To paraphrase Eminem, "Will the real Barack Obama please stand up? Please stand up?" That is the central question of our time -- who is the real Barack Obama?
If he's the guy who got us all excited that anyone could become president, that anything was possible, that real change was coming and the one that was going to stop the same old power players in Washington from controlling everything to the detriment of the people, then we're in great shape. That means he is one of us.
You can question his tactics, but as long as he has the right goals and the right agenda, we'll be fine. We're all hoping (with the audacity of hope, I suppose) that he's the master chess player who is carefully finding ways to play the system but in the end will do the right thing.
I don't even mind if he tries but fails. As long as he is pushing for us, working for us and wants to actually challenge the status quo (the central message of his campaign). Even if we fail in the short term, if we all fight together and we have the president on our side, we will ultimately prevail.
What I do mind is if he is not that guy. If he just played us to get elected and will give us just enough change to placate the masses but leave the system completely intact. That's the kind of guy who would push for a trigger for the public option and pretend he actually gave you the public option. It's not about the trigger, it's not about the public option it's not even about health care reform -- it's what it says about him. Is he playing the politicians and lobbyists in Washington or is he playing us?
The public option and the trigger are not the end of the world (though they are very important to the health care debate); what's more important is what they represent. The trigger is the usual cutesy games Washington plays where they kill reform while pretending to enact it. Where they push it off for another five years, and then another, and then another. They do just enough to appease the voters but not enough to change the system. If that's what Obama pushes for, then there's an excellent chance we're lost.
In my mind, the even bigger test is financial reform. That is the great test of the people versus power. So far, again, the Obama White House has been on the side of power. The proposed regulations are comically weak, and are getting watered down by the day. Obama has put the two worst offenders and defenders of the old system as his top economic advisers -- Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. With the exception of Robert Rubin, you literally could not have picked two worse Democrats to leave in charge of our economic policy.
What's his point? What's his plan? Where's he going with all of this? If he is really internally pushing for the trigger in health care reform and trusting Geithner and Summers to clean up the mess they created, then he is not the guy we voted for. Then, we have our answer. We know who the real Obama is. He is a master chess player, but it's us he's playing.
The financial reform that is needed is so crucial because if we leave this system in place, it will meltdown again. It's not a question of if, but when. The system has structural flaws. The executives do not represent their companies; they represent their own short-term interests. That will always lead to a crash. And after the next crash, we won't have enough money to rescue them - or us.
That is why this is the central question of our time -- who is Barack Obama? Because if he is on our side, he will figure out how to make sure this doesn't happen and that the powerful and corrupt won't game the system for their own benefit and lead to even more disastrous results for us. If he is on their side, then we have a massive, nearly unfixable problem. Then we can fight him, too, but that is an even longer and tougher fight.
The first year of his administration has not been full of good signs. Yes, he got some things done but he has clearly been leaning on the wrong side on the most important issues. But it's nowhere near too late. But the time to change and the time for change are right now. If we don't push him to go in the right direction and don't remind him who voted for him, he could wind up forgetting why he got elected and who he is supposed to be. If the second year is like the first year, it might be too late by then. On the other hand, if he gets health care reform passed with a strong public option and does real regulation of Wall Street, then he is the guy we voted for. It all hangs in the balance.
That's why we want to push him in the right direction. This week we will be doing protests in front of CNN offices in NY, LA and Atlanta to remind the mainstream media and the president that a clear majority of the American people wants the public option and this is the time to step up and fight. You can find out more about it here and talk to others going to the events here. If we want him to do the right thing, then we have to step up and be willing to get out there again and show him who put him in office and why.
So, one year after the election, what do you think Candidate Obama would think of President Obama? Tweet your response (our Twitter hashtag is #OneYearLater), or post it in the comments section.