What is it about blogs that makes personal bloggers like me feel the need to explain where I've been, or what I've been doing, that has kept me from posting? Maybe, this time, it is because one of the reasons for not posting is so lame: For the last two weeks I've been losing blog time to the incredible vacuum that is Facebook. But I think my site-time has reached a new equilibrium. Now, I just gotta get around to linking the blog to the FB, both of which, let it be said, Balz bullied me into. Okay, willingly...I guess.
Today I ran into South Side artist Dan Peterman. I hadn't seen him since before the election. We shared a moment marveling at the economical symbolic elegance of Obama's appointment yesterday of Gen. Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs. This post by James Fallows, quoted in full below, says it well.
The thing Fallows doesn't talk about is the way in which this action by Obama, played out in the conventional process of appointing his cabinet, strategically wrests the national memory and historical narrative away from the conservatives, probably for good. And Obama's awareness of historical narrative is itself notable for its aggression. He is not waiting around to claim, correct, and disseminate the new and what will be a forever dominant narrative. Shenseki the Repudiation is not being appointed half way through the first term, he is being installed before the inauguration! By contrast, the battles over memory and narrative regarding the war in Vietnam continue to this day. I see this quashing of the contestation as part of Obama's 'no drama' posture; conflict, controversy, multiple claims, and the passage of time with unresolved national memory creating multiple specialized constituencies are all great for Hollywood, but not for governing.
Barack Obama is all about bipartisanship, conciliation, binding up wounds, and so forth. Great! If only more presidents saw things that way.
But in his
(reported)choice of Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, there is also an extremely refined aspect of sticking in the shiv.
Whenever he talks about this selection, Obama (plus his lieutenants) can describe it completely, sufficiently, and strictly in the most bipartisan high-road terms. They have selected a wounded combat veteran; a proven military leader and manager; a model of personal dignity and nonpartisan probity: an unimpeachable choice. Symbolic elements? If people want them, they can work with Shinseki's status as (to my recollection at the moment) the first Asian-American in a military-related cabinet position, not to mention a Japanese-American honored for lifelong military service on Pearl Harbor Day.
As for the other symbolic element -- that Obama is elevating the man who was right, when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, et al were so catastrophically wrong -- that is something that neither Obama nor anyone around him need say out loud, ever. The nomination is like a hyper-precision missile, or what is known in politics as a "dog whistle." The people for whom this is a complete slap in the face don't need to be told that. They know -- and know that others know it too. So do the people for whom it is vindication. And all without Obama descending for one second from his bring-us-together higher plane.
The artistry here is remarkable. Along with the inspired nature of this choice.