To the right, President Obama faces a Republican Party that is now more of a fundamentalist cult, wedded irrevocably to myth and deliberate misinformation, than a political party. (I did my part to make it that way by being a religious right anti-abortion leader and side-kick to my far-right evangelist father in the 70s and 80s, before I fled the Republican Party in disgust with its extremism and worked my tail off to get Obama elected.) To the left President Obama faces an impatient bevy of shortsighted critics.
Where Obama is measured, thoughtful and far thinking, interested in winning long term change the only way possible -- in Edward Kennedy-style increments -- the left, apparently the victims of collective attention deficit disorder and ideological fundamentalism, insist on everything being done today. No, rather, yesterday.
Where Obama offers bipartisanship the right only knows hate, pure and simple. To the right the truly insane, the armed, the deluded and the outright liars dwell.
To the left the impatient and jaded dwell. So what is the last reasonable American -- President Obama -- to do?
Before continuing a caveat: I know I'm generalizing about the left. Who I'm really showing some exasperation with are the lefties of little faith, the sort of people who are now falling all over themselves to praise Senator Kennedy now that he has died, but who don't have a clue as to how he actually governed: by fighting smart, comprising when needed, and not holding himself up as some sort of paragon of ideological purity. He was willing to give his lifetime to go step by step to a better, fairer, more progressive society. Obama's critics didn't have the patience to even give the new president six months!
In the August 20 Rolling Stone magazine is a conversation about Obama's first six months among Krugman, Michael Moore and David Gergen. The interesting thing is how happy Moore -- the real Leftie "radical" -- is with Obama. Sure he has some differences, but as he put it, Obama is adept at faking right and going left. Moore was much more sensible than Krugman (Gergen was good, albeit starting out from a different place). I think that Moore's view represents a lot of what I hear from Obama's real supporters. (Keep in mind that Krugman was for Hillary, and always doubted that Obama would succeed.)
That said, Krugman and his ilk have started what amounts to an anti-Obama leftist coup that is now begining to seriously undermine the possibility for change by (ironically) harping on the theme of wanting change faster. Obama's leftist critics would all have made terrible Little League coaches! You don't boo your guys in the first inning every time they make a play you don't like or miss a catch -- not if you want to win the game.
While the critics on the left think in minutes the president thinks in years. Where the right thinks of "we" versus "them" the president thinks of "us."
How to understand Obama?
He's the leader that somehow missed the bitterness that deforms the thinking of we culture war survivors of both the right and left. He'd rather win the battle than have the pleasure of instant vindication. And he understands magnanimity -- a concept lost on the right and left.
The president is being asked by the left to stop trying to work with the far right Republicans: in other words all the Republicans these days. I agree. The Republicans have proved that they are more adept at encouraging such outrageous behavior as bare-faced lying about health reform ("death panels") and/or carrying loaded weapons to presidential rallies than at putting forth actual policy. But the president also must do nothing to appease the vocal left in terms of changing his long term incremental strategy. These critics on the left don't know what the words "long term" mean.
You can't trust people who won't admit they are wrong. The shrill left said that Obama's economic recovery program would fail. But the economy is slowly turning around. I have yet to read an opinion piece by anyone on the left who claimed to have had such perfect information on what Obama should have done now saying that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong and spoke too soon.
Instead the critics on the left have just moved on to health care in order to predict doom. They predict that somehow Obama has given away the farm and "wavered" on the public option. Has he?
No, he hasn't. Obama is grownup enough to be playing for the long term tactical victory. It is called politics. He's good at it.
Now take note, all ye of little faith, and email me in four to eight years and tell me I was right!
Health care will be reformed in stages. And somewhere in the next three and a half years of the Obama presidency there will be a public option added (by whatever name). And we will -- thankfully! -- be on our way to a single payer system by the end of the second term in the Obama presidency in seven and a half years.
And by the way the economy will be in great shape by the end of the first term.
By the end of the first term gays will be serving in the military without harassment. Gay rights, including marriage, will be achieved nationwide. And because Obama will have been smart about how to make these changes, unlike the Roe v. Wade all-or-nothing culture-war starting hubris of the left we saw in the 70s, there won't be a second culture war started and most Americans will go along.
The far right will be utterly discredited. The Republican Party is going to be repudiated for a generation. The doubters on the American left will merely look small, impatient and childish.
And I'll bet the critics on the left will be taking the credit for Obama's successes, something they have contributed little to since his election. All the leftie critics have done so far is help drive down the president's poll numbers in a way that helps hand potential victory to the enemies of change. In that sense, Obama's critics on the left might as well be in the pay of the insurance companies. After winning his many battles -- and he will win them -- knowing Obama he'll thank his "supporters" on the left anyway for all their "help." But history won't be so kind. The left and the right will be lumped together in the history books as the people one of our greatest presidents had to overcome to achieve his stunning succession of successes.
Ignore them all, Mr. President. Stick with your long term vision. You are smarter, kinder and nobler than all your critics put together. Bless you for trying to save us from ourselves. Some of us are sticking with you for the long haul and we're grateful.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism)