“The best soldier for our side”

Coates on Obama.

In the course of making a different argument (about whether Obama needs a more explicit program to benefit African-Americans) Ta-Nehisi Coates writes:

I voted for Obama because of the speech he gave today [in Cairo], because I think he is the best soldier for our side that I’ve seen, because he has a deliberative mind, because he can walk and chew gum, because he is ruthless politician.

I’m not sure whether “our side” there means the Blue team against the Red team, or the Enlightenment against tyranny and bigotry and obscurantism, or the U.S. against al-Qaeda and the Iranian mullahs. Maybe all three.

“Best” is a big word, but in each case Obama, among the currently available options, is the soldier I most want fighting for my side, for the reasons Coates lays out. (I would have said “relentless” rather than “ruthless”: Obama’s version of the “Chicago way” does not forgo either mercy or scruple, but makes them part of the strategy.)

Of course he’s not going to win over the hard-core Republicans like Limbaugh or the hard-core bigots like Pope Bingo or the hard-core jihadists like Ahmadi-nejad. He doesn’t have to. What he can do is de-mobilize their potential supporters by demonstrating a willingness to listen and to make progress on around common purposes: allowing girls to wear the hijab to school is a small price to pay for promoting their education. The Cairo speech was, among other things, a campaign speech for Ahmadi-nejad’s opponents in the Iranian elections.

Obama is a John Wayne character, not a Clint Eastwood character: always manly, never mean. He makes gentleness an expression of integrity and toughness and power, and never feels the need to use recklessness to demonstrate resolve.

Can he keep it up? Time will tell. But right now it looks as if, just this once, I backed the right horse.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com