I've also proposed that --even in strategic terms-- there has been a cost to his way of proceeding. Namely, he has forfeited the power that might have been his by assuming the posture of purity, of the Righteous One. And he has muddied the moral waters in a nation that's been sorely lacking in clear moral sight for a goodly while.
This choice may have been a mistake. At the same time, there are two main reasons why Obama might be wise to pay that price.
The first is that Obama has his own ways of fighting, and he seems to be successful at them. So perhaps his avoidance of confrontation --not moving directly to prosecute Bushite crimes, not taking a confrontational position with the financial system-- will prove by the end of the story to have been as successful a way of defeating his opponents as the way his non-confrontational approach bested both Hillary and McCain in the election process.
The other reason Obama might be wise to pay the cost of diminishing his moral strength with his evasions and water-muddying has to do with what might be called "the correlation of forces" on today's American political battlefield.
I've wondered out loud here several weeks ago how much Obama's conduct with the banking crisis can be explained by his sense of the power of the forces that he'd be taking on (if he took the advise of people like Krugman). But it is mostly with respect to Obama's evident reluctance to confront boldly the right-wing Bushites over the terrorism policies that I'd like to raise the question: how powerful are those Bushite forces against which Obama seems so uneager to go to war?
How formidable a force ARE the Bushites? If Obama went after them --as one might say he's obligated to do by his oath of office-- to prosecute them for their crimes, could they make Obama pay a big political price?
In a way, this question unfolds into a question not so much about the Bushites as about the American people: Where would the American people come down in a struggle for their support between Obama and the Cheney/Limbaugh crowd if Obama took the straight-down-the-middle approach to righting Bushite wrongs?
Obama now enjoys strong poll numbers, and the Bushites do not. Obama is a powerful speaker and skilled craftsman of persuasive messages, and he commands the bully pulpit.
But this is an American people who were controlled by fear, who still don't overwhelmingly oppose torture, who did not support the impeachment of a presidency whose criminality was on full display before our eyes.
Where would they come down?
Of course, the right wing already trumpets all the accusations against Obama --endangering us, siding with the terrorists, partisan-- that they'd employ if Obama went after them for their crimes.
But now the charges don't stick except among the truly blind wing-nuts, and that may because Obama's conduct, by contrasting so dramatically with the accusations, shows how ludicrous they are. If Obama were behaving differently --if for example he were pursuing prosecutions, which, incidentally, according to the polls, the American people are NOT calling for-- would the right-wing attacks find greater resonance in a large segment of the American people.
In the immediately previous entry in this series --"Missed Opportunity"-- I argued that Obama could have made himself large and strong by harnessing the "power of purity." But that idea is valid only if that power of purity resonates in the hearts and minds of enough of the people.
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