Monday, June 14, 2010

The Obama Puzzle...

Like many people who supported and voted for President Obama, I have watched the first two years of his Presidency unfold with a growing sense of dismay and even at times, buyers remorse. Over at Americablog, John Aravosis puts the frustration many Americans are feeling with the Obama Administration in a brilliantly worded "Memo to the President". 

Reading John's post, I found myself thinking back to the eight years of the George W. Bush Administration, and how I would often find solace in watching the make-believe presidency of Jed Bartlet on NBC's "The West Wing". Where I would watch and wish reality would for once imitate art. One of my favorite moments from the series came on a episode dealing with the Bartlet Administration's stalled agenda, and President Bartlet's inability to "be himself" out of fears of losing the next election. (Sound familiar?).

My favorite scene is where the President played by Martin Sheen and his Chief of Staff, (played by the late John Spencer) come to the realization that the feelings of futility and fear that seem to permeate the White House are crippling Bartlet's Presidency. They both agree that Presidential leadership is more important than getting re-elected.

In reading  John's memo to President Obama  the passage that  leaps off the  computer screen at me was this;

"More often than not, you make a public statement about your general goal, and then you sit back and don't get involved until things are ready to fall apart. It's what you did on health care reform, it's what you're doing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and immigration, and lots of other issues you campaigned on.     

Time after time, you didn't work behind the scenes to fulfill your public promise. Instead, you sat back and let your staff, or worse, the Congress, take a stab at the issue, while you waited to see what they came up with, as the issue careened out of control. Then, at the last minute, after your initial promise had been obliterated, you got involved, only to find that the compromise being discussed looked little like what you had promised the American people in the first place."

President Obama failed to keep his promises on Health Care reform. Instead we got minimal crumbs of insurance reform that really do nothing to address the issues of the Health Care crisis in America. On civil rights and human rights. The prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is still open. and President Obama's sweeping promises on ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and enacting real employment non-discrimination laws have been left to Congress to make a complete and utter mess of trying to enact. And members of his own administration are now working against his own campaign promises on financial services reform.

Back last October I was in a bookstore in London and I came across the current issue of "The New Statesmen" . Their cover was a photo-morph of Barack Obama as George W. Bush.

So who is Barack Obama?    In 2008 I thought I was voting for change. I thought for once life was going to imitate art. I thought I was getting Jed Bartlet, not George W. Bush only in kinder, gentler packaging.

Now as a disclaimer, I will confess, the lens by which I view and judge the Obama Presidency is not an objective one. But the reason for that is Obama himself. He campaigned as the guy who was running against "politics as usual". Yet as President he seems paralyzed with fear that any sort of decisive action will jeopardize his chances in an election still more than two years away. It is as if Barack Obama doesn't quite realize he is President of the United States right now. He ran for President as a transformational leader, but governs as if he was still a back bencher junior Senator from Illinois, deferring to his more senior Congressional colleagues and only stepping up after all the wrangling and hard work has been done.

That isn't what I voted for. I want a President who understands there are more important things than re-election. 

I want a President who doesn't just say Health Care for all Americans is important. I want a President who will fight for it harder than he worries about getting re-elected. I want a President who doesn't just say he believes I deserve equal protection under the law. I want a President who will fight for my civil rights harder than he worries about getting re-elected. I want a President who won't just say Main Street is just as important as Wall Street. I want a President who will spend the needed political capital to enact REAL financial reform instead of trying to stuff that now rapidly diminishing capital under a mattress for an election that is still years away.

Some things ARE more important than re-election. The basic problem with the Obama Presidency is nobody in the White House really believes that. Whereas I truly believe that if a President conducts his first term like it's his second, the American People who have a far greater appreciation for action than they do for just words, will give that President a second term. The problem with the Obama team is they want certainty of that before they will risk taking any action. Sorry guys and gals, democracy doesn't work that way.

Unless Barack Obama can find his "inner Bartlet", his entire legacy will amount to a one term President who took credit for mostly symbolic reforms to the health insurance industry, and an utterly ineffective response to the worst oil spill in American history.

The week before he was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama spoke in Ohio about the difference between him and John McCain. Saying how the Republicans didn't have a record to run on.

Barack Obama should go back and listen to that speech. Unless he finds the courage to turn those words in action. His only option in 2012 will be to make "a big election out of small things", as small things will be all he has to run on.

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