Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama and Sun Tzu

Today I’ll celebrate Obama, rather than, as has been my habit over the past year, knocking him.

Obama’s campaign was impressive for exactly the reason that – in the final stretch of the healthcare debate – Obama’s renewed energy in pressing for the House bill was impressive. The reason is easy to find, as all readers of Francois Jullien’s Treatise on Efficiency know – Obama – and in this he is like Lincoln – is very much a Chinese strategist:

Two different modes of efficacy result from these two different logics [of the Western strategists and Sun Tzu] on the one hand, the relation of means to ends with which we in the West are the more familiar; on the other, a relation between conditions and consequences, which is favored by the Chinese. When strategy consists in getting a situation to evolve in such a way that, if one allows oneself to be carried along by it, the effect results naturally from the accumulated potential of the situation, there is no longer any need to choose (between means) or to struggle in order to attain an ‘end’. Abandoning the logic of model-making (founded on the construction of an ideal end), you can switch to the logic of a process (note the importance of ze, “as a result”, in the construction of Chinese discourse). On the one side, the causal system is open and complex, and an infinite number of combinations are possible; oin the other, the process is closed, and its result is implicit in its evolution.”

When Obama dismisses D.C. and the political entertainment industry, this is what he means. The enemy must take a position, while Obama waits for a situation. The GOP has taken the position of pure opposition to any healthcare bill. What this position really means is that the GOP is defending the present system. Obama took the situation – the discontent with the system, and the manifest fears of not being insured, along with rising insurance rates – and simply let it develop as his argument. However, to remain master of the situation, one must look within and understand your own relationship to it. Obama failed to do this – in essence, he nearly shoaled the situation by negotiating with the GOP. The loss of the Senate seat in Massachussetts was actually a good thing for Obama – it taught him that the situation was not changing towards what he wanted, but away from what he wanted. He had lost his formerly correct sense of how to press on the situation.

That sense is not created in the political entertainment industry or in response to it. Obama and his people are not at all the instant response kind, vide Clinton’s people. In this way, they let the enemy forces stake their position. By negotiating with the GOP, Obama helped them hide their position behind mere opposition to the bill. This almost cost him the whole campaign. But the bill’s passage is a turning point. For opposition to a bill in process is much different than repealing a bill that has been passed – the latter requires that you enumerate what is wrong with the bill, and explain why you want to sacrifice such things as the reform of the pre-existing condition part of the bill. At this point the enemy has to ride the situation they have created.

The healthcare bill is not the only battle being fought, of course. Jullien points out the five-fold conditions that are laid down by the Chinese strategists – some of which are natural (the weather) and some of which are subject to human change (the ground). The natural condition at the moment is the economy, with its horrendous unemployment figures and the fact that 25 million homeowners are a little or way below the value of the house that they are paying the banks for. Surely the waste of last year should bring wrath down upon the incumbents – which are majority Dem. But having passed a bill that was so fiercely opposed, the Dems might have gotten a taste for rushing into battle. In which case, they might have a chance in November.

No comments: