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The Cojones Frame

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Just recently William Greider wrote in The Nation an interesting piece about "Obama and the Big Dogs," the canines who typically inhabit the top floor, two-corner offices on "Wall Street." I wouldn't have known about the article at all except CommonDreams aggregated it into their daily "must read" dozen under a grab-you title "Testicular Politics." The way "CommonDreams" presented it, you would have thought Greider was framing the trouble President Obama has bitten off as somehow linked to Barack's manhood. In fact, Greider does play the Alpha Dog routine for all it is worth in his brief essay, so the combined effect of the publisher and the aggregator is to frame the state of the Presidency today pretty much as a mano a mano combat situation, with just a tinge of pejorative sexual/racial overtones to lend contrast, just a suggestion of wimp, without having to take too much responsibility for the slur. Greider says that Obama is doing a good deal less than Greider would like to see in making sure the canines of Wall Street understand who's boss—who is Alpha Dog. I don't doubt for a second that the big dogs think they run the world. I have friends who despise these plutocrats and oligarchs, but believe when the trump are counted, these big dogs will have most of them. In fact, the oligarchs have had their way with government for many years now, beginning with Nixon, but clearly expanding under Ron Reagan. For the best part of a half century Americans have been listening to the carrier wave of right wing politics which drones on and on about how government is the problem. So canny are these folk that they don't even mention an alternative—that big business is the problem with America. Greider and the aggregator are irresponsible to put the battle between NY and DC down in terms of how macho Barack Obama might be. They are, in fact, reducing the problem to one which will never be resolved in those terms, and so it is a canard and cop-out. The way Greider sees it, the big dogs have been baiting Obama, but the explanation in terms of bluffing the bailout and peeing on Obama's tree goes nowhere to really explain his or their behaviors, which in fact can be described in much less provocative terms. Since Greider is writing from The Nation and not The New Republic we can assume that he has good wishes for President Obama, even though he can hardly use the word President next to Obama's name. He doesn't. The "cojones frame" is what this is and it says more about Greider and editor vanden Heuvel than it says about our new administration. It is vicious under the cover of being just prosaically nasty and rude. What effrontery to accuse "the kid" as he calls President Obama of being thumped around by these megalomaniac tycoons, while the President and his inside guy, Geithner, try to save their sorry asses—and are showing signs of success! It takes "balls" to write this kind of crap and that somehow JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have saved themselves while accepting a bailout! The party that Greider and vanden Heuvel think they represent does not exist. It has not existed since Iowa, since the speech in Philadelphia, and not since November 2nd last year. Greider may be a seasoned journalist and may be used to the smells of corruption and wanton power-brokering, but he hasn't a clue about this new president. If he did, he would have begun to make the real case about Barack Obama that explains why we are so unnerved by his opening moves. First, you have to give Barack Obama some credit for brains. He is not just a stump orator without a pot belly. He is a Constitutional scholar, a thinker, an activist who can see the world of hurt that some people begin to believe is their life's lot, and he can steer them past the rough edges of those worlds. He is an organized and disciplined man with a canny sense of the possibilities that others think are impossible. He is a change agent, but his idea of change is not that we will model ourselves on the sordid worlds of Bill Greider, but on a new set of relationships that will, frankly, tend to exclude Bill Greider. Greider is smart enough to see this coming in broad outlines, so he reacts. The proof that Barack Obama is not clairvoyant is his selection of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. Rahm was to deliver strong and subtle messages to members of Congress, both sides of the aisle. Who knew that the Republicans would undertake a process of self-destruction that includes truculent no-ism? Rahm is completely ineffective at this point, but you can see his hesitating hyper-political influence in the question of what to do about torture. Rahm thinks he still has those motivate Congress duties. Fortunately, it has worked out differently, so Mr. Emanuel's caution about irritating the Health Care Base in the Democratic Party is so much froth on an empty beer can. I believe President Obama will have several Chiefs of Staff and that Mr. Emanuel will soon enough be back in Chicago running for the House seat he vacated to take on this work. The proof that Barack Obama is not immune to pressure is his willingness to put out in the public the so-called "torture memos," knowing full well that once the chickens are allowed to go "free range" there will be endless trouble. Obama does not want to risk the recovery or health care or immigration or social security reform on torture show trials, and you don't want that either, so Obama has opened the door enough, for right now, to get the conversation going and to get the hotheads to identify and exhaust themselves. As a poker player, President Obama is as good as Greider has ever seen and much better than he understands. But in poker there is a flinch factor. It is called "the tell." The cable television poker players wear wrap-around sunglasses, propeller hats, anything to take away the likelihood of an opposing player noticing his "tell." Every player has one (or many), so it is not a question of bearing down on one's disguise. It is a question of keeping the noise sufficiently loud that the "tell" is engulfed and virtually impossible to see amid the activity. The activity is this: the administration is still forming and the principals are busy finding, cleaning, and testing the levers and strings, unearthing the Cheneyite "left-behinds." In a sense, President Obama (under the most intense scrutiny ever put on a President in his first three months) is temporizing until he can put his lieutenants out there with full confidence ... or sufficient body armor! You can "tell" this by the way Secretary Gates (a holdover and completely at ease in his own office) takes initiatives and speaks without President Obama there to prop him up. The rest, with the exception of Secretary Hillary Clinton, whose activities as ambassador plenipotentiary are deliberately personal and exceptionally unrelated to the organization beneath her, are biding their time and getting set to act. So, what is Barack Obama's "tell?" It would not be good for me to say until you have your bets on the table, until you are committed to this hand, until you know who the big dog really is and where the bigger stacks of chips are. But, I will give you a muffled hint: Barack Obama is President. Think about it. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese History, (more...)

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