Political Animal


May 03, 2013 4:26 PM The Substitute Teacher

By Ed Kilgore

Well, I thought I had pretty much plumbed the depths of the current round of punditocratic carping about Obama’s leadership deficiencies—you know, he’s not LBJ, he’s not Ronald Reagan, he’s not Bill Clinton, he’s not Green Lantern. But now here’s Ruth Marcus with what I devoutly hope is the bottom of this particular barrel:

Middle schoolers are a boisterous bunch, swayed by emotions and not always acting logically. Sound like certain countries — or certain legislative bodies? They require understanding but also discipline, with enforced consequences for behaving inappropriately.

Oh, God. Please tell me you aren’t about to call the President of the United States a bad schoolteacher!

Think of the no-nonsense veteran teacher who announces at the start of the year that she brooks no misbehavior and marks down for misspellings. She is the teacher who kids grumble about but who ends up being their most lasting influence.

But then it gets worse:

Obama, on Syria and the sequester, risks becoming instead the hapless substitute, pelted by spitballs. Having drawn a red line, he is now busy blurring it, mumbling about establishing a “chain of custody.” By “game-changer,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference, “I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.” Oooh, ooh, I’m scared now.

Might as well follow this ludicrous analogy to the bitter end:

The president is correct that there are risks in acting too rashly as well as too late, in intervening without international buy-in. He will be criticized for holding back, then questioned for choosing to act.
The difficulty is that, if you’re the kid in the back of the class — Iran or North Korea — waiting to see what the teacher might do, you’re thinking, I don’t need to worry about this guy. He’ll back down in the end. Every middle school teacher knows: Without enforced limits, the hooligans — in Congress and abroad — end up emboldened, not chastened.

So there you are. Maybe next time we’re looking for a president, we’ll consider a retired Drill Instructor who’s teaching at the Sit-Down-and-Shut-Up Charter School For Disciplined Learning. That’ll be a president who may be unpopular for a while, but will later be tearfully remembered as the Mr. Chips of domestic politics and global diplomacy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • g on May 03, 2013 4:42 PM:

    I'm confused by the analogy - Congress is a co-equal branch of government. Are the students co-equals of the teacher? What kind of punishment exactly can the President impose on Congress for Congressional misbehavior? Ms. Marcus truly is the bottom of the barrel.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 03, 2013 4:47 PM:

    Oddly enough, if you create an analogy that relies on unquestioned authority and intimidation, it's not going to suit a situation that can't be solved by unquestioned authority and intimidation.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 03, 2013 4:53 PM:

    Along the lines of g's point, even if you take the classroom analogy dead seriously, why would Obama be the teacher? That's textbook "begging the question." Think about how differently the analogy would work if you imagine Obama as the well-behaved good kid in a room full of tantrum-throwing bad kids.

  • hornblower on May 03, 2013 4:58 PM:

    Do you think there may be too many people trying to make a living writing about politics and government? Most of the stuff is worthless. Attention must not be paid.

  • martin on May 03, 2013 5:23 PM:

    These "pundits" don't want a president, they want a dictator. One that will, of course, sweep them off their feet and enshrine their valuable opinions in the halls of Valhalla.

    Grow the hell up.

  • c u n d gulag on May 03, 2013 6:24 PM:

    This, is, of course, tne Peggy Noonanization of politics.

    She was one of the orignal fluffers of the Reagan and O'Neill myth, about duking it out all day, and having a cold brew together in the evening.

    And now, not only have a lot of women columnists picked up her meme, most of the the men have too.

    Times were DIFFERENT, you feckin' imbeciles!
    The parties were different!!!

    And Reagan wasn't black, and painted as Ronald "Kenyan-born Leroy T-bone Malt Liquor" Reagan, by his opponents, and his House opponent wasn Tip "Weak Lead Bat, In the Belfry of the Mental Asylum" O'Neill!

    See my comments on the MSM's Stockholm Syndrome, earlier today.

  • Doug on May 03, 2013 8:06 PM:

    Marcus got it half right: House Republicans *do* act like Middle Schoolers, but then she had to go all "it's both sides fault-y"! Is there something in the water in DC or is it just plain, old-fashioned cowardice on the part of these "pundits"? Apparently anything, rather than perhaps possibly maybe having some Republican object to what one has written.
    If it *is* the water, then may Pierce and Krugman forever reside *anywhere* other than DC! Personally, I think it's just cowardice, but then I'm not risking an invite to *the* DC affair of the year or an "unidentified source"...

  • alix on May 03, 2013 8:41 PM:

    And surely the Republicans, however destructive and immature, are not "classmates" of Iran and N. Korea.

    I love the utter lack of memory-- they were just saying he should invite the Repubs to lunch or dinner or something. Be nice. Be friendly.

    That didn't work, so instead of saying, "Well, that didn't work," they say, "He should be MEAN!"

    Never at any point is there a recognition that the Republican House is a branch of Congress and actually has a responsibility to govern. Be a teacher, not a student then.

    Oh, well. The more idiotic this gets, the more I like Obama, and the sillier these MSM "pundits" seem.

  • Fritz Strand on May 04, 2013 10:16 AM:

    I rarely see anyone reference the editorial page of post unless to point out how ridiculous the writers are.

    I gave up on Washington D.C.'s own official political stenographers years ago. I think they only have one or two real journalist left.

  • williamjacobs on May 04, 2013 11:40 AM:

    Cheney 2016!

    Separation of powers is for sissies!