Oh those giddy Republicans are on the upswing, saying that the “American People” are getting bothered by the “over-reaching” of the Obama administration on health care, the environment, you name it. Things are looking up for them they say. America is a “center right” nation. Blah blah blah.
I don’t doubt at all that enthusiasm for Obama has waned a bit since assuming office. Some of this is the inevitable consequence of dream becoming reality. When the rubber hits the road, some things fall out. Things can get messy. But let me give the counter-analysis to the “mainstream” media point of view: Obama and the Democrats aren’t over-reaching. Far from it. They are UNDER-reaching, and in a big way.
Here’s a shocking idea for you: people win elected office based on the promises they make. They win re-election based on the promises they keep. Not delivering in a strong way on the promises one makes during the campaign of course leads people to have a lack of enthusiasm for you. In Obama’s case in particular this is poison, because of the idealism and hope his campaign generated. That hope and idealism had to and has to stand for something more than just ending our long national nightmare under Bush. I, and millions like me, were energized and truly motivated by the sense that we could repair our nation and make things better. We believed, perhaps naively, that the administration, backed by (supposed) majorities in congress, would forcefully act on their campaign promises, and put through a progressive agenda. Despite the feel good rhetoric of the campaign, I really don’t think too many people that voted for Obama were confused by the things he stood for. I wasn’t alone in crying tears of joy on election day last year, happy not only that our long national period of fascism was coming to an end, but also very much hopeful about the future of this country for the first time in many years. Obama was the first presidential candidate in my life that was not for me the lesser of two evils. I supported him from the beginning, and with each policy statement, pronouncement and campaign promise, I grew more convinced that this was truly my candidate. I knew that I had never before been so politically aligned with any candidate for president in history.
Ok, enough of my school-girl crush. I realized that we were not perfectly compatible (especially on military matters and gay marriage), even during the campaign. I realized (and still realize btw) that enacting such a bold agenda takes time. The man has only been in office 11 months. I won’t be making the harshest judgements until his term comes to a close. I am willing to give him some leeway, and I am of course bound to be disappointed by a few things. And Obama is not alone in the responsibility for changing things. Congress is also responsible. So let me give you just a short list of a few of the things that Congress and the Obama administration can be accused of under-reaching on (with regard to the campaign promises they made):
Promises to do away with the excesses of the unitary executive, largely ignored. Glenn Greenwald has a passel of articles on the subject. Obama and Holder sure don’t seem too upset with presidential power and extra-legal or extra-constitutional means of getting things done. All through the campaign were intelligent discussions of the rule of law, the value of our constitution, etc. But once in office, old crimes are ignored and new transgressions justified. This is definitely an area of great disappointment. It shows just how rotten that things were (and how low the standard sunk) during the Bush years that people are thrilled that Obama is better than Bush on these things while still abusing the system.
Promises on gay rights largely ignored. We still hear a lot of pretty talk from Obama, although more muted with each passing day. Don’t Ask Don’t tell and DOMA are largely ignored. You can argue that changing laws is not strictly in the president’s power, but pushing for them to be changed sure is. And one thing that Obama has in his power right now as commander-in-chief is to put a moratorium on discharges of gay service members, pending a full review of DADT. It has very little political risk, and yet he won’t even do THAT.
Obama and Congress:
Promises to fight hard for universal health care: unfulfilled. In fact, he has stayed on the sidelines far more than he should. To be fair Congress is also totally screwing us on this. But if the Democrats and the Obama administration were willing to fight for what they campaigned on, we would be in a better place right now. The bill as it stands now is almost completely gutted of any kind of progressive change. The president gave one powerful and rousing speech on the subject, to great effect. But that was it. He has seemed willing to negotiate away just about everything meaningful in the bill, as long as he can claim a bill has passed at the end of the day. Why won’t Congress get some balls and use the reconciliation process? Why won’t they keep the campaign promises they made? Are they too timid or just in the pocket of the insurance industry? Why are assholes like Joe Lieberman allowed to have such power over this process, blocking what huge majorities of the American people voted for?
Make no mistake, when you campaign on things, you need to make meaningful progress towards those things. People voted for these things, they weren’t confused or deceived. And the people that were most enthralled and most motivated to work for you are the ones who will stay home in droves if there is no progress. It is not because you were too bold. It is because you weren’t bold enough, and made those of us who believed in your promises left feeling like fools for doing so. There is plenty of time to right some wrongs and take action before the next election. I am withholding judgement. But don’t ask me for money and volunteer time again unless there is progress.