07/19/2011 09:50 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2011

Jerks of the Knee

Reflexively blasting President Obama over his appointment of anyone* other than Elizabeth Warren to run the CFPB was a well-intentioned friend's reaction. It feels off the mark. Very far off, in fact. Our reply was this:

re: Elizabeth Warren

BusinessWeek put her on the cover recently, arguing that she may have already achieved much of what is necessary. We may never know. But there is to me a real chance that she was fed up to her ears with the (explictive deleted people) in Washington, particularly those of the Republican (sic) persuasion, and decided to get on with her life. It's also possible she volunteered to remove one contentious item from O'Bama's** overfull agenda.*** There's also a very high probability that Ms. Warren will be even more effective outside the government than in.

As for O'Bama ... 

I take solace in the fact that he's both smarter and more clever and, likely, tougher than everyone in Washington put together. I also take comfort from his background in Chicago politics. In my view (and the jury is still out), he is playing a masterful game. As was true with the challenges that Lincoln faced, there are many things over which Obama has little or no control and, often, little influence. Consider, for example:  the Republican victories in November '10 means that he a.) got rid of a bunch of blue dog democrats, b.) he can now use the time-honored and usually successful strategy of running against congress (something which would have been awkward with Democratic majorities in both houses), and c.) he lent the Republicans sufficient rope to, believing their own (technical term) bullshit, hang themselves. If they can't manage the skills necessary to hang themselves, then the circular firing squad they're now busily populating might do the trick. 

Ultimately, Lincoln fought the Civil War (imagine if it had been UNCivil) believing that people could actually govern themselves. O'Bama is facing the same challenge. On current evidence it's not clear that the American variant of self-government is salvageable. However, the alternatives are uniformly unpleasant.

So I appreciate and applaud O'Bama's patient, diligence, intelligence and obvious efforts to serve as President of the United States rather than of the Democratic party or whatever interest group is claiming gods' blessings today. He is doing more than I would have thought possible in an impossible situation, one not of his making. Whether he succeeds in salvaging self-government depends in great part on what some minuscule portion of 312,000,000 Americans believe and do over the next several months and whether a plurality comes to their senses. As Jeremy Rifkin said when Paula asked if he were an optimist or a pessimist: "Neither. I am an Activist."


*--The President's choice, Richard Cordray, is unlikely to be an industry lapdog. As the BusinessWeek article noted at the top shows, Ms. Warren had chosen Mr. Cordray to be the chief of enforcement for the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

**--In private correspondence, I frequently use an Irish version of the President's name as a nudge and reminder to our less enlightened fellow citizens that they really should try to get over his slightly darker pigmentation. However, if as is likely these people still adhere to the one-drop rule, perhaps the recognition that we're all out of Africa will help them understand that we're all blood-relatives and race is a bogus category. Those who hold to the royalist Archbishop Ussher's belief that the earth was created in 4004 BC (thereby making the out-of-Africa scenarion unlikely) may well be beyond help. In fairness, the Archbishop was writing well before Charles Darwin had clarified things. Fundamentalists cannot make that claim.

***--The Republicans (sic) had made amply clear that they would use Ms. Warren's appointment as yet another excuse to obstruct the operation of the ... Republic.