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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The President We Don’t Deserve: Occasional Repost

Whenever we see our friend/writer David Phillips post a new piece, 
we can't wait to read it, they are like a wonderful slice of 
turkey with cranberry on Thanksgiving, delicious, and timely. Enjoy.

by David E. Phillips

I often look back on President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and wonder what we wanted. What we expected from a man inheriting a free falling economy, two wars, and all the rest that Bush and Cheney left behind for him. The soaring rhetoric of his campaign raised expectations to sky high levels. Every president over promises. Perhaps not all intend to, but it is a part of the campaign game. Hope and Change sounded marvelous didn’t it? That wasn’t the problem though. I think the greater issue is, it sounded easy. We should know better. Real change comes not only at a cost, but quite often in painful, ruthless inches that tax both stamina and resolve. Two things this nation has proven itself to be in short supply of.

Oh sure, maybe Obama hasn’t been all we may have hoped he would be. Occasionally, I feel that way. Then I compare him to the alternative. When I do, the air I breathe fills with jasmine, and anything I take a drink of turns to mother’s milk. That is not the prevailing opinion of the average American. For many, change has come too slow during this presidency. It’s okay to hate incrementalism. I’m no fan either. However, in a strange way, it’s almost like science. It’s not going to change whether you like it or not. For better or worse, baby steps is generally how we roll.

The thing is, that’s not all on the President. FDR was once approached by a Democratic Senator with a new proposal. He made his argument for the legislation and, at the end of the discussion, FDR said “That’s great, now make me do it.” Every President needs to be pushed by both their party and the public. Do you really think LBJ wanted to deal with the sturm und drang of the Civil Rights movement? Or FDR the great Depression? All things being equal, I would guess not. However, history met them in the form of pressure. That pressure did not come from above them–how could it?–it came from below, as a groundswell.

I mention FDR and LBJ most specifically because they probably passed more meaningful progressive legislation than any other President of the 20th century (with apologies to Teddy). We forget something though. For most of their tenure, they had very strong majorities in both houses of congress. A fact that allows for the greater passage of meaningful legislation. They also had a motivated populous pushing for change. Whether it was FDR’s New Deal, or LBJ’s Great Society, there was a hunger in the land for something more.

Barack Obama has had neither of those things. Oh, it’s true, he briefly had majorities in both the House and the Senate until he did that awful thing we elected him to do. You know, improve our health care. He did so with a flawed bill that not only wasn’t the “Medicare for all” the far left wanted, or even the more modest public option the left of center would have liked to have seen. That being said, not only was it the best he could do, but it’s also working. Even stout Obama critics from the far left like Paul Krugman accept that now.

He also passed a stimulus bill that many–including Krugman–feel was too small, but may well have staved off another Great Depression. He also moved to stabilize the auto industry. A ringing success that too few have spoken about. It appears that he has also kept us safe. There has been no second 9/11 and bin Laden sleeps with the fishes–literally. He embraced gay marriage. Begrudgingly at first and with an assist from Crazy Joe, but it’s no small thing to be the first leader of the free world to do so.

All of that doesn’t mean I believe he’s always been right. He doubled down in Afghanistan, wasn’t hard enough on Wall Street (although Dodd-Frank is not nothing), has been too slow on immigration, hasn’t solved the riddle of income inequality, and expanded both the drone program to kill, and the authority of the NSA to peep through our cyber windows. Depending on where you fall on the political spectrum of the left, those shortfalls probably fall somewhere in a range between disappointing and outright folly. He has not been a perfect President. If he were, he would be the first.

I will tell you this. His greatest political mistake was not necessarily any of the things listed above. As my good friend and fellow scribe, David Harada-Stone, once said to me, “Obama’s greatest mistake was overestimating the American public.” To this I say, and how.

We are terrible. The only group of people I can think of in this country that might be worse are those that presently serve in congress. Democrats who run from the President, and their own successes, and Republicans who run from sanity.

That truth does not let us off the hook. A few weeks ago, the center-right columnist, Jon Avlon, was on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he made the most simple and yet one of strongest defenses of the Obama presidency I have heard. He essentially said, if you compare the way things are now to the way they were when he entered the office, it is inarguable that things are appreciably better. He’s exactly right. And somehow, this is true despite zero assistance from that not so loyal opposition known as the GOP, and relatively feckless support from the party whose standard Barack Obama bears like a 60 pound stone.

For this, we–the American people–have paid this man almost no dividend. His approval ratings are underwater, and the oh so recent midterms were an unqualified disaster, due in no small part to the inability of those of us on the left to show up. We provided a vacuum for a sour, science denying, willfully ignorant, and yes, appreciably racist hard right to step right in, and wipe the floor with us. We made it so easy; it’s embarrassing.

And that’s mostly how I feel right now about this country, and those that are contained within. Embarrassed. Because if you would have told me at the ass end of the Bush Administration that in six short years, the stock market would be at record highs, millions more people would have health care, job growth would be constant and ever expanding, we would be relatively safe from terrorists and loose nukes, have many fewer troops in harm’s way, be nearing a full acceptance of gay rights, and generally just not walking around trying not to shit our pants as all that we hold dear seems to be crumbling around us, not only would I be ecstatic, I would have purchased a hammer and a chisel from the hardware store, hopped in my car, set my GPS for Mount Rushmore, and requested a photo of the man who would lead us out of that doleful wilderness so I could get to adding a fifth face to that monument. But that’s just me.

So what should President Obama do with his remaining two years surrounded by an obstructionist Republican majority, a reeling Democratic minority, and a public that can’t be bothered to know or appreciate anything he has done? He should tell us all to go straight to Hell, and do what he’s been doing for the last six years…what he by and large believes is right. Only now, he should do it harder. The irony of it all is that will probably end up being what is best for us as well.

There is no point in trying to cure the sickness of apathy, misplaced anger, and reckless stupidity that grips this country, the way many seem to foolishly fear Ebola one day will. In short, we can’t be pleased. Therefore, this president should set his sights higher–not that it will be hard to do. He should look to those who will either come after us, or are still too young to understand the complexities of the difficult times we live in. Those whom he might just be able to leave a better world. Maybe they will thank him for it. Certainly those that go on to become historians will.

And that seems to be just what he’s doing. It has barely been a week since his party and his supporters abandoned him. In that time he has pushed for–in the strongest of terms–the maintaining of net neutrality. Late last night he reached a historic accord with China (China!) to greatly reduce carbon emissions, and next week he’s primed to take major executive action on immigration reform. If you are a progressive, these are exactly the things you should want. If you are anyone else, these are exactly the things you need–whether you want them or not.

I wish I could I say we were worthy of it. That we would recognize it. That we might deserve it. Lucky for us, as Clint Eastwood once said, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” And we are damn lucky. Much luckier to have Obama than he is to have us.

Follow David Phillips on Twitter @BrotherJulius83

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