Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Luck Child Theory of History

Can a crisis mold raw clay into something great? Would Lincoln have come to be regarded as our greatest president without the Civil War? Would Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been great without an eponymous Depression – or, even with it, without the Second World War?

Clearly, LBJ, who self-consciously sought greatness, believed that victory over some large challenge was part of the entrance exam. He wanted to be the second coming of his political idol, FDR, and did a fair job of tracing that picture on the domestic front – including his embrace of racial justice in a way that ran counter to everything for which his life had previously stood. But to be FDR II, he had to win a just war -- and not over an abstraction (poverty), but over a physical enemy (the march of communism). And the war that history provided for him was neither just nor winnable. As a result, nobody will ever place Lyndon Johnson in the top rung of the American Pantheon.

And the same, in all likelihood, applies to our next president, Barack Obama, despite his central-casting role as the emblem of America’s journey toward healing of its original sin. I suppose it’s hypothetically possible that radical jihadism will present an opportunity for an actually winnable war on his watch – but I doubt it.

On the economy, though, perhaps an LBJ-level opportunity is in the cards – but probably taking a very different form. Not that Obama has evidenced much thoughtfulness or originality on the subject of economics – nor the kind of strength and toughness needed to drive something controversial to completion, as Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act. Obama simply isn’t a leader.

But perhaps, on both policy grounds and leadership grounds, not much will actually be needed? Perhaps this looming Depression II is so significant, and our self-consciousness of it is so vivid (in large part because we went through the first one), that there’s a politically meaningful consensus that something serious has to be done. And perhaps -- and this is the big "perhaps" -- a concomitant consensus will emerge about what that something must be.

He’s definitely got one thing going for him: The world will be pulling for him. His tabula rasa-dom, his ability to serve as a universal-recipient-cum-focus-object for people’s fantasies, will stand him in good stead during a universally perceived emergency – in a way it wouldn’t have in palmier times. Even a lot of us who resent this person benefiting from the misogyny and fraud he rode to the nomination want the next President of the United States to succeed. The crapper we’ve fallen into is too dire to wish for anything else. The soul-repair of the Democratic Party will just have to wait on this. The tsunami has deferred that dream, too.

So I’m now hoping Obama serves as the stone soup for the collective, wisdom-of-crowds birthing of a new era. I don’t think he has the capacity to imagine it or deliver it himself. I don’t believe he has greatness in him, just waiting to be catalyzed by this crisis. In fact, I think he’s got certain aspects of narcissistic personality disorder, and that that cripples him as a decision-maker and even, long-term, as an inspirer.

But he might be a Luck Child, dropped by fate into our midst at the moment we need one... the moment when we most require a catalyst (or pretext) for a very different kind of greatness to emerge in us and among us.

And as the saying goes, it’s often better to be lucky than good.


Shainzona said...

I wrote this during the primary. It applies as much today as then.

Obama is a Political Lurker...always in the picture, but never out front, never leading the charge. Even his "famous" speech resulted in not a single attempt by BO to end the war once he got into the Senate. But then, he was so busy on day one running for his next promotion he forgot that little issue, didn't he?

I remember reading about him running into committee members on their way to a press conference about something they had just accomplished. He said, "What's up" and they told him and he said, "Can I come along"? They said sure - they wanted people on the podium for pictures and then he had the audacity (whoops!) to take the mic and speak as if he had been personally involved in the accomplishment. Staffers were pissed as hell at what he did.

He lurked in CT in 2006 (never really coming out and supporting Ned Lamont). He lurks on pro-choice (using weasel words and voting present). He lurks on race (demanding a dialog and now saying we should all move on - pun intended!). Condemning the Gas Tax Holiday proposal when he supported other such proposals three times.

Where in the world does he really stand on things? I don't know.
If we elect a lurker then Repugs will rule the day anyway because he lurks right as much as he lurks left.

NOT what we must have for this country if we are expected to move forward.

Plus, he has destroyed any improvements we have made in race relations since 1960.

He should be ashamed of himself.

Caro said...

Do you have an RSS feed?

Carolyn Kay

David Berger said...

Well, I guess it's better to be lucky than good. And if he spends four years at Camp David doing nothing, he'll still get to take credit for the inevitsble cyclical economic recovery. Again, the Reagan comparisons are a little eerie.

What kills me is how people see in Obama what they want to, when in truth his philosophical underpinnings couldn't be more clear. The radio interview Drudge is screaming about this am is certainly provocative, to say the least.

Mike J. said...

Obama is the Harry Flashman of politics.