-elect Obama's transition. In today's class, I asked them if they would have hesitated more about their vote if Barack Obama--their Facebook friend--had run on a platform promising to bring back the Clinton team. Some said "sure, the Clinton years were great," which they know only because CNN told them so. Others were less certain. "Where's the change," they wanted to know.

My answer was to point to the article to which I linked above: the federal-level executive experience in the Democratic Party is all linked to the Clintons. No one with any "experience" in politics would have expected anything any different. This is of course compounded by the fact that, not having served in any sort of executive office, President-elect Obama doesn't have any trusted statehouse aides to bring with him. Our bridge to the future is built with ten-year old parts.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I pointed out to another class where we were discussing Bk I, ch. 3 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle says that the young are inapt students of politics. They lack experience, he says, and tend to be ruled by their impulses (which actually characterizes most of us, including a very prominent ex-President, who spoke in Atlanta yeserday). The Obama campaign's emphasis on change--as against those who would say that "you can't do that" because "we've always done it this way" (a reflection either of tradition or nature or both)--was certainly pitched to the young. But, as I pointed out to my class--a mixture of what I've called politikids and what my politikids and I have dubbed apathetikids--Barack Obama and I are much closer in age than he is to them. Aside from a habit much less nasty than that of his Democratic predecessor, he doesn't seem to be a creature of impulse. And his choices so far seem to indicate an appropriate respect for experience. "He's one of us," I told them, pointing to myself, "not one of you."

But there is at least one reason to continue to have one's doubts about Barack Obama's judgment. The cabinet choices he has actually announced have been pretty good--though he has set Hillary Clinton up for a major embarrassment if in the end he doesn't or can't offer her the State Department portfolio--but why, in the face of this pressing economic crisis, hasn't he named a Treasury Secretary yet? Shouldn't that announcement have been among the first ones made, certainly before naming Tom Daschle Secretary of Health and Human Services? And shouldn't the Treasury Secretary in waiting be involved in all the allegedly pressing conversations that are now going on? What's going on here?

Categories > Presidency

Discussions - 11 Comments

OT, but it seems to me that this Rod Dreher piece on the virulent reaction to the victory of prop 8 in my homestate is a must read. The author of the phrase "Culture Wars," James Davison Hunter, had a follow-up book subtitled "before the shooting starts." Looks like the shooting is almost underway in CA.

I think he is waiting on Treasury, Joe, because he means for it to be his "grand finale"--the last thing we are all left to talk about and digest before he transitions into the White House. The last shall be first.

You know . . . the vice O. chooses is interesting too. It's more reflective of the generation of the grandparents of politikids than of the politikids themselves--so it's old. Or perhaps not. Clinton's vice seems like the more youthful (to say nothing of virile) one. But that vice characterized Clinton's generation--which is now old--and (as I've argued before) everything old is new again. Obama out-boomered the boomer generation by taking on their mantle and sloughing off the dead (and scolding) cells. Young people who disdain convention now think smoking is cool again because it's not merely old . . . it's really old. And Absinthe is popular again. Screwing around is merely old--not old enough to be on the vanguard. Plus, Clinton lied about it and all of that was just an obsequious bow to the tired notion of (heterosexual) marriage vows. Not cool. Perhaps if he had embraced it . . . To be cool, you have to take it further--like Greco-Roman further--and only then does it become interesting. But even here, the novelty is in honoring rather than in breaking vows. It's in doing something hard . . . pushing for something bold and bigger than your little narrow interests. Perhaps, if this keeps up, we can argue that the really, really cool thing would be to honor our original vow to Constitutionalism . . . or maybe I should just put down my Absinthe.

Obama is waiting for word from the board at Goldman Sachs before he names the financial dictator. Now let me explain why my generation's apathy is justified. We have lived in the Clinton years, the Bush years. Until the current economic troubles they are not distingiushable outside of 911 and the sacfifices we made at the airport and the realm that used to be refered to as privacy for the greater good. We had proxy wars and minor made for CNN skirmishes under Clinton and that just came to a pinnacle under Bush. We got our pearl harbor event delivered and instead of drafting us all to the cause and taking care of bussiness like our grandfathers we fought a limited war where the media, rather right or wrong, undermined our belief in the cause at every step. Political Correctness continues to be enforced, false climate change theory prsented as fact, and nothing is ever done about the borders, education becomes less personal and more corporate before our eyes, government keeps growing ect ect ect. The will of the public is ignored. During this period we saw a realignments of all Congress and the White House without any major changes in policy. The government lies, lies again, then says the lies were justified by the ends and pundits make excuses for them while dissent is unpartriotic. Now the revolving door from the CRF to the cabnet is moving again and the Clinton Carter people are coming back. Give us a real win if want us kids to believe again. Just one thing in our lifetimes where policy totally changed due to the workings of democracy, and I don't mean rhetorical change or executive order/imperial decree. I really hope that you can come up with something, this is one case where I would love to be totally off base.

I have seen zero evidence that screwing around is going out of style.

Can screwing around go out of style, and if we are going by Aristotle I think screwing around belongs in that category of things beyond praise/style, some things are after all blessed and few men are praised for being happy.

In any case I can't help but to recall an older conversation in which a baby boom was predicted if the economy soured. It is also interesting that VW marketing has been hitting the routan boom commercials, albeit this is somewhat annoying or perverse. I would note that VW has the largest market cap of any automobile company. At one point recently due to a short squeeze it was the most valuable company in the world(It has since proved the shorts right, but being right at the wrong time is almost always a bad thing in the market)

Back to Aristotle, one of the most important(or blessed/fruitfull?) conversations would involve knowing which things are beyond praise and style and thus incapable of being right at the wrong time, or put another way which things are good by nature and thus blessed.

Brutus . . . it's not that screwing around is going "out of style" . . . it's just that as a distinction it has become rather like the brushing of one's teeth. It's so widespread that people (at least those who are not conservative or the victims of it) only seem to remark upon it when it's not done. While no one applauds dirty teeth, however, we do still applaud fidelity (even if we don't expect it). Even so, dirty laundry of this variety has lost its capacity to shock us while dirty teeth (and lungs) are considered shocking and they are scolded. In this, Obama differentiates himself yet again. He defies convention (though he did waffle on this) with his smoking and he neither scolds (at least not too vigorously) nor participates in infidelity--though, clearly, he could. I do not believe that he has waffled on this--nor do I believe he would. And, interestingly, I think that--in his case--there would be widespread shock and disappointment if he did.

Could Obama inspire a strange kind of moral awakening on this front? A moral renaissance from the Left? If you watch the debate over gay marriage, you may notice a shift away from "rights" talk and more toward talk of the need for "commitment." It's interesting. That's all I'm saying.

Please, folks. Let's lose the Obama fandom, shall we?

I can't imagine a world where cheating on a spouse is in the same category as smoking. Smoking is a freedom issue to me. Will it kill me, mabye, but if i like doing it then who cares I have to die of something. When did smoking become such a vice? Mabye we are in a time when fidelity is to be ridiculed as something from a passed era, like religion. If that is the point you are making then I agree that it is very troubling.

Smoking and infidelity have not been on a par in the popular imagination as vices for a long time. Though I don't applaud this, people are far more horrified by smoking. (I never got so many mean comments as when I "defended" Obama's smoking!) Brutus, the point I'm making is that Obama (in an admittedly convoluted sort of way) seems to be moving BACK to an older view where smoking and infidelity are in their proper order as vices. It's convoluted, I say, because with Obama the ordering of these vices seems to be a matter of taste more than one of judgment or morality. He doesn't make any kind of absolute claims--it's just about what he chooses for himself. Maybe everything is, like smoking, really a matter of freedom. Or maybe it's just that Michelle is so easy to love . . . anyway, that's certainly what he seems to convey (and convincingly) when he speaks of her. I do not think people should discount how powerful that image is to the minds and imaginations of so many voters (especially females).

Exactly my point. These mainstream media illuminati talk about those years being great, but who said? And what about them taking their eyes off of Fannie and Freddie?

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