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Applying the Theory of Obama's "Protective Coloration"

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Bard Schmookler     Permalink
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Yesterday, I posted a piece here proposing that what seems to some as Obama’s “centrism” is really a form of “protective coloration,” part of a strategy to enable him to achieve maximal progressive transformation in America during the course of the next eight years. (See Here I will apply that idea to several areas of policy.

An immediate issue where this pattern is visible involves the possible –likely—nationalization of the “zombie” banks. “Nationalization” is probably called for with some major banks, but the Obama people have been dramatizing their resistance to the idea. Meanwhile, they get cover from the remarks of conservatives like Alan Greenspan and Senator Lindsey Graham putting the issue on the table. Obama will eventually come round to where I expect he’s always been, but do so at the end of the process, thus protecting himself from the right-wing’s charges that he’s a “socialist.”

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Likewise with the issue of investigating the crimes of the Bushites. Obama employs the mantra that he prefers to look forward than backward. While Obama also declares that no one is above the law, he leaves it to others –like Leahy and Conyers—to push him, allowing him to seem above what the right wing will try to label as a partisan effort.

As I said in yesterday’s post, I cannot be certain about the validity of my “protective coloration” interpretation.

For me, the most troubling aspect of Obama’s conduct thus far has been in aspects of the “national security” legacy the Bushites have left behind. I’m troubled by such recent policy decisions by the Obama administration as to back a “state secrets” argument that the Bushites made to prevent some of their practices from coming to light through a trial. There is every reason to suspect that the Bushite argument had little to do with genuine national security needs, and much to do with protecting their own power from the ability of the law to restrain them in any way. And I’m bothered by Obama’s failure to make a clean break with that practice. There have been a few other such instances.

If I am right about Obama, here’s what’s going on with these troubling moves.

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Obama is being very careful about dismantling too quickly the Bushite security apparatus. He knows that he is vulnerable to people perceiving him as a limp-wristed liberal who opposed the war in Iraq and who will not protect us so vigorously as GWBush did. The GOP has been laying this trap for him, pushing the idea that Bush protected us, and essentially saying that if there's another terror attack that will prove that Obama shouldn't be president.

So Obama is closing Guantanamo, but carefully. He is saying words about torture, etc. But he's also being careful not to take moves that would readily be used by his political enemies to shove him into that trap they've been laying for him.

He chooses his ways and means of reclaiming the rule of law, but he avoids those that would undermine his overall position in the ongoing political struggle.

As a strategic thinker, and one who’s approach is geared not just toward the immediate, but toward where things will be further down the path, Obama allows time to work for him.

Obama does not push for the exposure and full discrediting of the Bushites and the way they used the so-called “war on terror” as a mask or pretext for their criminal power grab, I expect he foresees how it will unfold and how he will benefit from it. For as the exposure of the Bushites moves forward, one way or another --Leahy's commission, most likely-- the image of the Bushites as protectors will weaken. And as this exposure weakens the image of the Bushites as having acted as our protectors, Obama will be in an ever-stronger position to dismantle the Bushite evils in the national security field without being so vulnerable as he would be now.

By binding his time, according to this interpretation, Obama minimizes the danger posed to his whole presidential position from the trap the GOP is trying to set for him. He will be less vulnerable to scoundrels like Rush Limbaugh who lie in wait, eager to point to an action of his and say, "See, Obama isn't going to protect you, he cares more about the rights of the terrorists than about the lives of your children.”

So for a while, Obama covers himself with the filthy mantle of the Bushites, in order to minimize the chance that his presidency can be destroyed through a gap opened up prematurely in the area of his greatest vulnerability in today’s still-beknighted America.

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I don’t like it. But I think it is a plausible strategy, and it may be the wisest strategy.


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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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