Health Advisory! Since this essay is in praise of President Obama, some Obama critics may experience heightened blood pressure upon reading. Proceed at your own risk!
Two years ago a relatively young man left the Senate after less than one full term to become President of the United States. His resume as an elected politician before becoming a the junior Senator from Illinois was comprised of only seven years as a state Senator. Charismatic and idealistic he was, but overriding all of the inexperience and the naivete that undeniably accompanied his relative youth and lack of tempering in national office was a deep political pragmatism. With one notable and ultimately harmful exception.
He believed that 21st century Republicans could be reasoned with and worked with, that 21st century Republicans, despite all of the mountain of evidence to the contrary, were reasonable people who would at the end of the day do what was right for America. Rather than what was right for the Republicans and their Corporate masters. He was, as recent history emphasizes to an extreme an ineluctable degree, wrong.
Slightly less damaging in the short term, and perhaps as a sort of silent acknowledgment of his inexperience at the highest…and most viciously cutthroat…levels of high political office, upon election he turned to “proven” Washington insiders to fill critical staff and cabinet positions.
This was another “pragmatic” decision. The reason, presumably, was that people like Emanuel and Summers knew the ropes, knew the players both in office and in positions of power in the Corporate world, and would help find pragmatic solutions to help a nation left in political, economic and military chaos….by the same Republicans he apparently assumed would help him him solve the problems that they were directly responsible for creating.
Pundits and bloggers on The Left who had already been shaking their collective heads in disbelief, despite their general support for a personable rising star, about his “Post-partisan” rhetoric….understandably howled. This was “change you can believe in?”
As Bernie Sanders recently put it
“Think back to two years ago,” Sanders said during an interview in the only Senate office decorated with a medallion of Eugene V. Debs, the legendary American Socialist leader. “There were rallies involving 80,000 to 100,000. Obama was running the best campaign I’ve seen in my lifetime — and I’m pretty critical.”
“Why are we where we are today?” he continues. “The most serious mistake the president made was not, in a sense, continuing the thrust of his campaign, and [in] forgetting all he accomplished.”
Sanders does not discount what Obama and congressional Democrats achieved through the economic stimulus, health care and financial reform. But he argues that by replacing a mobilizing approach and clear progressive goals with an insider strategy aimed at compromising with a few moderate Republican senators, Obama deactivated his own enthusiasts.
Instead of bringing Change to Washington, apparently his stunning and nearly unthinkable rise from State Senator to the highest office in the land in an amazingly short time had changed him. Or, more likely, had made him just unsure enough of himself to cause him to take a far safer and more “pragmatic” tack than his campaign rhetoric had promised.
The result? Going from carrying the (after the horrors of Bush) desperate hopes of an American electorate literally hungering for Change that propelled him in to office in a landslide two years ago….to staring into the political abyss of losing both houses of Congress to perhaps the most reviled and widely hated political party in recent memory.
Decision after decision, pre-compromise after pre-compromise, including backroom deals with the very forces and people he had campaigned against just months before. Naively, it must be said to avoid a more sinister conclusion, trusting the very people (both Republican and in some cases such as that of Max Baucus, Democrats) trusting the very same people who had created the many and varied crises the nation faced…to fix the problems they had created.
Ignoring, apparently, the underlying causes of those problems….a deep corruption in every sector of American politics, finance, and the Military Industrial complex. Corruption that had served, with Congress and President Bush’s help, to create the largest income inequality gap, the biggest financial crisis, and the prosecution of a needless, illegal, but VERY profitable war. Or two.
A corruption so deep and pervasive that it has nearly brought America to its knees. Corruption, including the moral corruption that goes along with all other forms of corruption, that has caused even torture to be merely winked at, as we “looked forward,” literally turning our heads away from the most heinous crime that allegedly civilized people and nations can commit.
It was in this context, against this background, an America desperate for change and a candidate using soaring rhetoric promising it to them that Obama was swept into office by an unprecedented…and real…grassroots movement. A movement of ordinary Americans who once again had hope for something different from the existing form of government that was emphatically NOT working for them.
Then the appointments of the insiders came. Then the grass roots movement that propelled him into office was essentially shut down. Then the first insider deals and pre-compromises appeared….and the soaring hope began to fade as the rhetoric of Change turned into the worn language and excuses of business as usual.
The sighs and ‘I told you so’s” of the Left bloggers and pundits were drowned out by the continuing zeal of the large percentage of equally inexperienced and equally naive supporters of Obama who refused to see the signs.
The recommendations and pleas of the left pundits and bloggers were ignored as the White House focused on vainly converting Republicans into suddenly responsible political partners in….again…cleaning up the mess that they had made. It did not, as those pundits and bloggers has predicted, work.
A “pragmatic” idea of cooperation, that may have been an excellent idea in a (mythical? Remember Clinton’s impeachment?) time when Republicans were sane and not more interested in Waterloos and Presidential failure to advance their power over the welfare of the nation, was a disastrous waste of time and political capital.
The pundits and bloggers of the Left, of course, had solutions. Solutions they tried their best to put forth through the soundscreen of teabaggers and the defensiveness of Obama converts.
ATTACK the Republicans. By name. Pointing out their obstruction and their goals of an oligarchy.
Get rid of the Insiders.
Mobilize and energize the voters who turned out in 2008 by returning to the level of energetic populist rhetoric that got him elected.
Energize the Democratic Base with Progressive/Liberal policy proposals.
Appoint real Progressives to positions of power, Progressives who would fight against Corporate Power, not pre-compromise with it, make backroom deals with it, and design legislation to order for it, as his staff of Insiders had done.
This advice was ignored.
The abyss of prospective Republican control of Congress opened wider and wider, Obama’s poll numbers fell lower and lower. Bipartisanship failed miserably, garnering only a handful of Republican votes, despite policy capitulation after policy capitulation in hopes of attracting Republican votes. The meaningful but underwhelming and watered down legislation resulting from the pursuit of bipartisanship failed to excite all but Obama’s most ardent supporters.
And despite the fact that they had absolutely nothing to offer but the exact same bullshit that had gotten us into this mess, and despite the fact that polls showed that Republicans were universally despised by all but the 23% of their base that remained faithful……the Republicans gained ground as Democratic enthusiasm plummeted, the Change that they had invested so much in being nowhere in sight.
Something that can only be speculated on for now. No one but those close to Obama can say specifically what it was…..But there was a Change in the White House itself.
I for one, like to think that the Obama that shone so brightly during the campaign threw off the yoke of his advisors that had served him so poorly and asserted his control….and returned to his vision of Change…..
Populist Change. Progressive Change. Change untainted by the bad political advice of those invested in perpetuating, not improving the status quo. Or perhaps, as a shrewd politician does, he just abandoned his old non-functioning “pragmatism” (which is what genuine pragmatists do, after all) and has paid the hard price that always goes with the dissolution of naivete.
Obama has learned on the job.
And there are real signs that things are turning around….that the once widening abyss is now staring to contract, that The People are becoming enthusiastic and energized, again. What has he done? HE has changed.
He has apparently abandoned the dream of bipartisanship with the obstructionists who have publicly vowed to bring him down through across the board non-cooperation.
He has started to ATTACK the Republicans. By name. Pointing out their obstruction and their goals of an oligarchy harmful to the vast majority of Americans..
He has started getting rid of the Insiders (bye Rahm) and there are rumors of wide ranging staff shakeups.
He has started to mobilize and energize the voters who turned out in 2008 by returning to the level of energetic populist rhetoric that got him elected.
He has started to, by steadfastly refusing to pre-compromise on tax cuts for the rich, energize the Democratic Base with Progressive/Liberal policy proposals.
And he has appointed at least one Progressive who will fight the corporations and banksters….Elizabeth Warren.
Of course it is just sheer coincidence that all of these things that at least seem to be spurring a Democratic resurgence …..are exactly the things that The Left has been urging him to do.
That doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it appears to be working….and just in time.
Obama has learned on the job, what he was doing before was not working, and he has Changed. Let us just Hope that this Change lasts through the election, and that Obama, after the very steep learning curve that goes with being The Most Powerful Man In The World….takes these hard won lessons to heart, and lives up to the undeniably shining potential that we all voted for.