Barack Obama is passing landmark, unprecedented legislation, becoming one of the most effective presidents in history. And absolutely no one seems to notice or care. His poll numbers are plummeting, and the conservative right is drowning out the president's message of hope with their usual chorus of threats and gloom. By the time real change—in the economy, in the war—kicks in, some other guy will be wearing the windbreaker on Air Force One. That Obama, from all available evidence, apparently can’t see that coming troubles me a great deal. The president needs to expand his message of hope with one of patience.
The president of the United States is
a hard man to figure out. He has a laid-back style that evokes unfortunate comparisons to
Jimmy Carter. And, while no one wants to call Barack Obama
weak—at least not to his face—any direct correlation between
Obama and Carter is intended to do just that. In Washington,
bluster is valued over quiet maturity, action over
contemplation. Obama’s professorial demeanor inflames Republican
contempt, and the president’s Christ-like efforts to forge
bipartisan alliances seem to frustrate friend and foe alike.
It’s possible we haven’t had an adult in the Oval Office since
George Herbert Walker Bush or Jimmy Carter before him. Both were
one-term presidents, while the anachronistically gregarious
Ronald Reagan and fiery-tempered Bill Clinton wooed America for
two terms, as did the cartoonish underachiever George W. Bush.
Obama’s personal ambiguity—how he manages to avoid concise
analysis and, with the rare exception (“…the Cambridge police
acted stupidly…”), verbal gaffes—likely irritates most everyone.
At times, the guy doesn’t seem quite human. His occasional
displays of indignation seem forced and rehearsed, like there’s
a short circuit somewhere as the president just seems incapable
of taking offense. More often, the president seems aloof and out
of touch. He does not seem to get it that his Republican
adversaries don’t merely oppose him but actively hate him. They
also seem to hate America, as they seem both anxious and willing
to allow the American people to suffer and to go without just to
score cheap political points against the president.
As I’ve said many times, the Republicans understand the American people are gullible and intellectually lazy. Sarah Palin’s very existence as a national political figure is evidence of the contempt with which the conservative right hold the American people. If they could find someone stupider and even less engaged with the issues than Palin, that’s who they’d run. Palin makes all women seem stupid and ridiculous. Palin embraces that stupidity and makes a virtue out of being unengaged. Stupid, intellectually lazy white women, suffering oxygen depravation from being trapped beneath the crystal dome of their Later Gator and SpongeBob snow globes, embrace Palin as One Of Us because Palin demands nothing of them. Palin all but openly mocks higher education or intellectual discourse. Which, to these women, makes Palin a knowable, “average” American.
Obama, on the other hand, comes across like an egghead. You’ve got to take notes during his speeches and look things up. Obama asks things of us. Asks us to sacrifice, to give. Asks us to be patient. Asks us to care and to think beyond our own front porch. Palin asks nothing of us but our vote and twenty bucks for her latest book. She lets women know being out of shape, lying around the house all day with oatmeal stains on your Mumu is perfectly acceptable. That’s Real America.
On average, very few of us question things or have much in the way of intellectual curiosity. What we do have is community, which provides cultural accretions that tend to settle us into predictable patterns of thinking. So, depending on your zip code, you have rabid pro-Obama people and rabid anti-Obama people, leaving the prize both ends of the political spectrum are waging their war of propaganda for: the independents. Obama wants you to get dressed. I’d imagine a great many Palin “mama grizzlies” take great offense to Obama’s call to service because it suggests there’s something wrong with the insular way they live their chronic, over-scheduled tan minivan lives. This is why these people hate the president. Hate his glamorous wife who, two kids later, still looks great. A fair segment of Obama haters hate him not for his race but for his energy. That he gets up in the morning and brushes his teeth just pisses these folk off. A semi-literate slacker like George Dubya or the substantially less engaged Palin (she makes Bush seem like Einstein) is a great comfort to people whose entire lives are about their front lawn and soccer practice.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs experienced a mini-meltdown last week, whining about how “The Professional Left” —presumably liberal media—do not give the president credit for his many monumental achievements in office. I doubt that is true, but I can tell you the president’s agenda is hijacked with such regularity that I have to question the administration’s political chops. I mean, the president could discover life on Mars and the news headlines would be dominated by a BP oil spill or a devastating flood in Pakistan. This presidency has been historic—first and foremost because of his race, then for an untried, inexperienced young president being handed the worst economy since the Great Depression. Then, you name it: gays in the military, health care, two wars, meltdowns in the auto industry with the potential to destroy hundreds of ancillary industries and millions of jobs, record unemployment, and that oil spill. Whether he succeeds or not, Barack Obama is having an historic presidency, like none other in history. And he handles it all in stride, with that thousand-watt smile. And that irritates the hell out of some people.
Gibbs’ tirade about the lack of appreciation for the president’s historic term earned both himself and the president derision, but Gibbs was right. We understand, going in, the conservative media will downplay every achievement of this president. But we thought we could count on our friends. Is it possible the country has become so used to historic legislation and achievement on so unprecedented a scale—a Nobel prize, for Pete’s sake—that we just yawn and channel surf? Is it possible that we are living in a kind of amazing golden age, led by what history will judge as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century—and we either don’t notice or take it for granted?
On July 21, 2010 President Obama signed H.R.4173, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Wall Street reform bill is considered to be the most significant and sweeping financial system overhaul since the New Deal. The law recognizes complex financial derivatives and makes rules to protect consumers from unfair practices in loans and credit cards by establishing a new consumer protection agency. At the signing ceremony in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C. Obama proclaimed, "There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period." Obama also mentioned that "These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history." WIKIPEDIA
And nobody cares. As with most pieces of the president’s astounding legislative agenda, the nation stifled a collective yawn over a massive and historic piece of legislation that was, at the end of the day, not sexy enough or, frankly, simple enough for people to take much interest in. The nation is broke, the nation is hurting. And, while H.R.4173 is meant to address both of those problems and should go a long way to ensure future generations do not suffer the kinds of financial exploitation we have, the bill is, frankly, too complex to explain to an impatient, intellectually lazy populace ensorcelled by the likes of Sarah (“You Betcha”) Palin. We, the American people, are, in all frankness, getting stupider as time goes by, a reality the Republicans earnestly embrace while the Democrats continue to appeal to our logic and intellect. Movies are dumber, TV is dumber. Dramas with emotional depth are replaced by game shows about opening suitcases and moronic, empty-headed twenty-somethings living on the Jersey shore. It is an America elitists like Obama either refuse to acknowledge or simply cannot plug into. The Republicans, who, on many levels are far more elitist than Obama, are far less scrupulous and even less hopeful than the president. They know the American people are stupid. They are, in fact, counting on it, on our intellectual laziness, to propel them back into power. Because they know the average American yawned at—assuming they had any reaction at all to—H.R.4173. America is on pins and needles worried about Snookie or whatever her name is. We are accustomed to conflict resolution within 42 minutes plus commercials. This economic recovery is taking way too long. We’re still unemployed. We are broke and hurting. America ignored H.R.4173 but paid apt attention to First Lady Michelle Obama’s lavish trip to Spain, a trip for which the American taxpayer paid nearly a million dollars for transportation and security. Meanwhile, the president has been held virtual hostage by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill while Congress creeps along in gridlock. We are broke and we’re hurting. And we are obsessed with Snookie.
Barack Obama is passing landmark, unprecedented legislation, becoming one of the most effective presidents in history. He likely staved off a second Great Depression, saved millions of homes through the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, banned torture by military and intelligence agencies, ended Don't Ask, Don't Tell, set a firm timetable for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, passed historic healthcare and hate crime legislation, reduced U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals by 50%, helped save the U.S. auto industry and the millions—with an “M”—of jobs that would have evaporated with it, and, oh yes, passed historic, sweeping Wall Street reform. By any reasonable objective standard, and whether you agree with his policies or not, Barack Hussein Obama is one of the most outstanding public servants in the history of this nation. And absolutely no one seems to notice or care.
Arizona Congressional hopeful Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President and political punchline Dan Quayle, is currently running an ad calling Barack Obama the worst president in U.S. history, a title a plurality of noted historians have bestowed upon George W. Bush. Quayle’s over-the-top hyperbole nonetheless resonates with a majority of registered voters who have the president’s approval rating sinking to 45% (Gallup Aug 2-8, 2010). The fact that, despite his repeated and naďve overtures to them, President Obama irritates the conservative right is no surprise. The larger problem is that, by moving away from the promise of his resounding and historic presidential win, Obama is irritating his friends as well. Nobody elected the president to go be The Great Bipartisan Hope. We elected him to change the way Washington does business. He is, however, faced with an opposition so polarized they’d rather the nation went to hell in a hand basket if only to make the president look bad. These are evil men and women who prolong or even cause suffering for political gain. Whose main strategy is merely to obstruct everything the president does and grind all governance to a halt so that they may then point fingers at the president and blame him for having accomplished nothing.
Their biggest weapon is the damning unemployment rate, stuck for fifteen months hovering just below 10%. The number is, for most of us, specious as the black unemployment rate is much closer to 17%, and there are millions more who are under-employed (estimated this weekend at 14%) or who have given up looking for work and are thus not counted. The economic recovery is slowing and businesses are panicking and thus holding off on hiring, and despite his cheery optimism, the president cannot get the needle to budge on unemployment. Meanwhile his wife blows as much as a half million dollars of their money and at least a quarter million of ours on a vacation trip to Spain, tarnishing both hers and the president’s to-date unassailably rosy image. It was a political blunder of irreducible proportions, the timing of the lavish trip, when a much less costly getaway to the Gulf Coast would have been much smarter in terms of the president’s political agenda.
There are times when Obama just seems politically tone deaf. This suggests he is either surrounded by political incompetents (which I do not believe), or the advice is not getting through. And/or that wife Michelle suffers from the common diva disease afflicting many of our sisters—she wants what she wants and she wants it now and that’s all there is to it. I wouldn’t be happy about the family’s personal time being held hostage to the president’s political career, but the Spain thing was just dumb. It hurt him, a body blow to the president’s image. And it will cost him and the Democrats dearly when the bell rings in September for the midterm Congressional election campaigns. Michelle’s indulgence likely cost several Democrats their House seats as voters, angered by her excesses, take it out on the nearest Democrat.
The president is hemorrhaging white male voters by the bucket load. Despite his bluster, Obama came across as impotent during the Deepwater Horizon oil crisis, which cost the president months of political traction while he was held hostage to greedy Brits who played games with the spill in order to shore up what will certainly be a major legal battle over fines and damages. And, while this president’s legacy will likely mark his as one of the most productive and historic presidencies in history—Ben Quayle notwithstanding—most of the president’s victories have been hollowed out along the way by his middling and dealing away the office furniture in misguided attempts to gain even a single Republican vote for his initiatives.
Obama had to know, from the jump, that he’d be going it alone. That he’d be on his own politically while his foes lined up to rally hate to oppose him and his friends dove for cover as Obama, like Clinton before him, pushed forward with an overly ambitious early-term agenda. Yes, the president passed historic healthcare legislation, but that legislation was stripped of its most fundamental promise and loaded down with Republican compromise. And they still didn’t vote for it. The Democrats seem equally as incompetent, many if not most of them now running away from Obama as they seek reelection. They’re playing a defensive game with the Republicans, buying into the Republican premise that Obama has wrecked the economy and mired us in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, presuppositions that come close to the textbook definition of chutzpah. It was President Bush who wrecked the economy and President Bush who mired us in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine quotes a recent New York Times poll on Face The Nation Sunday examining the historic and unprecedented federal deficit. The Times poll determined 55% of that deficit was caused by Bush Administration policies, 30% by the failing economy and only 10% caused by decisions made by the Obama Administration.
The people turning away from the president and the Democrats are the most sought-after and valued voters: independents. Male white professionals without party affiliation, guys who have not drunk the Kool-Aid for Fox News or MSNBC. The president’s dithering is losing them in droves. What we are seeing is an intelligent and thoughtfully bipartisan approach to governing. What we want to see is some guts. The Republicans dragged their feet, running out the clock while the White House bowed and scraped and sent candy hearts and flowers. They knew the Democratic 60-vote “Super Majority” —which allowed the Dems to shut down Senate filibusters and, thus, do pretty much whatever they wanted—had a short life span. The president should have known that, too. He could have and should have shoved legislation through by the boatload. Instead, he compromised and delayed and met with this committee and that one and watered down and stripped every bill of all meaningful, positive change—all in an effort to win even a single Republican vote. And the Republicans stiffed him anyway. And then the Dems lost the 60-vote majority and the Senate Republicans began filibustering every single solitary piece of legislation the president sent them.
As intelligent as Barack Obama is, I can’t help but wonder how any of that could be. How could he have squandered that all-important first year, putting bipartisanship over governing. How could he allow the first lady to take that disastrous, lunkheaded million dollar trip to Spain while almost a quarter of the nation is either unemployed or under-employed? And how stupid are the Congressional Democrats, moving away from a man who has, literally, saved this nation from ruin and whose policies are, slowly but surely, repairing the damage of eight years of Republican governance?
It is possible the president is either out of touch, stuck inside the West Wing bubble, naďve, or unengaged with the political realities of his office. It is also possible Black America is cutting the president slack just because of his race. I mean, were Obama white, he’d likely be castigated every week for the sheer density of his political lunkheadedness.
This weekend, the president seems to be making an effort at damage control, taking yet another brief vacation to Florida’s Panama City in the Gulf of Mexico and going for a swim with his daughter (See? No oil spill here!). But it doesn’t pass the sniff test. It is too little too late. The first lady’s Spain trip felt, to many of the president’s most steadfast supporters, like a slap. Many of us are struggling financially, emotionally, and with health issues. The country is broke. And she spends a million bucks on a vacation.
The president spoke out in defense of a Muslim community group who plan to build a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero. The ridiculous uproar over the planned mosque site is precisely the kind of anti-intellectual and anti-ethical, brainless, valueless, unfounded paranoia that Obama’s opponents thrive on. Banning, somehow, a house of worship form being built near the site of a terrorist attack violates the every freedom the victims of that attack died for and renders those deaths meaningless. Not only should the Mosque be built, America—white, black, Christian, Muslim, Jew—should rally behind it as a symbol of America’s resiliency and an example of our core values. The Muslim world, seeing the hatred and fear directed at a community group who have done no one any harm, will find their anti-American convictions confirmed and underscored by the hateful deceit of America talking out of both sides of its mouth, preaching freedom for everyone except Muslims.
The problem, of course, is, even in his defense of American principles, the president flinched, hedging his bets with a mealy-mouthed and poorly thought out after-statement questioning the wisdom of building the mosque there. And this is precisely why this president is in so much trouble: his unwillingness to pick a lane and drive in it. We elected him to get things done, not to go make friends. Barack Obama has enough friends.
The Republicans obstructed every shred of change this president has attempted to make, and now regularly harangue him for the lack of change. Is Obama so simple he cannot read that play? It is difficult to parse the political strategy, assuming there is one. This president has passed monumental and historic legislation, precious little of which is putting food on American tables or putting people back to work. So, for now, at least, he reaps virtually no political benefit from his historic wins. And, by the time that real change—in the economy, in the war—kicks in, some other guy will be wearing the windbreaker no Air Force One. That Obama, from all available evidence, apparently can’t see that coming troubles me a great deal.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not pray for our president. Truthfully, I used to pray for President Bush as well, but that prayer was more like, “God, please don’t let this guy blow up the planet.” For Barack Hussein Obama I have great admiration. I envy his humanity, the very disconnect from political fatalism and cynicism I criticize him for here. The second or third or tenth black U.S. president won’t have the same quality of trials the first has. Our president knows full well the sheer level of enmity he inspires by just getting out of bed in the morning. I can’t turn on the news without having the smallest apprehension, afraid something unfortunate may have happened. That the disease of hate so embedded in the nation’s DNA might lash out at what appears to be the most intelligent and honorable man to hold our nation’s highest office in a very long time. None of which makes him perfect—that he certainly is not. But the nation is surely blessed to have him. The politics of evil men and women conspire to drag the president down to the level of the ordinary—just another guy in the Oval Office. Whatever your opinion of this president, the notion of his being just another guy is ludicrous. It is you lying to yourself and, perhaps, watching way too much Fox News. Evil men and women lie, deceive and manipulate us out of pure self-interest into ignoring the thing we can see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears, this extraordinary season of U.S. leadership. I find it terribly sad so many whites oppose him simply because he’s black. If this man were white, he’d be a rock star, the Second Coming of liberal politics. I find it terribly sad that most blacks support Obama simply because he’s black. We should support him because he is extraordinary. Because of who we—all of us, all ethnicities—could be because of him.
Christopher J. Priest
15 August 2010
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