Some Thoughts on Obama: A Follow-up

My recent post bothered some people, which was, I suppose, to some extent inevitable; but some of that could have been avoided, and I must take the blame for that.  If you were bothered by the melodrama, then you may be on the wrong blog, since for me, it’s hardly worth writing about unless it’s worth getting a tad dramatic about (perhaps I read too much Shakespeare in my adolescence).  But if you thought that some of the rhetoric about Tea Party Republicans, particularly the line about tactics of “disgraceful depravity or delusionality,” was perhaps overblown, and indeed, calculated to heighten the polarisation that the post laments, then that is a fair complaint, and for that I apologise.  I should also re-emphasise that of course I consider that there’s still plenty of blame to put on everyone else involved, and that during Bush’s days, many Democrats resorted to equally childish tactics at times–the only difference is that they weren’t risking such a disaster.

But the most bothersome part, I think, was a paragraph that could easily be quite misread–my paragraph on Obama.  So since I’ve decided to come out of my insulated British closet and say what I really think of American politics, I might as well say what I really think about Obama.

 

The paragraph in question was this: 

“Obama certainly offered America its most convincing opportunity at a fresh start, at a symbolic end to disunity, in decades.  The nation’s first black president, he symbolised a nation that could overcome enormous differences and prejudices; he was young, he was eloquent, he was, as much as one could expect, “outside the establishment.”  Even those deeply opposed to his policies should have welcomed the hope of transcending partisanship that he seemed to offer.  But the grand new experiment was torpedoed before it got off the ground.”

The intent was to sketch a glowing portrait that was clearly a mirage, to build up the sense of glorious but ultimately illusory expectation before revealing it as the vanity it was.  Of course I never really thought that Obama was likely to offer us a fresh start, nor that his sleek refined Harvard “black”-ness signalled a real end to racial and class differences.  Nor did I think he was really going to prove “outside the establishment.”  Nor did I expect him to really transcend partisanship.  Even if his intentions and ideals were the very best (which is highly doubtful, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt), Washington is a black hole that will stifle all good intentions and twist them to evil.  

My point is that this was the symbolism of his election, and symbolism can be powerful.  Obama symbolised a fresh start and an opportunity for unity, and if we had chosen to make the most of the symbolic moment, then I think that perhaps that symbolism could, to a very limited extent, have become reality.  His election afforded an opportunity to try to make the rhetoric real, to overcome past differences, prejudices, and mutual suspicions.  I never thought that was at all likely to happen, but I wish that had been tried.  I wish that the Right had tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and at least give the idea of working together a short, and I wish the Left had not been so haughty towards the Right.  (This last point, I think, should not be underestimated.  The left was bitter at having to endure eight years of Bush, and, if I may generalise, spent the first few months after Obama’s election strutting around and enjoying their newfound sense of superiority–hardly likely to win them friends on the other side of the aisle.) 

In short, I wish we had followed the Golden Rule, as I put it in my previous post.  That doesn’t mean agreeing with Obama (something which I do only occasionally), but it means treating him how I would like to be treated–giving his ideas a fair hearing, considering his proposals in the context of the options available to him, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he has good intentions, trying to work with him when possible and voicing disagreements constructively.  Now obviously, this is something that both Left and Right have failed to do in recent years (perhaps failed to do ever); but I single out the Christian Right for criticism on this point because they claim to be Christian, and thus should be held to a standard of Christian charity, something that many seem to rarely exhibit when it comes to politics.

 

So, is Obama a good president?  Certainly not in absolute terms.  Probably not even in relative terms (though he’s not up against very stiff competition).  I have little use for his foreign policy, except as an improvement on his predecessor, nor am I enamoured with his economic policy, though to be honest, it’s hard to say what is the right policy under current conditions.  His social policy has any number of problems, though I don’t think it’s quite the Satanic agenda that many of my co-religionists seem to think.  But he is not the anti-Christ, and he does occasionally have some very good ideas–I think that his proposed deficit reduction plan, in fact, was fairly sound. 

In short, as Hamlet put it, “He is a man, take him all in all.”  And as such, he has my sympathy.


6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Obama: A Follow-up

  1. The problems are too systemic to be blamed (or resolved) by a single man, however charismatic. I basically agree with this analysis (and also made similarly easy predictions of his not being the messiah during his campaign, and at his election), though do feel particularly betrayed by the depth of his failure in three areas that he had singled out in his election campaign: reforming the Washington lobbying culture (abysmal); improving transparency of government (and the related treatment of whistleblowers, concerning which he has been abysmal); and climate policy (entirely AWOL).Can I feel betrayed by Obama as a non-US citizen? Well, since US policies have such an influence on the rest of the world (particularly the bits of the world I'm most closely related to in the UK and Oz), then even though I don't get a vote, I feel US politics is closely related to my interests and those of billions around the world. That's what the failure of a sole superpower to live up to the high standards it sets for itself means: billions of disappointed people around the world who have never had a chance to vote, but who suffer the fallout nonetheless.(PS It is worth pointing out that he has actually had some modest achievements worth a little credit. Language warning on the link.)

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  2. patrick

    Whoever thought that real power lay with the President? Guess what? He chose his advisers from the same elite club (CFR) as the last four Presidents. The real worthy objections to Obama`s policies hardly ever get mentioned. We should be worried that he has employed a man as his science czar who favors forced abortions and forced sterilizations or that his information czar wants to make ¨conspiracy theories¨ ilegal, banning and taxing them—that`s all confessed and admitted.

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  3. Andrea Francine

    Uncanny, I just mentioned both Mr. Holdren and Mr. Sunstein in another comment. Certainly if we should not be worried we should at least be better informed about the men President Obama has chosen as counselors. The point I made in that comment was that the MSM would have vetted (and how!) those men and their ideas/proposals if they were working in a Republican administration. But it should be noted that Mr. Holdren did not exactly advocate forced abortions or mass sterilization in the book that he co-wrote (“Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment”), and further, while being questioned by the Senate during his confirmation hearing, he testitied that he did not think it was the proper role of government to determine optimal population. (See http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/jul/29/glenn-beck/glenn-beck-claims-science-czar-john-holdren-propos/ Politifact is as biased as any other outlet but at least makes somewhat of an effort to apply a universal standard.)

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  4. Andrea Francine

    This was a much-appreciated post after the previous one (“The Late Great United States: A Lament.”) I am a new reader to the blog and no hater of melodrama but it is a bit much to blame tea party Republicans for the end of the world as we know it. Not so long ago, when a Republican was in the White House, prominent Democrats, including the current President, voted against raising the debt ceiling and protested out-of-control spending and trumped-up wars and decried an Executive Branch unrestrained by the U.S. Constitution (to say nothing of Christian teaching), etc., etc., etc., but those Democrats’ actions and rhetoric, when they have not been altogether conveniently forgotten, are portrayed (not on this blog necessarily but in the MSM in general) as the stand-taking of principled statesmen who voted their conscience and in accordance with their constituents’. Whereas tea partiers are all but described as bond-holders of hell, who do not dream but think dark, twisted thoughts with eyes wide open the better to fall, red in tooth and claw, upon the innocent who with their last, breathed words, “the horror, the horror,” compose an elegy. Anything else? Oh, yes, why these tea partiers are undereducated, illiterate, likely insane and, let’s be honest, are a lot like terrorists. Ridiculous. It is absurd to primarily blame tea partiers for our predicament as it is for them to primarily blame President Obama. The decline started long before November 4, 2008. The collapse of the American Empire was inevitable even before then Barack Obama proclaimed that that election night three years ago would be remembered as the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.” (Maybe someone mistook Psalm 2 for press clippings, an easy mistake given how frequently terms like lightbringer or lightworker or “sort of [like] God” made appearances.) Christians especially should be ashamed and repent of placing our trust in princes.

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  5. Andrea Francine

    As for President Obama’s foreign policy being an improvement, I would be curious how, other than in name. His own lawyers warn that the Libya war might be unconstitutional, and it has been months, not days, not weeks, since our involvement. Has he even taken his case for war to Congress yet? Already the war drums are being beaten in the op-ed pages of major U.S. newspapers about the necessity of “boots on the ground” in Libya. (And not only by the usual neo-con warmongers.)Meanwhile, no one in the Obama Administration, certainly not Secretary of State Clinton who was last heard from securing talent for gay pride parades, has said more than boo (if that) about the genocide against Christians taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan as an “unintended” consequence of our foreign policy in that region. Once again, President Obama seems to be following GWB’s lead; he also has not deigned to speak out against it.Well, though the previous paragraphs may imply otherwise, the last few weeks I have grown more sympathetic toward the President, as I have heard him denounced as a gelding, a traitor, even a Republican operative by the very same people who used to lift him up as some sort of god-man. On his face and in his voice he seemed to carry the pained awareness of how deeply divided is this country. If Washington D.C. is “a black hole that will stifle all good intentions and twist them to evil” – and it is – it is because “We the People” have made it that way. It is practically a cliché now but true nonetheless, we have the leaders we deserve. Lord have mercy on us anyway.

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  6. Brad Littlejohn

    Andrea,I would certainly grant that Tea Partiers are principled, not dark, twisted, and evil. In fact, I think even most of their worst detractors in the media would grant that. The problem is that they have some really ridiculous principles, and are inflexible about principles that should be used flexibly. And of course when we look back at the decline and fall of America, it can't be blamed on them–I think my posts here were quite clear that, as you say, things have been going downhill for a while, and American government, for that matter, has been rife with corruption of various kinds since Day One–there never was a "Golden Age." Tea Party intransigence and irrationality is simply a symptom of our current political predicament, not its cause. However, it may succeed in hastening the decline, if future budget discussions cannot be handled more constructively than this last one.Regarding Obama's foreign policy, sure, it's not much better. I recall posting something a couple years back declaring that I had officially lost faith in him when he ordered a heavier troop commitment in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it's worth pointing out a couple differences between Libya and Iraq. First, Obama was not taking the lead in that belligerency–the Brits and the French were. Washington was lagging, and finally caught up and decided to join in beating the war drums. That's a huge shift from the Bush days, when you never would've seen France ahead of us on the warpath. Also, we haven't invaded–we've just bombed. In other words, the Libyan engagement is just the garden-variety US foreign policy meddling that we've seen for decades under every president; it's most similar to the sort of thing we did in Kosovo, perhaps, under Clinton. The invasion of Iraq under Bush wasn't garden variety–it was destructive American unilateralism taken to a whole 'nother level. Thus far, I don't see much sign that Obama would undertake something of that sort (though I may be proven wrong)…something I don't think I could be confident of in the case of some of the Republican candidates. And for that, I'm grateful.

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