"You can eat a turd if you have enough ketchup." -- Grandpa Vanderboegh's Observation on the Human Condition #23.
Even before yesterday's unprecedented performance above, lefties were hailing the Obama-Clinton "summit" as Barack's turn to eat an excrement sandwich (raw, hold the ketchup).
Here is Eric Alterman's preview from the Daily Beast:
So Barack and Bubba are scheduled for a tê te-à -tê te today. They've got a lot to talk about, and for the first time, Obama is going to have to be the humble one.
Sure, the two have "issues." But both are also way beyond "issues." If there's one thing neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama can be accused of, it's an inability to rise above issues of personal pique to do what needs to be done.
Much as he might enjoy Obama's political failings (and failings), Bill Clinton is obviously deeply invested in the success of the Obama administration, given his wife's status as its second most important denizen. And it just so happens, Clinton is the only person alive with the requisite experience to advise Obama how to proceed.
But no one could have predicted what would happen after the "summit." From the AP:
The former president came before surprised reporters to let it be known that he endorsed the tax deal that Obama cut with the Republican Party, even though many Democrats were raising a fuss about it.
That was the news. But it wasn't the story.
What had the West Wing buzzing was the scene itself: Clinton in his element, like he had never left. And almost like he wasn't going to leave this time.
For one remarkable half hour, Clinton turned a seemingly slow Friday afternoon into his stage.
He tutored in loving detail about economic theory and nuclear disarmament. He was short on time, yet somehow found some for just one more question. He bit on his lip and spread his arms as he spoke and did all those other familiar gestures.
In a town of scripted rollouts and talking points, the way this event unfolded was refreshingly and remarkably impromptu.
There was to be no press coverage allowed of Obama's meeting with Clinton. No photos, no questions, not even a written statement about what happened.
Not surprising. If you have to eat your shit sandwich (raw, hold the ketchup) and you're an egomaniacal narcissist like Obama, the nibbling is best done in private.
But, as the AP goes on:
That changed when Obama and Clinton wrapped up their private meeting in the Oval Office. Clinton wanted to publicly endorse the tax package. Obama is welcoming all the help he can get.
So the two presidents headed straight for the famous briefing room with no warning.
Except they couldn't get in.
The door was locked because press staff members were at their holiday party in the Executive Mansion.
Obama and Clinton went back up a hall and found a press aide at her desk. "Do you know how to open up the briefing room?" Obama asked.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs heard the voices outside his office, walked out and saw the two presidents.
"What are you guys up to?" Gibbs recalled saying.
"We're looking for some reporters," the presidents told Gibbs.
So the White House press staff scrambled, summoning all available media to the briefing room and setting up a live feed for the networks in minutes. The presidents stood waiting, behind a closed door, until Gibbs stalled long enough to let correspondents take their spots.
Not neat. Not neat at all. Obama has been known to scream at underlings in such situations. Okay, so it was improvised and unscripted, that is to say, no time to set up a teleprompter. Barack, compelled by necessity occasioned by his own incompetence, is forced even further out of his comfort zone into a public display of . . . what? Open admission of that incompetence? It was almost as if he was saying, "OK, you wouldn't listen to me so now I've got my big cousin from out of town to convince you." For an ego the size of Obama's, this is a shit sandwich the size of Rhode Island. Again, AP:
Obama introduced Clinton lightly as "the other guy" and recalled how Clinton has overseen heady economic times. Obama warned that he wouldn't be staying long -- another White House Christmas party was waiting, as was his wife, Michelle.
And so it became clear pretty quickly that this was Clinton's show.
Why do I have the feeling that after Obama walked off and left his political enemy the run of the stage -- and yes, Clinton is his political enemy (for a collectivist, there are no political enemies as real and dangerous as internal party enemies) -- that he went into some anteroom and broke down in bitter tears of lost face like Colonel Saito after the British Colonel Nicholson bested him in a test of wills in the movie Bridge on the River Kwai?
You see, before his exit, Obama -- the supreme ego -- had to stand there while his alleged "brilliance" was eclipsed by a brighter, more well-spoken and voluble sun who could operate without a teleprompter. AP:
"I feel awkward being here, and now you're going to leave me all by myself," Clinton said from the stage of the White House briefing room.
Not that awkward.
Clinton comfortably outlined how the pending package of tax cuts, business incentives and unemployment benefits would boost the economy -- even though it included tax help for the wealthy that Obama had to swallow.
"There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan," Clinton said. "But I really believe this will be a significant net-plus for the country."
When he finished his pitch, Clinton played the role of humble guy, saying, "So, for whatever it's worth, that's what I think."
"It's worth a lot," Obama insisted.
Oh my, how much that admission must have cost Obama.
Clinton was asked what advice he had for Obama, given the context of the times: the current president has to deal with a Republican Party that just won a convincing victory in the midterm election and will soon grab control of the House. Clinton faced the same halfway through his embattled first term in 1994, worked some major deals with the opposing party and rebounded to re-election.
"I have a general rule," Clinton said, "which is that whatever he asked me about my advice, and whatever I say should become public only if he decides to make it public." Obama didn't provide that permission, saying: "I've been keeping the First Lady waiting for about half an hour, so I'm going to take off."
Clinton is saying, "I'm only up here because this little schmuck couldn't handle the job and needed me to come and help save his bacon on theory that if you won't believe him, you will believe me, a serial perjurer."
Obama, by walking off and leaving the stage to Clinton, left real questions in the minds of a lot of folks just who was in charge. Tough enough for a well-grounded individual, but for a narcissist?
In fact, Obama just provided the stage for "The Ever Diminishing President, Act III, (The self-debasement)." And he knows it.
So why does this ego contest matter?
While government, like life, is always more complicated and nuanced than is commonly thought, the federale establishment is divided, roughly, into these general, but distinct, groups:
1. POTUS and the temporary WH and cabinet toadies he surrounds himself with.
2. The elected mandarins of the House and Senate and their staffs.
3. The permanent government -- the bureaucracy, the unelected mandarins both in government and those "advisers" and lobbyists on the edges.
4. The drones of the bureaucracy who carry out the orders.
5. The black-robed Star Chamber that occasionally passes judgment on all of the above for often arcane and unfathomable reasons.
Each of these groups will look at yesterday's sorry theater performance through their own prism. Concerning the nominal "Leader of the Free World," none of the thinking members of these groups them will like what they saw (and that includes the White House toadies).
Forget your Civics 101 teacher, like every other governmental system from tribal hetman to modern dictatorship, the District of Criminals is run on raw, naked power and perception -- especially the twin perceptions of legitimacy and competence.
Nominally, Obama retains the power but the perception of his legitimacy and especially his competence is greatly diminished after two years. This matters, both for the potentially dangerous decisions that such a threatened President can make and for how the permanent government -- the bureaucracy -- will react to his orders. For bureaucracies are first and foremost interested in their own survival. They operate much as a dog pack, and if the putative alpha male isn't up to snuff, they will find another.
Which brings me back to a frequent speculation of mine (twin speculations, really).
First, when is George Soros going to decide that he isn't getting his money's worth and that it is time to fire his stellar non-performer by ballistic means?
Second, will Obama and his flunkies decide to take the Reichstag route to re-election by way of Oklahoma City, as became the Clintonian road of salvation in 1995-6?
We may not know for a very long time how much yesterday's singular performance has cost us. But I rather suspect that it has cost us -- all of us -- something. Whether (and how much) it adds to the butcher's bill of future history remains to be seen.