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Monique Ruffin Headshot

What Happened to President Obama's Change?

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Everyone wants change, but no one wants to do anything different.

I have supported our president from the beginning of his campaign, and throughout his term, I have been disappointed on many occasions. I have also been pleased with his choices and performance. If there is one overriding belief I've heard in the many conversations I've had with other supporters, it is that President Obama didn't make the significant reforms that he could have when the Democrats ran Congress. Many complain that he's wasted an inordinate amount of time attempting to gain the support of Republicans. He has been called naïve because of his efforts to extend himself to them.

As one who closely monitors the political climate in our nation, I remember how it felt to have President George W. Bush make decisions without reaching out to Democrats to gain a consensus as to what was right for the majority of Americans. It seemed that President Bush was primarily representing special interests and the interests of the wealthy, leaving the middle class and impoverished Americans to fend for themselves. Divisive and exclusive politics, as we have seen, not only adversely impacts political relationships in Washington; it also affects the relationships between corporations, the wealthiest one percent of our citizens, and the rest of Americans. Following the leadership of one who ignores the greater needs of those he leads erodes a peoples' spirit of trust; it is alienating and disempowering. President Obama set out in the beginning of his presidency to shift the culture of exclusive leadership. He has time and time again attempted to include both parties in his decision making, building a new foundation upon which we work together for our economy, our energy programs, our struggling educational system, and our broken financial industry. A tug-of-war culture in our politics has served to deplete our humanity and can no longer continue if we are to advance as a nation.

Early in his presidency, I was devastated when Obama's health care plan did not include the consideration of a public option. Many accused him of conceding before the battle even ensued. I was one of them. I was angry and felt entitled in my position that a public option was mandatory. And yet, I recalled how powerless I felt during the Bush presidency. I felt politically invisible, as though my citizenship was worthless. Recalling these feelings gave me a chance to consider those on the other side of the aisle and to realize I would not prefer (nor even choose) that another person experience the isolation that I and many Democrats felt during those eight years.

The current climate in Washington is demonstrative of an "all or nothing" attitude toward governance that results in the disaffection of millions of Americans who go unserved, regardless of their political affiliation. There have been outcries from the masses for our elected leaders to do more toward working together and unifying around issues on which they can find agreement. As a nation, we have approached politics like a football game, with offensive or defensive plays. Politics is not a sport that should leave the losing team members crying in the locker room and mapping out a game plan for when they get the ball. Politics is for all citizens and the sooner we shed this I, me, mine approach to governing, the more likely we will all share in moments and seasons of victory.

Creating a culture of unity in Washington means sacrificing ideals for the sake of the whole. No, we did not get a public option in our new healthcare legislation. However, we did get new legislation that considered the needs of the 40 million uninsured Americans, of youth, seniors, and (yikes!) the insurance companies. The well-being of the masses, as opposed to only that of the elite, was addressed. And even though the Republicans did not support health care reform and have not supported the president in areas that have been traditionally "neutral," we have started the process of unifying, because President Obama considers the needs and arguments of his opponents as well as the desires of his base.

For those people who are angry that President Obama did not take full advantage of the Democrats' majorities in Congress early in his presidency, I ask you, How do you expect change to occur if no one is willing to do anything different? Americans seem to like results without doing the hard work that creates something new. Change is not magic. Change requires different action to garner different results. And for those who believe we need the participation of the Republicans in order to get the change Washington needs, I say look at history. What would have changed if those who marched on Selma or participated in the bus boycott had given up because the results they desired were not immediate? Change is gradual, and it demands patience and persistence.

President Obama is not naïve in his attempt to align with Republicans on issues that impact the majority of Americans. It is true, he is neither a gunslinger nor a political gangster like previous presidents. His many attempts to negotiate and practice inclusivity are a healthy and new way of operating in Washington that considers the humanity of the citizens to be affected.

Everyone wants change, but no one wants to do anything different! I don't know whether President Obama's approach of extending himself to the GOP (which seems to be willing to let our nation go down in flames) is the best solution. However, President Obama is doing something different -- which means that change is occurring. The change we are experiencing may feel uncomfortable and bumpy, but nobody said change must be seamless. We only know that change must be.