August 3rd, 2011

President Obama would like to be Lincoln, but is not: that’s not a criticism. But he increasingly resembles one of Lincoln’s subordinates: a handsome, charismatic leader, brilliant at organizing, popular with the troops, but fatally passive and unaggressive on the battlefield:

General George B. McClellan (wartime photo by Matthew Brady, via Wikimedia).

Perhaps it’s time for American liberals to look for a scruffy guy with a rumoured drinking problem.

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22 Responses to “Role models”

  1. calling all toasters says:

    Nice analogy for Obama, but I just can’t see Pelosi in a beard.

  2. calling all toasters says:

    I see Scarecrow at FDL is thinking more in terms of LBJ not running in ’68 (the solution I am hoping for):

  3. Penelope S. Pelosi? She fits the part. The drinking and the beard are not essential. Sherman didn’t have much of a beard, and was even scruffier than Grant.

  4. calling all toasters says:

    I fantasize about President Pelosi putting Sherman’s face on the trillion dollar coin the next time there’s a debt ceiling fight. Just to rub their ignorant redneck noses in it.

  5. Seth says:

    Obama has definitely “got the slows”. But the Dems haven’t got fight enough in ‘em to ditch him. A sorry spectacle.

  6. Cranky Observer says:

    Semi-OT: Does anyone else find Mark Kleiman’s refusal to re-visit his pre-deal analysis in light of the actual deal signed a bit sad?


  7. Katja says:

    Of course, with a few constitutional tweaks, we could arrive at an even better way to deal with an obstructionist legislature.

  8. Perspecticus says:

    Wouldn’t it be just like dem Dems to primary, and who knows maybe even replace, a sitting Democratic president? Perhaps one party comprised of everyone from cross-dressing, trans-sexual lesbian college-Marxists to “If I run as a Democrat, I’d better be a damned good Republican” Blew Dawgs is not really the best way to operate? The spread between Top 1% extreme capitalist, hyper-Christianist, and red neck Tea Partyist is obviously a lot narrower than what dem Dems endure among their constitutents.

  9. Tim S says:


    Do you really think that the way to good government and good policy is through ideological purity? I think that the extreme wing of the Republican Party’s obsession with RINOs is hardly good for the country. And therefore is not something we of the left should emulate.

  10. Matt says:

    I really don’t think Robin Williams would make a good president.

  11. Gus diZerega says:

    It is a sad comment on the incumbent that I find myself wishing LBJ could take his place. I think LBJ actually believed in something, and while I frequently disagreed with him, I sometimes agreed strongly. By comparison figuring out Obama’s convictions is like trying to build a house out of silly putty.

  12. Toby says:

    Nice. But I am afraid it does not stack up. I admire Grant and Lincoln, but Grant would not have succeeded as a General without Lincoln watching his back. Lincoln supported Gratn at least twice when he might have been demoted or dismissed. There were not many to watch Lincoln’s back, in fact at different times he had to defend Seward and Stanton, while Chase had the “Presidential Bug” from the start.

    A better comparison might be with Grant as President. Grant was a success at dealing with the Indians (if you call that a success), and at suppressing the terrorists of the KKK. But he could not square the circle of an exhausted North, an economic Depression, and a white South determined to have its own way, and willing to use violence to get it. Black freedom and the ascendancy of Jim Crow was a legacy that did not come into fruition until later, but its seeds began under Grant. And there was not much he could do about it.

    To use an analogy, Lincoln was a great President becuase he combined the qualities of both a hedgehog and a fox. He was a hedgehog on the Union, and a fox on Slavery. Obama does not seem to know when to be one or the other.

  13. NCG says:

    Cranky: No. Just give him a little more time.

    It bears repeating: we’re still lucky to have this president and not the other one.

    All the president needs is a good primary challenger on the left who will get out after winning a couple states. Maybe they can make a show of the president trouncing him out. That might be nice.

    Assuming, of course, that this actually moves the president left in some sort of measurable and enforceable way. (I don’t go in for mind-reading and I don’t know what the president really wants.) Republicans seem to pull off this sort of thing all the time and I don’t see why we on the left can’t manage it.

  14. Swift Loris says:

    @cranky–do you have links to the posts featuring that pre-deal analysis? Maybe having them easily available would prime the pump, as it were.

  15. To the best of my knowledge, Paul Krugman does not have a drinking, or any other substance abuse, problem.

  16. agorabum says:

    Obama drew them out onto the battlefield. The Republicans, in the midterms, claimed they were all about jobs (i.e. stewards of the economy) and protecting medicare. Obama made them take the field, and they exposed they are only about cutting medicare and cutting taxes for the rich.
    Grant knew the key was keeping the fight going; when he was put in charge of the Army there was no bold stroke of genius. It was a slog. It was the siege of Petersburg. It was an ugly and bloody battle of attrition.
    In the debt ceiling fight, Obama got dirty. But respect for the Republicans plummeted. They have laid their priorities bear. In the next election, they can’t run on economic stewardship and protecting medicare.
    So I think Obama is more Grant than McClellan. If he was McClellan, he’d be popular among the base for all the positions he was taking, without the results (due to senate filibuster and no house control). The left base would idolize him, but he’d lose the election because he’d be seen as not trying to do the hard work to get the job done.
    In the short term, it would have been better to find some questionably legal way around the debt ceiling (so no hostage). But I think his way pulled them out of their fortifications of empty rhetoric.

  17. Passing By says:

    Mr. Wimberley-

    Your complaint seems to be that Mr. Obama won’t fight for your cause(s) … Do you have any reason to believe that their his caused too? Any reason to believe that Mr. Obama didn’t get more-or-less what he wanted out of the budget negotiations?

  18. Passing By says:

    Sorry … Should be “they’re his causes too?”

  19. Ragout says:

    McClellan was undone more because he was a political moderate who wasn’t trusted the Radical Republicans than because of any failures as a general. In 1862, after launching the largest amphibious invasion in history, McClellan had a powerful army southeast of Richmond, and had a good shot at winning the war 2 years early. But congressional critics dismissed his successes and Lincoln forced him to withdraw. It’s true that the radicals were right and that McClellan had done a lot to earn their distrust. But it’s also true that McClellan’s cautious approach might well have won the war early, if only his critics on the left had been able to recognize victory when they saw it.

  20. toby says:


    McCellan’s problem was that he was not prepared to radicalise his agenda. Probably if offered a loose sham-Union with slavery (in 1862 or 1865, if he won the 1864 election), he would have accepted it. If victory over Lee needed slavery to end, then he was not over-eager to defeat Lee at all. he said as much in a notorious memorandum to Lincoln, which was politely ignored.

    Lincoln actually got the best out of McCellan – the General produced a fantastic fighting force, if a bit timid in its upper echelons.

    The closer you look at James’ analogy, the more the focus goes back to Lincoln. Presidents and Generals fight in different cirsumstances. I would love Obama to channel Grant’s bulldog determination and his strategic insight – when it is appropriate. Tactically, Grant had embarrassing and woeful defeats at Vicksburg (a frontal attack), Cold Harbor and the Crater, where his full-frontal determination and the incompetence of his reportees produced disaster. His focus on Petersburg let Jubal Early advance to the gates of Washington. He fumbled a bit at Shiloh. Obama, maybe, is entitled to at least one Shiloh or Cold Harbor.

  21. Passing By says:

    Ragout – “McClellan was undone more because he was a political moderate who wasn’t trusted the Radical Republicans than because of any failures as a general.”

    McClellan was undone precisely by his “failures as a general”, both in the Penninsular campaign and at/after Antietam. On the Penninsula, he grossly over-estimated the Confederate forces facing him, and consequently failed to come to grips with them. That let the seriously out-numbered Confederates pivot to destroy Pope’s army at Second Manasses while McClellan sat on his hands. Then at Antietam, fortune served up the Army of Northern Virginia to him on a platter; but the best he could do was a draw that let the enemy escape. How did President Lincoln or “congressional critics” force him into either of these blunders?

    Mr. Lincoln had it right when he wrote to McClellan, shortly after Antietam: “Are you not over cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?”

    That is, as Mr. Lincoln recognized, a profound “failure as a general”.

  22. Eric Pawlowsky says:

    Lincoln promoted Grant over the objections of some who thought his personal demons might inhibit his ability to lead. Throughout most of his Presidency, he also endured endless criticism from Northeast liberals over his reluctance to abolish slavery. Almost cost him the nomination in ’64.