Obama as Chess Master: 'Think of Him as Bobby Fischer'

By James Fallows

bobby-fischer.jpgI've published a series of harsh assessments of the savvy and game plan that the Obama Administration brought to the debt-ceiling fight. For a change of tone, here is a reader's argument today that such judgments are both hasty and unfair. In fact, by this view, we're watching a master vision unfold.

Worth considering in full. Some alternative views soon -- I'll save them for later because this is long enough as is and deserves its own space. The reader writes:

>>It's pretty clear to me that Obama is the chessmaster. Stop looking at this politically - let's look at policy. Obama has been a master of accomplishing things, even with the Tea Party Terrorists hell bent on shutting down the government and ruining the full faith and credit of the United States.
 
Look at this from liberal,conservative, and moderate perspectives.

Liberals: Obama will end two wars, ended DADT, created the CFPA, got $20b from BP in the face of strong opposition, saved Detroit, signed New START, and enacted universal healthcare - the defining goal of the liberal movement.

For conservatives: he finished the job successfully in two wars, sustainably entered Libya while ensuring our allies took the heavy burden, okayed two risky operations -one that killed pirates and the other killing Osama - and just did more to stabilize long term deficits than anyone since Ike.

And for moderates: he spearheaded the most successful education initiative since WWII with Race-to-the-Top, ended too big to fail with Dodd-Frank, boosted exports with free-trade agreements, advocated and done more for infrastructure than anybody since Ike, increased technological funding, including for NASA (while it may be an ill-defined future, it's at least sustainable now), and gave birth to the space industry - in short, strengthened the long term economic outlook for this country. His only failure is a biggie - the stimulus. It was too small, and gave to businesses who invested in capital improvements rather than employment. And frankly, it failed.
 
Let's also look at the policy critiques he faces from the left - no public option, no carbon tax or anything on climate change, no immigration reform, didn't close Guantanomo, and the Bush tax cuts. He sacrificed the public option to pass universal health care as a whole. Think of him as Bobby Fischer - he sacrificed the queen to win the greatest game.

As far as the carbon tax and immigration, he tried and failed. It happens sometimes - but there really wasn't much room for him to move any further to the left after Obamacare. And let's face it, if he had moved any further to the right, liberals would have been pissed. He tried like the Dickens on Guantanomo, but by that time the Tea Party made it seem crazy to build a mosque in NY (cause God forbid the 1st Amendment be observed), and the liberal movement didn't exactly come out to support him on that. And then finally, the Bush tax cuts - another major piece sacrificed. And in return, he got New START, strengthened the FDA, gave health insurance to 9/11 responders, signed an important Civil Rights legislation for black farmers, and ended DADT.
 
Granted, there are more critiques from the conservative side of the house, and less to be happy about. But after the latest economic crisis that conservatives have created, I have a hard time taking them seriously. And for those who say "then why should Obama have caved?" Did he really cave? He cut the long term deficit (which he's wanted to do since sitting in the Senate), and has now put Republicans in a position where they need to come to the table or see their core values demolished. It's either tax cuts or the end of the world's greatest military. Does anybody really think Republicans won't deal? Even if they don't, it's a pretty easy for Obama to make the case that the Republicans have been taken over by "Tea Party Terrorists," who he tried to negotiate with in good faith. From a political and a policy standpoint, he's pushed the Republicans so far to the right that they are called terrorists without humor by the national media.
 
How has he pushed them to the right? By taking the center.
Which is why there is a ton that moderates can be proud of him for. By putting this nation's economy on a stronger footing for the long term than it has been since LBJ, he's taken full control of the center - and is there anything more important in a chess game? He's made tough decisions on popular programs, faced backlash, but all in all, invested in our long term future.
 
Even if politically he's toast because of playing the long-game economically to the detriment of the short-game, his policies will not die overnight. The republican party may take back the White House, and even gain full control of the Congress - but there is no chance they take a super-majority in the Senate. And then, what can they do? Cut NASA, or kill the private space industry? Further ruin our nation's infrastructure? (It's already collapsing, literally). Good luck repealing Obamacare. Good luck re-instating DADT. Good luck sending troops back to Afghanistan and Iraq. They could ruin the repaired relationships with our allies. Even the Tea Party isn't dumb enough to sabotage our free-trade agreements.
 
His policies will last, and that's because they've been moderate. But that moderation also means they've engendered backlash on both sides. That moderation also means they're going to be tough to get rid of. And the only thing left for him on the moderate side of the house are immigration reform, and finishing the job on education and infrastructure. Big tasks, no doubt (but tasks I also doubt anybody but Obama can accomplish). And I will not underrate his poor form on the short-term economy - that may cost him a second term, and is the most important problem facing America today.
 
But overall, he's already the most accomplished president since FDR - and in only 3 years. And like FDR, his policies will be tough to get rid of. Barack Obama may lose the presidency, but as the Tea Party moves to the right, he has taken the center for the Democrats, and makes his policies that much harder to erase.
 
Stop thinking about 2012. In 2020, it'll be obvious - Barack Obama gave Bobby Fischer a run for his money as the greatest of chessmasters.<<

To be continued. (Bobby Fischer photo from Chess.com.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/08/obama-as-chess-master-think-of-him-as-bobby-fischer/243139/