Monday, August 23, 2010

Taking Stock

It's been two years since Obama's election. And what can I say, it's been depressing. I am becoming more and more convinced he may wind up being a one-term president. His eloquence before taking office seems to have either disappeared or is no longer effective at reaching people, and on policy he has generally not been able to deliver on his promises. Not always his fault, granted, but it's happening on his watch.

Obama, who was supposed to be so smart, so tactical, so, if need be, ruthless, seems to have, through a number of factors, just wound up being out-matched by circumstances. Granted, he has inherited some truly dire problems. But the bigger issue has been his inability to communicate or get things done. Without communication, he can't buy any more time or slack from opponents. And without accomplishments, he makes it very hard for supporters to keep sticking up for him. Obama has shown that he does not know how to, A, deal with the daily work of getting things done in Washington, or B, how to combat the constant bombardment of criticism from conservative politicians, media, and the rising populist anger represented by the Tea Partiers.

The irony is that despite the rantings of the right, I don't believe that Obama is all that extreme in his politics (particularly when it comes to some of the crazier conspiracy theories that he's out to either hand us over to Jihadists or remake America into the Fourth Reich). When it comes down to it, I think Obama is a lefty, but less an ideologue than a pragmatist. I think at the end of the day he would probably be happy to do whatever will get results-- at least I hope so. But I question the strategy and ideology presently at work in his administration. There are nothing but tough problems and essentially all the good will he had earned through the election has been squandered fighting the Health Care fight, which may, as that bonehead said way back when, become his Waterloo.

It really comes down to trust and confidence. Obama can't point to anything concrete and say, "Look, I fixed it." Granted, that's not specifically his fault since there are a ton of problems he's trying to fix. But the lack of any real victory to rally the troops behind is definitely hurting him (the fact that Health Care was finally happened is tempered by it taking so damn long to get there and that it will be years until we see effects). And I think the fact that the opposition is so loud, so extreme, and so downright nasty, is resulting in a double-whammy: First, Obama's supporters feel overwhelmed and plain old tired. Second, Obama feels like his back is in a corner and so his only options are to fight back or to carry on, seemingly ignoring opposition. But wait, weren't accountability and transparency some of the biggest and most alienating issues with the Bush White House? The truth is we don't need Obama to fight back against Fox, we need him to work on convincing whoever he can to get on board-- and, yes, to maybe be a little more transparent to critics if only to shut them up.

I don't know how different things might have been under a different President-- I doubt Hillary, for instance, would have gotten a cakewalk from the right. But I also thing Obama, by representing the other, in so many convenient ways, has become the gold standard for anyone that could have said "no" to say it-- and then maybe even go a few steps beyond. In the age we live in people aren't just angry, they're scared. And there are forces that are cynically manipulating this and capitalizing off of it. Obama has proven repeatedly that he is spectacularly inept when wading into the fray of talk-media and weighing in on issues of the day. If he tries to be decisive, he comes off as imperial. If he changes his mind, he's a flip-flopper. When he tries to please everyone, he impresses no one. He really can't win.

When it comes to my President, I'm disappointed. But when it comes to my party, I'm downright disgusted. The Democratic Congress was elected because of the sheer corruption, inefficiency, and obscene partisanship represented by the Republican party. With that mandate, they pledged to be bipartisan and transparent-- just as Obama did. This has not happened. Dems have squandered their mandate and shown that they can be opportunist, corrupt, and partisan, too. I will not be surprised when we lose one or both houses of Congress in November-- and the fact that no one wants Obama to campaign for them is a great indicator of how terrible things are.

Am I too naive? I want a government that's responsible, functional, reasonable and sane. I want a government that keeps us safe, tries creative solutions, works together, stays honest and is actually interested in solving problems (national and global), not putting band-aids over them. And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, because these were some of the key issues Obama appealed to during his campaign and which people voted him into office on.

I also have core social issues I won't budge on, and that's why I can't in good conscience be an independent-- because there are some beliefs that I'm not negotiable on (though I also think that compromise, civility and respect would go a long way towards resolving some of the emotional components of these political divisions-- but then people wouldn't be as fired up about supporting their media hacks or donating money to their politicians, so good luck getting them on board). But on economics, on foreign policy, on energy... I think I'm flexible. Let's find ideas that work, are feasible, and which let us sleep at night. Presumably this should not be an impossible criteria. Presumably Americans agree on more issues than they disagree. If not, why not?

Here's my dirty secret: beyond all the crazy BS of the Tea Party movement, I think they do have their finger on the pulse of the country when they point out how far removed Washington seems to be from the people. In some cases it's deliberate. In other cases it's the nature of the beast. But there has to be a better way. There has to be a way to move forward. I have to believe that, or I have nothing to hope for.

But I don't know if this President or this Congress can get us there. The sad thing is I'm all-but-certain that the Republicans can't, or won't, do it, either.

What now?

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