This started as a comment on Jacob’s Obama post but became so long I thought it deserved its own post.
I too have been noting the left’s frustration with Obama and I too feel some frustration but I imagine it is for different reasons.
First, some background. In the general election, I voted for Obama for a number of reasons:
1. I felt he was a better choice than McCain, by far — both in terms of policies and ability to govern.
2. He was not a Republican. Some may not see much difference between Democrats and Republicans but I feel like on a million little things it makes a big difference. Look at how differently the EPA is, or who gets appointed to the Supreme Court, or things like the Global Gag Rule. The stuff might seem minor but I actually think who fills the cabinet positions and makes executive orders makes a big difference.
3. I actually like Obama and think that he and I would agree on a lot of issues (not that he’ll be able to implement them as policy though).
4. He is an amazing orator and does a great job of inspiring people. I think these are positive traits in and of themselves but I’m also saying that I too got caught up a bit in his charisma and at times had high expectations.
In some ways though, a better question is why I voted for Obama over Hillary in the primaries. Aside from the toss up question of which was more of a cultural step, electing a woman or an African American, my main reason for voting for Obama was that his style fit my values more.
Hillary was known for being polarizing, which is probably the media’s and the Republican’s fault more than hers, but its certainly a factor. She was also being portrayed as someone who would be “tough” and “fight” the Republicans. Some of this was probably the need for her to brand herself that way to overcome people’s gender biases but I do think she would have done things differently than Obama.
For me, it felt like Obama was actually coming from a place of seeking consensus, and not just the mainstream meaning of a majority of people generally agreeing on something. Instead, he actually seemed to be trying to incorporate differing viewpoints and finding common ground. He spoke of trying to transcend the partisan divide and get past the “Blue America / Red America” notion. Not that, I expected the government to reach consensus on many things, but I felt like someone was finally speaking to a value I hold dearly — cooperation rather than antagonism.
So, while I never had any high expectations of Obama ushering in an era of progressive bliss, I did have hopes that, just maybe, he could change the culture of Washington and actually create a sense of working together instead of fighting each other tooth and nail.
As part of this, I expected centrist policies, concessions, and compromises. I did not expect single payer health care, though I thought a public option was possible. I did not expect a sufficient carbon tax but was hopeful for cap and trade. I did not expect an end to all of our wars but was hopeful for some shifts, if nothing else in the belligerent face the US presented to the world.
So while I still feel frustrated that our culture is destroying the planet, fighting two wars, and may not even pass the pathetic health care bill that we have on the table, the truth is I never expected that much and so I am not that disappointed.
But where I feel most let down is in Obama’s failure to shift the partisan culture of Washington. My frustration of course is not just with Obama but with the Republicans in congress and their cries of “socialism” and “death panels”, who wanted more for Obama to lose than for the country to prosper. And Joe Lieberman who seemed like he just wanted revenge or attention or maybe more money from the Insurance Industry. And with the polarizing media that cares more about ratings and entertainment and thus resorts to yelling and escalating conflict. And with the people of America who watch that crap and soak it in and then spit it back out in blogs and emails and everyday conversation. With the Tea Party who won the day by shouting people down and getting angry rather than with any sort of persuasive content.
Ironically, one of the things that lessened the chance for cooperation was the Democrats getting their 60th vote in the Senate with a motley crew including Nelson, Lieberman, and any number of Senators right of center. One, I think this gave the perception that things would now be easy for the Dems, when in fact, getting a unanimous vote of those Senators was like herding cats and then pulling their teeth. It also allowed the Democrats to abandon the notion of working with Republicans. And it gave Republican’s the ability to opt out of any real process of finding common ground and they could blame the Dems for whatever resulted. And it allowed Obama to sit back and let congress drag itself and Health Care Reform through the mud for months (why he let that I happen I have no idea).
So, was I deluded to think that Obama could somehow change the culture of Washington and of America into one where we dialog instead of shouting, where we look for common goals and values rather than trying to undercut our opponents. Yes. It seems I most certainly was. Not because, Obama wasn’t our best bet, but maybe because that kind of change doesn’t come from the top or from the left or right, but from the ground up. Only once we are teaching our kids to resolve conflicts cooperatively will we see grown ups doing so. Until then I expect we’ll keep acting like children.
While we wait for our children to save us what can we do? Start by asking someone who disagrees with you, why they think what they think and really listen. Turn off Fox News, not just in your homes but in every waiting room and cafe. And I don’t mean just switch it to MSNBC, instead try talking to the person next to you about what they think. And don’t rely on Jon Stewart for all your news. Its still fine to watch comedy and satire, just don’t think that you get the whole picture from a half hour comedy show. Write a letter to your newspaper suggesting a compromise solution rather than just expressing your views. Ask your congress people to listen to each other and govern well. Thank them when they make a tough choice, even if you didn’t agree with them.
So despite my delusions, am I glad I voted for Obama? Yes. I still think he is the best choice and is doing a better jobs than any of the alternatives would have.
Will I keep writing Obama and the congress and register my desire for progressive policies. Yes.
Will I campaign for the Democrats this year. Yes, because I’d rather have a Senator (Robin Carnahan vs Kit Bond) and Representative who at least voted how I would prefer some of the times instead of almost never.