“A solid B-plus”, said President Obama when Oprah Winfrey asked him a few weeks ago to rate his administration a year into his first term. I can say with certainty that I would not be as charitable of the Number 44′s achievements. Yet to think that for someone who has always identified himself as right of center, just over a year ago, you could have easily labeled me an “Obama fanboy”!
Could it be that I just went with the flow in 2008, and then jumped ship again? Could it be that reality hit home? Could it be that I found the President veer far too much to the left? Could it be, could it just be that … ? Well, just how did Barack Obama lose me?
(Disclosure: I still strongly believe that Obama was the best candidate across both parties in the 2008 election cycle. In my estimation, John McCain does not even come second; Hillary Clinton was much better than the Senator from Arizona.)
The loss of the message
Most, if not all, candidates for President run as “the outsider”, the reformer that shares the public’s anger at Washington. Indeed, in most cases, the person who wins is often the one who successfully cast him as the one farthest from Washington. However, not since Ronald Reagan (and before him, JFK) has a President swept to power with a resounding message of a new tomorrow.
Barack Obama captured America’s attention with that message. More importantly, Candidate Obama was on top of every news cycle. It is hard to think of many news cycles when the opposition drowned out Obama’s message. And on all such occasions — like “guns and religion” comment, or the question of race, or the Bill Ayers association — Obama prevailed by speaking directly to the electorate. In fact, “prevailed” is an understatement. On each of those occasions, not only did he emerged stronger than his opponents, but he emerged stronger than the candidate that he was before the problem arose.
In contrast, consider healthcare reform — the one issue that has clearly proved his lack of his leadership, or an inability to take control of the message. If there is one thing we know about this, it is that no one knows for sure what it is about. The President or his partymen have not answered clearly one simple question: “How will this cut costs for the average taxpayer?” For a party that enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate till a week ago, and a clear majority in the House, and a popular President, the fact that the Democrats have not been able to answer this and other basic questions is glaring. Yet they have not let go of a single opportunity to blame the Republicans for its failure. (The Republicans have at times been nauseating naysayers, no doubt.)
If there is one striking difference between Obama the candidate and Obama the President, it is that this substitution of the message for rhetoric.
Change? What change?
What really did alienate me from thinking that Barack Obama was different from the rest of them is not that he has failed to live up to his promises (hype, rather), but that he has not shown how he is any different from the rest of “them” — those he set out to reform in the first place. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the way that along with Vice-President Biden, Obama weaned Arlen Specter into the Democratic party. In fact, “weaned” does not convey the gravity of the horse trade. It is indeed an irony that at the same time Rod Blagojevich was being vilified (and rightly so) for selling Obama’s vacant Senate seat, the President was working out a similar quid pro quo to buy the Senator from Pennsylvania.
To this day, I keep telling friends in PA who are eligible to vote in this year’s Senate elections to vote for Joe Sestak in the primary and Pat Toomey in the general. My argument: “Well, you know Specter shifted parties so he could remain in power. How can you be so sure he will remain a Democrat if he is re-elected?”
All talk of reaching across the aisle was buried six feet under, as Obama and Biden signaled their inability to work out compromises with the opposition by buying them out!
Horse trading and quid pro quo are the way of politicians. It is part of a politician’s “higher morality”. So what is wrong that Obama did it? Well, nothing. Except Obama claimed (and still claims) to be the new new. He came here to reform this place, and yet he turned into someone who has conveniently drunk the Washington koolaid, and lost his way.
When he promised to shut down Guantanamo, we trusted him. When he promised to rid Washington of its special interests, we trusted him. When he promised to end the war in Iraq, we trusted him. When he… never mind! He is just another politician. A charming man, a voluble speaker, a gifted leader, but just another politician.
In a brilliant opinion piece in the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria points out that Obama has acted more like a Prime Minister, the leader and the voice of the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate than like a President. Not the man who once said, “there is no red state America and blue state America…” And for this reason, I now feel ambivalent, even skeptical about his ability to bring about positive change.
One year and an undeserved Nobel Prize later, Obama seems like the very person he warned us to be wary of.
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Tags: Barack Obama