"My hope, modest as it sounds, is that Barack Obama will bring us a reality-based administration."
My newspaper column is about an important way the next few years might differ from the Bush era. Read the whole thing after the jump.
Hoping for a reality-based presidency
By Edward Cone
News & Record
You can ignore reality, but reality will not ignore you. That's kind of a definitional proposition, an essential reality about reality, but it was overlooked willfully and often and with harsh consequences during the last eight years. My hope, modest as it sounds, is that Barack Obama will bring us a reality-based administration.
The phrase "reality-based community" entered the political lexicon in 2004, courtesy of an unnamed senior White House aide who told journalist Ron Suskind that the group included those people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' That, he said, was not the way things worked in the George W. Bush administration. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Such was the formula that allowed Bush and his team to overlook the essentials of human nature in favor of self-regulated financial markets, and to dismiss the details of history and culture to pursue a half-baked plan for occupying Iraq, and to believe that loyalty trumps experience and competence (heckuva job, Brownie), and so on and so forth, a litany of bad decisions made possible by the rejection of what Suskind referred to as "enlightenment principles and empiricism."
I come not to bury the Bush administration, and certainly not to dismiss the principled conservatism it in many ways betrayed, but to look ahead to an era of more sober thought and serious planning. The imperatives are clear: We cannot continue to borrow and spend indefinitely, to worship blindly the machinery of financial markets, or to mistake our unique place in the world for license to do whatever we please. It's time for the reality-based community to assert itself.
Obama seems like the right guy to lead the way, a man oriented toward solutions rather than ideology. His former law students describe him as "more pragmatic than ideological" and as a user of "forensic logic." One observer from Illinois predicted the Obama administration will be defined by "ruthless pragmatism." Bismarck called politics the art of the possible; Obama needs to be doing everything possible to fix our economy and restore our place in the world.
You can see that mind-set at work in his cabinet picks and hear a statement of purpose in his exchange last week with George Stephanopoulos, who quoted Dick Cheney as saying that Obama needs all the details of current antiterrorism policy before making big changes. "I think that was pretty good advice," said Obama. "I should know what's going on before we make judgments &ellipses; we shouldn't be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric."
Post-partisanship is part of the Obama promise. I hope he means it. That does not mean that all differences can or should be put aside, but that real leadership requires bringing as many people along as possible and finding ways to work around intractable points of contention. Obama is including in his inaugural ceremonies both Rick Warren, the influential pastor who barred gays from his church and campaigned against gay marriage in California, and Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ordained by a major Christian denomination. Neither choice will please everyone, but together they say something about Obama's expansive understanding of the diversity of this country and his willingness to move past some familiar sticking points.
A reality-based presidency must still dream big. The facts of Obama's own biography show that reality can produce startling results and that old constraints can be broken more quickly than was thought possible. Optimism and pragmatism should go hand in hand, and great things can follow. That's my hope for the era that begins on Tuesday.
© News & Record 2009