Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another disillusioned pundit

N.B. I am trekking the Kerry Way in Ireland this week and just slipping in a squib or two from current reading here and there...
After the president signed a controversial bill that most economists believed would worsen a sharp economic slowdown, a former admirer wrote that he
had surrendered everything for nothing. He gave up the leadership of his party. He let his personal authority be flouted. He accepted a wretched and mischievous product of stupidity and greed...
Why? The pundit probed for the President's tragic flaw:
He has the peculiarly modern, in fact, the contemporary American, faith in the power of the human mind and will, acting through organization, to accomplish results...[but] the unreasonableness of mankind if not accounted for in [his] philosophy...in the realm of reason he is an unusually bold man; in teh realm of unreason he is, for a statesman, an exceptionally thin-sknined and easily beweildered man...He can face with equanamity almost any of the difficulties of statesmanship except the open conflict of wills.
That's Walter Lippman, writing about Herbert Hoover in June 1930 after Hoover signed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff, which raised import tariffs to their highest level ever and thus helped push the world into full-blown global depression. David M. Kennedy notes in Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (from which I've taken the Lippman excerpt) that 1000 economists signed a petition urging Hoover to veto the bill.

The similarities between Lippman's lament about Hoover and what many critics of Obama have written after he signed the counter-stimulative debt ceiling deal on August 2 are obvious, and striking. I hope (and would guess) that they ultimately prove to be more or less random and irrelevant. But the specter of a highly intelligent and analytical but politically maladroit president ultimately doomed by half-measures inadequate to the scale of meltdown does I think haunt our political discourse, if not the political reality.

1 comment:

  1. This remains my favorite piece of high-brow Obama criticism: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/07/0082562

    It's an elongated version of this post, essentially.