Thursday, October 15, 2009

The great game

It is far from the usual Light Reading fare, but I cannot resist the opportunity to link to two major pieces published this week by my dissertation advisor David Bromwich. In general, I have been extraordinarily lucky in my teachers; but perhaps I learned more from David Bromwich than from almost anybody else, not just in terms of an abiding obsession with the writings of Edmund Burke but by virtue of a language for talking about the connections between thought and intellectual temperament and character that I rely upon very heavily in daily life.

The first is at the LRB, on Obama's delusion ("His way of thinking is close to the spirit of that Enlightenment reasonableness which supposes a right course of action can never be described so as to be understood and not assented to"). The second is this NYRB review of Taylor Branch's Clinton book:
Maybe Clinton in his final year in office spoke more easily; in any case, the narrative has a sharper focus now, and the anecdotes fall into a characteristic rhythm:
The president was eating a bowl of bran in January. He said Bob Squier, the campaign consultant, never had a colonoscopy in his life. They diagnosed him six months ago, and he died today at sixty-five. The end comes on quickly if you don't catch it early. "I always eat bran when a friend dies of colon cancer," Clinton said.


  1. Bromwich makes some good points, but ultimately I think he's missing a lot of important tactical components to Obama's political approach, components that were important in passing the stimulus package and appear likely to lead to passage of a really impressive, if flawed, health care bill. The picture Bromwich paints is far, far more pessimistic about the chances of Obama accomplishing major goals than I think anyone who's paying close attention to the politics, rather than the rhetoric and the media narrative, would be.

    Simply put, Obama always plays the long game, and while that leaves lots of gaps in which partisan lunacy can spring up, thus far he's almost always succeeded in tamping down those fires when he steps back into the fray. The method may not always work, but the very fact that even someone as astute as Bromwich seems still not quite to understand it suggests to me that it's got a lot of life left in it.

    {That said, Guantanamo is the big problem in the room, because almost all the solutions to it are bad; it's the one area where I really fear Obama will end up letting us all down significantly.}