Monday, August 08, 2011

The Passion Returns

Much is being made of a piece in the New York Times by Drew Western about Obama’s lack of passion and leadership. I don’t agree with everything he says, by any means, but there is some interesting food for thought and it is, I think, worth your time to read it.

Unlike the author, I did not become “disillusioned” with President Obama on the day he was inaugurated, although I do recall thinking his address that day was remarkable only for it’s lack of inspiration. I had been expecting a lot more “It’s time to kick ass” in it and a lot less “We all screwed this up together so we have to work together to fix it” pap.

Obama has been fond of quoting Martin Luther King. I once heard Dr. King speak in person, and that remains one of the highlights of my life. That man could move mountains, and the names King and Obama do not belong on the in the same book, let alone on the same page. Every time Obama has quoted Dr. King I have felt that there was something wrong with the context, and Drew Western put his finger on it for me,

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” ...

When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.

Dr. King spoke against violence, and his words rang like a bell as he challenged us to stand strong against that which was wrong in the world, and to refuse to buckle to violence but to stand up to it and force it to change. Obama issues no challenge, but pleads with us to compromise with the forces of those who are wrong, and to be patient rather than to participate in making change, while at the same time telling us that "we will do this together” and campaigning on “the fierce urgency of now.”

Obama’s loyalists point to the stimulus, health care and financial reform, but Western provides a perfect example of reality as he describes the first of these “great accomplishments.”

[H]e backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy. That, in turn, led the White House to feel rightly unappreciated for having saved the country from another Great Depression but in the unenviable position of having to argue a counterfactual — that something terrible might have happened had it not half-acted. To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem.

He doesn’t touch on the “great accomplishment” of “health care reform” that has so far resulted mostly in Americans seeing the cost of their health insurance rising even faster than it did before the year-long debate. Nor the one on “financial reform” which has seen consumer credit card interest rates climb even higher than ever. Good will come of these “reforms,” presumably, but not until after Obama’s reelection is decided.

He continues that the president “seems compelled to take both sides on every issue,” such as that, “He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting a million immigrants in two years, breaking up families at a pace George W. Bush could never rival in all his years as president.” And he doesn’t even get into promising to “restore the constitution” and then failing to close Guantanamo, continuing the practice of “rendition,” targeting American citizens for extra-judicial killing, and starting a war without Congressional approval and then claiming that it is not actually a war.

From the day he was elected the number one concern of the people of this nation has been restoring employment opportunity, but after an initial misfire with no demonstrable effect, Obama has been distracted by his own “great accomplishments” and ignored the needs of the people he was elected to lead. Until time to mount a new election campaign. Then and only then does he return to the issue that concerns the electorate, and the passion returns, because he wants their votes.

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