In “The Comeback Vegan” MoDo says that Bill and Barry are together again. But this was a union made by transaction, not a bromance. I wonder if she’ll ever tire of her little psychodramas? I’d almost prefer it if she just devoted herself to puff pieces about dead movie stars. The Moustache of Wisdom, in “It’s Mitt’s World,” says the world has become more interdependent, and this new reality requires a new kind of American leadership. The title of the thing seems utterly divorced from the content, at least to me. Here’s MoDo:
I remember the first time I realized that Barack Obama was not going to be another Bill Clinton. Everyone assumed that the Secretariat from Illinois was the natural heir to the Secretariat from Arkansas. But Barry was only out of the gate for a day in 2007 before it became apparent that, while the senator had a bouquet of talents and several virtues that Clinton would never possess, he was not quite Bill’s match as a political natural.
On his first Iowa campaign trip, Barry was irritated. (Michelle had made him quit smoking). He was hungry. (He had eaten only trail mix.) He was indignant. (Why would press pests care what he looked like shirtless in Hawaii?)
When the diffident debutante ended up in the deserted AmericInn’s lobby in Iowa Falls on an icy Saturday night with reporters and a few six-packs, he did not seize the opportunity to seduce, as Bill would have. Clinton probably would have chatted with one reporter about Gabriel García Márquez, another about economic philosophy and a third about prowling the Arkansas backwoods to find antique cameos for Hillary.
Barry, for his part, looked around with dazed distaste and scurried up to his room. He seemed oddly conflicted about politics. That ambivalence started with the first political speech he gave at Occidental College, when he felt both elation at his ability to rouse with words and disdain at how easy it was. It became an exhausting pattern: Get people wildly excited and then withhold the excitement. Avoid sound bites and visceral connections because political games are beneath you. Instead of surfing the magic and using it to cow the opposition, Obama would retreat inside himself at crucial moments, climbing back to his contemplative mountaintop.
He rationed his smile, his eloquence and his electricity, playing the dispassionate observer, delegating, dithering and rushing in at the last moment to try to save the day. A cold shower to Bill’s warm bath. While Clinton aides had to act like sheepdogs, herding the boss offstage as he tried to linger and schmooze issues with crowds, Obama needs to be alone and decompress even after meeting with a few people.
Last week, Republicans struggled to answer the Dada question about Mitt Romney: “Can he be human?” This week, Democrats struggle to answer the Dada question about the once-thrilling Obama: “Can he be exciting?” (Nobody ever asked either question about Bill.)
After running last time as the stake in the heart of the dysfunctional, draining and seemingly indestructible Clinton dynasty, Barry has had to humble himself and ask for the help of the man his camp painted as racist and intemperate in 2008. During that race, Bill literally carried an 81-page list of perceived insults by Obama to Hillary. It is the great psychodrama of this convention: Will the shrewd and diabolical Bill buoy Barry or puncture him? Will he be generous or — like all those 2016 strivers at the Republican convention — self-obsessed?
“We don’t need Clinton the man,” said one Obama honcho as they nervously await the draft of Bill’s speech. “We need Clinton the myth.”
The two tall, left-handed, silver-tongued baby boomers both grew up not knowing their fathers. But while the disciplined Barry became self-reliant, with little patience for neediness or insincerity, the undisciplined Bill became self-indulgent, a maw of need and maestro of faux sincerity.
Obama doesn’t like to share the stage with other politicians or even campaign for House Democrats. He thinks of himself as a singular force, a unique brand, and his narrative has always begun and ended with him. He thinks he did build it himself. But now — because of his own naïveté, insularity and arrogance — he needs Clinton to rev up the disillusioned faithful and donors and lure independents and white working-class men.
Bill, hailed by some as the first black president, must expand Barry’s narrative to reach back and link Obama’s roiling tenure of wars, debt and partisan-fencing to Clinton’s restful stretch of prosperity. You know you’re in trouble when you’re seen as less capable of taming the House Republicans than an ex-president who was impeached by the House Republicans.
And what does the Big Dog get? Resurrection, redemption, relevance, a reflected patina of Obama integrity and fidelity; the chance to outshine the upstart who outmaneuvered his wife and, by extension, him in 2008. And a possible ticket back to the Oval, this time as the first First Man, a vegan gnawing on Michelle’s vegetable garden.
It’s not a bromance, like Romney and Paul Ryan. It’s a transaction. Obama needs his Democratic predecessor to reassure jittery voters that the future can look like the past, with a lower deficit, plenty of jobs and the two parties actually talking. In return, Bill will have the capital to try to ensure that the past can look like the future, with Hillary as Obama’s successor.
What a wild twist. Instead of ushering in the post-Clinton era, as intended, Obama has ushered in the pre-Clinton era.
MoDo, honey, it’s a wee bit early to start campaigning for Hillary just yet. Wait until December, ‘kay? Here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Mitt Romney has been criticized for not discussing foreign policy. Give him a break. He probably figures he’s already said all that he needs to say during the primaries: He has a big stick, and he is going to use it on Day 1. Or as he put it: “If I’m president of the United States … on Day 1, I will declare China a currency manipulator, allowing me to put tariffs on products where they are stealing American jobs unfairly.”
That is really cool. Smack China on Day 1. I just wonder what happens on Day 2 when China, the biggest foreign buyer of U.S. debt securities, announces that it will not participate in the next Treasury auction, sending our interest rates soaring. That will make Day 3 really, really cool. Welcome to the Romney foreign policy, which I’d call: “George W. Bush abroad — the cartoon version.”
I know Romney doesn’t believe a word he’s saying on foreign policy and that its all aimed at ginning up votes: there’s some China-bashing to help in the Midwest, some Arab-bashing to win over the Jews, some Russia-bashing (our “No. 1 geopolitical foe”) to bring in the Polish vote, plus a dash of testosterone to keep the neocons off his back.
What’s odd is that Romney was in a position to sound smart on foreign policy, not like a knee-jerk hawk. He just needed to explain what every global business leader learned long before governments did — that, since the end of the cold war, the world has become not just more interconnected but more interdependent, and this new structural reality requires a new kind of American leadership. Why?
In this increasingly interdependent world, your “allies” can hurt you as much as your “enemies.” After all, the biggest threats to President Obama’s re-election are whether little Greece pulls out of the euro zone and triggers a global economic meltdown or whether Israel attacks Iran and does the same.
In this increasingly interdependent world, your rivals can threaten you as much by collapsing as by rising. Think of what would happen to U.S. markets and jobs if China’s growth slowed to a crawl and there was internal instability there?
In this increasingly interdependent world, we have few pure “enemies” anymore: Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Al Qaeda, the Taliban. But we have many “frenemies,” or half friends/half foes. While the Pentagon worries about a war with China, the Commerce Department is trying to get China to buy more Boeing planes and every American university worth its salt is opening a campus in Beijing; meanwhile, the Chinese are investing in American companies left and right. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is the biggest thorn in America’s side in Latin America and a vital source of our imported oil. The U.S. and Russia are on opposing sides in Syria, but the U.S. supported Russia joining the World Trade Organization and American businesses are lobbying Congress to lift cold war trade restrictions on Russia so they can take advantage of its more open market.
Think of Egypt. I was critical of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, for attending the Nonaligned Movement summit meeting in Iran. I argued that he was giving legitimacy to an Iranian regime that had crushed the very kind of democratic movement that brought Morsi to power. But Morsi surprised me, for the better, by using his visit to Tehran to call out the Iranian leadership for supporting Syria’s “oppressive” regime. The Iranians were livid. You can be sure that, on other days, Morsi will say and do things that will give us indigestion. We still need Egypt’s strategic support in the region. It still needs our economic aid. But a more democratic, Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt will not behave like the automatic ally it was before. We’ll need a new kind of relationship. It will be complicated.
But that’s today’s world, and the leadership challenge it poses is easy to describe but hard to pull off. If the world is more interdependent, how do we create healthy interdependencies so we rise together, rather than unhealthy interdependencies so we fall together? The 2008 global economic crisis was an example of an unhealthy interdependency. So is the failure to reach any kind of global climate agreement. When we bring Russia into the World Trade Organization, we’re creating a healthy interdependency. When Russia protects Syria’s dictator, even when he’s crushing his own people, it’s creating an unhealthy interdependency.
The best way for an American president to forge healthy interdependencies is, first, to get our own house in order and gain the leverage — in terms of resources and moral authority — that come from leading by example. For instance, Romney is right: there are unhealthy aspects to the U.S.-China interdependency that need working on, but they are not all China’s fault. We would have more leverage to build a more healthy relationship if we saved more, consumed less, studied harder and got our own banks to behave less recklessly.
Republicans love to criticize Obama for “leading from behind.” But if you’re not leading by example in an interdependent world, you can lead from the front or behind — no one will follow you for long.