The "disappointed" left says President Obama sold out. The racist-laced, Medicaid-mugging, billionaire-coddling right staggers under the weight of terminal "birther" mythology (now trumpeted by birther-come-lately Donald Trump). Meanwhile President Obama continues to bide his time and looks down the road to the post-2012 reality when his patience with an impatient country, his thoughtfulness in the context of a sound-bite-entertain-ourselves-to-death era of short attention spans and historical amnesia will be vindicated.
If you think that President Obama played the Republicans in the last lame duck Congress like a violin just wait until after 2012 when the rotten Tea Party will be about as relevant as 1930s hate monger radio priest Charles Coughlin (the "father" of hate radio) is today.
President Obama has met the vile far right (and religious right mob) and also met the disappointment of the impatient left with a calm smile and good humor. He's even reached out to what remains of the Republican Party languishing hock deep in the quagmire of their frightened and wholly imagined paranoid "victim" status. President Obama has also played chicken with each new crisis and -- invariably -- pulled last moment hair raising victory from what critics said would be defeat.
Before he'd served a year President Obama lost the support of the easily distracted (bitter?) left-of-the-left and also became the target for the white hot rage of the hate-filled right-of-the-right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds, are sticking with our president.
Disclosure: I am a white fifty-eight-year-old former Republican. In my new book I explain why I left (fled!) the right and religious right movement my family helped found Sex, Mom and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. (In this book I deconstruct evangelical "thinking" about politics and the Bible in a way that I hope entertainingly exposes the religion-created sexual dysfunction that has been the only actual motivating factor for the so called culture wars.)
That said... I voted for Obama and have been impressed by the success of his presidency so far (we're not in an economic depression because of his interventions) and heartened by the promise of his post-2012 presidency that is shaping up to be historic.
What Obama Faced
Here is what Obama faced on "Day One":
- Two wars; one that was mishandled from the start, the other that was unnecessary and immoral
- The worst economic crisis since the depression
- America's standing in the world at the lowest point in history
- A country that had been misled into accepting the use of torture of prisoners of war
- A health care system in free fall
- An educational system in free fall
- A global environmental crisis of history-altering proportions (about which the Bush administration and the Republicans had done nothing)
- An impasse between culture warriors from the right and left
- And a racist-dominated white old boys club -- the Republican Party -- that would use code words "no birth certificate," "not a real American"... etc., etc., for what they really wanted to shout which was a shocked, "There's an uppity black man in the White House!"...
Republican Party Hate, Democratic Party Impatience
What did the Republicans and the religious right, libertarians and half-baked conspiracy theorists -- that is what the Republicans were reduced to being by the time Obama took office -- do to "help" our new president (and our country) succeed? They claimed that he was a reincarnation of Hitler and wanted "death panels" to kill the elderly!
What did the left do to help our newly elected president? Some proclaimed that the president's economic policies had "failed" before the president even instituted them!
Those that had stood in transfixed legions weeping with beatific emotion on election night turned into an angry mob saying how "disappointed" they were that they'd not all immediately been translated to heaven the moment Obama stepped into the White House. And the greatest (willful?) blindness on the left has been to ignore the racists context of Republican obstructionist "policy" and to make a he-didn't-bring-enough-change critique of the president, as if it was possible to do all he wanted to do right away if not yesterday.
The disappointment on the left has apparently led some folks to concoct an alternate reality in which -- in a mirror image of the embittered far right, not to mention in a mirror image of people like Sarah Palin who have made a profitable career out of being professional Obama haters -- no matter what president Obama does they dismiss it.
In other words some on the left don't just disagree on tactics, they act like jilted lovers (and/or opportunistic cynics trolling for the next book advance) and have turned their once too-ardent love into hate.
For instance here's how blogger media personality and professional Obama critic Glenn Greenwald "describes" president Obama:
[Obama will] pay lip service to some Democratic economic dogma and defend some financially inconsequential culture war positions: that's how he will signal to the base that he's still on their side. But the direction will be the same as the GOP desires and, most importantly, how the most powerful economic factions demand: not because he can't figure out how to change that dynamic, but because that's what benefits him and thus what he wants.
Think about Greenwald's rather hysterical claim that what President Obama really wants is the same thing that the Republican leaders in Congress want! He dismisses President Obama's defense of stem cell research, a woman's right to choose, gay rights, gay's right to serve in the military et al as "inconsequential culture war positions." Parkinson's disease suffers waiting for a cure, women with unwanted pregnancies and gay men and women in the military might disagree that the costly stand the president has taken is inconsequential.
Think about Greenwald's claim that President Obama is just the same as the Republicans in the context of the non-stop character assassination that the Republicans have carried on against President Obama, and in the light of their false attacks on health care reform, in the light of bumper stickers calling for the president's death etc., etc. Odd that the Republicans don't seem to understand that Obama is really one of them! Just the same? Then why did the insurance industry and corporate America spend tens of millions to try and stop health care reform?
How about this: Given the racist state of American politics and the lack of steadfast lefty support -- not to mention morale-destroying jilted lover carping (and the critique-for-profit members of the "left" who now define themselves by opposition to president Obama and thus have their egos tied to presidential "failure"), and the hate-filled mythology of the right -- president Obama has done incredibly well to get anything done at all.
Maybe there are some on the left who (besides selling anti-Obama screeds) suffer from some sort of psychological problem of denial and are unable to deal with the reality of what America has become and actually is: A place where progressive ideas are routinely crushed beneath the weight of the corporate state and entrenched bigotry. But that reality is where President Obama must function.
And he has to bide his time. President Obama did not sell America to the corporate oligarchy that has destroyed our democracy -- the Republicans did, the lobbyists did and above all the Supreme Court did. President Obama didn't bust the unions -- Reagan did. President Obama didn't declare war on women and minorities and immigration rights, gay rights and working men and women -- the Republicans and religious right did. President Obama did not create the permanent war economy of imperial gun-toting undereducated and over-armed America -- the Republicans did with the backing of American evangelicals (not to mention the neoconservative Israel lobby) who believe in God-ordained American "exceptionalism."
Trying to change any or all of this will take time. It will not be achieved by one man. And our best shot at changing anything at all is to be realistic about what one president can do.
The president's critics left and right all have one thing in common: impatience laced with little-to-no sense of history.
Meanwhile back in the real world ...
- Health care reform passed
- Gay rights in the military took a quantum leap
- The economy began to revive
- The world loved an American president for the first time in half a century
- The war in Iraq drew down
- America foiled countess terror attacks
And post-Libya intervention president Obama has in a little noticed historic move -- changed America's arrogant unilateral habit of global intervention perfected by Bush II.
Mr. Kupchan (of the Council on Foreign Relations) says that something new about Obama regarding actual change is the way he acts in international interventions. "The governing mantra since World War II has been, 'America is out in front,' so it's quite striking how prominent the administration's focus is on letting others take the lead," he says. "It's really kind of revolutionary."
... And everything president Obama has done he did against the backdrop of a hate campaign against him -- from the right and the left -- the likes of which no American president has faced since Lincoln faced down the slave-owning states.
Make no mistake: the Tea Party, the rise of shills-and-fools-for-profit like Palin, Bachmann, Trump et al, the sale of bumper stickers calling for the president's death (Psalm 109) etc., etc., all add up to one thing: the white underclass is lashing out. (Jimmy Carter was correct; it's always about race in America).
And in this context, with the just-say-no Republicans doing nothing but obstructing him, our first black president has nevertheless:
Extended child tax credits and marriage-penalty fixes; increased minority access to capital; established a credit card bill of rights; expanded loan programs for small businesses; closed the "donut hole" in Medicare prescription drug plan, required insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions; required children to have health insurance coverage; expanded eligibility for Medicaid; increased the Veterans Administration budget to recruit and retain more mental health workers, fully fund the Veterans Administration, fully funded the Violence Against Women Act; directed military leaders to end war in Iraq; sought verifiable reductions in nuclear stockpiles; repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy; raised fuel economy standards and reversed restrictions on stem cell research...defended a woman's right to abortion...
While President Obama brilliantly cajoled 13 Republicans to join every Democratic senator to ratify the New Start nuclear arms treaty with Russia, adding (as the Times put it) "the capstone to what now shapes up to be a remarkably successful legislative agenda for President Obama's first two years..." And while President Obama signed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell into law and while President Obama orchestrated the push back in the Senate -- that then unanimously approved a bill to pay for the medical care of workers who cleaned up ground zero... the president also kept proving that his rabid critics on the right, who have been working so hard to undermine his presidency at every turn, are dead wrong. And then president Obama foiled the great Tea Party budget "victory" of April 2011.
According to some rueful (angry) conservative press reports: "The historic $38 billion in budget cuts resulting from at-times hostile bargaining between Congress and the Obama White House were accomplished in large part by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway."
The president keeps proving himself smarter that his detractors
President Obama wasn't able to walk on water! And he has made mistakes! But he has his feet firmly planted on the ground and understands the reality of what America has become and just where he must function, which is more than his critics can claim.
President Obama also keeps proving that compared to the talking-heads he knows how to get things done that actually change lives and matter -- health care reform, gay rights (instead of mere slogans), actual education reform, ending a war, restoring America's image worldwide.
We Americans are very lucky people. A sane and compassionate president is in charge. Over an 8 year period he will change American history for the better. Only president Obama's dimwitted and/or hate-filled opponents are unlucky: they are betting against a political genius who also happens to be a very good human being.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book is, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway.