July 16, 2013

What is the sight of one hand hidden? The zen koan of a NYT headline.

I'm getting a late start this morning. Only yesterday — ah, yesterday! — I had my first post up at 6:21. It contained the memorable Drudge headline "Big Sis Wants to See Under Your Clothes." Today, the blog didn't get going until 8:45 (and that's Central Time). If I wanted a cover story — a story that you can't see under even with your National Surveillance X-Ray Robot Eyes — I'd say I needed to meditate for hours upon encountering — on the front page of the NYT — the equivalent of the old what is the sound of one hand clapping? zen koan.
Having achieved oneness, what is its sound? In other words, how does it reverberate? How does it go out into the world and function? If we're just being "one" with our own hand, what have we accomplished? If it's all about our own private experience, it's nothing but a hand job!
Are you ready now for the headline? It's: "In Second Term, Obama Is Seen as Using 'Hidden Hand’ Approach."

If it's a hidden hand, how is it seen? Some unnamed entity/entities are seeing, but they are hidden by the hidden hand of the headline writer using the passive voice. The passive voice is evidence of the unseen hand of another hand job for President Obama.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
The leaves of the newspaper are trembling with the wind that passes through, and thus do we "see" the unseen. But what is this wind? The underlying article, written by Peter Baker begins like this:

In the nearly two weeks since Egypt’s military seized power, President Obama has promoted a better federal bureaucracy, given a medal to George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame and had former President George Bush to the White House for lunch. What he has not done is publicly address the violent upheaval in Cairo.
Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.
That is not to say Mr. Obama is uninvolved. In the privacy of the West Wing, away from the cameras, he has made calls to leading figures in the Arab world and has met with advisers trying to influence the crisis. But his low public profile on issues like immigration, Syria and health care underscores a calculated presidential approach that admirers consider nuanced...

... and detractors call passive.
When we see nothing, how can we know that the person who would be expected to act is choosing to act by not appearing to act, in some deliberate "hidden hand" approach? Quite aside from whether that is a wise and workable approach, is it even something he's doing? Peter Baker cites no inside sources for the proposition that Obama claims to be using a "hidden hand" approach. The old inside phrase was "leading from behind," and it would be interesting to analyze a shift from "leading from behind" to "hidden hand." (Is the hidden hand goosing the behind?)

Peter Baker's quoted sources are — I kid you not — Jim Newton, author of "Eisenhower: The White House Years," and Dwight Eisenhower's granddaughter Susan. These are the seers seeing.
Some compare Mr. Obama’s approach to the “hidden hand” style of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who often steered events behind the scenes without being public about his role....
Some... If you use the notoriously shifty sentence subject "some" you'd better have at least 2.
“In those senses, Obama does appear to me to be taking a page from Eisenhower’s playbook,” Mr. Newton said. “What I don’t know, however, is how aggressively Obama is working out of view on these matters. The essence of Eisenhower’s hidden hand, of course, is that there was real work going on that people didn’t know at the time. If that’s true now, then Obama really is emulating Ike. If, on the other hand, he’s simply doing nothing or very little, that would be passivity, not hidden-hand leadership.”

Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter of the late president, said it might be too soon to tell. “Eisenhower’s hidden-hand means of meeting his objectives was not really evident until his papers were opened, many decades after he left office,” Ms. Eisenhower said.
So Susan Eisenhower is not even seeing the hidden-hand. She's just talking about how hard it can be to see what is hidden. And Newton — who must be thrilled at the invitation from the NYT to push his book — is (as I see the unseen) responding to Baker's effort to get him to endorse the hidden-hand theory that has no theorists. And he doesn't. The Newton quote is studded with weasel words: appear... if... if... 

What unseen things were seen by the some who saw none?