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We don't have teleology in this country, but we do have television.
February 14, 2013 10:56 AM   Subscribe

In 2003 blogger Billmon (previously) exhaustively outlined a dialectical history of U.S. politics [gif] in two parts. Now, he asks whether the Obama presidency represents the beginning of a new political cycle:
My analysis starts with the observation that there are some striking similarities between the current political cycle (the Age of Reagan) and the previous one (the Age of Roosevelt). I realize that probably doesn’t go down well with the Obama fans out there, so let me add immediately that it isn’t meant to be taken literally. Nixon really was a sociopath, if not a psychopath—a criminal of monstrous dimensions (See: Hanoi, 1972 Christmas bombing of). And that’s not even bringing Watergate into the discussion. Unless Michelle Bachmann’s paranoid fantasies about Solyndra are actually true, or the drone program is much worse than we now know, Obama isn’t even close to being in Nixon’s league. He actually seems to be a pretty good guy, for an Emperor. But in the current political cycle, Obama sits right there in Tricky Dick’s spot—after the Democratic Eisenhower (Clinton) but before the Democratic Reagan, i.e. the one who will free the Matrix and bring balance to the force.
posted by ennui.bz (40 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Carter? Ford?
posted by Jahaza at 11:14 AM on February 14, 2013


Something similar has already been theorized by Michael Lind.
posted by goethean at 11:18 AM on February 14, 2013


The yelling is as loud now as it was when we bombed Cambodia. Then we dropped more bombs than in all of World War II and killed about 110,000 people. This time we killed 2,000 with probably 365 total bombs. And did Vietnam actually ever attack the U.S.? No. Did al Qaeda ? Yes.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:19 AM on February 14, 2013


But in the current political cycle, Obama sits right there in Tricky Dick’s spot—after the Democratic Eisenhower (Clinton) but before the Democratic Reagan, i.e. the one who will free the Matrix and bring balance to the force.

Here's hoping that future President is Elizabeth Warren.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:22 AM on February 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


There are actually still people who believe in a dialectic of history? With all due respect, and although I do love Hegel, I have to say that it sounds pretty dubious to me. I'm probably misunderstanding, though.
posted by koeselitz at 11:26 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are actually still people who believe in a dialectic of history? With all due respect, and although I do love Hegel, I have to say that it sounds pretty dubious to me. I'm probably misunderstanding, though.

it's not a question of belief but whether it's a useful intellectual tool. from TFA:
It's a metaphysical concept -- first described by Aristotle, applied to the study of history by the German philosopher Hegel, and expropriated by Karl Marx to explain his theory of proletarian revolution.

That last bit of intellectual property theft has given dialectics something of a bad name in bourgeois society -- all the worse for the fact that so many of Marx's Leninist admirers came to rely on it to "prove" the historical inevitability of their various crimes.

But, dirty commies notwithstanding, the concept still has great analytical value. Marx got that much right. Dialectics is a powerful tool for understanding history -- political history in particular.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:28 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


if this winds up with Carter force pushing Obama into a lava field while sobbing, "You were the chosen one! You were supposed to destroy the Tea Party, not join them!", I'm leaving for the off-world colonies.
posted by boo_radley at 11:28 AM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dialectics is a powerful tool for understanding history -- political history in particular.

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Begging the Question.
posted by yoink at 11:31 AM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


Sorry, ennui.bz. I'll finish reading all the articles now. Carry on.
posted by koeselitz at 11:34 AM on February 14, 2013


He actually seems to be a pretty good guy, for an Emperor.

Or maybe Obama is the Democratic Marcus Aurelius, to Clinton's, uh, Nerva. In which case, the future ain't looking too bright.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:37 AM on February 14, 2013


(Or maybe Obama is Nerva; in which case we've got about four more good Emperors to go.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:40 AM on February 14, 2013


The yelling is as loud now as it was when we bombed Cambodia.

Hardly. Hundreds of thousands protested the campaign in Cambodia, including at Kent State University. Outside of a few internet activists, where is all this yelling you're hearing coming from?
posted by IvoShandor at 11:44 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Outside of a few internet activists, where is all this yelling you're hearing coming from?

Well, there was Occupy until they got teargassed and Serious Person'd into non-existence. The ruling classes have learned a few things about how to handle the first steps of mass uprisings in the last few decades.
posted by DU at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


To be fair, glen greenwald is really loud.
posted by empath at 11:50 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Or maybe Obama is Nerva; in which case we've got about four more good Emperors to go.)

I just hope that the United States lasts long enough to have a President Elagabalus. It would of course be terrible for the country, but the late night shows would never run out of material...
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


octobersurprise: "(Or maybe Obama is Nerva; in which case we've got about four more good Emperors to go.)"

Geez, I hope we don't get a year of the four emperors.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2013


There's an early 2001 newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe that for years was taped to my mother's fridge which made this same kind of comparison with the newly elected George W. Bush representing the Carter to Reagan's Roosevelt. It went on to claim that like Carter, Bush's election-by-technicality represents the last gasp of the conservative movement and that he will probably be a rather unremarkable one term president who will be cast aside by whoever starts the next great ideological lineage.

I don't know whether she kept it there as wishful thinking or as a reminder not to place too much faith in this kind of analysis.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:53 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


And did Vietnam actually ever attack the U.S.? No. Did al Qaeda ? Yes.

What about Iraq?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 11:55 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


RonButNotStupid: "It went on to claim that like Carter, Bush's election-by-technicality represents the last gasp of the conservative movement and that he will probably be a rather unremarkable one term president who will be cast aside by whoever starts the next great ideological lineage."

Which seemed a pretty reasonable theory, as of September 10th, 2001.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


The depressive, glass-is-always-half-empty-with-tainted-water voice in my head keeps telling me that Obama's tenure is that last teetering reprieve where the boat balances precariously at the edge of the falls, and people breathe a sigh that they might actually escape doom...right before the boat and everyone in it topples over the edge and crashes into the rocks and water below.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's an early 2001 newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe that for years was taped to my mother's fridge which made this same kind of comparison with the newly elected George W. Bush representing the Carter to Reagan's Roosevelt. It went on to claim that like Carter, Bush's election-by-technicality represents the last gasp of the conservative movement and that he will probably be a rather unremarkable one term president who will be cast aside by whoever starts the next great ideological lineage.

I don't know whether she kept it there as wishful thinking or as a reminder not to place too much faith in this kind of analysis.


I don't think it was wrong, at least not entirely. The Bush era was certainly the high point of the *social* conservative period. The fusion of the religious right and business interests that boosted Reagan into office and fueled the Republicans for 2 decades crested with Bush.

What we've been seeing post-Bush in the Republican Party is the fracturing of that alliance. The power of the social conservatives is greatly diminished from its Bush height; this was clearly visible in the last Republican primary. The new wave of Republicans pay lip service to the old social issues, but they're not really the key focus any more. What's happening now is a realignment of the Republican Party looking for something to replace the religious right in the party equation.

I also think, though less certainly, that another component of the change is a search for a new foundation moving away from the Southern Strategy that has served them so well since the 70s. The changing demographics of the US means it won't work as well in the future. The party seems to want to branch out into other demographic groups, especially Latinos, but it's going to be very messy getting everyone on board. Bush tried to do it to some extent and the party rebelled, but I think that's because they were on top and felt they didn't have to. Now it's more of a necessity.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


i.e. the one who will free the Matrix and bring balance to the force.

Let he who is without mida-chlorians first take the blue pill.
posted by hal9k at 12:09 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Or maybe Obama is Nerva; in which case we've got about four more good Emperors to go.)

Hell, maybe he's Osman Ghazi, in which was we can look forward to 10 wise and good sultans before Malia Obama-Dukakis III loses the Battle of Space Lepanto in 2084.
posted by Copronymus at 12:11 PM on February 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, there was Occupy until they got teargassed and Serious Person'd into non-existence. The ruling classes have learned a few things about how to handle the first steps of mass uprisings in the last few decades.

While this is a good point, I don't think Occupy ever rose to the level of the anti-war movement during Vietnam. And Occupy's main thrust wasn't really the war anyway.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:16 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've missed Billmon. One of those internet mystery bloggers, like ThePoorman.net, etc, who I know nothing about except their voices, which have been worth listening to.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:45 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived through the Nixon era. Yes, he was dangerous in some respects. He was however, an effective and capable politician. Given the choice between a Jimmy Carter, an exceptionally honest man, though mostly incompetent, or a Richard Nixon, I would choose Nixon, and watch him like a hawk. The press despised Nixon. The press loves Obama. The press asked Nixon difficult questions. The press does not question Obama about anything.
Is this the era of Obama? I believe history may not be kind to Obama.
posted by Lyon1972 at 12:52 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


This time we killed 2,000 with probably 365 total bombs.

You may want to read the Stanford / NYU study Living Under Drones before you dismiss these deaths so casually.

If you think America's ongoing, wholesale murder of Afghan and Pakistani civilians doesn't have a broader, toxic, and long lasting significance, or that the first deaths in the drone war don't presage many, many more to come, you're fooling yourself.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The title to this post is brilliant. Well played.
posted by putzface_dickman at 1:16 PM on February 14, 2013


And did Vietnam actually ever attack the U.S.? No. Did al Qaeda ? Yes.

What about Iraq?


Obama opposed Iraq and pulled us out right on schedule. We have no troops there. I think that's the point of how Obama isn't that bad the linked author is trying to make.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like how we're performing a dramatic reenactment of the last paragraph in here.
posted by The Whelk at 1:36 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget his embracing the Patriot Act and the NDAA'a that followed. We are now living in a country whose citizens can be assassinated by secret presidential decree and undefined "factual evidence", with no review by any authority. Likewise any citizen can be incarcerated indefinitely with out charge or judicial review.

Nixon never went that far so we have a trump! Being a nice guy doesn't mitigate.
posted by shnarg at 1:44 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've missed Billmon.

Me, too.

The title to this post is brilliant. Well played.

Ditto.
posted by y2karl at 2:34 PM on February 14, 2013


Obama is a middling big-business/centrist/triangulating technocrat; more of a third & fourth term Clinton than anything else.

Obama's social policies have turned left of Clinton's as of late, I suppose. His economic team is mostly ex-Clintonites. Certainly Obama's foreign policy has been more right-wing than Clinton's. Obama's TPP is Clinton's NAFTA on steroids. Obamacare is modeled off of Bob Dole's alternative to Hillarycare.

If anything, he may be more conservative than Clinton.
posted by willie11 at 3:21 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clinton was overseeing a military that was bombing in Iraq every day over the last year or so of his presidency. But he didn't do it with drones, so I guess that was OK.
posted by raysmj at 4:01 PM on February 14, 2013


Have not read yet but came here to say thanks. I've missed billmon's blog so very much.
posted by maggieb at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anything, he may be more conservative than Clinton.

Honestly, what reality are you living in? Clinton's first term domestic achievement was dismantling the remains of the welfare state. Obama's was passing healthcare reform. Don't Ask Don't Tell was instituted under Clinton and repealed under Obama. Clinton declared that the "Era of Big Government is over", while Obama used his second inaugural as essentially an ode to the power of collective action.

I understand the criticism of Obama's military policy (although the rhetoric can get ridiculous), but I just can't see how people who think Obama hasn't been liberal enough means that he's a conservative.

For a group of people who call ourselves 'progressives' we sure count an insane amount of people who can't recognize progress among our ranks.
posted by graphnerd at 4:55 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


If Americans really think thousands and thousands of dead civilians is not an issue worth getting upset about, the reaction to 9/11 makes very little sense.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:22 PM on February 14, 2013


People tend to value the lives of their own countrymen above those in distant places. That's not to defend that viewpoint, but it's hardly unique to Americans.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:58 PM on February 14, 2013


I'm confused because "the dialectic" is a format of obfuscation - he says, she says, drama, solution - such that we are all being duped.

I keep waiting for an entirely different conversation. I can't be the only one.
posted by jbenben at 12:55 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


He actually seems to be a pretty good guy, for an Emperor.

Or maybe Obama is the Democratic Marcus Aurelius, to Clinton's, uh, Nerva. In which case, the future ain't looking too bright.


Folks, you do know the Roman Republic had to fail first before there was an emperor...maybe we are in that transition, from republic to empire, not empire to nothing...

I know it is fashionable to call the US foreign policy some kind of empire as a condemnation, but structurally we ARE a republic...and therefore not very good at the empire thing, however those in power do seem to be getting some practice in.
posted by bartonlong at 10:51 AM on February 15, 2013


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