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    School’s out

    Posted by Sean at 14:09, January 7th, 2010

    Okay, so I’m as against statism as any Tea Party attendee, but can people please knock it off with the coarse, blanket hating on “Ivy Leaguers”? I know what you’re trying to say, and there’s plenty to it. Scratch the CV of a high-handed technocrat, and you’ll frequently find the letters y, a, l, and e in sequence somewhere. A lot of people dismissed Sarah Palin out of hand because her degree was from a school in Idaho. (It hardly mattered which one; no real person, this line of thinking runs, goes to Idaho for school. Unless maybe it’s ski school.) We’re all sick and tired of hearing how Obama’s Higher Being-ness is related to his bachelor’s from Columbia and law degree from Harvard. Fine. Points taken.

    But “Ivy League” refers to a specific athletic conference of eight specific schools. The University of Chicago is not Ivy League. Stanford is not Ivy League. Duke is not Ivy League. Neither is Johns Hopkins or Georgetown or Amherst or Swarthmore or any of the Seven Sisters, each of which is at least in the right region. The left-leaning big-government types churned out by those schools are every bit as ideologically committed as those churned out by Brown, but they are not Ivy League.

    Does that really matter? For the purposes of the arguments being made, not really. Nanny-statism sucks on its own terms. And yes, I went to Penn (the universally recognized safety Ivy in my day, but an Ivy nonetheless) and Columbia, and that may be the major reason I’m noticing; at the same time, I notice a lot of things that don’t particularly bother me because they don’t seem to represent any troubling tendencies. This, I think, in its own small way, does. These rants tend to come from the sort of people who get testy when you refer to Texans as “Southerners,” or mainstream Protestants as “Evangelicals,” or gun-rights supporters as militia members, and I don’t see why imprecision matters in one direction and not in the other. If sloppy name-calling is wrong, it’s wrong for everyone, and it’s good for all of us to try, even in the details, to be as scrupulously accurate as we can and not to throw terms around when we’re not reasonably sure we know what they mean.

    If you’re starting to feel as if I were stomping all over your fun, let me hasten to remind you that Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer, Al Gore, and a host of other hopeless ninnies with earl-churl complexes really did go to Harvard et al., which means you can, with perfect justification, rail at them as being Ivy League ninnies with earl-churl complexes if you like. Nancy Pelosi (Trinity), Rahm Emanuel (Sarah Lawrence [!]), Robert Gibbs (North Carolina State), and others, you will have to be content with damning for their beliefs. And really, aren’t they enough?

    You got me feeling crazy ’bout my body

    Posted by Sean at 21:57, January 5th, 2010

    E.J. Dionne is such a reliable defender of interventionist government that it’s hardly a surprise that he cares more about whether a health-care bill is passed than about trivialities such as what it will force us to do, but it’s still astonishing for him to say so quite this directly (via Hit and Run):

    The whole plan got discredited in the, in the minds of some people because the legislative process looks really awful. And the more the focus was on the legislative process, the more people said, “What’s going on here?” Once they pass a plan, you can actually talk about a plan.

    I guess it’s kind of the reverse-Foucault model of legislation: through coming into being, it allows you to start articulating it in language.

    Seriously, what next? Does the United States Congress propose to start passing bills that consist of nothing but titles identifying what they’ll be regulating, with all actual stipulations to be worked out at leisure when things aren’t so busy? One wouldn’t want to (ahem) tax such self-abnegating public servants, who are already gracious enough to boss us around for our own good in so many other areas of American life, with the necessity of being transparent about what the new health-care machine consists of before they vote on it. As Reason‘s Nick Gillespie says:

    The legislative process in this case “looks really awful” because it is really awful, filled with special deals, obfuscatory language, shady cost estimates, and worse. Barack Obama, fer chrissakes, gave a whole big talk about the need for reform a few months back, where he resolutely refused to make anything clear other than whatever happens will both taste great and be less filling.

    Gillespie snidely notes that “celebrity plagiarist and historian” Doris Kearns Goodwin was on the panel also, but I think his tone is altogether too unsympathetic: when a woman professes to be unable to figure out which note cards were her own lightning bolts of inspiration and which were copied from published sources, you can’t exactly blame her for scrupling to criticize a bill consisting of a bunch of crap of unknown provenance.

    Added after a restful night’s sleep: Here‘s the title reference, to put us all in a better mood:

    The vision thing

    Posted by Sean at 18:18, December 27th, 2009

    Heather Mac Donald goes off on one of my pet peeves: the fake-high-minded contempt for “business” constantly poured out by government officials, most of whom wouldn’t know a life-enhancing innovation if it jumped up and bit ’em in the ass:

    Today it’s insurance and drug companies, tomorrow it’s oil producers, toy companies, banks, chemical manufacturers, or any number of other enterprises that offer necessary or simply life-enhancing products and services. The preening self-righteousness towards for-profit economic activity is not specific to any particular legislative initiative such as “health care reform,” it is part of the psychological make-up of many politicians and huge swathes of educated professionals, including virtually the entire academic world and non-profit sector, the media, and many high-paid lawyers. It is simply unbearable to hear these sheltered senators and congressmen look down upon people who have had the guts to try to create something that other people want to buy; who have had to figure out intricate supply chains and methods of financing; who have had to organize and motivate their employees; and who take financial risks with no guarantee of reward. For the anti-business mindset, the fact that businessmen need to make a profit in order to continue operating renders them prima facie suspect, if it doesn’t outright undercut any claim that they might have to contribute to the public good.

    It is the ingratitude that kills me the most among anti-business types. The materials that furnish a single room in an American home required daring, perseverance, and organizational skill from millions of individuals over generations. I hope they all got filthy rich.

    Mac Donald takes some heat in the comments for not noting that big business is plenty blameworthy when it engages in shenanigans designed to block new entrants and hobble competitors, which I think is a fair point but not one that undermines her basic argument. (The most common way for established behemoths to insulate themselves from market forces, after all, is by enthusiastically supporting legislative efforts to establish licensing and “quality” standards that pile on business expenditures that only large organizations can afford.) The idea that government stands disinterestedly apart from private enterprise, defending the public good and (snarf!) increasing cost efficiency, is a joke. The idea that government power somehow tempers human greed in a way private-sector power does not is an exceedingly odd one, though its obvious why some people have an interest in propagating it.

    And the world can look so sad/Only you make me feel good

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, December 20th, 2009

    I’m really getting sick of hearing how shocked and back-stabbed people feel by President Obama’s betrayals. Now do you understand why we crabby, cynical libertarians keep telling you it’s not a good idea to put implicit trust in politicians, even if they really, really sound like they mean it this time?

    Matt Welch of Reason has a good piece on the subject in the New York Post. I do think he’s wrong about one thing, though:

    When finding themselves on the opposing side of the president’s policy, his former admirers on the left are discovering something that the right has known for a while now: Obama will look you in the eye and lie. When the president said last week that “every health care economist out there” agrees that the reform package includes “whatever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve,” it wasn’t just free marketeers who cried foul.

    “You know it is a lie,” thundered health care writer Jon Walker at the popular progressive Web site FireDogLake. “The PhRMA lobbyists you cut the secret deal they know it is a lie, health care reform experts know it is a lie, and the American people should know it is a lie.”

    For those of us who don’t necessarily take their policy cues from Ralph Nader or FireDogLake, it’s tempting to just sit back and laugh at the festival of left-on-left recriminations. These guys are like Elin Nordegren with a golf club, swinging away at yet another betrayal.

    But let’s also give some credit where it’s due. Conservatives didn’t get around to hating on George W. Bush until after he’d safely been elected to a second term. There were no tea parties in the streets 14 months ago, when the 43rd president rushed through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, on the heels of an eight-year spending and regulatory binge (including vast new medical entitlements) the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Lyndon Johnson. No one eats their own like the Democratic Party. No one does blind loyalty like the Republicans.

    Conservative public figures didn’t start whaling away consistently at Bush until after 2004, no; but it’s useful to remember that they never idolized him to begin with, either. In 2000, Bush was already a compromise candidate. “Not Al Gore” was one of his strongest assets as a politician. Conservatives liked his druggie-rich-kid-finds-God-and-keeps-love-of-good-woman redemption story, they liked the Bush clan’s GOP loyalty, and they liked his stance on gun rights. Many of them approved of government-funded faith-based initiatives. But it was obvious from both his record as Texas governor and his presidential-campaign platform that he wasn’t the man to limit government spending.

    After 9/11, conservatives felt duty-bound to rally around a president who robustly defended America and American interests. There was less debate on the right over, say, the PATRIOT Act than many of us would have liked. Still, I remember quite a bit of criticism for the prescription-drug benefit and, once its provisions were known, for No Child Left Behind. Perhaps those complaints lacked the white-hot fury of betrayal we’re seeing from the left now, but a good reason for that is that the right had known all along that Bush was going to be a mixed bag.

    It’s that part that I just do not understand about current reactions to Obama. People expected him to be a different kind of politician who delivered on his promises. Fine. It’s good to be optimistic. But it’s frightening to encounter so many adults, free to run about loose on the streets, who seem not to have considered it within the realm of possibility that a politician, once in office, might turn his back on supporters, waffle, do 180s, and talk a lot of self-serving nonsense—and who therefore have not steeled themselves to deal with it now that it’s happening. I hate to choose this time of year to sound uncharitable, but I’m finding them hard to sympathize with. Obama gave good speeches that made his supporters feel good about themselves and their own motivations. He had no record of successful policy-making. Now we all get to share in the fun of being whipsawed repeatedly as his administration figures out that it can’t just roll into Washington and change the way politics is done. (Or maybe what it’s discovering is that now that it is the executive branch, it kind of likes that way politics is done.)

    And, of course, it’s not just the executive branch. As things are shaping up, we’re likely to end up with lots of lovely, top-flight health care at reduced costs for everyone! President Obama says of the looming vote on the current health care bill (a gallingly apt word, that), “With today’s developments, it now appears that the American people will have the vote they deserve,” and in many cases, I can’t help thinking he’s right.

    Added after deciding anew that my personal health plan must include several fingers of Scotch while reading the political news: Eric has posted more extensively on the turkey of a health-care bill we’re apparently getting. Best line:

    Maybe they’re planning on passing it first, then writing it later.

    It’s hard to see why they shouldn’t. The prevailing idea seems to be that it’s more important for Washington to ACT NOW! than to get all bogged down with explaining to the electorate what it’s, like, actually going to do and stuff, anyway. Considering how dumb we all are, as evidenced by the pointlessness of having these things open to review in plenty of time before they’re voted on, these people are presumably thanking their lucky stars we were perspicacious enough to see the necessity of electing them.

    Are you ready to jump?

    Added on 21 December: This morning while I was in my last ten minutes of dreaming about limited government (well, and Clive Owen without a shirt on, but he’s off topic), the Unreligious Right was posting about this beaut, also in the New York Post. It starts with the sentence, “I am a baby boomer, which is to say my life has coincided with turbulent and awesome times,” and actually manages to get worse from there. UNRR picks out the, er, choicest bits and draws this conclusion:

    How do you oppose “big government theocrats,” government takeover of health care, the UN and crazy internationalism and vote for Barack Obama?

    If you wonder how we managed to get stuck with Obama as president, look no further than Michael Goodwin, the author of the article I am referencing.

    Again, the most insufferable part—to me, I mean, since I can’t speak for UNRR or anyone else—is the strident tone, with its blend of you-have-no-idea-the-suffering-he’s-causing-me woundedness and I-only-wanted-what’s-best-for-everyone self-righteousness. Bonus points to Michael Godwin for jacking up the egotism by bringing in the Baby-Boomer identity-crisis routine.

    (Thanks to Eric for the link.)

    This is why I do crossword puzzles instead of reading the political news half the time

    Posted by Sean at 14:15, December 16th, 2009

    The reliably insufferable Chuck Schumer—a walking, talking argument for term limits if ever there was one*—apparently got his knickers in a twist over a flight attendant who was following FAA regulations this weekend and was, delightfully, overheard by someone else on the plane showing his true ruling-caste arrogance (via Instapundit):

    According to a House Republican aide who happened to be seated nearby, the notoriously chatty New York Democrat referred to a flight attendant as a “bitch” after she ordered him to turn off his phone before takeoff.

    Schumer and his seatmate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), were chatting on their phones before takeoff when an announcement indicated that it was time to turn off the phones.

    Both senators kept talking.

    According to the GOP aide, a flight attendant then approached Schumer and told him the entire plane was waiting on him to shut down his phone.

    Schumer asked if he could finish his conversation. When the flight attendant said “no,” Schumer ended his call but continued to argue his case.

    He said he was entitled to keep his phone on until the cabin door was closed. The flight attendant said he was obliged to turn it off whenever a flight attendant asked.

    Through her office, Gillibrand said Schumer was “polite” with the flight attendant Sunday and “turned off his phone when asked to.”

    But moments after the flight attendant had told Schumer to shut it off, the phone rang again.

    “It’s Harry Reid calling,” the source quoted Schumer as saying. “I guess health care will have to wait until we land.”

    It’s unsurprising that someone who sailed from undergrad to law school to the State Assembly to the United States House of Representatives to the United States Senate wouldn’t know this, but all those rules that get made in Washington (or Albany)? Little people working in private industry follow them. To my knowledge, the FAA says it’s the operator of the aircraft that gets to determine whether you’re allowed to use your “portable electronic device,” no matter what health-care shenanigans you and Harry Reid are brainstorming over at the time. As always, these people need to be reminded that they work for us. Eric has it exactly right:

    First, we have one of the quintessential champions of massive federal power — a guy whose daily existence consists of figuring out new ways to tell people what to do and how to run their lives — demonstrating for all the world that he does not think the rules should apply to him. It would difficult to find a better example of the pure arrogance of power.

    Second, there’s the rudeness issue.

    Yeah, from the Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, no less. Cad.

    Amy Alkon also identifies what exactly it is that Schumer probably “regrets.” (Hint: It’s not his unseemly behavior.)

    * And he’s only on his second senate term, I think.


    Also via Instapundit (and Ace of Spades), another mask-slip, this one alerting AndrewSullivan.com readers to the fact that Sullivan himself doesn’t post everything that appears on the site:

    As always [writes Patrick Appel], it a pleasure to step in while Andrew gets some much needed rest. Guest-blogging is not all that different than my day-to-day activities on the Dish – 24 of the 50 posts currently on the front page were written by me. All the substantive posts are Andrew’s work, but it’s my and Chris’s job to read through the blogosphere and pick out the choicest bits. Andrew edits, approves, and spins what we find, but the illusion of an all-reading blogger is maintained by employing two extra sets of eyes.

    Appel seems puzzled that some readers were taken aback at this revelation, but I’m not sure why. Even he referred to it as “the illusion of an all-reading blogger,” which is a pretty candid acknowledgment that there’s a false front being maintained. In real terms, I doubt it matters very much; it’s been clear for years that Sullivan considers himself a marketable brand, so I don’t see why he shouldn’t have a Sullivan-branded website that others help him maintain. But considering how quick Sullivan (assuming he wrote the posts I’m thinking of—what qualifies as “substantive” over there is clearly a matter of opinion) is to label other people liars, evaders, and what-not, I’d say it behooves him to set us all an example of the transparency he so histrionically professes to hold dear.

    Also, can we please not hear any more about Sullivan’s juices, cerebral or otherwise?

    And that excuse about the bylines? (“We tried bylines once and it made the blog read funny. […] Bylines would fracture the solitary voice of the blog.”) Bilge of the lowest quality. If Sullivan or his marinatee thinks he’s going to put it over on us that a 9-point byline tucked under a 13.5-point, bold, color title line is altering the flow of the blog, he has even more contempt for his audience than I thought. Boo.

    High and dry / Out of the rain

    Posted by Sean at 03:49, December 8th, 2009

    Just in case you were looking for more reasons to like John Stossel, here’s a great one: Peter Jennings apparently couldn’t stand him. Via Reason, this Daily Beast interview:

    The late Peter Jennings was embarrassed by you and wouldn’t even look at you when you passed in the hall, and you’d been at ABC since 1981. Did it get increasingly difficult for you to thrive in that corporate environment?

    That didn’t change.  I was on World News Tonight once, I was on Nightline maybe once. There was never an appetite for John Stossel on those programs. And Peter felt he was upholding the objectivity of ABC and I was violating that, I was bad for ABC. What changed was, I had more passion about doing economics. And they had less, and suddenly there was Fox, which had more room.

    On the down side, Stossel apparently lives on the Upper West Side.


    Posted by Sean at 11:08, December 4th, 2009

    Wonderful.  Today President Obama descends on my hometown for part of his “listening tour” on the economy and employment.  I suppose I should be happy:  a day spent jabbering about trying to rearrange the United States economy, as if it were a fort made of Legos, is a day that can’t actually be spent doing it.  And it’ll be fun to see these people trying, say, to eat funnel cake for their photo op without getting powdered sugar on their ties.  All the same, it’s annoying.  Here’s John Stossel:

    Today, the White House holds its “Jobs Summit” stunt. It’s typical Washington-think: Assemble interest groups and concoct special tax credits and handouts to the politically connected. What conceit. The political class think that economies revolve around them, that Washington makes things happen, that politicians are the most important players

    Their micromanagement kills jobs.  When Washington threatens to drastically change the rules of the game with health care mandates, cap and trade, financial regulation, a second stimulus, and (of course) a “jobs bill”, the private sector can’t make investments with any confidence.

    And the most obnoxious part is the way the president has been asking the private sector to “help,” as if its function in job creation were ancillary.  How many of these people would know a lean, profitable operation if it fell on top of them in the street, after all?  Career academics and public-sector employees are not exactly in the position to be chiding entrepreneurs about not getting out there and risking themselves in the hurly-burly of the marketplace.

    Added later: I put together a sentence about this week’s jobs-forum proceedings with one about Obama’s visit to the Lehigh Valley and then forgot to revise it before posting; it’s fixed now, for anyone who saw the error in the original.

    Change of heart

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, December 1st, 2009

    Today, you can’t read any blog anywhere, it seems, without running into a discussion of LGF’s Charles Johnson and his recent climactic statement that he was finally forced to break with the Right. I wasn’t going to post about it—I heard enough conversion stories during my religious upbringing to last me a lifetime, and this one isn’t particularly revealing—but the Unreligious Right has a very well done point-by-point response. His introduction, in part, goes like this:

    Lest any LGF defenders think this is a typical knee-jerk right-wing response, let’s quickly run down some of my positions. I probably agree with Johnson on many issues. For anyone new here, aside from being an atheist, I’m pro-choice, pro-gay marriage & strongly pro-gay rights in general, pro-immigration and in favor of some sort of amnesty for illegals, and pro-legalization of drugs & prostitution. With that out of the way, let’s consider Johnson’s points, and why I laugh at them.

    And then he does. What I most agree with is what I take to be the UNRR’s central point: that even Johnson’s complaints that are legitimate involve nothing whatsoever that’s substantively a new development, so it’s absurd for him to declare now that he feels morally obliged to ditch the right without explaining what’s changed about his own thinking. Seriously, I realize it’s easy for me to say this, being a libertarian who’s alienated from both major parties and ideological poles and all, but in blogosphere terms, the right has been very good to Charles Johnson. If his change of heart is really the product of genuine soul-searching, he’d be doing a service to readers by explaining exactly what he now believes and why it’s different from before. As it stands, he just sounds like an attention-whore.

    You really shouldn’t have

    Posted by Sean at 01:53, December 1st, 2009

    Is there any topic a true classical liberal/libertarian can’t use as a point of departure for criticizing centralized government control? Of course not! Virginia Postrel has posted at both Dynamist.com and Deep Glamour about the problem of figuring out which present would best suit each person on your list, even those you know intimately. In the Dynamist post, she ends this way:

    The problem of buying good presents for other people, even people you supposedly know well, illustrates that old familiar Hayekian concept, the knowledge problem. If you can’t even give your loved ones the right presents, how likely is it that a central authority could make the right decisions for everyone?

    That’s especially true of goods such as health care, in connection with which the criteria for satisfaction vary so widely from person to person. Some people go to the doctor for every case of the sniffles. Others get a general physical every year, see the dentist whenever prompted by a reminder card, and otherwise don’t bother with doctors. Still others never see the inside of a doctor’s office unless a limb is turning blue and hanging at a strange angle.

    None of those practices is the correct one in any objective sense; people make their own trade-offs based on expense, time, peace of mind, and what they know of their own constitutions. People can also be more or less picky about what they eat, how they dress, and where they live based on similar criteria, and we let them. Health care is an industry with a long and deep history of quackery and fraud, so legal standards for minimum quality make sense. One of the government’s primary functions is protecting citizens from threats, including those from other citizens. But the idea that any policy program dictated from on high is going to help improve health care for a country of 300 million vociferously free people is highly suspect. As with a present that suits the giver’s tastes and not yours, it implies that you need to be told what you ought to prefer. Thankfully, while it would be rude to tell Grandma you don’t care for the wool socks she put under the tree for you, you can still tell your elected representatives that you don’t care to be told what your health-care priorities are.

    Added on 2 December: Thanks to Eric for the link. Glad I was able to help him get into the Christmas spirit.

    Change—it’s good for you

    Posted by Sean at 22:26, November 29th, 2009

    If you decided the best way to retain a seemly spirit of thankfulness over the past several days was to avoid political news and commentary, you may find it helpful to get back into the galling swing of things by reading this much-linked piece by Charles Krauthammer:

    The United States has the best health care in the world — but because of its inefficiencies, also the most expensive. The fundamental problem with the 2,074-page Senate health-care bill (as with its 2,014-page House counterpart) is that it wildly compounds the complexity by adding hundreds of new provisions, regulations, mandates, committees, and other arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.
    Worse, they are packed into a monstrous package without any regard to each other. The only thing linking these changes — such as the 118 new boards, commissions, and programs — is political expediency. Each must be able to garner just enough votes to pass. There is not even a pretense of a unifying vision or conceptual harmony.

    Well, there’s no unifying vision or conceptual harmony if you’re actually thinking about the thing from the point of view of someone whose goal is to improve health care. If your goal is to centralize more control and further enable federal power-broking and nannyism, I have little doubt that the bills are characterized by a great deal of coherence indeed.

    Krauthammer suggests starting over.

    Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

    The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing. and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.

    The problem with targeted measures is that they have an inhibiting effect on open-ended power grabs. Stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency, by contrast, provide rich opportunities for lots of fixers, legal experts, and task forces to guide people through the thicket of new requirements. And really, what’s more important—better health care for Americans, or an expanded Yale Law grad employment program?* I mean, let’s not be selfish here.


    Is that enough cynicism for one post-Thanksgiving post? I don’t think so!

    Peggy Noonan writes that some people are, amazingly, beginning to think that President Obama is kind of amateurish. Just to be clear, what I’m amazed by is not that they’re thinking it but rather that they’ve only just started thinking it. Noonan gets at something about The Bow, also, that I was trying to verbalize in this post and my last comment to it:

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic, and they would not be if they weren’t playing off a growing perception. If the pictures had been accompanied by headlines from Asia saying “Tough Talks Yield Big Progress” or “Obama Shows Muscle in China,” the bowing pictures might be understood this way: “He Stoops to Conquer: Canny Obama shows elaborate deference while he subtly, toughly, quietly advances his nation’s interests.”

    But that’s not how the pictures were received or will be remembered.

    It is true that Mr. Obama often seems not to have a firm grasp of—or respect for—protocol, of what has been done before and why, and of what divergence from the traditional might imply. And it is true that his political timing was unfortunate. When a great nation is feeling confident and strong, a surprising presidential bow might seem gracious. When it is feeling anxious, a bow will seem obsequious.

    The Obama bowing pictures are becoming iconic not for those reasons, however, but because they express a growing political perception, and that is that there is something amateurish about this presidency, something too ad hoc and highly personalized about it, something . . . incompetent, at least in its first year.

    The post by Elizabeth Drew that Noonan cites is a good read, too.

    The people who are most aghast by the handling of the Craig departure can’t be dismissed by the White House as Republican partisans, or still-embittered Hillary Clinton supporters. They are not naïve activists who don’t understand that the exercise of power can be a rough business and that trade-offs and personal disappointments are inevitable. Instead, they are people, either in politics or close observers, who once held an unromantically high opinion of Obama. They were important to his rise, and are likely more important to the success or failure of his presidency than Obama or his distressingly insular and small-minded West Wing team appreciate.

    I’ve never understood either the perfervid love or the perfervid hatred for Obama. Still less do I understand how people could not have seen this coming—at least as a possibility. Obama has always struck me as a type recognizable from my own days as an Ivy League humanities/social-science major: the Senior Seminar Blowhard. This is the guy (or gal) who, to his credit, prepped for every class by really pulling apart the readings and relating them to his own research but couldn’t roll with the discussion if it went anywhere else and was, therefore, constantly trying to yank it back within his comfort zone of pet topics. He addressed everyone by name way too often, sounding less like a partner in matey, rough-and-tumble debate than like one of those “customized” telemarketing calls. He insisted on calling the professor “Dr. Johnson,” even if she explained a billion times that she preferred the more traditional forms of address. If the job he got after graduation didn’t make enough money to suit him, he applied to law school, figuring it was the best way to leverage his gift for calculated gab.

    There are job descriptions to which that narrow kind of intelligence is very well suited, but I don’t think the presidency of the United States is really one of them. It requires someone with at once a firm core of conviction and a solid understanding of when compromise and adaptability are necessary. With his thin management and legislative record, I’m not sure Obama has had a chance to develop those. Perhaps he doesn’t have the temperament to develop them, either; I’m not sure anyone can judge that conclusively at this point. I do find it funny how similar the feeling in the air right now is to the feeling in the air early in Bill Clinton’s first administration: the heavy emphasis on showing that Something was Being Done about the issue of the moment over figuring out what was best to do, the personnel-related misadventures, the confusion over evidence that, gee, maybe this guy wasn’t a paragon after all. We’ll be finding out, to either our benefit or our detriment, whether Obama can do more than issue a perfunctory “I screwed up” and actually surround himself with people who can compensate for his gaps in competence, then listen to what they say.

    * I have this nagging feeling Instapundit used that line a few months ago, but for the life of me, I can’t find it by searching.