David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Anthony Williams for President

It’s unlike me to settle on a candidate for President so early in the primary season, but I’ve made my choice. It’s this guy.

Anthony Williams, former mayor of Washington, DCThose of you outside the Washington, DC area may not know who Anthony Williams is, and you might be confused by the fact that he doesn’t appear on the ballot in any of the 50 states. Anthony Williams was the mayor of Washington, DC from 1999 to 2007, and he did a heckuva job cleaning up after a heckuva mess.

How? After the disastrous administration of the grandstanding (and coke-snorting) Marion Barry, Tony Williams came into the mayor’s office with his nasally voice and his dorky little bow tie. He didn’t spew forth a lot of bullshit about the audacity of hope and the firmness of character. Williams simply rolled up his sleeves, set the dial for Maximum Wonkiness, and turned out budget surplus after budget surplus. You could see him on TV in press conferences for years, discussing the minutiae of fiscal policy with the authority of someone who stayed up half the night digging through stacks of government reports. Nobody was inspired to write a song about how they had a crush on Tony Williams.

Before Williams, the city was in such dire shape that Congress had to step in and effectively wrest control out of Mayor Barry’s hands, setting up a control board to manage the city’s affairs. Before Williams, a good chunk of DC’s parking meters were permanently busted, because a bunch of punks discovered that you could easily decapitate them with a baseball bat. Seriously. The city was full of smashed-up parking meters that the city didn’t bother to fix, losing out on millions of dollars of revenue.

In my view, Anthony Williams is the model of what a president should be. A sober, staid manager who keeps his head, who knows the facts better than anyone else, who arbitrates disputes by getting people to sit down at a table and discuss things calmly like grown-ups. Presidents do not need to be soaring masters of inspirational rhetoric. They don’t need to promise you the moon. You can have your presidents who promise you get-rich-quick schemes; I want a president who consistently delivers prime plus two.

It’s obvious who I’m taking aim at here. Hint: his name begins with a “B” and ends with “arack Obama.” I’ve been watching the hype surrounding this guy for months now and shaking my head in amazement. It’s amazing how many people fall for this stuff every two years. We’re going to restore civility to Washington, DC! We’re going to cut through the partisan gridlock! We’re going to change the tone! Right, sure. President Howard Dean said that too, as did President Wesley Clarke, President Ross Perot, President Colin Powell, President Gary Hart, and President Jerry Brown. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was going to end the partisan bickering in Congress, right before she started threatening other Democrats with retaliation if they didn’t support the fiercely partisan Jack Murtha for House Majority Leader.

Every time I hear the rhetoric about courage and audacity of hope, I roll my eyes. What the hell does that even mean? Courage and audacity to hope for what? It’s meaningless blather. It doesn’t tell you anything. It’s kind of like those people who tell you that they don’t follow any particular religion, but they’re “spiritual.” To quote the late Chris Farley — well, la-dee-frickin’-da!

Barack Obama Memo to Senator Barack Obama: It wasn’t particularly noteworthy that Martin Luther King had a dream, it was noteworthy what he was dreaming about. I mean, Osama bin Laden has a dream too. He’s inspired radical Muslims with the courage and audacity to hope and dream better than any sorry-ass American politician is likely to do in our lifetimes. The problem is that bin Laden’s dream is about a new caliphate slicing off the heads of infidels.

We don’t need new dreams. George Washington, Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, et al had a pretty damn good dream (though they could have done better in terms of extending that dream beyond the walls of white male landowners). What we need are good administrators and competent executors of that old dream.

Which is kind of what makes me shake my head at all this disparaging talk of the “Clinton machine.” What’s wrong with machines? I don’t know about you, but I drive a machine to work every day, and I use a machine to wash my clothes. Despite the audacity of hope that using a ballpoint pen and notebook paper to write this blog post would inspire, I think I’m better off typing it on a machine. Machines are efficient. They work. And by definition they have no moral agency of their own; they’re just tools to help achieve the ambitions of human beings.

It’s not that I don’t like Obama. (And I’m not trying to write this in a backhanded attempt to boost Hillary Clinton.) I suspect Obama’d be a pretty good president, and he’d do a decent job of restoring respectability to the United States on the global Whuffie exchange. His rhetoric is good, but his ideas are hardly revolutionary. I think he’s got as good a plan as any candidate for dealing with the Iraq mess. He couldn’t possibly do much worse of a job than our current president — but then again, he shares that distinction with everyone from Al Roker to Bobcat Goldthwaite to, hell, maybe even Marion Barry. I’m sure if Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll vote for him over whichever nut job wins the GOP nod. (Although I’m prepared to listen to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, if either of them get the bid.)

But this “inspiration to change the world” stuff is just a shtick. That’s all it is. It’s a good shtick, and to some extent a president needs to be able to do a good shtick. But in the end, it’s not the capacity to love and heal and embrace change that is going to help this country. It’s the ability to be a boring policy wonk who stays up half the night burying one’s nose in stacks of government reports.

Like Tony Williams.

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  1. Xin on January 9, 2008 at 10:27 pm  Chain link

    Lou and I have no problems with new dreams. But what’s bothering us about Obama is he never tells us what “the dream” or “the change” is exactly. He is a great speaker. But that doesn’t prove that he knows what he is talking about. The only advantage he has over other candidates are youth and lack of experience, which makes him a candidate with less dirt. That is only because he had less opportunities than others.

  2. Soni on January 9, 2008 at 11:44 pm  Chain link

    Hell, at this point, I’d settle for 4 years of peace and quiet from the White House, just to give the nation a chance to breathe and collect it’s thoughts.

    I know that sounds flip, but I’m serious. I’m sick and tired of waking up every single day with a sense of twitchy foreboding about what idiotic, jaw-dropping, excruciatingly embarrassing or blatantly villainous things my global representatives have done in my name – and gotten away with – in the past 24 hours.

    Every time I hit the blogs and news feeds, I’m flinching inside about what I’m going to find.

    We could do far, far worse than 4 years of meditative, reflective calm, like the stunned breath-catching, pass-the-cigarette-around thing that actors do at the end of a zombie movie right after rescue comes, but before the “riding off into the sunset” and rebuilding begins.

    If nothing else, four years with Obama would quite likely be four years of sensible, calm and deliberate movement. Which would be a balm to the nerves of this shell-shocked survivor of the last eight.

  3. tommyspoon on January 10, 2008 at 9:56 am  Chain link

    That’s probably the most interesting shadow candidate I’ve ever heard of! Bully for you, Dave!

    I am Tony Williams fan, too. I’m not sure that any mayor of DC can move on to a national office. The mayorality of NYC has never been a stepping stone to a national office, why should we expect anything different from DC?

    I will say one thing, however. After 8 years of feeling depressed and dejected about my leaders I think I’m entitled to a bit of hope and optimism. Don’t take that away from me so soon! There’ll be plenty of time to rally behind the nominee that I probably will disappointed with.

  4. Elaine on January 10, 2008 at 2:06 pm  Chain link

    His rhetoric is good, but his ideas are hardly revolutionary. I think he’s got as good a plan as any candidate for dealing with the Iraq mess. He couldn’t possibly do much worse of a job than our current president — but then again, he shares that distinction with everyone from Al Roker to Bobcat Goldthwaite to, hell, maybe even Marion Barry.

    Funny, I heard talk similar to this in ’92 about Bill Clinton.

    I think the thing that makes Obama so attractive to people — particularly college students who may or may not pay attention, but certainly speak out — is that he is about as far from W as a presidential candidate can get. Do I think being the anti-W makes you worthy of getting votes? No. But then again, I don’t think being Bill Clinton’s wife makes you worthy of getting them either.

  5. George Pedrosa on January 11, 2008 at 11:02 am  Chain link

    Loved this article. And I have to quote Alan Moore on this: “TV and politics have always made inevitable bedfellows, but the results have been disastrous. Look at the situation we have now. Let’s say that tomorrow someone who is a political genius were to emerge — and I’m not expecting this to happen, but say that it did. Say that a politician emerged who seemed, for once, basically competent, who seemed to be able to do their job as well as the average cab driver, comic writer or journalist. If they were the most intelligent, visionary, humane political thinker in the history of mankind, but were also fat, had some sort of blemish or something that made them less than telegenic, we would not be able to elect them. All we’re able to elect are these telegenic, photogenic crypto-Nazis. As long as they look good.”

    He said that right before going into a rant on Ronald Reagan. Who, in my opinion, is the person who perfectly represents the damage that a “master of inspirational rhetoric” can cause.

  6. Thom Stanley on January 11, 2008 at 7:34 pm  Chain link

    I just don’t know. Quite frankly, the experience issue is paramount on all angles; there just aren’t any qualified leaders available in my eyes.

    I suppose I would end up voting for Hilary during the primaries, God help me, because she’s been in the White House and she has Bill to fall back on for experience.

  7. simone mason on January 12, 2008 at 11:00 am  Chain link

    I dont know but i actually like what you do i must be dreaming cause YOU ROCK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But i dont know who shold i pick you or HILARY THIS MONTH BUT I DONT NEED IM GONNA THINK ABOUT IT .

  8. George Pedrosa on January 12, 2008 at 11:22 am  Chain link

    “It’s meaningless blather. It doesn’t tell you anything. It’s kind of like those people who tell you that they don’t follow any particular religion, but they’re “spiritual.””

    Well, in my view, you follow a particular religion, theoretically, because you think the person who founded this religion is the one who got IT right. Maybe a person who doesn’t follow any particular religion, but still believes there’s something more to life, simply believes that no one has the knowledge to know precisely what happens after you die. That line of reasoning has a name and even lots of philosophers that support it. It’s called agnosticism. Which, in my opinion, is a fairly rational way of looking at life.

  9. David Louis Edelman on January 12, 2008 at 12:11 pm  Chain link

    That line of reasoning has a name and even lots of philosophers that support it. It’s called agnosticism. Which, in my opinion, is a fairly rational way of looking at life.

    Oh, I don’t mean to imply that you have to either follow one particular religion or be an atheist to be a thoughtful person. But I think there are a lot of people who use the “spiritual” label as a kind of intellectual crutch, because they haven’t really thought their religious beliefs through. Sorry I wasn’t more clear on that.

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