It's never pretty when the magic fades, when the buoyant rapture of courtship gives way to the bobbing realism of the marriage. I count myself among the bright-eyed millions who found in the 2008 presidential campaign something legitimately stirring; as a young person, the race carried special significance for me as perhaps the one authentic experience that has ever cracked the shell of a generation notable mostly for its seemingly impenetrable veneer of irony. We were certain that we were willing ourselves a savior, even if we weren't supposed to use the word. We let our hopes for a better nation, long penned in by well-warranted cynicism, out into the sunshine; we gave them a face and a name. Obama came to stand for progress, for peace, for a kinder and better nation, for everything we always wanted but never believed we could get in an age of craven politicians and demented morality.
We put a ring on it, and waited for our happily ever after to start trickling in. You know the rest: tempered successes, familiar disappointments, the pervasive chill of opportunities missed. We wanted a home run, and instead we got hit by the pitch -- a little progress, sure, but we'll remember it mainly for the big old bruise. Health Care Reform, the jewel of progressive policy aspirations, was finally attained after more than eighty years of futility, but only by way of a war of attrition which polluted the bill and roughed up the president. Desperately needed financial reform proved a less dramatic (but no less blunted) sequel, and the pattern continued in turn: two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back. Now more than two years into the Obama presidency, many Americans feel more helpless and skeptical than ever, as the burgeoning economic recovery and handful of unadulterated moral victories have been offset in part by a fresh war, an over-eagerness to compromise core principles, and a Congress of absolute bastards. Even though President Obama is by any conceivable metric far more likely than not to win reelection at this point, it seems likely that, for many who supported him in 2008, the thrill is gone.
Not me. We live in a political universe in which real progress and change are near impossibilities, where the bluster of senselessness and false piety is so overwhelming that even standing still is an extraordinary feat. I understand the frustrations of progressives; I am one. We all craved a leader who could take us the whole way down the field, and here we are, burned out and battered, just a few feet further than before toward the promise of a greater America. Politics, though, has always been a game of inches, and President Obama has won us these precious inches against a phenomenal confluence of inimical circumstances: preexisting calamities abroad, an economy gorged and erupted by the worst gluttons of corporate greed and reckless deregulatory fervor, and an opposition that has demonstrated its total inability to play fair, that is constantly moving the goalposts and kicking the ball backwards when the referees aren't looking. Where once there was the loyal opposition, today we have the shameless albatross of a major party whose "top political priority" is to fight for the failure of our own nation's leader.
The Republican Party has locked itself in the bathroom of ignorance and rage, of callous indifference to the real problems facing our country. In time, history will rightly remember the conservatives of this political moment just as mournfully as we remember those conservatives who fought so senselessly against racial integration, women's suffrage, Social Security, Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and so many other pillars of our nation's progress. For now, though, we require a president who can keep above the fray, who responds to his opponents' total abandonment of good faith by patiently maintaining his own. America today faces an astonishing scarcity of responsible public leadership; the Congress has almost fully reverted along party lines into children and cowards, and the damage being done is real. What we need now, more than ever, is moral authority at the top--a leader with the patience to weather the chaos around him, even if it only results in a few inches of progress at a time. We need an adult, and there's only one left in the room. That's why I'll be supporting President Obama in 2012.