The occasion of exchanging season’s greeting with a dear old friend and fellow liberal/progressive recently turned into a friendly exchange on differences in opinion about the first two years of Barack Obama, a man we both enthusiastically supported and voted for. I am, of course, well on record in the progression of my disillusionment with the president. Thirty years of nearly uninterrupted nation destroying by the Republicans greeted this new president, whose rhetoric, poise and what I thought was passion for structural and policy change were what galvanized new and old voters, and social minorities. Bt the spirit that suffused Chicago’s Grant Park that election eve glittered and evanesced like fairy dust all to quickly. Our hero was not up to the task, and soon the proposition that gained plausibility was that he never was. The soaring oratory began to sound empty of real commitment, of courage, of hope, of audacity, the lexicon we rode in on. Many of us began to feel betrayed.
That feeling of betrayal is part of (maybe the dark side) of Italian-American lore I pleaded to my friend in an email. Maybe I am letting my spicy ethnicity get the better of those excuses that Obama inherited two wars, huge debt and an economy that produced the worst recession since the Great Depression. OK, I got that, and we, and he, knew that was part of the deal. That was part of the reason he was elected; it would take the hope, audacity and a belief in change he mantra-ed to address those challenges. We signed on. It was to usher in a new age of reason, principle, and government transparency.
Some still hold to that dream, some to the notion that whatever we have ended up with (and does Obama feel the same way) is far better and still more electable than the right wing alternatives that Obama pursues to the extent that “left” is now onlya relative position a gauche of the extreme radical right. Is what was once the “audacity to hope” now only the entrapment that Obama is all we have?
We never had any hope for Bush. That hurt; but the feeling of being “taken in” by political sweet talk that might never have been earnestly meant, by the graceful stride and flashing smile. . . . Heck, the Germans turned out for him with the biggest crowd since those nasty Nuremburg days. Charisma, we should always be wary of it.
Sure, I parried my friends admonitions about eliding from disappointment to contempt, of going into a Tony Soprano vengeful rage at being betrayed. I citied what have now become the chapters and verses from the Book of Political Disillusionment: his appointment of a cabal of Wall Street boys to his cabinet and advisory staff; the paltry “stimulus package” compared to the bank bailout; nothing on Gitmo, DADT, and secret dealings keeping extraordinary rendition intact; then the West Point endorsement of the Bush Wars and troop expansion in Afghanistan (right after that joke Nobel Peace Prize); the lackadaisical action on the Health Care legislation, taking “single payer” off the table from the get-go; the endless bipartisanship bullshit and caving in to the Republicans—our “hero” wimped out again and again to a Senate Minority Leader who looks and sounds like a transsexual project gone bad, and a House minority leader who weeps like a high school cheerleader! Jesus, where are his balls?—and now the tax extortion to the rich. I could go on, but what is left to hold on to I rebutted to my friend. When do you say “enough is enough,” let’s have a Democratic Primary! Haul out Kucinich, Nader, anybody with principles and the gonads to see them into action and results.
Yes principles. Perhaps this hurts the most; that we might have missed some clues. I recall Obama being on Letterman and making an unkind crack referring to the Special Olympics. It was a “joke” I knew and never liked, certainly unworthy of a president. It was a slip that came when the teleprompters were not present to ensure political correctness. I winced, but let it go. So did others. But was it a glimpse into the soul, just a glimpse that hope enjoined me to ignore?
Then, recently, there was this: speaking at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in May, Obama noticed teen pop band the Jonas Brothers in the audience. “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but, boys, don’t get any ideas,” the president intoned, referring to his daughters. “Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.” It got a laugh from the audience, Obama grinned. Everyone knows he is the most powerful person in the world, but to display it this way showed a weakness of character. Saying what is tantamount to “I am the President and I can kill you” is no idle boast-joke when he must know that the drone strikes he has approved in Pakistan are killing a high percentage of innocents (let Allah sort them out). There was a chilling coldness in such a statement: ad libitum, veritas. How could he have such insensitive disregard for the results of his actions? By what principles are such actions governed?
My friend and I agree to disagree. We are ideological brethren. He still holds the torch of hope; I clench a bitter cup of cynicism. I secretly hope that my friend will win out in our disagreement. This is a case where it would be good to be proven wrong.*
© 2010, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.29.2010)
*Hey, there’s a first time for everything.