Memo to President Obama

by Will on September 21, 2010

Paul Krugman is right:

And this gets to a point I’ve been trying to formulate: while the Obama’s political problems are largely due to a lousy economy, it’s also true that the administration seems to go out of its way to alienate its supporters…

Obama… seems to go out of his way to convey the message that although he rode to office on a wave of progressive enthusiasm, he and his people don’t respect the people who got him where he is. There are the gratuitous jabs at the “professional left”, the “both sides are wrong” rhetoric even as the right goes all out to destroy him, and stuff like Lew’s testimony. I mean, how hard would it be to have a little message discipline here?

Barack, I want to refresh your memory about the history of the French Revolution. Let’s go back to 1794 Paris. Maximilien Robespierre and the Mountain are in charge, cutting people’s heads off like crazy. Some men of moderation remain in the National Convention, who will occasionally challenge the Mountain about its outrages: they will point out that it is acting more tyrannically than the king ever did, and that it has failed to enact the rather libertarian constitution it got ratified. Whenever this confrontation happens, a call goes out from the Jacobin club to the streets of Paris: “Common people of Paris, your defenders are under attack! Assemble for their defense!” A mob forms, and overtakes the halls of the Convention. No vote on the Mountain’s actions is permitted. Members of the Convention feel their very lives are at stake. So they sit silent rather than challenge Robespierre and the Mountain and risk feeling the wrath of their supporters. The Mountain did a good many wicked things, but they understood, for a time, the value of an enthusiastic, motivated base.

But then they alienated that base. They did that, predictably, by beheading some of them. The proto-communist Hebertists were militant atheists, and Robespierre got tired of their radical demands, so he had them killed en masse. This action completely squelched the Jacobin base’s enthusiasm. They’d been sure the Mountain was on their side, but here it had gone and killed some of their kin. So the next time Robespierre’s enemies confronted him in the National Convention about his outrageous crimes, and he called for the mob to come clamoring in yet again, they just didn’t bother to show up. His enemies — themselves eager to keep their heads on their bodies — quickly put Robespierre on trial, condemned him to death, and guillotined him, and did the same to his allies. The Revolution then proceeded into its lengthy but less bloody phase of corruption and graft.

Going out of your way to tick off your base is rarely going to be a good strategy for retaining power. It’s unlikely you’ll actually be guillotined, Barack, but you will certainly have much other cause to regret your needless attacks on the people who brought you to power, and your needless concessions to people who want to destroy you.

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