Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Obama Blues

I spent about 45 minutes on the phone last night debating the state of our government with one of my closest friends. We did not really get anywhere, I am still saddened with my growing disillusionment with the Obama administration, who are suffering from, in my opinion, a lack of effective executive leadership. I feel like Obama should not just make speeches (which he is good at) but take courageous stands on the substance of those speeches and use the power of his remarkable oratory to throw the moral might of the White House (as small as that may be these days) behind issues that he feels passionately about. I want to be inspired by him to fight for the things we elected him to fight for.

I know, I know. He got health care and passed financial reform. He has done a remarkable amount for the LGBT community in terms of equalizing benefits. He passed the hate crimes act and the Lily Ledbetter fair pay bill. He has done a lot .. an almost ridiculous amount, in fact. And in the face of really implacable Republican opposition.

But he has not done a lot more that it seems like he could do. That he promised us and that we elected him specifically to do.

I know he got health care passed and I know that the Senate kept him from doing a lot of what he wanted (for more on the Senate, check out George Packers remarkable article about the senate today). But when we elected him, he was against an individual mandate. When the debate was winding down, and more than 50 senators were for a public option (which would have only effected a tiny number of people, but like many wonderful social programs in this country, i.e. social security and medicare, that would have been a good start), the White House let it die. The public option still probably wouldn't have passed, but to see our President, who claimed to have supported it, crusading for it would have been encouraging.

I know he can't repeal DADT, that needs to come from congress. But he could be loud and out front about the rightness of its repeal, he could issue an executive stay on the implementation of the order. I know he came out and said that people have a right to build a Mosque (within a cultural center) a few blocks from the site of the former WTC. But he could have thundered about the sanctity of the first amendment and how central that was to our country's founding. Instead, we get milquetoast boilerplate and the strong language comes from the Daily Show.

So my disappointment with Obama and his administration is not based on the policies they have passed, but on the things that they could have fought for or things that they could have tried to pass but failed to do. In many cases, not pushing, not fighting, has left many of his policies unsatisfactory or potentially ineffective or simply not enough.

It is not enough to remove all combat troops from Iraq when we still have 50,000 men there and are basically farming out the combat missions to private contractors. Yup, this is technically removing combat troops, but not really. Yup you check off your promise to be out by summer 2010, but its not really ending the war. If this is the bad war, if there are all these reasons we should not be there, explain it to us and show the millions who believe in you that you ideas about the war were true. You are the commander in chief, make it happen and make us believe and understand.

It is not enough to say you are closing Gitmo, to work at it, to release some of the prisoners and then just not get it done. If you campaign on Gitmo being a moral atrocity and something which must end, it does not cut it to pay only passing attention to fighting the ridiculous claims that it would be dangerous to close Gitmo and house the prisoners within the US. Be a moral leader, use your towering oratory and inspire us to agree with you and fight the uninformed politics of fear.

It is not enough to pass financial regulation that has no details and can still be gutted by lobbying regulators. Regulatory capture, which was not addressed at all, was a major factor in the financial crisis. Yup, you get to check off financial reform, but you didn't really give us financial reform. If this is such a major threat to national security and our way of life, and if you are really with main street and want to curb finance to help the populace, fight for reform that will really do that. You might not get it, but fight for us.

I know it uses up political capital (which you have to shepherd carefully to be successful) to fight for things, and the administration wants to be successful. And I know that things now are so much better than under Bush. And that Obama is working on improving transparency and changing the culture of government ... and maybe in two years I will eat my words and things will really be moving in the direction I think that they should be. That would be awesome.

And maybe he really is trying his best and the nature and scope of the problem are such that I really don't get it, it is truly a monumental task and he is doing the best that anyone can do. But for now, I am deeply disappointed and it is Obama's fault; he centered his political identity on promises that he is not fulfilling. He set himself up for my disappointment ... perhaps he did not realize the difficulty of fulfilling many of his campaign promises when he made them, but the fact is I was passionately pro-Obama because I thought, more I believed he was going to do things that he is not getting done.

In my eyes, the most important promise of his presidency, his promise of major changes in our political system, hasn't happened. Maybe this is the Republicans being successful, preventing change and leading me to blame it on the White House. But regardless of the reason, Obama was elected to change the status-quo, to upend the system. His seeming ineffectiveness in this regard is especially disappointing because Obama was such a skilled orator during the campaign, he convinced us that he really could change things. But instead of being a careful, calculating political amalgamation of Bush + Clinton in a prettier package, we wanted him to smash typical political ideal. We wanted a crusader, a game-changer. We got a skilled, centrist politician who seems to knows how to sell the change bill of goods but not how to actually make the change.

So hopefully I am wrong, that Obama is diligently working for change and is playing a longer game than I can see. I would be thrilled to be shown to be incorrect, and would happily throw my weight behind him again. But for now, I am left disappointed in Obama and looking at third-parties and other, essentially hail-marie's in an attempt to support something that will truly change our system.

1 comment:

jewish boston said...

Don't let my Dad see this. You'll never hear the end of it.