Out here in Los Angeles sports fans miss Phil Jackson – the Zen Master who was also into all sorts of Native American stuff, like burning sage in the locker room at the start of each Lakers season, to drive away malevolent or cynical spirits or something. He was a hoot, but his basketball teams won it all, year after year after year, and he did this by not coaching. All the work was in the practice sessions, with the endless shooting drills and trying out this tricky offense or that amazing defense. During each game, however, Phil Jackson sat quietly in his special chair on the sidelines, saying little, looking inscrutable. He might raise one eyebrow, or smile, or frown. That was it. His players would have to guess whether they were doing things right, and thus they worked extra hard at just that. You might say they became self-actualized, so simply say that they found their groove and how to work with each other. But that came from within them. At each time-out Jackson would whip out his little whiteboard and diagram what should be done next, but then the whistle would blow and he’d go back to being the smiling and enigmatic Buddha on the Bench. Things would play out as they played out – and his teams won and he smiled, and then he retired. Subsequent coaches have since come and gone, each failing. They were smart and energetic and lively, and they really knew the game, and they rode the players, encouraging them or shaming them as appropriate, pacing the sideline and shouting at them. It didn’t work. You have to let each man be what he will be. It seems the secret was in the preparation, and then in being, not doing. That’s a hard lesson. The Lakers are having another bad year.
Sports is fluff of course – in the great scheme of things, if there is one, basketball doesn’t matter in the least. Politics matter more. We elect people to make big decisions for us, decisions that will mean war or peace, or prosperity or misery and so on, and there who wins matters to us all. There too is a world of smart people pacing the sidelines, shouting this or that – trying to encourage or shame those in the system to do the right thing, and also trying to win our votes, touting what they have done or what they will do. It’s tiresome, and it’s also insulting. They should let us be who we will be, and they should also just be. Who are these people, at their core, and why should we trust them?
This may be why so many people hate politics. There’s far too much talk about what should be done, and certainly not enough talk about what just is. Let people reveal themselves and stop all the hectoring. Back off and show some respect. Let things play out, and then we’ll see who the fool is and who got it right.
Few politicians understand this, save for Barack Obama, who does a pretty good imitation of that Zen Master thing that Phil Jackson had going. Be who you are – and make that clear – and then let the other guy flail away, doing things that are more and more desperate, until he implodes, showing who he really is. If he or she doesn’t implode and actually make sense, more power to them – that person should win. It’s just that any Zen Master knows that the secret is in being, not doing, so Obama, in the 2008 primaries, let Hillary Clinton get outraged at him, or teary about how hard but ennobling the campaign was, and shout out this assertion or that, while he remained simply who he was, a good man who seemed to know his stuff. She imploded. He won the nomination, and then proceeded to do the same thing to John McCain in the general election. McCain, a real ball of fire, if befuddled at times, at one point decided it was time to cancel the upcoming presidential debate and rush back to Washington and personally intervene to solve the financial crisis. Obama smiled. McCain did personally intervene to solve the financial crisis, and actually made things worse, blowing up the TARP agreement causing another market crash. Obama went to the same meetings and listened and asked questions, and made a few useful suggestions, but he didn’t hector anyone. He doesn’t work that way. Needless to say, McCain ended up looking like a meddling fool who would probably always make things worse. His choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate didn’t help things either. Even Dick Cheney wondered what McCain was thinking, calling that irresponsible. Obama won the election. McCain did all the doing. Obama did all the being.
Four years later, Obama did the same thing to Mitt Romney. Obama didn’t make Romney make those comments about the forty-seven percent, or make him grin on the hay bale in Iowa and insist that corporations are people too, my friend – he just let Mitt be Mitt. That was enough, and maybe Obama didn’t really lose that first debate either – Mitt eventually hung himself. Napoleon once said that you should never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake, and maybe it’s like that, but others have said it’s more like the many Roadrunner cartoons. Wile E. Coyote has all those schemes to catch that elusive and lightning-fast roadrunner, with all the cannons and giant slingshots and rockets and bombs from Acme, but everything blows up in his face. Then roadrunner then stops, cocks his head and smiles, and then beeps twice – but the bird really did nothing. Wile E. Coyote, you see, is all about doing. That’s sometimes the problem.
Now Obama seems to have been doing the same thing to the all the Republicans, and to the Tea Party crowd specifically. He let them be who they are and they imploded, leading to items like this:
A few dozen Republicans have joined a bipartisan call to break the impasse between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner over taxes for the highest-earning Americans. The Republicans signed a letter calling for exploration of “all options” on taxes and entitlement programs, a signal that some rank-and-file members are ready to bargain.
They’re breaking ranks. Maybe they’re waving the white flag. There have been weeks and weeks of this Republican congressman or that saying they’ll break the no-new-revenues-ever oath they swore to Grover Norquist – maybe some taxes should go back to the old rates, even those on the rich. Grover Norquist, the Wile E. Coyote here, is unhappy, but that’s just too bad.
Obama didn’t do this. Obama simply won the election, by being who he is. These guys are who they are, and they now don’t want to be that anymore. Over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell has been forced to filibuster his own 2011 clever idea of giving the president full power to raise the debt limit subject to no more than congressional disapproval. It must have seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. That Coyote thought the same thing every time he ordered another giant slingshot from Acme.
The problem is being far too clever by half, doing all sorts of things, and Jonathan Chait explains the history here:
The conservative movement is built mainly to prevent Republicans from striking a deal with Democrats to raise taxes. It’s a reaction to the 1990 budget deal between George Bush and the Democrats. The Grover Norquist pledge, the intense distrust of backroom bargaining, the monomaniacal partisan discipline – all these were created so that 1990 would never happen again, just as the French built the Maginot Line so they would never endure the horrors of World War I trench warfare again.
Of course, the Maginot Line was a huge failure. The Germans simply went around it, and once they had outflanked the line, it became a trap that prevented the French military from maneuvering. This is the situation Republicans find themselves in now.
Democrats don’t need to lure Republicans into negotiations in order to raise taxes on the rich. They can just wait until January first and it happens automatically.
In short, these guys were trapped by doing things, and not being who they naturally are, and now they’re talking about a plan for standing aside and letting Democrats pass a bill to extend the Bush tax cuts on income under a quarter million dollars, to fight the real fight for the rich later, which Chait argues is nonsense:
Republicans are only contemplating this method because it follows the path of least resistance, a path dictated by the conservative movement’s paranoia about a budget sellout. It doesn’t require an agreement with Obama or an affirmative vote to raise taxes. But it also gives Obama the strongest leverage to ultimately set revenue levels. Republicans have constructed all their anti-tax defenses against a bipartisan budget deal, never imagining that higher taxes would transpire through legislative inaction rather than action.
Their doing undid them:
Republicans are following a path that is likely to lead to higher taxes because the entrenched methods of anti-tax politics are preventing them from maneuvering. The conservative movement is designed to prevent a compromise, when compromise is the thing Republicans most need in order to hold taxes low.
Oops. Ed Kilgore adds more:
That’s all very true. But there was an interim moment that contributed a lot to the current leverage Obama enjoys in the fiscal negotiations: the decision by Republicans to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 temporary in order to utilize the budget reconciliation process (and with it the ability to avoid a Democratic filibuster) to enact them. And indeed, it’s often forgotten that George W. Bush originally rationalized the cuts as a “rebate” for taxpayers attributable to the sudden advent of federal budget surpluses – again, suggesting they were temporary and contingent on the overall budget situation.
That also was far too clever by half:
Republicans had no intention whatsoever of letting the Bush tax cuts ever expire; they’ve constantly tried to cut high-end income taxes even more. But the mechanism they utilized to ensure a party-line vote (in the wake of a rather less than decisive 2000 election, you might recall) has finally backfired with the tax cuts’ pending expiration and the consolidation of public opinion behind the proposition that the wealthy can and should help deal with a wildly different budget situation than the one that prevailed in 2001.
It took a long time for that particular chicken to come home to roost, but it’s arrived, squawking loudly.
That’s not a chicken. That’s a roadrunner. And yes, Obama did nothing here. Somewhere, Phil Jackson is smiling. This is how you win, and Obama also didn’t do this:
With a disappointing election in his rear view mirror and a budget compromise he could never swallow on the horizon, Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative Republican from South Carolina who helped ignite the Tea Party movement, is leaving the Senate to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group.
Just two years into his second term, Mr. DeMint, 61, whom many in his own party partly blame for Republicans failing to win Senate control two elections in a row, announced on Thursday that he has opted for a platform and a payday that the United States Senate could never provide him.
He’s going to be rich and he’s going to be gone:
Come January, the occasional kingmaker, conservative hero and filibuster lover – he once forced the Senate to stay in town for a Saturday vote that he then chose to skip – will find himself with a space to continue his efforts to push the Republican Party to the right from the outside rather than the inside.
He’ll still be loud, but he will no longer be doing things, even if he’s still pissed off at John Boehner:
In a parting shot – or perhaps warning flare – Mr. DeMint on Thursday suggested to Rush Limbaugh that Mr. Boehner might need to watch his back. When asked if Mr. Boehner was forcing him out, Mr. DeMint replied, “It might work a little bit the other way, Rush.”
Yeah, right – this was the guy who frustrated his Senate buddies by backing candidates like Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware in 2010, and Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri this year. They all lost, because they were all kind of nuts even if they were purer-than-pure conservatives, so Jim DeMint is the man who made it impossible for the Republicans to regain control of the Senate, twice. He did champion Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but that’s not enough:
The costly Senate defeats, as well as Mr. DeMint’s proclivity for gumming up legislation on the floor, and his virtually nonexistent legislative productivity, stunted his chances for leadership in the Senate.
Yep, there was no future for him there, and again, Obama had nothing to do with this. All you do is let these things play out. You have to let each man be what he will be. Governor Nikki Haley, a somewhat goofy Republican woman who worships Sarah Palin, will appoint a successor who would then run to maintain the seat in a special election in 2014. The politics won’t change, but the players will. The man who was always doing things will be gone.
Michael Tomasky simply sees something like the isolation of foolishness:
I don’t know if it was even possible for Heritage to move further to the right, but if it was, it just did so. Heritage is the preeminent conservative policy shop; the American Enterprise Institute people might argue with me, but Heritage is certainly the biggest, anyway. The conservative intellectual/policy class right now faces a choice: lead the party they exist to support in some new and interesting directions, or double down on all the extremist and unpopular positions they currently hold.
Heritage just chose.
The Washington Post’s in-house hard-right conservative blogger, Jennifer Rubin, is simply relieved:
DeMint has been a destructive force, threatening to primary colleagues, resisting all deals and offering very little in the way of attainable legislation. He has contributed more than any current senator to the dysfunction of that body. He has worsened relations between the House and Senate, as he did in the budget fights in recent years, by meddling and pressuring his home state representative. His departure leaves other senators who seemed impressed with his brand of politics free to find their way to a more constructive position in the body.
She is not kind, but she knows a Wile E. Coyote when she sees one, and Timothy Noah speaks of the post-election GOPocalypse:
Between an electoral defeat that was wholly unexpected (by them, anyway) and a “fiscal cliff” that will compel them to support a tax increase, Republicans are experiencing present political reality as a sort of Apocalypse. That’s how it feels, anyway; eventually they will adjust. But, for now, they’re channeling their resentment into internecine warfare, creating a tableau vivant of pitched battle and unending recrimination that Hieronymus Bosch could have set against a landscape of burning lakes and whirling locusts. It is deeply satisfying to behold. But there’s so much bile flying in so many directions that the uninitiated can find it difficult to keep track of who’s purging whom, and why.
What he calls John Boehner’s back-bencher purge is the least of it, as Boehner stripped four Republican members of plum assignments on two big-time committees, Budget and Financial Services, then warned the rest of the party caucus that “there may be more folks that will be targeted.” Boehner has said he’s watching all their votes. Noah has much more, but it’s clear that Boehner is probably not sad to hear the news from the Senate side of things. DeMint checked out. Boehner should be so lucky on the House side.
BooMan adds this:
DeMint would prefer the job at Heritage to the one he has, especially since he had already pledged not to run for a third-term. It is much harder for me to understand why Heritage wants him. I thought they fancied themselves the preeminent right-wing thought center, not a backwater for Tea Party cast-outs. Handing the keys of the foundation over to a nutcase like Jim DeMint is highly irresponsible and signals a coming break with the Washington Establishment, as the GOP leadership considers how to pivot for the 2016 presidential campaign.
Yes, what should they do? Perhaps they should stop doing things. Salon’s Joan Walsh also points out it’s not just Jim DeMint:
The GOP’s November shellacking is rattling the foundations of its powerful media-wingnut welfare-industrial complex. Some big names are either parting ways with former allies, or find themselves under suspicion, with their privileges to roam the right-wing fearscape spewing propaganda suddenly limited.
My old friend Dick Armey, the former Texas congressman who made a fortune astroturfing the Tea Party, has left the organization he helped found, FreedomWorks. David Corn at Mother Jones broke the news, and Armey depicted the parting of ways as “matters of principle.” Then AP revealed that Armey will receive $8 million in consulting fees even though – or because – he left the group, and Politico explained that Armey’s alleged last straw came when partner Matt Kibbe signed a book contract that paid him personally for a book largely inspired by (and partly researched by) FreedomWorks and its staff. Sounds like a matter of principle, until you look more closely.
Meanwhile, Karl Rove suffered the shame of being benched by Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who reportedly told his “news” executives that any booker who schedules Rove has to get permission from a higher-up. This comes after Rove’s remarkable meltdown on election night, when he tried to get Fox to reverse its decision to correctly call the state of Ohio for Obama. Even more humiliating, Ailes apparently applied the very same edict to always-wrong former Democratic consultant Dick Morris, who admitted after the election that he lied about Romney’s chances because he thought it would help Romney. Being equated to Morris is far more degrading to Fox than any leash Ailes might want him to wear, and he must know that.
So are top Republicans actually doing the work they need to do in order to punish the propagandists and grifters who peddled bad politics to the party, and reassured the faithful they were winning when they weren’t?
She goes on to argue that they’re not, and in a separate item she also wonders about Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly:
I thought maybe Bill O’Reilly’s historic rant about Obama winning because “the white establishment” is disappearing might just be a case of election night crazy, from which he would recover. But no, it’s his new shtick.
In case you missed it, on his Monday night show O’Reilly followed up his election-night meltdown by blaming President Obama’s reelection on “secular progressives” and the “far left,” which he described as a “dangerous outfit, bent on destroying traditional America and replacing it with a social free-fire zone that drives dependency and poverty.” O’Reilly called Obama “the poster boy for progressive secularism,” and he went on:
“Secular progressives don’t want limitations on so-called private behavior. Want to smoke drugs? Fine! Want to abort a fetus? We’ll drive you to the clinic! Want to have a kid when you’re 16? No problem at all, we’ll support you.”
Uh-oh, Grandpa just found out that the kids “smoke drugs.” Get him a hot toddy and put him to bed.
On Tuesday, O’Reilly blasted the president for meeting with representatives from the so-called far left, in which he includes MoveOn and labor unions. He then took the opportunity to lash back at people who criticized him for his election night lament about the disappearing “white establishment,” insisting it was no “lament” but instead “sage opinion.” Yeah, he really said that.
A word to O’Reilly: That way lies madness. It’s also the way Glenn Beck lost his Fox show.
Something is going on here. Obama’s fiercest opponents are doing all they can to ruin him and his legacy, and flailing about and looking like fools – and now they’re dropping like flies. What did Obama do here? He didn’t make them order their policy positions and talking points from Acme, like Wile E. Coyote, but the effect is the same.
So what did Obama really do here? He let the players play. You have to let each man be what he will be, as the Zen Master basketball coach showed us all. Yes it took a long time, but in this case we did see who these folk really are, finally. Damn, the guy did it again. Now if only the Lakers would do the right thing and call Phil Jackson…