The Talking Dog

May 17, 2009, Macchiavellian Olive Branch

I have to say I have nothing but admiration for the President's choice of a Republican, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China. Just as he brought in his chief Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, now he brings Huntsman, the national campaign manager of his Republican opponent Sen. John McCain, to serve in just about the most important diplomatic post I can think of, as China is not merely (1) the most populous nation on Earth with (2) the fastest growing economy, but it also (3) props up our economy by continuing to buy up our debt through the massive trade surplus it runs against us, and it is also (4) our major strategic geo-political rival, not so much in a Cold War sense, but in the sense of China being so much more rational and intelligent in its resource acquisition arrangements compared to us (and (5) that Taiwan thing).

But the President is not merely handing that portfolio to a Republican: he is handing it to a reasonably moderate Republican who was touted by some as the likely strongest Presidential candidate the Republicans might have had in 2012. And Huntsman is actually a good choice anyway! He's served in diplomatic posts before, and he learned Mandarin Chinese while on a Mormon diplomatic mission.

The Republicans' second-best Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, is also a Mormon, and would obviously carry Utah should it come to that, but even he would find it hard to argue with some of Obama's personnel choices (like this one!)

As I continue to chide the President's policies in his inexplicable decision to continue the Bush Administration's policies in such areas as state secrets, adherence to the rule of law, investigating torturers and the like, we must give the President his due in other areas, such as atmospherics, co-opting likely rivals, his cancellation of the "reliable replacement" nuclear warhead program that might (I don't expect it to, but it might) dramatically alter America's commitment to being capable of obliterating the rest of the planet, and social spending (which I'm supposed to like, I suppose).

The President is a careful man: that's how he got to where he is, by not engaging in the kind of dramatic "change" he seemed to be campaigning for; let's face it-- if he weren't, he wouldn't have gotten this far. Watch what we do, not what we say. "Change" (IF ANY) will be incremental. At least we have a smarter cookie in charge than we have had recently; the selection of Huntsman sure shows that. This has been "Macchiavellian Olive Branch."


The cookie keeps giving us crumbs when we've been hoping for a meal.

Posted by michael L at May 18, 2009 8:57 AM

Michael, I couldn't agree more; otoh, the American system is what I've analogized to an aircraft carrier traveling at full speed: it's rather difficult to turn more than "incrementally" (particularly if you're following the same course as your predecessor!)

Further, I commend you to read Al Giordano-- not just the post I noted recently [] but as a regular feature. Al is an old-line, pragmatic, progressive organizer; his admiration of Obama was at the practical, organizational level as much as the ideological (probably moreso), and Al keeps a different kind of score-card: a score-card of practical victories that are not necessarily as well reported as the conventional wisdom would have us believe.

More to the point, the practicalities of governance are that the President ain't gonna have the freedom to do anything like Josiah Bartlett: it's not merely "the opposition in Congress" (or "the media")... it includes practical opposition within the ranks of government itself, from bureaucrats who won't quite do what you want to potentially undermining you with leaks to a possible military or CIA gone rogue. Like a major league catcher calculating the strengths and weaknesses of the current pitcher and batter, the speed of the runner on first, the man on deck, the number of outs, the inning, what time it is, followed by a piece of cowhide coming at him at 95 m.p.h.... a President has to calculate all these things at once, along with fiscal policy, terror threats, the news of the day, multiple military actions, a government budget larger than the GDPs of all but a dozen or so countries, and... you get the picture.

I'm not saying I ain't disappointed... in some areas (notably my areas of core concern, i.e. human rights, the Constitution, etc.)... areas that really are totally within his control... the President has not acquitted himself particularly well. However, as Al Giordano notes... there are reasons for this, that we don't necessarily want to even acknowledge, let alone appreciate... but are there. For one, the President will not be able to govern if we have a rogue military or a rogue CIA (let alone both).

No excuse for us as citizens not to try to move the bar where it belongs, Fox News (and ABC News... and NBC News... and CBS News... and CNN...) be damned. While we were hoping we would get "change" in having to do that, it looks like the only thing we have to change is change itself.

Posted by the talking dog at May 18, 2009 10:21 AM

Thanks for the Al Giordano link. He's a good read and makes a lot of sense. I do know that Obama can't stop the tide nor part the sea, and that even if all he does in the next 4 years is turn the salted earth of our Federal Govt back to fallow ground he will have done a great thing. But he got me to pay attention again, and it's not an easy thing to watch.

Posted by Michael L at May 20, 2009 9:16 AM