THE BLOG
01/25/2011 08:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Failure

When you're talking about presidents, it should be declarative. They should own things. Think 'Bush's War' for Iraq. Or, I guess, as I've now read 'Obama's War' for Afghanistan.

So, I'm declarative here. Obama's failure.

I've wanted to write this for a long time. It really built up over 2010. As my feelings grew stronger, I felt trapped by circumstances. For the first half of the year, I was seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress. Probably not the greatest strategy in the world to air your grievances against the leader of the party whose nomination you are seeking. In fact, in reality, the airing of grievances should be probably be kept to Festivus only. But I digress. After winning the nomination, in the second half of the year, I felt paralyzed by cynicism. If I called out the president, I would likely be viewed cynically as just another candidate who would say anything and throw anyone under the bus, just to get elected. Likewise, I refrained from any Republican-bashing altogether because outside of the unproductive tone, I realized it would be dismissed as standard politics.

So that pretty much meant that I kept my mouth shut in public on the subject of the president. Tonight, the president delivers his third state of the union and I didn't want him to address the nation until I had my say. I can only imagine his speechwriters' frustration upon reading this post with so few hours to go and having to do a massive re-write. Such is life.

I am not happy with President Barack Obama. Some would (and have said) that I am being cynical. But it's the opposite. I am horrified because the president has revealed himself to be the most cynical of all.

In 2006 & 2007 as Barack Obama campaigned across America he spoke of change. Not just any change. Not changing a few policies. Like changing the healthcare system, changing the vacancy sign at Gitmo, or changing DADT (don't ask, don't tell). No, he talked about transformational change. Washington was a corrupt, fatally flawed place, that had cease to function for the American people. If the goal of Washington was to advance the cause of the American experiment, it had broken. And Barack Obama had come along to tell... no, to promise us, that he was coming to Washington to destroy it.

There's a deep sense of hopelessness and cynicism attached to politics. Most of all amongst the youngest of voters. I believe it boils down to a sense that it doesn't matter which candidate wins, nothing changes but the window dressing. In a campaign of historic proportions, Obama flipped the script. He galvanized young and old. Here, he promised, was your chance to be heard. I'm sick of all this too. The posturing. The petty bickering. The flitting away at the margins, while the glaring disasters are in plain sight. I hear you! Now is not the time to be small, it's time to go big! Instead of being sick of everything, let's change the system, he whispered to us.

So we elected him. And, look, I'm actually one of the people who think almost any decent Democratic candidate should have won that election. The conditions were about as primed as humanly possible (Bush fatigue, supreme economic malaise-turned-crisis, a changed McCain, and everything that was 'Sarah Palin') for a McCain defeat. But, still, the record dollars raised, largest grassroots effort in American history, electoral landslide. Change had come to America! Game on! Let's go change Washington! Can't Wait!

It's been two years. I'm still waiting.

That's not to say that a lot hasn't been accomplished. Far from it. The president has presided over one of the most ambitious legislative agendas in decades. See this site for the laundry list of things he's gotten passed and signed.. As checklists go, he's been busy.

But Washington today looks a whole lot like it did 5 years ago. The huge scary problems that were looming over us 3 years ago, are still there. The president promised transformational change, and then once he got there, he got to work right away on transactional change.

Am I being too harsh? Is not realistic to expect big, systemic change? To expect the things that are course-altering? I was just expecting what was promised.

In the end, as much as I dream, at my core, I'm a harsh, realist. And so I as I watched the campaign unfold, I was never sure that Obama would be able to do the things he promised. But I believed that he was angry by these things and that he would at least try.

I do not believe that Barack Obama ever tried to change Washington. This is Obama's ultimate failure.
Maybe he tried to do it by asking nicely. He went behind the scenes and extended olive branches to everyone and asked for their help in tackling the big problems and reforming the system. In fact let's just assume that he did these things. And that, shockingly, he was rebuffed by all those with a stake in the status quo and that sought political advantage.

Then what did he do?

He used every old trick in the book to get things done. Nothing changed except the transactions. He got some impressively difficult legislation passed. To do so, he signed bills that had massive pork (when he promised to not do this). He OK'ed backroom deals (when campaigned clearly against them) to horsetrade for votes. He signed a ~$4 trillion tax cut extension when he said that wanted to truly take on the debt (not add a massive amount more over the next decade). Yeah, he sure did get a lot done. But at what cost? The cost was preserving the system, keeping our course (towards the iceberg), and maintaining the destructive status quo of DC.

What did I expect/want him to do? I wanted him to fight. I expected him to take a baseball bat to DC if it wouldn't change easy. I expected him to expose the corruption, hypocrisy, and ideologues who stood in the way of transformational change. Hold press conferences where you call individual people out. Read the dollars that are flowing in between certain PAC's and their supplicants and the resulting harm to the American people. Re-engage that army to go to work at the grassroots level to spread the word about what was happening. It would work because he was right. Because he took the moral high ground.

Sure, this would have consequences. Instead of passing all of the legislation he did, Congress would grind to a standstill. No healthcare reform, DADT, etc, etc, etc, etc. Instead he's going to war with DC. He's taking a bat to Washington. I'm OK with that. Not because I'm insensitive to the suffering of the people who have benefited from the incremental progress of the new laws. Not because I'm a purist (or idealist) who believes that Perfect is the enemy of Good. But because we are a nation at a pivotal moment, at a time of crisis, and transactional leadership won't cut it. We need transformational leadership, and Obama was thrilled (during the campaign) to be the vessel in which we believed it would be provided. Why am I so hung up on this? Why am I so repulsed? Because the big problems aren't close to being addressed:


  • -14 trillion in current debt; record deficits;50 trillion more coming down the pike

  • -3 billion spent lobbying and more on its way each day

  • - A financial system that is still deeply vulnerable but papered over due to the Fed's printing press

  • - A ~17% real unemployment rate that has showed substantial evidence of being the 'new normal'

  • - A manufacturing sector on its last legs due to failed US trade, tax, and regulatory policies

  • - Control of our debt by nations who appear to be becoming increasingly aggressive towards us

  • - The list. Goes. On. And. On. And. On...

We are not capable of taking on these challenges as long as the status quo is permitted to stand. That was the narrative arc of the campaign. It was right then. It's right now. All that's changed are the president's priorities. He chose getting stuff done vs getting stuff right. He chose progress today vs a real, stable foundation for tomorrow.

That's President Barack Obama's failure. He failed to do what he told us he would. Worst of all, he didn't even fight to.

I suspect this post will infuriate many. It will bring out the instinctive need to defend their 'guy'. I understand your reaction. Politics is horrifically adversarial and combative. It's worse than sports. When a Steelers fan makes fun of the Bengals (even if they're right), I pipe up. When a Patriots fan rips on the Jets (even if they're right), I rush to concoct a tortured defense. But politics, the debate over the direction of the future of our country, should not be so tortured. I believe, to my very core, that we should not defend people or parties. We should defend principles and ideas. Only principles and ideas. For the people and the parties sell out. They change. They compromise. They sell out. Our values, our principles, our ideals and ideas, these are the things that are true. Hold them above all else.

For the first time in a very long time, I sat down to write without fear of if it would be used against me, if it would cost me votes, or if it would be popular. This is what I feel. I say it with a clear heart and no sinister purpose. I know my values and I know what I would like to see done. And so I write.

Posted from SuryaSays.com