The Obama Moment: Kennedy, Roosevelt, Lincoln . . . or Carter and Ford? Bring in Tammy Duckworth
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 11/13/08
Here at The Hill, an interview with Dr. Herbert London of the Hudson Institute offered a succinct perspective of our transitional moment. Wall Street and the financial markets have been nationalized, he points out, but you would have to wonder: What happens to the automobile industry? What happens to the airlines industry? Where does it stop? How much does the government own?
Hard to tell right now. Will the Democrats with their mandate temper these visions by reaching out across the isle?
They don’t need to, London points out.
“There is no question that the Democrats have come to dominate. It’s their moment.”
It is that last; the “. . . their moment . . .” part that might be looked at.
Will Obama bring lasting change to the country? Or will the Obama Presidency be a brief power interlude; a moment or relief, possibly enrichment and perhaps entertainment between power surges?
There have been moments like this before and it has always been the Democrats providing the entertainment. Like at the end of the “century of total warfare” as French philosopher Raymond Aaron called it, when Eisenhower finally stabilized a world torn apart and tentatively turned the keys over to a charming Irish Catholic with little to no actual experience in management.
Then again at the end of the war in Vietnam when the country was violent and divided, as Henry Kissinger said, to the point of civil war. Then purging the demons at Watergate, we suddenly discovered Sam Irvin, an old North Carolina country lawyer, and his side kick Howard Baker, the Senator from Tennessee. We found with these two a corner of our collective heart or mind that we’d not fully awakened to before and it was a pleasant valley and a refreshing interlude. Irvin and Baker were country before it was cool, but soon it would be when a Sunday School teacher from Georgia and his folkloric brother Billy and their God-fearing mother took the White House.
But that was only a moment as well and after we recovered from Vietnam, with its terrifying images of burning college campuses, burning Buddhist monks and burning children, we quickly moved again back to the power path. Ronald Reagan brought in the next phase and turning East in a more productive way than with warfare, we rose to an abiding stride in the post-war power and economic cycle.
Politics is about power and the management of power but power has its moments of transitions or “betweens.”
The question is will Obama, with his charming wife and lovely daughters in the White House; with his light blue aura and deft touch and joyful smile - will he heal us for a year or two until we get back to speed again? Or will he bring something more lasting to us which we can’t yet see?
I don’t think Obama will go ahead and nationalized everything. His Chicago friends probably want him to and so do Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. But they are provincials still living in the last millennium. Obama is not. And the Clinton/Gore crowd – both politicians and press - are merely generational figures whose time has passed – they just haven’t figured it out yet. Obama is not so narrow, provincial and exclusively generational as any of his supporters and advisers are. Nor was Kennedy. Nor was Carter.
Obama is both smart and instinctive. Smarter than any Democrat I’ve seen in my lifetime, and possibly with an overview as good as Eisenhower’s. By which I mean his vision of the world is a personal one acquired through life experience and is more comprehensive, idiosyncratic and non-ideological than that of any of his advisors. This Presidency will not be the kind of pseudo-monarchy run by a hired agency like we have been seeing in recent years: Obama will not have to hire Dick Morris to run the world for him as Bill Clinton did, or as Bush did with Karl Rove or as Hillary would certainly have done with Mark Penn. He himself will be in control.
Certainly the weakest among Obama’s supporters see him as a messiah, but he does not see himself as The One. There are babies being named Barack today, but I had childhood friends named Ike. Also like Eisenhower, he understands that virtually all of his advisors are agents of their particular agenda. And a burden that Eisenhower didn’t carry; at least 30% of Obama’s supporters want revenge for something and see him as their vindicator. He doesn’t have that gene.
What makes Obama interesting – again like Eisenhower – is that he is not really personally beholden to any of these agenda. He even seems immune to them. These are afflictions which always tail any famous person – the horde always wants messiah to be as common as they are.
But this is where the river has brought Obama and no matter what he hopes to accomplish, his options may be limited by the particular history of his moment. ‘Twas ever thus.
The moments in between power surges are when we come back to ourselves. Then we start again. This could be the task that history has handed Obama.
Our day today strangely resembles the mid-to-late Seventies; a transitional power link which featured Jimmy Carter and Gerry Ford. It was all world’s-going-to-end back then, then it suddenly awakened. There were long gas lines. Then gas was almost free, like it is today. There was energy shortage, then they tapped into the North Slope. And again today federal scientists have concluded that Alaska’s North Slope holds one of the nations’ largest deposits of recoverable natural gas. There was widespread talk that the Republican party was dead, then it came back to life. Then there was talk that the Democratic Party was dead and for a long time it was.
President Carter’s good service was in making the liberal group an idea again and taking it out of the House of Kennedy. Obama could likewise take liberalism out of the House of Clinton.
The Republicans are not as dead as they say and there are some live ones on the horizon. The woman in the red dress has sent ruling class pundits and politicians alike into an apoplectic tailspin. The Eastern Establishment of both parties is quaking. But Bobby Jindal, who governs well in Louisiana, is in the wings. And Mitt Romney, whose investment company liberal politicians hire to run their affairs. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even Mike Huckabee, who is friends with Chuck Norris.
And just in case Obama does attempt to nationalize everything, Richard Viguerie, who made the Christian Coalition a formidable political entity, is working on a “Third Force” which could fit in well with Ron Paul’s outlook, and the fiscal collapse has brought Paul out from the perimeter. He regularly appears now on Fox and CNN and should not be underestimated.
We hear this morning that American soldiers are being ordered to abandon urban areas of Iraq taken with much blood, fire and treasure. The picture of helicopters lifting off the roofs of embassies at the fall of Saigon comes to mind, with people hanging and falling from their runners. It is conditioned reflex from a Gerry Ford moment. In his moment, Obama could face a fate like President Ford, who “ . . . got us out of Vietnam” when it was time to go.
That will be his trickiest task and it may be an unforgiving one. Because people don’t like to lose a war. They don’t like even the appearance of losing. And if terror returns to the regions we leave, our long efforts could appear to be futile. And military failure leaves a mythic scar and poisons the collective will, sending new generations to seek redemption or revenge, sometimes over centuries. It puts black flags up there in the town common with Old Glory.
President Ford was called a “healer.” And for his compassionate and humane work he is almost forgotten.
And this could be Obama’s fate as well if it doesn’t go right. It was wonderful to see him paying homage to the fallen on Veterans Day, hand-in-hand with Tammy Duckworth, the heroic army major who was blown almost to bits in a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq. This formidable and indomitable woman could help Obama with his unenviable but necessary task.