It happens to all people who get to the pinnacle of power—they lose perspective. The worry is that this might be what is happening to Barack Obama. Obama’s election to the presidency was truly momentous and very welcome, but it is not unremarkable in other respects. He followed perhaps the worst president in the nation’s history, a truly stupid and inept man who ignited preemptive wars, and brought the nation to near bankruptcy and carried almost the lowest possible approval ratings for the last years of his administration. Obama ran against a bumbling old man still pumping his “hero” status as a pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and who showed his “judgment” in selecting a ditzy right wing liar for a running mate.
With superior oratorical and organizational skills, superior intelligence, an engaging personality, and matinee idol good looks, he took the helm of a badly damaged nation. No small part of that success was that he promised to end the Bush wars, tear down his prisons for un-indicted “war prisoners,” rescind Bush’s tax favors for the rich ad powerful, reverse his stupid attitude about stem cell research, and delete “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military.
Obama’s popularity might be broad, but it is not universal. He is not proving to be excepted from the ugly residue of racism that remains in American society; indeed, his election has served to haul it out into the open. The presidential campaign brought forth the insinuations from the lipsticked yap of Sarah Palin that Obama was not a “real American” that loosened the bigotries of the Joe the Plumber, gunslinger, Christian-cretin dimwit set. Maybe all the cheers from the other side kept him from hearing the slurs and innuendos. But the political opposition heard it; it was all that was left of their base. So, when his “stimulus package” came up for Congressional approval the new prez brought in the Republicans in a spirit of collegiality and the quickly turned around to stick it to him.
Rather than taking the rebuff as a declaration of legislative war, our new champion continues to wish to be loved by all at the expense of the very promises and agenda that we elected him to pursue. Have the cheers and the media exposure blinded him the realities? To what he inherited?—a country that almost blindly went along with preemptive war, with torture, a president who all but ignored the plight of African-Americans in a hurricane-ravaged city, the huge shifting of national wealth to the rich and connected. Obama’s election didn’t change all that and, with disappointment, his eagerness to be loved and accepted by all has resulted in a distressing compromise of those promises.
Our present concern is that Mr. Obama is showing the very thing that will result in the failure of his administration—weakness, timidity, and appeasement. To the Republican sharks, and Fox, Limbaugh and rest of the right wing scum, weakness is like blood in the water. Obama will never, ever, win these people over, or the considerable number of racists and bigots that are becoming more vocal and obstreperous with every attempt of the president to play a fruitless and losing “bi-partisan” approach to approval of his policies.
Most recently, Mr. Obama incredibly took to chiding his fellow Democrats for criticizing oppositional “Blue Dog” Democrats with whom he is currying unlikely support. What does he have to give up of his agenda to pay for their support? Maybe it’s time for our new president to gird his loins and go to political war with the people who obviously see their relationship to him in bellicose terms. They have shown their hand; the “tea-baggers” tried to scuttle his economic policies, the racist innuendos flew from the mouths of right-wing media windbags to try to slur Judge Sotomajor, now gangs of idiots desperately in need of dental and mental care, are screaming down politicians talking about health care, even issuing death threats because, although man of them are using Medicare, they fear “socialized medicine.” Aren’t these federal offences?
Meanwhile, Obama pursues what he seems to regards as a “high road” of bi-partisan politics while his opponents and the racists who would treat him like Steppin’ Fetchit, litter that road with political IEDs. That he has had half a year now to figure it out, and hasn’t, is worrisome, and disappointing. He has been called a “socialist,” “communist,” and “fascist” (and that’s just what he has been called in public) by his opposition, and while he seems willing to accept it with his bright, perfect toothy smile, those of us who supported him are losing patience with the Mr. Nice Guy routine.
He has not extricated us from Iraq; he has dug us deeper into Afghanistan; he has done nothing about “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” in the military (Why not, he said he would. Why is he Chickening out?) He’s glacial on the Gitmo matter while the injustice goes on; he seems unwilling to do anything toward prosecuting the war crimes of the Bush administration; and just yesterday he told a reporter that he was holding off on removing the tax breaks for the rich because “we are in a recession”–as though the freakin’ rich are the ones being hurt by the recession! He is looking more like a Bush III, but ironically without the audacity that Bush at least knew how to exercise.
It was perhaps with more than comedic intent that Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show yesterday, referred to “the most interesting man in the world” as, not Barack Obama, but Bill Clinton, freshly returned from an audacious trip to North Korea to rescue two Asian-American reporters. Day by day, Barack Obama looks less and less interesting and more and more vulnerable and ineffectual. It already does not look good for a national health policy that won’t be a sop to the insurance and pharmaceutical companies that run American health policy for the sake of their greedy profits. If he loses this one, the opposition will be convinced that this emperor has no clothes. It is certainly not too late for Obama to wake up to political realities and put the gloves on and start kicking some ass; but it is also not too early for some of us who put much hope in the yet to be demonstrated audacity, to tell him that, in America, smiles and rhetoric, without being backed up by some balls, could be a one-way ticket to a one term presidency.
© 2009, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 8.7.2009)