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The Strategic Cost of the Obama Legacy: A Black President Playing the black pieces on the American chess board: An Essay

By       Message Herbert Calhoun     Permalink
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When Mr. Obama was elected (I hesitate to use the normally used phrase "came to power," since he had so little presidential power to express), America still seemed a nation full of promise and possibilities, a nation still "on the make," one whose problems no matter how daunting and difficult, still seemed fixable. America was a hopeful nation back then still moving steadily forward instead of backwards. The audacity of hope was the Obama mantra.

Even with the financial melt-down, the picture we had in our heads about our country in 2008 was still the one we learned about in ninth grade Civics: that at least in principle, our nation was about the business of becoming a more perfect Union through the shared goal of advancing the "common good." Even Mr. Obama's election, as the first black President, was profoundly symbolic of this very idea.

However, after eight years of mean-spirited, meaningless, empty, mindless ideological grid lock on one side; and equally mindless dithering, amateurish negotiating and mis-steps on the other, facilitated as much by Mr. Obama's political ineptness as by the challenging party's animus towards him, America's essential political character has undergone a rather profound change: There is now a new more ominous climate and alignment of political forces occupying opposite sides of the political divide.

On the one side we have the old doctrine of "every man for himself," reemerging with renewed piss and vinegar, constantly challenging the idea that the U.S. still can be made a more perfect Union by advancing the "common good."

The most unfortunate aspect of the Obama legacy is that his political ineptness has allowed the "every man for himself" doctrine to attain legitimacy and moral equivalency at the table of American power-sharing. Arguably, his amateurish way of engaging politics has done more to blur the distinction between the illegitimate "every man for himself doctrine" and the legitimate doctrine of becoming a more perfect Union by advancing the common good. This damage is systemic and very nearly irreversible.
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In his vain search for the vanishingly small "sweet spot" of America's elusive and always ill-defined middle ground, Mr. Obama has muddied the political waters so much that the message of the Democratic Party, to the extent it existed at all, has become muddled. Democrats have become the Party of no clearly identifiable political principles they are willing to openly defend, a wishy-washy "lead from behind party of scared political hacks." The Democratic Party has become that way because its leaders lack the courage to explicitly announce and then defend their own ideas in the political market place.

Are there no democratic ideas that can openly go toe-to-toe with the vulgar Republican ideas? Why under Mr. Obama are the Democrats only allowed to play the black pieces on the black side of the American political chess board? Even though he lives in the White House, why is it that Mr. Obama still does not get to move first?

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While the vanguard of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, rails on about free markets, free trade, state's rights, defending our borders, less taxes for the rich, defending Israel's interest first, drill baby drill, ending abortion rights, fighting climate change science, defining marriage in the old way, etc. The Democrats, led by Mr. Obama and Harry Reed, have no established overall strategy to deploy their own message, or even to counter the vulgar Republican message. As a result, democrats are force to play "catch-up" on the Republican (the white) side of the chess board: The Republicans define what the issues are for the Democrats, and then forces them to react to them piecewise, and always defensively, always at Republicans convenience.

As far as we can tell from Mr. Obama's Chief Congressional henchman, Harry Reed, the best democrat move on the American political chess board is to wait and see which way the wind will blow and then deploy an ad hoc "jerry-rigged" strategy that tries to negotiate a way to meet the Republicans half way -- that is to split the Republican baby in half. Whether the Republican baby is a legitimate or an illegitimate one, seems not to have mattered one iota to Mr. Obama and Representative Reed.

Playing defense for this timid duo, is not about challenging the morality or legitimacy of Republican ideas, but is only about the tactics and ethics of negotiation: how best to split the nasty vulgar Republican baby in half. For Obama and Reed, splitting an immoral Republican baby in half is a win. For in the Obama calculus: half an immoral Republican idea is better than a whole immoral Republican idea, right? (Notice that the more moral democratic ideas are not even on the table, why?)

Is it not fair to ask: Why are there no democratic or moral ideas on the table? Or better yet, When does our young handsome black prince, who lives in the White House, get to play the white pieces on the white side of the American political chess board?

Now that that he is in the twilight of his tenure, we hear muted and muffled noises coming from the White House in the distance saying: "Hey, wait a minute; look I finally got the hang of it: I am finally taking matters into my own hands; I am finally playing the white pieces, and making moves on the chess board under my own initiatives and under my own powers?

But most Republicans as well as most Democrats, are ignoring these noises as our black prince and the game of chess he has been playing have both finally become irrelevant and boring. Will Hillary please step up to the plate, this Obama game has gotten tired and old. Amen.


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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)

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