Obama is, and always was, a work in progress.
Like any president.
Like any politician.
Like any person.
And he has earned the chance, with the assistance of an invigorated and woefully underestimated base, to continue that work for four more years.
Way back in early 2008, when I decided that Obama was the guy for me, I wrote a piece articulating my choice and why I felt he would make a better president than the then-consensus choice, Hillary Clinton. (You can go read it on the archives, from Feb 08, and realize how far Obama, Hillary and her husband have traveled, all for the better, since then.) The title of the piece was “It’s Not (Only) About Obama. My point was that Obama did not –and did not need to– transform into a human symbol of Hope and Change; it was more than enough that he inspired people to consider concepts like hope and change a possibility. It seems so long ago and far removed, but back then the only thing many people took solace in was the reality that, at worst, George W. Bush would no longer be president come 1/20/09. Much more on that appraisal, and that president, HERE.
Here was the thrust of the piece:
Obama, as all but his more intractable foot soldiers would concede, has some work to do. And frankly, even that is in many ways a relief. Playtime is over and we can’t afford another cocksure child who knows that he has no qualms with not knowing shit. Besides, as we learned from Gore and Kerry, (among other things) policy wonkishness is overrated in campaign season, particularly when the competition is John “100 More Years” McCain. Also, anyone who actually suspects that Obama is, thus far, a triumph of stylish rhetoric over substance is advised to pick up a copy of Dreams from My Father, or take a closer look at his achievements in Illinois or, tellingly, the unassailable success of the campaign he has overseen. The smart money says he is up for the challenge and, crucially, will most certainly surround himself, as intelligent and secure adults tend to do, with intelligent and secure associates.
We know how that turned out. Quite nicely, thank you. (And, lest any newcomers be confused: there has probably been more criticism leveled at the president on this blog the last four years than praise, in part because we expect so much from Obama: we do him and ourselves a disservice to pretend otherwise.) On the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize the question was begged, by fans and foes: is this too much, too soon? My take is revisited below. For today, Obama has more than made good on the promise he, well, promised. There is still a great deal of work to be done. Fortunately, he seems not only to know this, but has counted on making his presidency a work in progress. One that can be continued four years from today.
The Nobel Peace Prize –and the general sense of optimism and expectation– is not only about Obama. This was true before the election and it’s true now.
In addition to an overdue but thorough repudiation of Republican incompetence, Obama’s landslide was more about the majority than the man. This belabors the obvious, today, but it’s instructive to recall the folks (and there were lots of them) who were convinced of two things back in ’08: one, that Hillary Clinton represented the best chance for Democratic victory; and two, Obama had no chance to win. That he did was not only historic on multiple fronts, but tempted many in the country to reach the optimistic, if premature conclusion that race relations had turned the corner. While it’s obvious that a fair chunk of the population would diametrically oppose Obama no matter what, it only takes a cursory examination of the tactics and tenor of their resistance to understand the bile simmering centimeters beneath the surface. Nevertheless, what some people ascertained early in the Obama/Clinton face-off was that Hillary had the unenviable prospects of having about half the country hate her, before she even took office. At least it’s taken Obama a few months of not miraculously resuscitating the economy he inherited (even Superman, for all his unparalleled powers, was not able to create jobs) to earn some skepticism. But his ability to appeal to the moderates and middle-of-the-roaders was the key ingredient of his electoral success. And that possibility, beyond the charisma and the eloquence, was what propelled the audacity to hope.
Naturally, news of Obama’s Nobel Prize is going to explode the empty heads of the haters, but it will also give the mouth-breathers a new outrage to rally around. Let’s stop and pause at the irony: for the better part of eight years Dems worked themselves into a lather with every new Bush embarrassment; for the past eight months each Obama accolade is treated like an act of treason. Actually, there is not much irony there at all –the same idiots who held their breath like infants during the Clinton years (years that look better and better in hindsight) and marched lockstep with every Bush decision that set the country back, now throwing tea-party tantrums while Obama tries to clean up the playpen he inherited.
To be fair, whoever was willing (much less able) to tackle the myriad obstacles Bush & Co. left in the way is worthy of an award. But let there be no mistake: Obama’s honor is very much a repudiation of Bush’s hideous legacy. And if this is seen by the howling twits on the Right as a big “F You” from the rest of the world, it’s small recompense for the eight year “F You” the previous administration offered the world, to everyone’s detriment. (Speaking of those twits, enough can’t be said about how eagerly they seek to place our foreign and domestic disasters at Obama’s feet even though they vocally endorsed the decisions that led to this state of affairs.)
And that is the most disgraceful development: I’ve yet to hear many condemnations of the demonstrably failed policies of the Bush years. That is because there have been very few of them. Most of the post-mortems have appraised the political failures. And therein lies the rub: Bush stopped being popular and more importantly, Bush stopped winning, therefore his legacy is tarnished in the fickle, always opportunistic eyes of those who once ardently endorsed him. The actual recklessness and depravity of the policies have not been reevaluated or disowned; indeed, their supporters have doubled down on them (see last year’s election).
To be certain, the hardcore right-wing offered tepid support for McCain not only because he was such a woefully inadequate candidate (that is the sane view; the insider GOP view was that he had no chance to win, therefore his embrace by the powers-that-be was never more than lukewarm) but also that he wasn’t a real Republican. He sought compromise and he was viewed as too often too willing to work with the other party to get things accomplished. This shows you the diminishing returns of bipartisanship, circa Y2K: McCain’s scarcely heroic public stance against torture or his reluctance to offer full-throated support to the cretinous scaremongering that passes for Republican discourse on immigration hardly made him a moderate. But in today’s GOP, it does. And that is why Obama was elected, and why –despite the predictable and appalling fecklessness of so many elected Democrats — the Republican brand is at a nadir of sorts (don’t mistake the millions of citizens disgusted by the Wall Street shenanigans or the unemployment numbers –directly brought about by Bush’s domestic policies — as any sort of endorsement of a return to Republican rule).
It is imperative to recognize, and point out as often as necessary, that the same sadists pulling the strings in the not-so-big GOP tent are mostly angry and embarrassed because they got beaten last November. There has been nothing approximating a concerned or sober investigation of what went so dreadfully wrong as a result of bellicose foreign policy, the reckless (and expensive) launch of an unnecessary war, or the thoroughly debunked and shameful worship of free-market, voodoo economics. In this regard what passes for the Republican intelligentsia is quite identical to the flat-earth imbeciles who insist, even as the evidence otherwise piles up all around them, that Jesus was white and dinosaurs ambled about the Garden of Eden and the world is only a few thousand years old.
Even now, as unemployment numbers rise alongside escalating health care costs, you have right-wing scribes advocating tax cuts for the wealthiest half-percent and an intolerance for reform that undercuts the very principle of free market economics (Is it not a self-defeating argument that the same party who clamors for the inviolable advantages of competition suddenly opposes it in this one instance? Is it not more than a little revealing that the same big government they ridicule suddenly poses such a menacing threat to the insurance industry?) This is the one argument that reveals the hollow core of the Republican machinery: if any of these folks actually believed in the economic principles they espouse, they would reluctantly have no choice but to acknowledge that the public option epitomizes the theory of market competition in practice. But, naturally, the ideology can be adjusted as necessary (just like the anti-deficit hawks made no noise when the Iraq debacle and the immoral tax cut policy put the entire country deep into the red), and this brazen hypocrisy makes it impossible to ever take these people seriously, if anyone ever did.
In regards to foreign policy –and it is in this capacity that Obama is inspiring the world community, and the impetus behind his Nobel Prize– it is tempting to simply propose that any developments that rankle the rogues gallery below is inherently worthwhile.
Look at those faces again, and remember what they wrought. Just getting these sociopaths out of positions of power and influence is a substantial accomplishment.
On the other hand:
Those images are a sobering reminder of where we’ve been, and where we still are.
The most patient (and/or gullible) Obama endorsers keep reminding us that the president has a lot on his plate, and this much-vaunted change will take time. Okay, so how much time does he need? This is the same man who vowed to shut down Guantanamo on Day One, and end the farce known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. The fierce urgency of now quickly became the urgent ferocity of political ass-covering. And it would be one thing if the people Obama was inclined to infuriate (and they will be infuriated) represented anything approximating a majority, or anything more than a small minority. As it is, he’s avoiding making easy, sane and moral decisions to…appease the same lunatics who are already calling him a traitor and a socialist? It makes about as much sense as Michelle Bachmann.
And it is because of his extreme caution, and his infuriating equivocations on such no-brainers as gay marriage that the concern about Obama’s Nobel Prize is warranted. Not the superficial and trumped up consternation from the Right; but rather, the creeping skepticism on those from the Left (those who just today were dismissed by a typically anonymous chickenshit inside the administration as the “fringe left”). Talk about biting the hands that pulled the lever for you! I understand –somewhat– Obama’s foot-dragging on Guantanamo (perhaps once the health care debate is mostly sorted out it will be time to fight that battle, albeit way too late), but his cowardice on equal rights for all citizens is unconscionable and indefensible. It would be lame enough if this was a demographically polarizing issue (as it was during Clinton’s first term) but the fact that a majority of the people are behind this long overdue action makes Obama’s sluggishness a disgrace.
And there are some of us who are mortified by the prospect that Obama is now standing on the shoulders of his most loyal supporters to fortify his bulwark of prudent calculation. That is not what he was elected for, and it will be an unacceptable turn of events if, not a year into his first term, he is already more worried about his second term than the promises he made to get him in office. It’s almost enough to make one wish for the tooth and nail trench warfare we might have expected from a Hillary Clinton one-and-done term in office (because don’t kid yourself, Hillary would never have a chance at re-election, in part because she would exhaust all of her political capital just staying afloat, yet that 24/7 offensive might provide the required ferocity to affect some meaningful change). Put another way, I’d much rather have a bruising and contentious four year term that actually yielded some change we can believe in than eight years of triangulated calculation, unfulfilled promise and sweet but ultimately empty rhetoric.
Perhaps a wake-up call is necessary: Obama, by all evidence, is a moderate, and he has said and done little to convince anyone otherwise. And if this is the best we can expect, it’s unfortunate but far from the end of the world (again, always keep in mind the alternatives the other party had on offer, and by all accounts is still offering). I’m still mostly content to hang back and reserve judgment and consider both the man and his presidency a work in progress. Concern is, to my mind, entirely warranted and a good measure of healthy skepticism is required. And yet. Considering, once again, the almost inconceivable cataclysm he walked into, and the fact that we are –by any mature measure– much better off than we could (or would) have been, there’s no need for the Dems to eat their own, as usual. Not yet. We have the luxury of keeping Obama accountable in part because he didn’t let us fall off the cliff this year. And that is quite worth keeping front and center in the year(s) ahead. Also, for all we know, events that are underway and far from fruition could turn out to be both historic and heroic, in hindsight. We’ll see. My bet is that the president will more than earn this premature encomium in the hard years ahead.
Nonetheless, if Obama is half the man History is setting him up to be, he is right to be humbled and he would do well to dedicate all of his energy and eloquence toward making good on the promises he already made. We can hope for more, but we should expect no less.