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.