The buzzing topic of conversation throughout liberal America appears to be just how much change the new president brings to the table. His stalwart defenders rally to his side on comment threads, regularly regurgitating the stock phrases that appear in emails from campaign headquarters, er, the White House. One need not look very far to find a statement like, “He’s our President and we have to stand behind him.” That type of statement is a little too close to Bushbottery for me, but i’ve come to understand that it is, in fact, nothing of the sort because Bush was evil and Obama is good. I won’t argue the former, but it is far too early to make the call on the latter.
We all knew that Obama’s record of action was thin when we voted him into the highest office in the land. We based our decision on his powerful words, hope and a belief in change. And since many of us felt that the only way that things could get worse was if Sarah Palin ended up in the White House, it was not a difficult decision to make. Because he’s only sixty days into his term, we are still working mostly with his words rather than deeds. Given the fierce urgency of now and the political chasm between words and deeds, a comparison between the actions over time of Obama and Bush would be most instructive…a contrast would be better yet.
We can’t really compare actions over time yet and i’m not sure that policy statements are worth anything more than campaign promises until they’re backed up by action.
I voted for the guy, but i did so with no illusions. (And even that was based mostly on being willing to take a bullet if it kept Palin away from the White House.) I was not of the “I hope he’s not another Carter” crowd, but rather the “i hope he’s not another Clinton” crowd. Watching him run a slicker version of Clinton’s ’92 campaign didn’t make me feel much better. And i was disturbed by his rhetorical evolution from “we” to “I” over the course of the campaign.
After eight years of the Bush Gang, i believe that people were ready to see anything other than Bushite politics as nothing less than wondrous. And the Obama campaign’s strategy of tying McCain to Bush…and at times sounding like they were running against Bush suggests that they saw the situation as i did.
He’s been masterful at suggestion without declarative statements, allowing people to see what they wanted to see. So disappointment in Obama may say more about the disappointed person than it does about Obama.
Personally, the only thing that i really hoped he would do was fulfill that promise to talk to us as adults, even if it required uttering the bitter truth. I’d be satisfied with that as a minimum criteria of change. He hasn’t done it yet, and i’ll be eat-my-hat surprised if he fulfills that promise.
But it’s really about trust. He said “trust me” (implicitly), and now people are wondering if they can. His actions suggest that they wonder rightly. The burden of proof is shifting to Obama, a new situation for him, and he doesn’t look very comfortable with it.
The valid counter argument to this is that trust should never be part of our expectations for leaders.
Well i certainly agree that trust should never be a big part of what we expect from leaders, but leaders expect us to trust them. Especially this leader who’s on record as saying “the change will come from me” when he was questioned about the quality of his cabinet choices…what he’s managed to appoint anyhow. In the midst of a massive economic emergency there are 20+ Treasury positions yet unfilled, and we were told that the administration would “hit the ground running”.
He may be an honest-to-goodness centrist at heart, but his practice so far looks more like Clintonian centrism for the sake of political expediency than a firmly rooted political philosophy. And like Clinton, he’ll be left standing alone in the “center” of his own imagination, used or attacked/undermined by both sides as it suits their ideologies or purposes.
I want the man to succeed, but i’m coming to the conclusion that he and i have different definitions of success. I never expected him to fix the nation with a bold sprinkling of pixie dust, only to begin addressing the serious issues that we face in a thoughtful manner heavy on dialogue. What i see so far is someone who qualifies success as getting re-elected by not taking a firm stand on anything. That’s the Clintonian version of centrism, and it’s not only distasteful but also ineffective.
US relations with the rest of the world would be the easiest place for Obama to bring the change that he promised: the bar was so low that he could trip and still clear it. In all honesty, i do not yet know what to make of our new foreign policy. Many will point to changes in our behavior towards Russia and Iran as proof positive that a new day has dawned, but these arguments rest on comparing Obama to Bush rather than comparing Obama to any objective measurement.
There are obvious differences between now and a few months ago. I’ve never been in the “no change” camp, but what change i do see looks pretty inconsequential. I’m willing to give some leeway because no president is going to make 180 degree turns on major policy issues; reality can be pretty constraining. Furthermore, he never tied himself to any foreign policy during the campaign, particularly a withdrawal from Iraq. And he was very clear about refocusing the military on Afghanistan.
He recently unveiled his plan for Central Asia, and it has been held up as proof of change in some quarters. I’m not sure that i feel any better from reading an article titled “Obama’s Afghan Plan Could Be Worse“. It’s more nuanced than Bush’s plan but it still relies on the idea of ridding Central Asia of evil doers…or maybe not, because it seems that the “plan” is to not have much of a plan. (I know, we’re calling it “flexibility”.)
He has little choice but to make some of the changes that he’s made because Bush left him in pretty bad positions all around. What else can he do but engage Iran and Russia concerning Afghanistan? He won’t be able to supply his chosen imperial project without them now…unless he carries through on his threat to take the good, smart war to Pakistan too. In which case he can resupply through Pakistan just as soon as he pacifies it.
Regarding overtures to Iran. His Norwuz statement was a wonderful breath of fresh air…until about 2/3’s of the way through when he said this:
You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right — but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.
I realize that we have difficulty looking at ourselves objectively, but that statement just drips hypocrisy. As if we are a peaceful member of the community of nations. So the question must become, which part of the Norwuz statement represents the real Obama?
As for the Russians, yes, it is heartening that the administration is ready to work on START. But if our analysis is restricted to comparing the Obama administration to the Bush administration, he’ll have to come out looking swell. How low do we set the bar so that Obama succeeds?
The “mistranslation” incident at the Lavrov meeting might have lightened the mood; it also might have led the Russians to believe that they’re dealing with lightweights. And it actually highlights something far more disturbing. It was mistranslated because the whole gag was cooked up and executed by Clinton’s political team. The Russian specialists and translators never saw it. My confidence in the new DoS is going to be seriously lacking if i have to consider every event in terms of whether it’s State or Clinton’s political team talking. Besides, Clinton used the same trip to say that the door to NATO membership would be “wide open” for Georgia and Ukraine.
We’re too often left with having to guess what Obama’s intentions really are. Politically, that’s great for him as it continues to allow people to see what they want to see. I (and i only speak for myself) am not going to give the benefit of the doubt. I’m somewhat willing to withold judgement until more information is available, but i refuse to disregard information that says what i don’t want to hear.
I had hoped for a leader and a statesman, but until President Obama speaks to me like an adult, i have no choice but to consider him just another politician…no more and no less, as if there was such a thing as less than a politician.