Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office January 20, 2009. The challenges he inherited on that historic occasion were as great as any president has faced -- including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt; any assessment of Mr. Obama's presidency not accounting for those challenges would be incomplete -- and, more telling, dishonest.
With that as preface let me note I have written before about our president and have done so
absent undue praise -- but I yield to no one in my personal regard for him.
In the beginning of his administration I was concerned neither Mr. Obama nor his economic
advisors, notably treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, fully comprehended the great economic
divide between the wealthiest one percent of Americans and everyone else, on the excesses of
Wall Street and the virtual collapse of Main Street.
While the president has moved recently to address this issue, especially with his speech in
Kansas, where he admirably invoked the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, I remain unsettled in mind
as to whether the president gets it, of whether he will campaign against Wall Street's greed and
sense of entitlement.
By this I do not mean just the political issue of standing up and challenging Wall Street, but
to see it as his moral imperative, the failure of which will imperil further what has become the
fragile state of our democracy.
Another significant concern is the president's relationship to Congress. From the beginning he
sought to work with the opposite party when it was evident they had no similar intent.
Not long after the president's inauguration Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the
Senate, told the National Journal's Major Garrett his principal objective was to make Barack
Obama a one-term president. What Mr. McConnell said in that interview, as a public declaration,
is without precedent in our history -- and foreshadowed the political and legislative difficulties
The first casualty of the opposite party's intransigence was President Obama's health care
legislation. True, health care legislation finally passed -- no mean achievement given the long
history of past presidential failures -- but the legislation's original intent and final passage were
not the same.
The president's problems with health care were compounded when Tom Daschle withdrew as
secretary designate of Health and Human Services and the White House gave the legislation
to Montana's Max Baucus, a Democrat in name only. Mr. Baucus' muddled stewardship of the
president's health care objectives resulted in political obstructionism.
But given Mitch McConnell's self-declaration to emasculate the president and similar vows by
GOP House leaders, Mr. Obama's efforts to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill can only be
characterized as mystifying, since it has been marked by constant conflict. Surely the president
knows Dr. Einstein's definition of insanity, the expectation of achieving a different result while
doing the same thing?
But maybe the greater puzzlement is why Rahm Emanuel, while serving as the president's
chief of staff, apparently never shared with Mr. Obama Lyndon Johnson's operating principle of
leadership, "If you got 'em by the balls, hearts and minds will follow."
The president's public face marks a remarkable tolerance toward those who would destroy him
politically and end his presidency. As a fellow Christian I know the president knows the words
of Jesus in Matthew 5:39, "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on
the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
But perhaps Mr. Obama is too literal in his acceptance of that New Testament verse; that his
presidency would be better served if he saw the words of Jesus more in the light of the late
American theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr, who said, "It is the sad duty of politics to establish
justice in a sinful world." Dr. Neibuhr understood the necessity of compromise in politics and
governance, but he also knew at times compromise is unacceptable -- and morally indefensible.
Mr. Obama's challenges following his election in 2008 were, as previously noted, as great as
any faced by his 43 predecessors, but I did not mention then what I am obliged now to mention
-- he faced those challenges as our first African-American president.
If I affirm that much of the opposition he's encountered is racist I understand I have postulated a claim I cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt. Nonetheless, there it is.
How else does one explain the birther movement that claimed Barack Obama is not an American citizen? Is it possible to clarify it as other than a manifestation of public idiocy? Or as
H.L. Mencken put it, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American
Constrained as I am by Christian charity I am reluctant to call others idiots (to be so labeled is
unpleasant, as I know from personal experience), but how else does one describe those who
believe Mr. Obama wasn't born in the United States? And further, I am persuaded no such drivel
would ever have emerged and found acceptance among a stunning number of people in this
country if Mr. Obama were white and not black.
The United States has experienced more than its share of shameful moments, but the campaign
to discredit Barack Obama as an American citizen is the embodiment of an evil I cannot abide.
And while the firestorm created by the birthers has receded there remain those convinced Mr. Obama was born, not in Hawaii, but Kenya. My only solace is the knowledge there are also people who believe America's astronauts never made it to the moon, that it is a fiction of Hollywood filmmakers.
During the bogus birther issue many Republicans lost their self-respect, including most of the
party's presidential candidates, who were only too willing to join the fraudulent fray in the hopes of stealing cheap political points. But while this hysteria dominated media coverage, one person kept his dignity, and then some -- the President of the United States.
I characterized the birther campaign, "White America's Shame." I called it that because at a time
when decency and fairness was required, the Republican political establishment was silent -- and by its silence said it was acceptable during a time of war and national emergency to incapacitate the president by challenging his legitimacy to serve.
The birthers who belligerently claimed the mantle of "patriotism" were in their ignorance unaware that Samuel Johnson had defined it as "the last refuge of a scoundrel."
But moving beyond the birther moment, what is one to make of the current Republican presidential field? If I said the run-up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has
been fascinating, I would misspeak. Curious and strange are more appropriate descriptions.
When the primaries are past Mitt Romney will emerge as the Republican presidential nominee.
But Governor Romney cannot defeat President Obama. There is only one Republican who has
any chance of defeating the president, but he is also the one Republican with the least chance
of being nominated -- former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who served as President Obama's
ambassador to China.
Jon Huntsman's candidacy is a throwback to a time when decent and reasonable Republicans
bore proudly the estimable traditions of the party of Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Theodore Roosevelt,
Mr. Eisenhower, Mr. Reagan, and Mr. George Herbert Walker Bush. But beyond Governor
Huntsman, where are they today?
That said, I think Governor Romney will lose for four reasons:
- Wall Street's evil doings have escaped his understanding ("Corporations are people, my friend.");
- He believes the way forward is to increase tax breaks for the wealthy, a policy that has led to near economic ruin and is without moral defense;
- At a time when our national debt stands at 14.2 trillion dollars he wants the U.S. military expanded, with 100,000 additional troops and more ships for our Navy, and
- He has disowned his one significant political accomplishment as Massachusetts' governor, a health-care system that works.
In short, Mr. Romney is not credible.
No one, however, should vote against Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon. A person's
religious beliefs or the lack thereof are not a test for American public office. Period.
Any enlightened judgment of President Obama and his administration will mark the following
Brought home our troops from Iraq and ended George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's war that cost
America 4,500 dead, 30,000 wounded, and $850 billion; successfully carried out the mission to
find and kill Osama bin Laden, the architect of 9/11, something the Bush administration pledged to accomplish but didn't; and in what was deemed a highly controversial decision, the president saved General Motors and Chrysler, which averted the collapse of two giants of American industry, provided Detroit with a measure of hope, and kept thousands employed.
In addition, one could list the following: advancing women's rights, ending "don't ask, don't tell," passing hate crimes legislation, clean energy investments, improving America's food safety
system, expanding health insurance for children, improving assistance to the nation's veterans,
creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the appointments of two women to the
United States Supreme Court.
The dénouement of the 2012 presidential campaign will result in Mr. Obama's re-election by a
majority greater than his victory over John McCain. In addition, Democrats will win back control
of the House of Representatives and retain control of the Senate. And further, Harry Reid as
Senate leader will succeed in restoring majority voting rules, thus ending the tyranny of the
In July of 2008 I told a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune that Barack Obama would be elected president, and it wouldn't be close. I also predicted Democrats would win control of both houses of Congress. Will I be as prescient this time? Let's revisit this post the 2012 election.
Happy New Year!
George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.