Think of this as Volume 16, Number 44 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
This is the fifth.
The four previous crises were the Civil War, the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Nixon Revolution. The fifth crisis began in the last decade, with Iraq and Katrina and deliberate speculation leading directly to the 2008 economic collapse we're still pulling out of.
I call this crisis the War Against Oil. There's an artificial shortage of energy because we define energy as oil, gas, and coal, which deplete. The oil forces, like the slaveholders of the 1850s, took control of our politics in order to maintain this scarcity. Thus the battle is to overcome them so the market, and science, work their will.
By talking about Crisis Presidents as being from the Anti-Thesis to the Thesis of their time I only mean that Lincoln was a Whig, McKinley a Mugwump, FDR a Wilsonian and Nixon an Eisenhower Republican.
Barack Obama, if you haven't noticed yet, is a Clintonite.
The first instinct of a Crisis President, thus, is to compromise, to do as little as possible, to lean against existing assumptions and hope compromise can succeed. Lincoln didn't come to Washington to free the slaves. McKinley thought himself a friend to business. FDR was wealthy, and Nixon only sought to moderate liberalism.
These earlier crises, however, were only overcome when each Crisis President became the men their enemies saw them to be. Lincoln achieved greatness only after the Emancipation Proclamation. McKinley became important only after Theodore Roosevelt took his flag and ran with it. FDR “welcomed their hatred” in 1936, confronting Republicans directly, and Nixon, of course, became the Nixon we all remember.
This act of becoming what they think you are has yet to be performed by our current Crisis President. And it may end up costing him his presidency in a week's time. (I don't think it will, but as this was written it remained possible.)
Thus, I believe this President's biggest mistake in office was his appointment of Eric Holder as Attorney General. Not for the reason Republicans may give, the Fast & Furious “scandal.” But because he has been, on the whole, a calm, judicious, patient and honest attorney general. That's a great way to be in normal times, and it's what we expect an attorney general to be. But when you're surrounded by enemies, real enemies prepared to do all they can to remove you from office – even kill you – it's not enough.
In this case history tells me President Obama should have done what Nixon did – appoint a pitbull partisan as attorney general, a John Mitchell.
Mitchell was a highly political attorney general, who directed both Nixon's 1968 campaign and the CREEP that spawned Watergate. He went after Nixon's enemies, and perceived enemies, with all the force of the government. He made those enemies fear the President, and the power of his presidency. He brought those who were defying the law (the anti-war forces and counterculture in this case) to heel.
With the current crisis this would have been very useful. Today's “hippies” are the ultra-rich, men like Donald Trump, Sheldon Adelson, and the Koch Brothers, billionaires who consider themselves to be above the law. Their excess got us into this mess.
Today's crisis has most in common with the one faced by McKinley, when the struggle was against powerful business trusts run by men like Jay Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and William Andrews Clark. McKinley, despite being an Ohio Republican endorsed by these same men, nevertheless went after John D., personally and with malice aforethought. It was a long war, won only 10 years after McKinley's death, with the break-up of Standard Oil, and the result actually benefited the Rockefeller fortune immensely, because the broken bits of the Standard turned out to be even-more valuable than the Standard had been standing alone.
The point of that fight, and Theodore Roosevelt's “trust-busting” efforts of the 1900s, was to convince the nation's biggest businesspeople that they were not above the law. Any man who is above the law becomes the law, becomes the government. Just as Mexico is run by its drug cartels and Russia by its oligarchs, the power of America's billionaires to flout all law and custom, and to dictate to the rest of us who should run our government, what its policies should be, makes them exceedingly dangerous, the source of all the trouble.
Obama's biggest failure in office has been that he has not taken on the crime in the suites. From the bailout and the mortgage scandal to Sheldon Adelson's hooker scandal, he has assumed good intentions where there were none, and refused to investigate without evidence. This has let the oilagarchs, and their friends on Wall Street, to act with impunity, damaging the President's reputation with his own constituency. Worse, it has emboldened them, allowing them to spend billions painting him as something he is not.
The fact that the man who might replace Obama is Mitt Romney, who has untold millions in the Caymans and more in Switzerland, but won't detail those holdings (so we don't know what conflicts of interest he might bring to the office) should speak volumes.
For the President, the only cure is to become what they claim you to be, to take on his enemies directly. Arrest Adelson and ship him to Macau. Do more perp walks on Wall Street. Fire Trump. Go after people like Rupert Murdoch and Fred Anschutz. Invade the Cayman Islands, if not literally than figuratively, negotiating a treaty with our major trading partners that will rein in all the tax havens, and force Americans who want to claim they're loyal to this country to keep their money here, or lose the protection of this government. Getting the Europeans and the Chinese to do the same to their tax havens would bring untold wealth to all the world's governments, and a mighty cheer from their constituents.
Be what they claim you are. That's what makes a Crisis President successful. A failure to be what they think you are will destroy you. Every political crisis is war, and the only way through a war is to win it.