Highly, highly amused. And pleased. But not in the least surprised.
I muttered in a Facebook update a week back that I rather wished that the whole ceremonial part of the Inauguration could be over and done with just so the guy could get to work and, you know, be president. Obviously this is kvetching on my part, people like a grand entertainment and all. Still, much the same way as it’s always been with me given the course of Barack Obama’s striking career these past few years, I felt less like it was some huge massive historical moment for the nation — even though of course it was — than just a feeling that he looked plenty suited for the role, and things would probably go from there.
As we know now, they have. The blizzard of high profile executive orders coming out has captured a lot of attention right off the bat, covering as they did a substantial number of subjects. Meantime, there’s been the various coffee klatches and meetings and more regarding the economy, Joe Biden’s off to Europe doing the ceremonial rounds, George Mitchell’s off to the Middle East to do the harder stuff, Pentagon’s getting visited tomorrow, the cabinet secretaries are all settling in…it’s good stuff, if one wants to see people actually getting busy with the business of government, and I do. Hey, they are the ultimate public servants, after all.
But I’ve been a bit surprised at others’ surprise at it all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not seeing myself as some sort of figured-it-all-out oracle on the subject. Also, anybody complaining on the right about Obama’s executive actions seems to have forgotten who lost the election and all — hey, now you know how a lot of people felt over the past eight years, so my sympathy level is kinda low. So that’s not surprising, that’s just ‘eh, what are you going do’ type stuff. We could be in a stellar economic and geopolitical situation right now and they’d still be complaining, really.
No, what caught me a bit off guard were friends and acquaintances on the left (or the more thoughtful right) surprised that he issued so many orders and so forth that were in line with what he said he would do during the campaign. It got to the point where I had to say I was surprised at their surprise, and when I was called on that a bit — after all, I am a self-declared arch cynic about the process of power and its self-perpetuation — I reflected on that. Quite obviously I have a certain bias to my preferred candidate of the two on offer in November winning, and I didn’t want to assume that I was seeing things strictly through a rose-colored afterglow.
I had to conclude that, quite simply, I had already taken it as read that he would pretty much hit the ground running and do things straight out of the gate, as I hoped he would do. And so it’s proven. One week is still one week, but hey, he ran for the job, got it, and now he’s getting to work. A certain naivete on my part for making that assumption, which easily could not have been the case? I guess, but intellectually I really didn’t have any reason to assume otherwise — my surprise would have been if nothing had happened, or nothing much.
So I’m pleased rather than surprised, because to my mind there was no reason to be surprised if he did all this, and looked to doing more. And as for being amused? Well it’s already the talk of any number of websites, but the various zings, some understated and a couple more upfront, that have been directed by Obama and his crew to various political opponents have all been done with a mixture of deftness and icily precise aim. Both have had as their biggest target one of the biggest of all, a certain R. Limbaugh, who has somehow gotten it into his head that it’s 1993 again and he represents a new and fresh voice opposing all that doesn’t match with his vision of the world instead of, well, representing being a boring crank complaining into his cups. (Admittedly he’s attracted plenty of fellow cranks, but they seem to be drinking even worse rotgut.)
Now personally I’d always figured that the smartest thing to do with him would be to ignore him, under the presumption that engaging with the type of glory hound like that merely makes him all the more flattered. Instead, there’s been a taking-the-bull-by-the-horns approach on the part of the White House, done with this calculation in mind: “Hey, if the GOP wants to be represented by this guy while Obama stands for the Democrats, I don’t think it’s much of a contest.”
The end result has been talked about already in a few spots — try this link from the Moderate Voice for a good enough summary. Obama’s absolutely killer line to GOP opponents in today’s Congressional meetings about inevitable points of fundamental difference — “I understand that and I will watch you on FOX News and feel bad about myself” — is the kind of thing you almost figure only exists in novels and film scripts, and yet there it is. It’s a perfect dare that’s also a shutdown, because how can you react against it if your move has already been anticipated — and dismissed — by your opponent?
And for Rush? Well, more stories like this one, please — and I have a feeling they will increase. To quote from the Moderate Voice story:
…he’s getting lots of ink, Internet attention and broadcast time. But he’s unlikely to be the GOP’s ticket to regaining the support of the public — unless the party wants to write off many independent voters, Democrats who don’t like the Democratic party’s far left, and moderate Republicans who don’t like the way Limbaugh has demonized Republicans who aren’t conservative enough for him. A Rushuplican party would not do well as a thoughtful, bigger umbrella Republican party.
Obama knows this. Rush doesn’t. The contrast is illustrative (and the latter’s followers will need it outlined and explained in great detail in order for them to understand it, I suspect, but let that pass…).
But in the end, one week is one week. One month, one season, one year…we’ll all know more then. So far, though, one hell of a start. Best as ever to keep a line in mind from friend Mackro today: “…there’s less difference between Obama, Clinton, GWB, Bush I, Reagan than most Americans, especially Obama fans, realize.” Quite true, both positively and negatively, I think. The trick will be to see how much or how little difference in the end.