Wednesday, October 2, 2019

I called the Obama Administration 8 months into his first term

I posted this ten years ago, after the first few months of Obama's first term.  It's held up really well over the intervening ten years.  The Trump presidency casts  things into even sharper focus.  With the benefit of this "compare and contrast" I would add the following about Obama which pretty much kept him from accomplishing anything at all in 8 years:

  • Obama never did anything except run for office.  Trump, while not a self-made millionaire/billionaire tried and failed at many things over his career.  He learned from those and used them to succeed at many more things.  Obama entirely lacked this perspective.
  • Trump's goals are tangible, Obama's goals were ideological.  This lets Trump look to make deals with the other side, but prevented Obama from doing the same.  Obamacare passing on a party-line vote using reconciliation to get a half-done bill enacted after Ted Kennedy's Senate seat was won by a Republican tells you everything you need to know about Obama's desire to negotiate.
  • It is impossible to see Obama's Iranian deal as anything other than Obama being ideologically determined to weaken this country and to the Iranians smelling weakness.  That part of the old post holds up really well.
  • The Democratic Party looked to Obama to bring victory, and his administrations were a series of epic electoral disasters, at both the federal and state levels.  The analogy in the post is particularly solid.
But we hadn't seen either of these when I wrote this post.  However, both of these reinforce my assessment of Obama in October 2009.  Perhaps the only mistake I made in the post was offering too much of the benefit of the doubt to the man.  I put it down to incompetence, when it was the inability to work with others.

Originally posted October 2, 2009


The Battle of Maldon is probably the second oldest epic poem in the English language (only Beowulf is older). It tells the tale of Earl Britnoth, who fell in battle against the invading Vikings in 991 AD. The poem is so old that it is in Old English, the still Germanic root of our current language. J.R.R. Tolkein was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature, and published a translation of the poem.

A story this old only survives if it speaks to something deep in the soul of the people of the time. What spoke to them was how Britnoth's hearth companions - his bodyguard, his huskarls - fought to the death over their slain lord's body. Despite the victory, the Viking army was so mauled that it sailed for home. People remembered their sacrifice because it stood in stark contrast to the cowardly actions of the king.

The 970s were the high water mark of the Anglo-Saxon empire. King Edgar was overlord - Emperor, really - of lesser kings in a united Britain. The realm was powerful, feared, and so at peace.

Until Ethelred the Unready. Coming to the throne as a boy in 979 when his brother Edward was murdered, he had to rely on advisers to defend his kingdom during the 980s. It was a brutal era, and it didn't take long for predictors to start stalking the weakened kingdom.

Ethelred means "noble counsel", from the root raed (council, advice). The Anglo-Saxons were great lovers of puns, and it was gallows humor that gave his nickname: unraed - "no council" - from which we get Unready.

Ethelred! Ethelred!
Spent his royal life in bed;
one shoe off and one shoe on,
greatly loved by everyone.
Ethelred couldn't make up his mind - he couldn't formulate a plan and stick to it. And so he dithered: strong for a time until he met some minor difficulty, then weak when he could have pressed his enemies and won. They smelled blood, and what had started in the 970s as small plunder raids turned into all out invasions by Viking armies intent on inflicting the maximum damage possible.

They were after Danegeld - a ransom for them to go away. Rather than doing their own plundering, they got Ethelred to do it for them: collect taxes to pay them off. The problem, of course is well known.  Once you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane. Ethelred found the price kept rising: 10,000 pounds (992), 16,000 (994), 24,000 (1002), 36,000 (1007), 48,000 (1012). At this point, the Vikings wanted the whole prize, and Ethelred had to flee to France the next year.

His cruelty - such as his order to kill all male Danes in his kingdom in 1002 - was something his people could tolerate; indeed, it was a cruel time. His fecklessness was a different story, because he couldn't provide what all leaders must: victory. He couldn't win. Coming to the throne too young, he never learned how to lead.

We're seeing this today, in the Oval Office. The Obama administration is long on promises, but short on victories. They rammed the "stimulus" through Congress (we can blame the Bush administration for the Bank bailout), but since then their agenda has stalled. Cap and Trade is languishing in committee, unlikely to pass. His Health care plan is a shambles, with five competing plans and a fragmented Democratic party that smells defeat in the 2010 elections. We see the echo of Ethelred here: no mandate to buy insurance (candidate Obama), a mandate that people must buy it (today), a required "public option" (April), no required public option (today).

His foreign policy is a disaster: retreat from the Russians (no missile defense in eastern Europe), no sanctions for Iran (even the French are disgusted), retreat from victory in Afghanistan, unable to convince the International Olympic Committee to pick Chicago.

The more people see him - at home and abroad - the less they fear him. Like Ethelred, he may have a ruthless streak, but in October - what should be the high water mark of his power and influence - he seems unready. He thinks too highly of himself but he doesn't know how to accomplish his goals, he keeps changing his goals, his enemies are increasingly confident, and he surrounds himself with unraed - bad council.

We've seen this story before, and it doesn't end well.  
þa wearð afeallen þæs folces ealdor, Æþelredes eorl;

Then was the folk’s prince fallen,
Ethelred’s earl. All saw there,
his hearth-companions, that their lord lay.
Then valiant thegns went forth there,

men undaunted eagerly hastened:
they all wished, then, one of two things—
to leave life or loved one avenge.
Britnoth's headless body was brought back to Ely Cathedral, where he lies to this day. On his tomb is carved BRITHNOTHUS, NORTHUMBRIORUM DUX, PRAELIO CAESUS A DANIS A.D. DCCCCXCI. "Britnoth, Duke of Northumbria. He fell in battle against the Danes in the Year of Our Lord 991".

Sacrificed by a feckless leader. May we fare better.


Glen Filthie said...

To be fair that was a slam dunk easy prediction BP. I called Obutthole before he ever took office. I read part of “The Audacity Of Hope” to get a sense of the man... and saw him for the token he was long before the gaffes and failures started piling up. As it went then, so it goes today. With the possible exception as Biden as a geriatric token, that’s all the rest of them are: tokens of one stripe or another. You can’t run a political party, much less a nation with people like that.

Fact is... compared to what the Donks offer up today... The Gay Mullatto is the picture of competence and intellect.

HMS Defiant said...

His men no doubt fought to the death because they knew their enemy. Survive the fight only to earn the blood eagle. I think I'd rather go down with my axe in my hand. Kipling captured the tenor of it on Afghanistan and I don't know a man that would surrender alive to the Daesh or Sulafi. Not worth it.

Beans said...

And almost a hundred years later, another ineffectual English king would die, leaving his kingdom in turmoil.

Harold Godwinson would be elected King by the Saxon nobles.

Harald Hardrada had blood ties to the throne, and Harold's cousin at his side.

William of Normandy had blood ties through Edward the Confessor's mother, and (supposedly) Harold Godwinson's sworn support (sworn over saints' bones, supposedly, we know this from the Norman's side (Bayeaux tapestry)) as the valid successor to Edward, plus he had Edward's word, sworn in front of Saxon nobles, of the claim to the throne.

Harald would die at Stamford Bridge, with most of his men unarmored as the Saxons tricked Harald and his people into thinking the local town was surrendering.

Harold Godwinson would die at Hastings, supposedly with an arrow in the eye.

William would go to unite all of England, force Scotland to yield, and begin the subjugation of Ireland and Wales.

If Edward the Confessor had been more of a leader, a straight succession of one of the three would have occurred, and not left 1066 as the Year of War (Harold had to subjugate several local claims and rebellions before he faced Harald and William.)

Feckless leaders. Screwing up societies from Day 1.

Ken said...

Can you imagine anyone around this crop of Lao Donks (or the GOPe, for that matter) declaiming, "Will shall be sterner, heart the bolder, spirit the greater while our strength lessens."

Although breaking the Antifa shieldwall is fun to contemplate....