Obama and the limits of power.

34172269 "“When you listen to Barack Obama, when you really hear him, you witness a very rare thing,” she said in Des Moines. “You witness a politician who has an ear for eloquence and a tongue dipped in the unvarnished truth.”

Winfrey, the television talk show host from Obama’s hometown of Chicago, stood at a podium on a small riser, with the crowd around her on all sides. Obama’s staff said 18,500 people were present, which would make it the largest Iowa event held for a single candidate this year.

In an afternoon rich with religious allusions, Winfrey began by saying she’s nervous in her new role as a political advocate.

“It feels like I’m out of my pew, I’m out of my terrain,” she said."  Quad Cuty Times


Oprah says he is "the one."  The one what?  The messiah, the mahdi,  the tin man, the "leader?"  What is this, "the Matrix?"  Readers here know how uneasy this kind of talk makes me.  We don’t need "men of destiny" for the constitutional job of running the Executive Branch of the federal government and supervising the process of seeing that federal law is enforced.  Contrary to the opinion of the Jacobin neocons and numerous other nationalist "hard cases," the presidency of the United States is a limited job with limited power.

Anyone who thinks that the president of the US is a CEO who runs America like a business enterprise and in who is in charge of all policy greatly over-estimates the power of the office and its ability to control history.  Several inhabitants of that office have learned to their sorrow that they are not elected kings.  GWB just learned it again when a group of relatively "little" people in the intelligence establishment gutted his Iran plans by defying him.  Now his flunkies and allies are going to see if they can turn the gutting knife around and use it on the defiant.  They should take care.  They may end up like the white-tails I used to hang in trees in Maine.  They turned slowly in the wind until you took them down.

Senator Obama was once a law professor.  He should re-read a few things and contemplate the limits of American toleration of those who wish to make radical changes to the way we live.  pl


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29 Responses to Obama and the limits of power.

  1. Ormolov says:

    These are not Obama’s words, Colonel. They’re a talk show host’s (and they make me nervous too). What I like about Obama is that he’s trying hard to come up with a new paradigm or political framework so that he can work outside the normal channels of power, reach across the aisle, etc. He is supposed to be the ultimate deal-maker, not leader.
    No surprise with her hype, though. It’s her job. We just get to be annoyed by the people who care about what she says.

  2. Doran Williams says:

    As someone–Mr. Hitchens, I believe–has already noted, GWB has proven that just about anyone can be President. Hardly “The Messiah, the mahdi, the tin man, the leader…,” but very close to that perfect idiot that HLM predicted we would someday elect.

  3. Jim Schmidt says:

    I could have gone to see Obama last night in Cedar Rapids. I had a green ticket (almost the best seats in the house) given to me by a friend who is both an Obama apostle and precinct captain for Big Grove Township. But, I’ve seen Obama before, (hard to miss in this state), heard his stump speech, read his positions, been working since 4am, hate crowds and the temperature was a balmy 11 degrees F, with a chilly NE breeze, fog, freezing mist, snow and icy, treacherous roads. Therefore, I passed, and I am guilty of neglecting my duty as a citizen in the great state of Iowa and the Republic. Sigh.
    But, I did cheat by watching the proceedings on CNN.Com, while a fire kept me nice and toasty (I love the net) and was represented once removed by my college daughter and her friends who couldn’t resist seeing Oprah in the flesh. I’ll resist the easy temptation to make a cheap joke about just how much flesh that was, but judge the rally for yourself at:
    Other sites may have the entire rally (cspan, etc.), so if you are interested, you can do your own searching.
    In Iowa, the question is not whom you support but whom you plan to caucus with. Caucus with Edwards the callers will say or caucus with Hillary. Caucusing means going out on night like last night to a small, overheated, disorganized room and standing with like-minded neighbors supporting Hillary or Obama until a first headcount determines viability. If your particular group does not make a threshold of 15% – 20% of the room headcount, then your group is not viable and a realignment period occurs where the alpha wolves of the bigger packs wade into your small circle to cajole and recruit.
    Re-alignment is a hunt without the need to field dress and age. Besides, it is frowned on to gut and hang your neighbor in Iowa even when they have it coming.
    The caucus purpose is to elect proportional delegates to the county convention, then the state convention and finally the national convention. After the last count, the floor is open to petitions and airing of grievances (a bit like Festivus). In practice, everyone boogies after the headcount leaving the precinct captions and eccentrics to tidy things up.
    Statewide, maybe 100,000 to 125,000 Democrats participate and 60,000 to 85,000 Republicans. Therefore, the politics are very retail and, after meeting candidates in multiple venues, can be first name personal. These repeating, initially small, one on one meet and greets echoes the collegiality of the beltway without money, power groups and K Street swaying the results.
    This basic process of democracy and accountability to the electorate draws rebuke if not condemnation by pundits such as George Will. Picking a Presidential candidate, according to some, is not a task for unsophisticated rubes in the flyover Midwest. However, since most of the eastern news arrives in the heartland by pony express weeks late, we tend to ignore the opinions of the political class. Besides, the candidates come to us; we are just trying to be friendly, pass the time of day, and listen to what they have to say.
    Now, is Obama a radical candidate, a pup, a messiah, with crazy ideas of governance in need of a thorough review of the American constitution? Well, I am not caucusing with the Senator, but I have not found that he is not much different (platform and positions) from Joe, Hill, Chris, John or even Dennis. Likewise, all of the democrats are much different from the republican candidates.
    For example, the Des Moines Register is doing a good job of compiling candidate’s positions and, if you are interested in such things, visit the following website to review positions or compare viewpoints:
    Compare Candidates on the Issues.
    Personally, I think the Republican positions are more radical in terms of privacy, immigration, national defense and civil rights, but judge for yourself.
    What separates Obama on the campaign trail is his appeal to the romantics and dreamers as an ecumenical candidate, someone who will bridge the divides, heal the wounds, part the seas and lead us all to the land of milk and honey. Obama’s campaign also has a theme of destiny, (The Time is Now), borrowed from MLK, but this goes back to the personal nature of Iowa politics, the enthusiasm of those who are sick and tired of the imperial mindset of GWB and the neocon Jacobins and are looking for a candidate that is intelligence, trustworthy, hopeful and unspoiled.
    Now, as a cynical almost old fart long past salvation, I do not, along with the Colonel, feel a need for a messiah or “Neal”. I often tease my Obama friends about how he should descend not ascend to the stage during rallies and how his “Meets and Greets” should set aside an area for the true believers to touch his garment hem or kiss the signet ring. To his credit, Obama recognizes the exaltation and makes self-deprecating jokes, but his position reminds me of how crowds react to Bill Clinton. Bill draws a large and enthusiastic crowd just like Obama, but is much better at raising the rafters. Bill, coincidentally, is in town for a rally on Monday, the ninth, and I will probably go, if nothing else just to get the Clinton volunteers to stop calling. He does a rally better than anything Hillary can pull off and that is part of her problem.
    Poor Hillary, competent, intelligent, and experienced, just does not connect with voters like Bill did or Obama does now. Part of the problem is she is well guarded, well scripted and is the only democratic candidate to vote for Kyl-Lieberman. Her vote for Kyl-Lieberman and then her almost immediate endorsement of Jim Webb’s amendment requiring Congressional approval of the pending Iran war, was, in my mind a straddle and I’ve had enough straddles.
    So maybe, the Senator could be so generous to share with the electorate what she is for and what she is against instead of gaming the general election. Then, maybe, we can decide if she is trustworthy and worthy of our support. Hillary, after all, has good numbers in New Hampshire, South Carolina and nationally, so she is the likely candidate and the likely next president.
    Again, as an almost old fart, I naturally distrust anyone younger then myself. However, I now have a 26-year-old boss who is green, but decent, three twenty-something kids and a growing sense that, whatever happens I will just have to trust that the kids will figure things out and the Republic will survive. Therefore, I do not fear Obama as a candidate, even though I think he will be green also and his supporters are sometimes one-step short of extending their prayer antennas in praise. This includes Oprah, who may belatedly be atoning for supporting Bush’s PR effort for the war and throwing down on her audience for calling Kenny Pollack a liar (Bill Moyer’s Journal, “Buying the War:
    Obama’s surge, like other surges, may only be an illusion. Obama’s disciples could quickly find themselves spending eight years wandering the desert. However, they are good people, sincere in their desire to help the country, enthusiastic, not fanatical. Why criticize them for seeking the second coming? They are smarter than that.

  4. Vigilante says:

    What’s the beef, Col Lang? Your quotes don’t indicate that Senator Obama is going to allow him self to be led around by the nose by shadowy think tanks or hire inexperienced, incompetent and unschooled yes-men to do any extra-constitutional dirty work for him. Your Oprah citations merely attest to the possibility of Obama having some vision. Nothing wrong with that. If he can be counted upon to put the American express back on its tracks, we can re-start the 21st Century. Part of renewal is NEW.

  5. PeterE says:

    About “Anyone who thinks that the president of the US is a CEO who runs America like a business enterprise and in who is in charge of all policy greatly over-estimates the power of the office and its ability to control history.” I don’t think even CEO’s have much power. A large corporation requires many skills and many types of specific knowledge. It is full of agents acting in their own interests and the interests of their departments. A CEO can crack his whip, but in the end he lacks the knowledge to run the company by himself, and he needs cooperation. This is a fact that economists and students of business administration have written about for almost a century. I get the impression that business journalists have yet to figure it out. Likewise, I don’t think political journalists have figured out your point about the limited powers of the president.

  6. I can never forget returning from my eighteen-month tour in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-1972) only to find a stupefied and gullible American electorate favorably responding to the Republican Party campaign slogan-of-the-day: “Nixon’s the one!” Apparently, the always-elusive meaning of “the one” varies from age to age and place to place, but I rather doubt that Barack Obama, with or without the endorsement of fabulously wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, poses any threat to the Republic so great as either Tricky Dick Nixon or his rabid reactionary apostles — like presidential regent Dick Cheney — who have finally managed to exact their revenge on America for not burning Jane Fonda at the stake and making the McCarthyite 1950s the country’s permanent psychosis.
    If New York Senator You-Know-Her can’t come up with a better celebrity “endorsement” than Barbara (who?) Streisand, I’d say that Senator Obama has already won the soap-opera groupie demographic as well as the dialing-for-dollars “money primary” that Senator You-Know-Her supposedly had locked up a year ago.
    I smell panic in the “very serious people” claque that has so egregiously wrecked not only America’s present but is future as well. Their already-anointed one, Buffaloed Girl herself, turns out to have worse problems than just two accomplished and attractive Black people usurping her corrupt “entitlement” to the American Presidency. She has husband Bubba Bill (last seen boating with Dubya’s daddy), who just couldn’t resist opening his mealy mouth again to lie about “opposing the Iraq War from the beginning” and Saddam Hussein “kicking the weapons inspectors out” in 1998 (which Scott Ritter says never happened) — precisely at the time that revisionist Karl Rove had that lies-when-his-lips-move market all to his Republican self. What an ironic reminder of classic Clintonian prevarication-just-to-keep-in-practice that only adds avoidable insult to self-inflicted injury.
    That Iran NIE report didn’t help You-Know-Her’s “inevitable” campaign, either. Some people learned a thing or two about duplicitous American presidents from The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the whopper-of-them-all: the Iraq Debacle Authorization. Some other people, like New York Senator You-Know-Her, apparently can never learn from either buying known lies or trying to sell them. Time for a new generation of American leaders. The Baby Boomers who intellectually slept through the entire American War on Vietnam because of “other priorities” have had their turn at hawking their “hawkishness” and need to retire now. They’ve done enough damage to just about everyone by “working.”

  7. Stormcrow says:

    Colonel, Obama isn’t going to make “radical changes” to anything. He isn’t the sort that can.
    If there’s anything that has become crystal clear about Obama, it’s that he’s a compromiser. Not by training, but by nature. There’s no bottom to the man.
    If the Democrats nominate Obama, I’ll vote for him. If I have a choice between coming down with double pneumonia or metastatic lung cancer, I’ll pick the pneumonia. For the same basic reason.

  8. rjj says:

    A pity enthusiasm is no longer a nasty epithet.
    Ditto sentiment/sentimentality.

  9. Dave Lewis says:

    Mr. Lang,
    I agree with the gist of your anti-messianic view but, and I think you’ll likely agree with me here, the President as CEO metaphor is more apt than not, IF (and this is a big if) we think of a smaller company CEO, who can be fired for cause.
    A generation ago, the perceived difference between a CEO and those who worked for him was not that great. As the restraints on American power, in military, commercial and cultural terms have become harder to see (they haven’t, in my view, disappeared) CEOs of large corporations, like the President himself, have fallen prey to Lord Acton’s dictum- power corrupts.
    As the restraints on our power become more evident by the day, this process should reverse (hopefully gracefully, but the odds don’t seem to favor that outcome).
    best regards
    ps I enjoy your site and appreciate you sharing your views

  10. Martin K says:

    Col., Jim Smith: Thanx for interesting points.
    From a European point of view, there are two arguments that count for Obama, and a couple against:
    * He represents an alternative to the entrenched powers-that-be channels of influence that seem to be choking the body politic of the US. He seems like a communicator, while Hillary Clinton seems quite ready to keep on the “secret police-state” speech of no comments/vague phrases/spin. Obama seems interested in presenting politics, Clinton to play the machine.
    * He is frank about his lack of foreign experience, but has signalled a very culture sensitive approach on one hand (emphasising growing up partly abroad), and somewhat of a mad-dog approach (Pakistani play) and will so be more of a disussion-partner for the allies than a dictator. (I stand by my stance that the *occupation* of Iraq should have been under british command.)
    In his disadvantage is more or less the same: He is an unknown, and unexperienced.

  11. GWB just learned it again when a group of relatively “little” people in the intelligence establishment gutted his Iran plans by defying him.
    A few months ago I was wondering if the SESers (who came up through the ranks, not appointees) and GS-15s would fight back. I cannot remember the issue, though. My prediction that Iran warmongering would be scuttled by scared Republican politicians was obviously way off course. Thankfully, the SESers and GS-15s came through instead.
    BTW – I’m scheduling an interview for a job in the Sandbox supporting the Marines. If all goes as planned, maybe I can become the SST “reporter” from the field starting in February?

  12. chimneyswift says:

    I think “the one” Oprah is referring to is “the one who can break the color barrier.”
    I share your skepticism regarding much of Obama’s campaign, Col. He does not seem to twant to commit to very much. However, I do not think he is messianic in the sense we have come to dread since Commander Codpiece took office.
    If any see him as a “man of destiny,” it is only in the relatively benign (if not outright positive) sense of being a potential maker of civil rights history in America.

  13. XER says:

    I majored in Con Law. Rarely do I have a discussion with a lawyer that knows anything about the constitution and it’s history.
    I know many people who buy into statements like, “Bill Clinton was busy running the country.” I think this has been brought up on this site in the past. I think people’s belief’s about the role of the president have more sway than what the constituton says.

  14. Homer says:

    pl: Now his flunkies and allies are going to see if they can turn the gutting knife around and use it on the defiant
    Do you think that the publicizing of the destruction of the CIA tapes is a counter-strike by America-hating Bushies?
    I found the timing sort of odd.

  15. Tbilisi says:

    Point taken, Col Lang, but I still don’t know which is worse for our republic, a second “man of destiny” or a second corrupt dynasty. In the latter case, Hillary would almost certainly further institutionalize and ingrain the centralizing, universalizing, oligarchic tendencies her husband started and W and Darth hugely accelerated. In the second case, Obama could a) become an even less successful and more destructive utopian revolutionary as Bush, b) try to confront the corrupting powers-that-be and fail and thus perversely validate Bush and provoke a return of an even more destructive anti-constitutionalist leadership in 2012/16, or c) confront these powers, succeed, and restore our republic of honest limited government.
    So, I think this election is just a big gamble. Do you take the sure thing and win in the tiniest way possible (Hillary), or take the chance of a big win, but with 2-1 odds that you’ll lose your house.
    And then there are the Republicans.
    These are the times that test an optimist’s soul.
    Too bad John McCain forgot himself, and too bad Mark Warner didn’t run.

  16. Walrus says:

    Col Lang wrote:
    “GWB just learned it again when a group of relatively “little” people in the intelligence establishment gutted his Iran plans by defying him. Now his flunkies and allies are going to see if they can turn the gutting knife around and use it on the defiant. They should take care. They may end up like the white-tails I used to hang in trees in Maine. They turned slowly in the wind until you took them down.”
    I hope you are right Col. Lang, I once deliberately thwarted the downright evil plan of a very important person, and I know what its like when the knives are out for you in an organisation, and its most unpleasant, to put it mildly.
    The intelligence professionals involved are brave men and they deserve our support, and they certainly have mine, if only from 10,000 miles away.
    The Neocons will use every trick in the book to get one or more of them to recant. I hope none of the Professionals or their families have so much as an unpaid parking ticket, and I hope that their taxes are paid, and expense accounts are correct, since I would imagine that complete audits of the activities and histories of their entire extended families is already underway.

  17. Jose says:

    Colonel, Oprah has no limits…lol
    That statement says more about America than Oprah.

  18. JohnS says:

    The messiah, the mahdi,  the tin man, the “leader?”
    What separates Obama on the campaign trail is his appeal to the romantics and dreamers as an ecumenical candidate, someone who will bridge the divides, heal the wounds, part the seas and lead us all to the land of milk and honey.
    Bingo. As someone somewhere else noted, a Clinton/Edwards head to head would have been far more interesting, and perhaps more productive, for Democrats. Those two candidates are far clearer ideologically and the campaigns would have been much more focused on issues. Obama’s mushy campaign is simply about cult of personality. And his ethereal talk of healing the wounds in Washington completely ignores the biting reality that fevered partisanship will continue to grip the DC beltway as long as the GOP side in both houses of Congress is firmly in the grasp of the radical right, big corporate media (esp the radio) continues to kow tow to them, and Grover Norquist remains GOP ward boss.
    On top of that, Obama’s political instincts are in question now. He recently made two huge unforced political errors. The first was on Social Security. The Democrats spent an entire year fighting back Bush and his minions who were busy trumping up a phony Social Security crisis. The Dems achieved a remarkable degree of unanimity (probably because they realized that without FDR’s popular program in place, their entire reason for being was in jeopardy). So what does Obama do? He resurrects GOP right wing talking points about a phony Social Security crisis handing a huge gift to the GOP in the coming election.
    Then this past week or so, he managed to create another mess by: i. attacking Clinton and Edwards on their right flanks for requiring mandates to achieve universality in health care coverage. ii. attacking progressive NY Times columnist Paul Krugman (one of the only true progs in our entire big corporate media) for pointing out it was a mistake to attack his fellow Democrats’ health plans using GOP talking points.
    This guy makes me genuinely nervous. I think the GOP would eat him for breakfast.

  19. Cloned Poster says:

    I have the feeling that Obama is the chosen one to be assasinated by “islamic” terra fundies…. And VP Hilary bombs Iran.

  20. ayla says:

    Didn’t Obama make a speech at AIPAC just after the 2006 election along with hillary, dick cheney, pelosi, reid, edwards?
    How can anyone who speaks at AIPAC and gushes over the forced colonial relationship with Israel even be considered for president.
    If Waxman is a member of AIPAC then all who testified before him in secret session and all of the whistleblowers’ personal information is in jeopardy.
    When will you write about Jonathan Pollard, Rosen and other duel-citizenship traitors?
    Iran War: American Military Versus Israel Firsters

  21. Babak Makkinejad says:

    “If the people have a sense of moderation and responsibility, and are most careful guardians of the common weal, it is right to enact a law allowing such a people to choose their own magistrates for the government of the commonwealth.
    But if, as time goes on, the same people become so corrupt as to sell their votes, and entrust the government to scoundrels and criminals, then the right of appointing their public officials is properly forfeited by such a people, and the choice devolves upon a few good men.”
    Saint Thomas of Aquinas
    Summa Theol., 1a2ae, q. XCVII, art. 1

  22. Martin K says:

    Since Im getting to be somewhat of a Kremlinologist when it comes to US policies, Id be interested in hearing who exactly owns Obama. Where is his money coming from? Etc.

  23. shepherd says:

    I haven’t seen any evidence that Obama considers himself a messianic leader. His own proposals are mundane and practical. But there is a danger in the fact that his supporters, like Ms. Winfrew, expect him to lead us out of whatever wilderness they think we’re in. That kind of vague longing precludes a rational assessment of his faults.

  24. Richard Whitman says:

    If Obama gets the Democratic nomination and Huckabee gets the Republican nomination, it leaves the field wide open for a serious Third Party candidate. Any ambitions, Col. Lang??

  25. rjj says:

    That kind of vague longing precludes a rational assessment of his faults.
    I read that as that kind of longing is a prelude to an obsession with his faults.
    Does this stop those pesky italics?

  26. taters says:

    I have a hard time believing that HRC would be among those who support bombing Iran. Her advisor on Iran (and other areas)is Wes Clark – who started StopIran War through VoteVets.
    I happen to believe that HRC’s vote on Kyl-Lieberman was a shot across the bow to Iran, to let them know that this admin. and its supporters will use the flimsiest of excuses to start war with Iran.
    Do I know this for a fact? No.

  27. Jim Schmidt says:

    “Since Im getting to be somewhat of a Kremlinologist when it comes to US policies, Id be interested in hearing who exactly owns Obama. Where is his money coming from? Etc.” Martin K
    Back story:
    Search Engine:
    Mother Lode:

  28. Will says:

    via GPC (have no idear who he is) from the friday lunch club) our Afghani Khalizad is quoted in Haaretz as saying with the NIE we have scored a [soccer] Goal against ourselves.
    In the same article,
    it can be seen as politicos begin to inject themselves in the intelligence process
    “Republican Senator John Ensign plans to introduce legislation to create a bipartisan commission to produce an alternative report on the same intelligence.
    “We just see politics injected into this,” said Tory Mazzola, Ensign’s spokesman. “When it comes to national security we really need to remove politics. We’re saying, let’s take a second look.” ”

  29. Pudentilla says:

    You may have missed the boat on this one. “Are you the one” is a quote from the novel (by Ernest J. Gaines) and later tv movie, “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” I think the allusion Oprah was making was perhaps, at once, more focalized in african american history, and more suggestive of the possibilities for an american politics beyond race than your characterization of the remark as calling for a “messianic” leader allows.
    I’m not an Obama supporter, but fairness requires noting that Oprah’s rhetorical gesture was significantly more complex than you admit.

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