« Congratulations, #44 | Main | Sorry, Guys :) »

November 05, 2008

Ruth Marcus - Smart Lady

...and someone you should be reading, if you're not already:

President-elect Obama needs to think about how to handle the marshmallows.

In the classic psychology experiment on delayed gratification, researchers gave 4-year-olds a marshmallow, then promised a second if the children could refrain for 20 minutes from eating the first.

Some did, some didn't. Years later, the 4-year-olds with greater impulse control were better adjusted, more dependable and had higher SAT scores.

We're about to conduct a rerun of that test -- with Democrats substituting for 4-year-olds.

Obama will have to contend with the hydraulic force of pent-up Democratic demands for action. After eight years without the White House, and two years in which a Democratic majority in Congress found itself stymied in delivering on its promises, the leftward precincts of his party are not inclined toward either compromise or patience. There is some basis for their urgency: A new president has a small window to launch major initiatives if he hopes to see them enacted.

Yet the experience of President Bill Clinton's rocky early months -- remember gays in the military? the BTU tax? -- suggests the steep political price of governing in a way that is, or seems, skewed to the left. This risk is particularly acute for Obama, whose opponents have painted him as a leftist extremist. The good news is that his advisers seem exquisitely aware of this trap and determined not to fall into it.

I'm not so sure I agree with her here, though:

Clinton's 43 percent plurality made him look weak in the eyes of Congress; Obama's victory puts him in a stronger position to resist demands from Capitol Hill. Unlike the last two Democratic presidents who came to town disdaining the ways of Washington, Obama, for all his change rhetoric, is surrounded by people who understand how to navigate the tensions between a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress.

Arguably, Congressional Democrats can argue that Obama's commanding victory amounts to a mandate for sweeping change and given that he himself ran on precisely such a platform, he'll have a hard time making the contrary case now unless he's willing to watch his approval ratings plummet during his first term in office.

Obama is about to learn the hard truth about being President. Unlike a seat in the Senate, that desk in the Oval Office offers zero political cover: the spotlight will be on him 24/7 and pitting himself against his own party isn't likely to win him many allies.

And as Jack Shafer has already noted, the press will be waiting to pounce:

To Deakin's list of relations-with-the-press critiques that a president inevitably faces we can add these either-ors that Obama will have to endure from the press: Is he moving too fast on the economy or too slow? Is he too deferential to Congress or too pushy? Is he coddling Iran or baiting it? Why isn't he making good on his Iraq pledge—why is he throwing the Iraq victory away? Why is he repeating Bill Clinton's mistakes? Why can't he govern from the center like Bill Clinton? Isn't it time he made good on his domestic campaign promises? What makes him think the current economy can take the shock of universal health care? He's as secrecy-obsessed as George W. Bush! He's more combative with Congress than Bush was! You call that a liberal appointment to the Supreme Court?!

Obama will abandon the habit of walking on water he picked up during the past two years because you can't build a moat around the White House the way you can a presidential campaign. His administration may stay on message and never leak, but it won't be the only circus in town. Few Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, federal bureaucrats, federal grantees, soldiers and sailors, or others drawing a salary from the U.S. Treasury get the love or respect from the president that they think they're owed. They'll leak because it will be in their interest to leak, and the press will feast. When they leak, he'll do what every president has done. He'll flip out.

As one of my sales guy friends said to me on the phone the other day, "Tell me again... why would anyone want this job???"

Good question.

Posted by Cassandra at November 5, 2008 08:43 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.villainouscompany.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/2511

Comments

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/05/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at November 5, 2008 12:57 PM

Some children will immediately the first marshmellow and then just throw a tantrum until the grown-up gives them the whole bag just to shut them up.

And I'm not thinking about four year-olds, either.

Posted by: spd rdr at November 5, 2008 01:13 PM

[munching...]

"Huh???" :)

Posted by: Stay-puffed Marshmallow Man at November 5, 2008 01:28 PM

Yet another completely off topic post...Cass, how about a new contest/topic to fill the post-vote ennui?

I suggest basing it on discussion of the new literature emerging from the US' current wars; you knew that in this age where it is easy to find an outlet for one's voice that there would be a significant body of literature appearing, and there is.

I just finished "HOGS in the Shadows," a fascinating series of "war stories" from Marine Corp Scout Snipers in Iraq. ("HOGS" refers to "Hunter of Gunmen", i.e., a sniper). It's very matter-of-fact with little in the way of much moral agonizing, more about the day to day lives of these remarkable soldiers.

I bet your readership is very well read on contemporary wartime literature and I'd like to see some recommendations. Is there a new "Naked and the Dead" out there? A John Keegan or Stephen Ambrose? An Ernie Pyle we should know about (or a Gomer Pyle, for that matter)? I think you could include straight-up political stuff as well as combat reportage...

Whaddya think?

Posted by: sean at November 5, 2008 02:33 PM

And as Jack Shafer has already noted, the press will be waiting to pounce...

Who will be the first -- the ones kicked off the plane or the ones tossed under the bus?

Film at eleven.

Not necessarily at eleven *tonight*...

Posted by: BillT at November 5, 2008 03:10 PM

As one of my sales guy friends said to me on the phone the other day, "Tell me again... why would anyone want this job???"

Good question.

Why would you want the fate of you and your family to rest upon the decision making capability of strangers who don't even speak your language?

It's the same question. Power has a price, which is why it is called power. Yet not having power is also a price that is incredibly high depending on what else is going on.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 5, 2008 03:50 PM

When they leak, he'll do what every president has done. He'll flip out.

If you mean by "flip out" as in act like Bush and let these things slide, then that is not what "flip out" means and that is not what Obama will do.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 5, 2008 03:51 PM

I have my suspicions about the press pouncing on Obama. Yes this is consistent with human nature but human behavior can be modified, not by much but by some at least, through propaganda and psychological conditioning. All you need is the expertise and the power to do so. Obama has both: Axelrod for the former and the office of the President in a time of war for the latter.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 5, 2008 03:53 PM

Will they pounce like a kitty on a catnip mouse, or like a cheetah running down a gazelle?

March comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb.

The press loves to address their familiar Presidents by their initials (FDR, JFK, LBJ). Will it be "BHO", aknowledging the middle name that must not be mentioned, or just "BO", which connotes bad hygiene?

We can have a lot of fun in the next four years if we all remember to turn our 401K's into gold and bury it in the backyard.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 5, 2008 04:06 PM

...if we all remember to turn our 401K's into gold and bury it in the backyard.

Isn't the rainbow unicorn pony going to tap dance on your charcoal briquettes and turn them into gold after Inauguration Day?

Posted by: BillT at November 5, 2008 05:12 PM

No more voting "present," that's for sure. If he wants to control and take credit for the new initiatives and not just witness them, he'll have to take definite stands. Does he have the courage and skill to use the bully pulpit to push a specific agenda, especially a controversial one? Will he shake off the machine that catapulted him to power so young and advance his own ideas, something more than the usual nanny-state, soak-the-rich scheme? I'm so curious to see what he'll think is the right notion to float first. After he yanks the rug out from under the armed services, I mean.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 5, 2008 05:55 PM

I'm so curious to see what he'll think is the right notion to float first.

The line forms behind Susan Sarandon...

Posted by: BillT at November 5, 2008 06:00 PM

This is like when your army has been broken on the field and you are organizing a retreat. Now you wait in camp for news of the enemy army's actions for that will decide your response and the very fate of your cause.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 5, 2008 07:42 PM

Ummm..."tensions between a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress"?

Right. I just thank GOD that the Democrats didn't get the filibuster-proof majority that they wanted so badly...

Posted by: camojack at November 6, 2008 03:46 AM

No more voting "present"? 'bama has a built-in teflon coating! "Don't you realize I inherited this bad economuh from the Republicans, who were in power for eight years?"

O'bambi has never shown cojones, except in his brazen voter registration fraud and campaign finance fraud. He has never stood up to anything. He can make this someone else's fault, and the MSM will run cover for him.


Posted by: MathMom at November 6, 2008 08:46 AM

O'bambi has never shown cojones, except in his brazen voter registration fraud and campaign finance fraud.

Think that was Axelrod exercising his balls. Obama just took credit for running the Campaign.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 8, 2008 03:12 PM

Right. I just thank GOD that the Democrats didn't get the filibuster-proof majority that they wanted so badly...

That depends. It depends on whether Democrats can use intimidation, force, political comrpomises, or outright bribes to get Republicans to defect: something similar to what McCain did in the Judicial Nominee questions.

If Republicans are blocking things, people like McCain may be convinced to come up with a "compromise". At least they will use him as a figure head in order to claim that the "deal" was bipartisan and fair. In reality, however it will be about as fair as UN Peacekeepers giving candy to children in return for sex.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 8, 2008 03:14 PM

Post a comment

To reduce comment spam, comments on older posts are put into moderation 5 days after the last activity. Comments with more than one link also go into moderation. If you don't see your comment after posting it, try refreshing the screen. If you still don't see it, your comment is probably in the moderation queue.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)