Recall Election Day, November 2008. A racial milestone, incapable of repossession had been passed, liberals and the working poor would reclaim the ground lost in the last 30 years. I can still see the footage of black men and women with grey-tinged hair weeping, groups of men in hardhats seeing a fair shake in sight. Liberals finally had a champion. As a millennial, there are few historical moments that I have emotional access to. Besides the 9/11 attacks, this was the only moment that had the surreal quality of seeming historical as I witnessed it. I was excited and proud that my first ballot was cast for Barack Obama. I was doubly proud when, while in line for a Wilco concert, I could graciously refuse the assistance of Rock the Vote, having voted early.
For liberals, that well-burnished beginning has had ample time to dull. Still months from full implementation, our president’s landmark piece of legislation is still nebulous and a cause for distress even among those it may end up helping. Largely because the low wage workers it was designed to include in a quasi-national health care system still can’t get decent work because of the employer mandates it imposes.
Nebulous has been the watchword for this second term. Liberals were galvanized and conservatives afraid and/or angered by the prospect of what Obama’s ‘Change’ would represent. I wish I could say that conservatives were justified in their outrage, but what business there is on the Hill and Wall Street, is just business as usual. Obama had learned late in his first term to employ a soft touch; one which is now so soft we don’t even notice it.
In 2012, the country had decided that of Obama and the Monopoly man, Obama was the least unseemly, and that he was now free to try to finish some of what he started or promised to start, congressional cooperation permitting. Up until a few months ago, the liberal script has been, “Obama’s policy proposals are good, but Congress…” or “Anemic growth is better than backsliding.” All of this was and is still true, but this week was a sobering reminder of how little has actually been done for the economy, or at least the economy Obama was talking about. The working poor, formerly known as the middle class has seen almost none of the gains over the past 2 years, and while Congress has done a piss-poor job trying to find some bipartisan measures that would serve to stimulate the economy, Obama has been scrambling between the snafus caused domestically and abroad over the NSA scandals, and the Syrian crisis.
Despite the Nobel Prize, I never took Obama for a dove. I can appreciate the moral difficulty and therefore need for setting red lines and expressing intolerance of those in violation of the Geneva convention, however inopportune. And although we were reassured that Obama knew we had become a war-weary nation, whose economic back was only just recovering from our last two excursions, I wanted to hear it from the man himself. Most of us needed more of a reason to jump into a conflict that’s already two and a half years old, than chemical weapons, however horrible its use.
Obama, however, while saving one face forsook another. In trying to appeal to those still steadfast in the belief that Western military action ameliorates life or politics in the Middle East, he broke with those who (including his wife) think that the gains made there are not worth the losses suffered here. It is a tragic calculus, and it was probably wise of him to deflect some of the guilt or blame by delegating the decision to a body that couldn’t possibly agree with him. Abandoned in the eyes of the public, however, was the Obama whose presidential ambitions included the safe extraction from existing conflicts, the Obama whose focus was nation building here.
The NSA, in terms of public trust, seems a worse matter. No he didn’t start it, but again we are confronted with an Obama who five years prior chided the growing government invasions of privacy and the casual erosion of the fourth amendment in the name of our own safety.
My political hopes are no longer whetted by good intentions and rousing State of the Union addresses. Fool me once, etc. With three years remaining, I am inclined not to further excuse overly-conservative decisions out of this administration. Decisions that were made with the aim of leveraging the respect or favor of the opposite party for later synergism have largely failed, and each time we are left with expansive drilling or greater border security and Boehner still getting 98% of what he wants in debt discussions. We are roughly a month away from hitting the debt ceiling again, and I want to see something go our way. Half measures are expected when money is so tight, but Obama needs to be fighting for something worth getting. If Republicans want to default or want a shutdown he should be ready with the assignations of blame. If it comes to that, the Clinton-Gingrich example will be most instructive, and something might be made of this second term.
The time is nigh where Obama needs to better differentiate himself from the man he replaced. His success in arguably both elections hinged on the fact that so much of his platform ran opposite of Bush’s policies, but the damage that was done has hardly been touched, and the legislation that caused it barely unraveled. There is no better transparency, campaign finance will likely be worse in the next election, immigration reform has stalled. With all spending decisions left to the debt talks, no meaningful school, infrastructure, or energy plans can be made. Everything is just well enough in-check to keep things afloat for the moment, but recession or not, I did not vote twice to have things almost as Bush left them. Going forward I just ask that Obama be a centrist when he must, but be a liberal when he can.