I came late to the Obama bandwagon. While I suspect many of my friends, family members, and colleagues threw their support behind him early simply because of his race, I withheld mine until late in the primary season chiefly for that same reason; I knew that the importance of this presidential race was such that we could not waste our efforts. And I reasoned that America would not vote for a black man, and Obama’s campaign would go the way of Jesse Jackson’s, or Al Sharpton’s, or Shirley Chisholm’s in the early seventies.
But I did finally come around. I did finally get on the bandwagon. And for most of the summer until well into the fall, I, along with my wife and kids, did our very best to make his campaign successful. We canvassed. We stuffed envelopes. We made phone calls. And unbeknownst to me, practically every time we got one of those email messages asking for money, at least once or twice a week, my wife responded.
I was not the only one. Many people bought into his message of hope and change. Each time I attended a campaign event, the number of people and their sheer enthusiasm and optimism completely overwhelmed me; it more resembled a movement and not a campaign.
However, all around me I sense that campaign and inaugural day ardor is dampening. I sense that enthusiasm, that anticipation—the sense of hope and desire for real change—which defined the campaign is transforming hard and fast into disaffection and cynicism. And I lay the blame at the feet of President Obama.
There is an old military axiom that states that no matter how well crafted or well thought out the battle plan, that plan must necessarily change once the enemy is engaged. So, that being said, I understand that perhaps once the president took office the realities he faced might have caused him to revisit, re-evaluate, and revise those ideals he espoused during the campaign.
Furthermore, I understand the machinations of politics. The very nature of politics implies compromise. And in making a decision, the political implications of that decision sometime drive that decision; often because of political expediency and exigency, the best decision is not always the right decision.
With that in mind, I have remained reserved while others have criticized the president early in his term. In some decisions I could readily discern the political rationale, while others I just gave him the benefit of the doubt, but with this whole Health Care Reform debacle, I can no longer remain reticent.
The president must have known, had to have known, the difficulty of passing any type of health care bill with a public option attached early on. Leading up to his assuming office, or within the first days of his assuming office, I am more than certain he discussed his vision for health care reform with Democratic leaders in order to determine where they stood; to not to have done so would be tantamount to political malpractice.
In looking back, I now realize that when he gave his health care speech in August, he knew then. His downplaying the need for the public option during that speech was a tacit harbinger of what was to come. But at the moment he realized that he could not get any decent health care bill through the Senate, if he was really serious about a public option, he should have then looked for another option, another means of pushing his legislation through.
Certainly when he realized that the other side was not going to play by the rules, when he realized that the other side was going to engage any means necessary, no matter how unethical or immoral, to preserve the status quo, when he realized that members of his own party was going to stand in the way of him fulfilling his campaign promises, he should have then accepted that the normal give and take of politics was not longer commensurate to the situation; extraordinary problems require extraordinary solutions.
I understand the notion that we get what we can now and then build on that foundation. But this is the problem with that. The urgency is now, and what can be done to bring the bill closer to what is desired in the future depends entirely on factors that are rapidly spinning beyond the control of the current sitting Democratic officials. Additionally, after this debacle, how many of those seats will remain in Democratic hands? How much longer will Democrats hold the balance of power?
These are the facts as I currently see them. This is the new reality that must be dealt with despite whatever battle plans might have existed. The other side has no interest whatsoever in bipartisanship, and the senate is wholly dysfunctional and has ceased to serve its purpose. If anything, the whole health care debate has made it plain that our government officials have ceased to be beholden to the people, but have become instead vassals of various business interests and/or industries.
This changes the game and the rules of play. Rational appeals to common sense and decency are wholly insufficient and fall on irrational and immoral/unethical ears, and the traditional political avenues are strewn with duplicity and questionable motives. So, all that’s left is for President Obama to step outside his zone of comfort and make those decisions and take those actions requisite to moving his agenda forward, the agenda promised those who worked so hard to get him elected, through all available means, to include good all fashioned political arm-twisting and intimidation.
Those historical figures which proved effective in facilitating real change and engendering hope in those who followed them did so by operating outside the status quo. They did so by throwing caution to the wind and putting themselves and their aspirations in the back seat and doing that which needed to be done for the good of those they served.
It is time for President Obama to stand fully erect and go blow for blow. The time has passed for issuing passes to those who have seemingly been disloyal and disingenuous in their actions; those persons seemingly have begun to see this as not a political favor but a weakness. All attempts at negotiation and compromise have appeared to those looking on, to include me, as complete and utter capitulation; the goal of negotiation and compromise is to reach an acceptable middle ground and not give, give, give until there is nothing left to give and then call it a victory.
President Obama has secured his place in history as the first African American president; however, the question then becomes what will history say about his performance as president? He will either be seen as being a complete failure or great; the epilogue will be either very pitiful or powerful, but it cannot be both. He has allowed the opposition and members of his own party to set the terms and formulate the rules in such a way that there is no middle ground.