Sunday, August 07, 2011

One Good Man

Recently I have despaired that there was such a creature as a wise Republican. But I took note this morning of a piece by Charles Fried in The Daily Beast. Fried was Ronald Reagan's Solicitor General;  and he has taught at Harvard Law School for fifty years.

Fried begins his piece by cataloguing Barack Obama's weaknesses. And, truth be told, his assessment is pretty accurate:

Barack Obama is not a skillful strategist like Bill Clinton. He is not a gifted rhetorician like Ronald Reagan. Nor is he a bold and inspiring leader like Abraham Lincoln. And he can’t seem to shake himself loose from the strings that attach him to the trial lawyers, to big labor, and, surprisingly, to the standard banker-economists who got us into the mess we are in now.

At first blush, Fried seems to repeat standard Republican boilerplate. But  then he goes on to give Obama his due:

He is an honest man. He is intelligent, analytical, and knowledgeable. And he tries hard to think through the dilemmas which confront us and to tell us clearly and straightforwardly what he wants to do and why he wants to do it.

Fried then contrasts Obama with the other politicians who were involved in the debt ceiling negotiations. He finds little to praise:

When John Boehner at the height of the debt ceiling crisis answered him on the national media he simply did not tell the truth. He said that the president would not compromise, would not take yes for an answer, and wanted it all his own way. But he cannot have forgotten that he had negotiated Obama into far more cuts than Obama and his caucus had wanted, thought wise or even palatable in return for a modest increase in revenue to be achieved by closing egregious and unfair loopholes in personal and corporate taxes. This is the same compromise recommended by the “Gang of Six,” which included the extremely conservative and admirably patriotic Senator Tom Coburn, by the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson group, and by Republican economists like Martin Feldstein. It was the Speaker who, Arafat-like, walked away from that deal because he concluded he lacked the skill or the muscle or the spine to sell it to his own caucus. Let it be said that this compromise included recalculating the cost of living formula for social security—a change every responsible economist recommends—but the equally rigid Nancy Pelosi rejected.

He then turns to the Republican  who leads the race to oust Obama. He sees nothing but a hollow man:

And Mitt Romney, supposedly a man experienced in business realities, in a parody of himself, has pronounced that he opposed the deal reached on the very eve of default—because it did not go far enough in the direction of what the Tea Party wanted.

The politicians Obama is up against remind Fried of the characters in Arisophanes' play, The Knights. They are obsessed with finding a politician who fits the times. And, as proof that some metaphors never die, they find the perfect candidate in a local sausage seller. When he protests that he is not an educated man, his sponsors respond:

Politics these days is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better. Don’t jettison such god-given advantages.

Fried concludes, "Obama is too good for us." What a sad commentary on the state of American politics. But there is hope for the Republican Party -- if it listens to Charles Fried. There is still one good man within Republican ranks.

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