It's great to see Democrats getting back to doing something we're really good at. Effective governance isn't our strong suit. No surprise since we don't have much experience. Over the past 30 years we've controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue less than four. But when it comes to blaming each other for losing elections we are world champions. The script is always the same so the players know their lines by heart. Only the names change.
The left wing of the party tells the centrists they are wimps who lose because they haven't offered Americans a clear and compelling choice. The centrists tell the left that they are out of touch with the reality of how conservative this country is and don't appreciate the difficulty of moving even a few baby-steps to the left. And the rank and file, hearing mommy and daddy rehash the same old argument over who blew it this time, sadly tune out. Just so, the future is lost.
I don't blame the "professional left" or Robert Gibbs or Obama or even that (expletive deleted) Rahmbo Emmanuel. I blame me. I was one of the last pragmatic progressives that swung from Hillary to Obama. I argued with myself all the way up to the voting booth in the Massachusetts primary but at the moment of truth I went with Barack. It was a handful of voters like me who provided his slim margin of victory in the primaries. And I knew better. Most of my friends and family, Starbucks liberals to the core, had been Obamaniacs from jump street. That only made me more leery of his candidacy. How could a country with so many voters that are racist, xenophobic, undereducated and overweight ever identify with this skinny black guy from Harvard Law named Barack Hussein Obama? It didn't add up. I thought I was among the most level headed of left wing voters, never getting caught up in irrational exuberance or lost cause-ism, always staying as far left as I thought the realm of the possible allowed. But the intergenerational enthusiasm of his supporters was just too seductive to resist. I wanted to feel that old politics of immediacy again and to share it with my kids. I wanted to be back in Grant Park forty years after the Days of Rage with the whole world watching as America finally elected a child of the revolution and put a black man in the White House.
It's not as if Obama didn't warn us. In position papers, in speeches, in his autobiography he told us exactly who he was, what moved him and where he wanted to go. He was a reconciler, someone who had, in his own person, reconciled so much in the world that seemed diametrically opposed. Third world and first, African and American, Christian and Muslim, patriarchal and feminist, black and white. Like a bridge over troubled water he would lay himself down. Yesterday's great reconciler would have become today's great compromiser -- if there had been anyone to compromise with. As it is, he just appears pathetic as one watered-down policy after another is rejected by the party of no. Sweet, really, but sweetly pathetic.
We knew he had the weakest tea for a health care program, knew he was already committed to ramping up in Afghanistan. Obama even compared himself to a rorscharch test, saying that people projected onto him whatever they wanted to see. The dirty little secret of the "professional" left is that a lot of us were sipping the same strong tea as our fellow Americans on the far right. We were audaciously (and groundlessly) hoping he was a stealth radical. In fact the children of the revolution are almost always less radical than their parents and far less inclined towards conflict. And we should have known that the very fact of a President Barack Hussein Obama was so frightening to so many white voters that his policies would have to be on the mild side to compensate.
We could have picked someone most Americans would have identified with. A diligent, hard working mom and wife who struggled with her weight and keeping the family together, who often cleaned up after her currently unemployed, charming screwup of a husband. Someone who could talk bread and butter issues with enthusiastic fluency. We spent eight years sneering at the idiots who chose a president with whom they would most like to drink a beer. Then we picked a professorial type we'd most like to split a spliff with or have dated back in college. In a year the Democrats couldn't lose we nominated a candidate that only an act of God & Goldman Sachs could put in office.
We made this bed. Now we have to lie in it. So he's not the second coming of Che Guevara, evocative Fairey poster notwithstanding. We may not agree with him about a lot of things but Obama has certainly earned our trust. He told us straight up who he was. We just chose not to believe him. Trust is a great place to start when building an enduring relationship. He may not be The Chosen One but we chose him so he is our chosen one. Standing by our man, especially going into this critical mid-term election, is what the moment calls for. If we can't find grounds for full-throated praise of our president, we can at least find lots of reasons to condemn the opposition. There may be plenty of opportunity for the blame game after November 2nd but let's not create a self-fulfilling prophesy just so we can indulge in our favorite political pastime.
While Obama never saw himself as a revolutionary he did conceive of himself as a transformational figure. There is every reason to believe he still can be, by virtue of his disposition as well as the historic potential of our times. Reconciling Republicans and Democrats has proven a fool's mission, about as nonsensical as reconciling the Yankees and the Red Sox. The only conceivable outcome for anyone who tries is to get the outer wings of both parties shouting "Kill the Ump!" But reconciling the ideological extremes that took humanity to the brink of destruction in the 20th century and brought their respective proponents to their knees is precisely what the moment demands. Unbridled capitalism brought down the US in 2008 just as surely as unadulterated communism took down the USSR in 1989. Moving beyond last century's sterile yet lethal debate of Capitalism vs. Socialism to a uniquely American blend of Commonsense-ism would make a compelling, vibrant and fundamentally centrist political ideology, if several paces to the left of center as currently defined. Obama's got the chops to make that case this fall. By brandishing the de-nationalization and IPO of GM like a shield, he can deflect the charge of being a secret socialist.
Will he capitalize on the awesome opportunity of this historic moment? Well, Obama has missed two perfect pitches so far. Next post I'll suggest a couple of things that just might help him get his mojo working again. He's going to need it.