Few will forget the revealing moment when Barack Obama characterized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as "likeable enough." At the time I recall being offended by that remark, finding it cold, ungenerous, and in debate terms, insultingly dumb. Nevertheless, writing on the Huffington Post during the campaign I described myself as swinging from Obama to Hillary, back and forth, and finally landing in the Obama camp, swayed by his superb rhetoric, and his promise of a fresh start for the country after the worrying/wearying Bush years. There was also my distrust of Hillary's bellicose rhetoric, and the thought that he could bring a strength of character and a passion to his Presidency that we had not seen since FDR.
I believed that he, Obama, would clean up the mess of the Bush years, knowing that it would take time, but we would see the beginnings of a fresh start for this country by this summer of 2010. I see now that I made a huge mistake, and I will own up to it. It was not the Shirley Sherrod miscalculation that brought me to this realization, but rather a look at the great accomplishments of Barack Obama during his time in office -- health care reform, finance reform -- and I find them riddled with compromises that seriously weaken them. Yes, "likeable enough," but all lacking the essential core of change that will set the country on a better course. More than the policies themselves it is Obama that I find myself drawing away from. Mind you, in any contest between Obama, a man of great intelligence and good will, and his next Presidential opponent, Sarah Rand Mitt-Gingrich, Obama will get my vote, but it's cast to keep people whom I regard as potential evildoers wrapped in the flag from capturing the Presidency. My man has not just failed me. Worse, he has profoundly disappointed me.
Let me start with where his policies have touched the lives of people I know. The giving of the monies to banks -- the big bailout -- without the necessary strings attached. Yes, strings matter. This accounts for the total failure of the mortgage modification program (a ruse that tricked struggling homeowners into believing they had a chance to hold on to homes) and the fact that my elderly friend Molly barely escaped life in the streets at 76 when her apartment of twenty years was foreclosed. That program was half red tap, half bad will. Now she is living in a modest rental, which will take whatever Social Security monies she gets, leaving her without enough for food or medicine. Acts have consequences and this is a bitter one for the old, the poor, and the unemployed. Why were agreements with the banks not in place before the billions were given to save them? Where were the conditions imposed upon these banks so that small business might be encouraged to expand with mandatory bank-loans for those with good credit histories? Nowhere. So the banks horded their billions, played money games too inscrutable for me or you to fathom and ended up richer than ever while the unemployed faced despair.
Having just returned from ten days of sweltering on my beloved Maine coast, Obama's failure to deal with global warming, his runaway from this reality, will cost my three pre-school grand-daughters dearly in the years to come, and I am unforgiving about that. No fight, not even an audible whimper. Life in the future, it seems, is to be lived as an air-conditioned nightmare.
It is easy to see why FDR was able to take on the challenge of repressive conservatism -- being a white aristocrat all he had to do was turn a deaf ear to those who claimed he was a traitor to his class, and act on his principals, many of which were based on a compassionate arrogance. He also had the advantage of Hoover being president in the early years of the Great Depression so the country knew what had gone so wrong in the past, and who had brought it about. Obama arrived as the Bush Recession was gaining ground, but its full impact had yet to be felt. It landed with a great thud in Obama's lap. As our first African American President Obama has found it harder to oppose those forces of hatred and repression, the country club conservatives and their allies, the Fox News bigots, reluctant to confront the race card that these jokers use daily to diminish him and his presidency. Roosevelt would have looked Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes in the eye and called them scoundrels. There was Hearst, Westbrook Pegler and Father Coughlin (the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck of that day) and other press lords attacking FDR and Eleanor daily, yet the Roosevelts never bowed to them and forged ahead with policies designed to save the country during the Great Depression. Yes, yes, I know about the viral nature of the internet and 24 hour cable news and how it can manipulate false news, but the internet and cable news is no stronger than a strong leader.
I now feel that Hillary would have stood up to these forces with greater strength and courage as a brilliant woman -- not without faults -- not always wed to the truth -- but showing a toughness and a character that this country needs in leadership. At the very least we would see her washing down an oil soaked pelican in the Gulf, and not traipsing with his family in a North Eastern seaside resort. Obama has no idea how much his "cool" in the face of the oil spill has cost him. Symbols do matter. We are only half-way through the Obama presidency, but there is nothing in what he has done or said, as President that gives me confidence that he will not keep throwing red meat to the roaring conservative lions, as witnessed by the disaster that is taking shape in Afghanistan: Obama's self-inflicted wound, one that costs trillions in resources needed by this country, and thousands in lives belonging to the families of the servicemen and women serving abroad.
Obama seems to have begun his presidency operating on the Machiavellian principle of betraying his friends and rewarding his enemies, all done under cover of reaching out for bi-partisanship. Well, that may have worked in the Renaissance but right now it is the wrong policy at the wrong time -- and I fear -- by the wrong President. The first order of business is for Obama to change his advisors who surround him and who have consistently misled him. If the Congress or the Senate changes hands into a Republican Majority, as many predict it will, it will not be because the Republicans have anything to offer except a negative, a strong, bracing dose of nativism, and a mean spirited stinginess disguised as fiscal conservatism. The hate inherent in their policies is always asleep but never dead in American life, and ready to be awakened in difficult times.
Report card for the nay saying Republican congress: F Minus. Report Card for this Obama administration: C Plus. And I am a very generous marker. Note from this teacher to parent or guardian. Barack is a very clever, well-spoken young man, quick to learn, but he must show more spirit and guile in standing up to bullies like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and -- as a lover of movies -- let him take on the wicked fat man of the forties films, that Sydney Greenstreet of the right, Rush Limbaugh. More Bogart please, and much less Leslie Howard. Most of all we would like to see a little more of the Chicago street organizer in his attitude and a little less Harvard Law Review.