Got change?

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.

22 replies »

  1. The Economist has published a lengthy analysis of Obama’s actions so far. One statement that stands out, and speaks to your piece, is as follows:

    Mr Obama is now enthusiastically engaged in something that he foreswore as a candidate: the art of the permanent campaign. Senior White House advisers meet every Wednesday night to plot political strategy. Mr Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, is e-mailing millions of Obama supporters to encourage them to put pressure on their congressional representatives to pass the budget. Mr Obama gives a striking share of his set piece speeches in swing states. The Obama team has repeatedly suggested that the Republicans are a party of “no” who owe fealty to Rush Limbaugh, a polarising talk-radio host. In other words, Mr Obama is squandering his political capital doing exactly what Mr Clinton did so often in his presidency: justifying his mistakes, trying to get the better of the 24-hour news cycle, and demonising opponents.

  2. That article did not provoke what i wrote, but i did read it yesterday afternoon. I cringed a lot during the few seconds that i watched the “Townhall” stunt, not because it’s a bad idea but because it just felt contrived.

    And i’m willing to wager that he lost the faith of a lot of people who voted for him with the snarky answer to the marijuana question…not so much with what he said, but how he said it. While the special olympics crack was no big deal, in my personal opinion, he does need to realize that the President can’t say stuff like that on national television.

  3. President Obama is now what he was during the campaign: an empty suit. He has no strong positions about anything other than being elected.
    This isn’t news to anyone who has been paying attention.

  4. I didn’t feel the townhall meeting as contrived at all. I was glad he was taking questions about many subjects. He spoke plainly and clearlly and addressed where he wanted to go.
    I think what you don’t like regarding his refusal to take a hard stand on any subject is what he would see as doing what needs to be done early so that there is no foothold for obstructionists to use for distration and derailing of sorely needed policy. If he came out saying he supported the policy to legalize pot, he would be “President Dopehead” for the rest of his life. As it is, he’s facing a campaign to lable him as as Marksist/Socialist. I think it’s far too early to start looking at his present necessitated behavior as an overall indication of his true intentions. I’m sure he’s had many conversations about how to roll out the changes with his advisors. So far I’d say what he’s been able to do has been just short of miraculous given what he was handed.

  5. Obombya has proven to be yet one more nail in the republic’s coffin strictly in that he has collected the best batch of crooked bankers and corporate thieves ever to set foot on this continent, and put them into his cabinet, in charge of the colossal looting of the United States, at the hands of Goldman Sachs executive Geithner. I don’t know how anyone with a functioning brain can not be paying attention to Paul Krugman’s assessment of these fuckups, and then realizing that we’ve all been ‘had’ once more.

    The only problem with this, as well as the incessant, senseless war-mongering in Afghanistan, of which the blunt force trauma the Soviet Union suffered there, became the lesson ‘ignored’ by the Military Industrial Complex owned and operated government, under Mr. Obama.

    A world depression looms large, and these feckless grinning fuckers who are handing out trillions of dollars to the incomprehensively wealthy and rich bankers, while doing very little to assuage and combat the root causes of this massive looting (the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act of 1933). I don’t see how giving Timothy Geithner the taxpayers money and allowing unprecedented bonuses to be paid to the fuckers in these corporations who took the nation into a de-facto ‘bankruptcy’, is any solution to the deregulation and the unchecked looting of the U.S. Treasury.

    Obama is a fraud. A sham. Yet one more nail in this republic’s coffin. And a lot of you fuckers voted for his sorry ass. Kucinich was the only last hope.

  6. And don’t forget, in judging Obama so far: one of his campaign selling points was transparency. This would ot be an Administration that operated behind closed doors and ignored the public. This would be an open and honest group. But based on the financial bailout policies to-date: this a a Goldman Sachs insiders show, using our trillions via a “black agency” Fed. No explanations for the People; in fact, non for Congress either. It is very very disappointing.

  7. A little about me. My screen-name is “former republican”. How “former” you ask? The last republican I voted for was Dwight David Eisenhower. I have always voted for whom I sincerely believed was best for this country, regardless of party. Country first to me, party second, or even third. Since my shifting to the Democrat camp I have noticed several differences between the Parties. One, the republicans will stand by their man right or wrong, criminal or not. The dems will castrate their own candidate at the first opportunity. Case in point, Obama has been in offce about 60 days, he is being hammered by the “ensconced” entities that are holdovers from the previous administration. Each one of these “entities” is trying to save his/her ass while our new President isn’t even unpacked and settled in yet. Remember that he got this mess in the worst state our republic has ever been in. Walk into the woods for 8 years, and you can’t get out of the woods in 60 days. Be patient,BUT vigilant. Not a job I would have wanted under any circumstance. If you pray, pray for him, pray for our republic. If you don’t pray, give him a little more time while remembering the abortion he inherited.

  8. This post sums up so well exactly how I feel about Obama.

    As a liberal, I didn’t enthusiastically vote for Obama, I voted for him because we needed someone who would keep a VERY cool head about himself with all the fuckups brought on by the Bush Jr Administration.

    And I voted for him as a way to flip-off his knuckle-dragging RW critics, the ones who harped about his birth certificate and called him a “secret Muslim/socialist”.

    My biggest gripe about Obama is that he’s determined to keep as many of the Bush Jr policies about expanding the Executive Branch’s powers at the clear expense of our Constitution.

    Just as aggravating are all the Repubs and Bush Dog Dems who suddenly decide that any President other than Bush Jr should be held in check by legislative branch oversight, while at the same time whining about how unfair any aggressive criminal prosecutions would be against the Bush Jr crew of chickenhawks, neocons and blithering idiot warmongers.

    Why anyone thinks the vast majority of US citizens would rise up in furious anger if the Bush Jr crew was criminally prosecuted, I have no idea, that’s just the Bush Jr lackeys whistling past the political graveyard.

  9. @ former republican

    You said, “Remember that he got this mess in the worst state our republic has ever been in.”

    Can you quantify this statement, or is this just hyperbole? Is today worse than 1907, 1873-74, 1864, or 1812?


  10. @ jeff

    I meant the worst state our republic has been in, in regard to checks and balances, separation of powers, etc. The critical state our economy or healthcare is in is a moot point if the republic isn’t put back on track, as the founders intended it to function.

  11. So, regarding checks and balances, is it your contention that today is worse than when Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, or Roosevelt interned US citizens of Japanese ancestory? It’s worse than when Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court?


  12. I’m glad to see I’m not the only crazy person who thinks that Obama isn’t likely to do much good for the economy. At least, he’s clearly not going to for a while. For my part, the last couple of months have resolved one question for me, which is why the news were so accepting of Obama. You couldn’t just explain it based on charisma – Clinton had it and they crucified him anyway. I think it’s just because the money people liked him, and they weren’t sure McCain could run the country.

    Anyway, that’s my conspiracy story and I’m sticking to it.

  13. Habeus corpus was suspended by the last administration. Roosevelt “tried” to pack the supreme court. Obama’s predecessor acheived exactly that. As to internment camps I vaguely recall the mention of Gitmo and various “rendition” camps wordwide. You speak of the actions of two separate administrations. All of the things you mentioned above were accomplished by a single administration. I’m not looking to argue, a little long in the tooth for that, but I do appreciate your not blindly accepting anything said by me or anyone else. Public discourse is one of the hopes this country has of turning things around. A little trivia: The French revolution started in a coffeehouse.

  14. I think second guessing Obama or passing judgment after only 60-days is premature. Since he has been in office nothing he has done surprised me with the exception of using Bush’s infamous “states secrets” on a couple of court cases left over from the Bush era.

    The conservative’s concerted campaign to undermine Obama is wearing and wearying. With Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, GOP, RNC, right-wing talk show “news” hosts on Cable TV and radio going on and on and on ad, naseum do so to scare the holy shit out of their audiences.

    Their vigourous attacks on Obama are ferocious, mean-spirited, disrespectful and fact-less and without merit. They say the most inane things such as Obama a Marxist, a Manchurian candidate, socialist, communist, … will ruin the economy… the blathering is non-stop.

    Aside from their nonsense Blue Dog Democrats may prove to be a bigger obstacle to implementing major progressive structural reforms that Obama campaigned on.

    In the first sixty days Obama passed progressive legislation that deal with the environment, equal pay for women, a huge stimulus package, health care for millions of children, tax cuts for middle class Americans, etc…

    Under the circumstances he has accomplished a lot. Never in history has a president come into office with so many crisis to deal with at once.

    I appreciate the fact Obama takes his message to the people. Utilizing every venue possible to educate us is the only way to circumvent the spin, misinformation and distorted ‘analysis.’ For reasons stated above I disagree with the media’s perception that Obama is on a permanent campaign.

    Do I agree with all his policies — no. But I listened to Obama, so my eyes were wide-open.

    Living in an age of instant gratification patience is not our strongest virtue. Sixty days into his first term is not enough time to judge him.

    Let’s give the man at the very least a year to prove himself.

    In the meantime I suggest exercising healthy skepticism before jumping to conclusions is in order. Obama deserves that and more.

  15. Although I have followed geopolitics for the past 30 years, and national politics as a matter of habit, I didn’t vote in the presidential elections because I refused to choose between lesser evils. And since the election I sleep better by the day. Here are but a few reasons from a comment I wrote in early November of 08:

    How Macchiavellian to write: “Sad as it is, the timing of Obama’s grandmother’s demise could not be better for the candidate. The lonely walk down the Honolulu street to visit her last week, captured by invasive photographers, and now the death, which he did not announce even as he gave a speech in Florida, but which broke later, in time for the evening news. These events can only help Obama, because they remind people of his Kansas roots, his humble white ancestors. And suggest that he is not completely coldblooded.”

    Of like mind, thus wrote columnist Frank Rich on October 28: “The original “racist for Obama,” after all, was none other than Obama’s own white, Kansas-raised grandmother, the gravely ill Madelyn Dunham, whom he visited in Hawaii on Friday. In “Dreams From My Father,” Obama wrote of how shaken he was when he learned of her overwhelming fear of black men on the street. But he weighed that reality against his unshakeable love for her and hers for him, and he got past it.”

    Indeed. The madding crowd has fallen to a new low, the same madding crowd that failed to notice that Barack Obama reclaimed the name of the father who deserted him and his mother when he was but two years old, thereby revealing his contempt for the feelings of his mother and the grandmother who really raised him. Remember, they called him Barry. How must they have felt when he did that? He further denigrated his grandmother when, in his famous “race” speech he memorialized her attitude toward blacks as that of “a typical white person” In addition, in the same speech he included a totally gratuitous line exonerating Israel and blaming Islamic extremism for all of the violence in the Middle East. Yet the pundits compared that speech with those of Thomas Jefferson.

    Last week while the gravely ill grandmother he routinely credits with having made him what he is, was dying, Obama managed to take a mere 22 hours from his campaign to visit her in Hawaii. He told the press she might not live to November 4th and he wanted to be with her while she was still “lucid.” So much for his lucidity. And so much for his priorities. He left her to die with only his half sister by her side. Obama routinely insists that his grandmother always stood by him. Clearly he didn’t stand by her. He had more important things on his mind: his presidential ambitions.

    But the content of his character didn’t inhibit the New York Times from running two articles on his bedside visit, the one titled “Obama Makes Visit to a Most Beloved Supporter,” and the second, “Obama Takes Time for a Woman Dear to Him.” And TIME carried a similar expression of misplaced sympathy for him titled “Obama’s Hawaii Trip: Family Comes First.”

    Nothing these days surprises me. During the primary, I watched his televised speech to an audience of women, more than a few of college age. When Obama paused to blow his nose, they screamed with delight and admiration. It was as if he had just parted the Red Sea.

    I don’t blame Obama. He is what he is–a seller. I blame the buyers, particularly those who call themselves journalists, pundits and academics. And I worry about their lucidity. And I worry about the content of their character.

  16. @ serena

    Give Obama the same chance they gave Bush. Bush never got one from day one. In fact, has it escaped anyone’s notice that the late night shows don’t make fun of Obama, but still bring up Bush all the time? I guess the late night comics understand the gravitas of Obama’s mission and are giving him a pass.

    • Please, Jeff. If you were a comic, who would you find easier to extract material from? No pol is immune, but Obama just isn’t that funny (not compared to any other pres since … Eisenhower?) and Bush, well, the material wrote itself. Maybe Obama will get funnier with time, but so far?

      The real issue is the reception by the “press.” With Bush, they simply laid down and REFUSED to do their jobs. Obama is already enduring more scrutiny (much of it ginned up faux-scrutiny, to be sure) than Bush did through his first six years combined. Which is fine – presidents need scrutiny. The problem is that the scrutiny Obama is enduring is mostly of the ginned-up variety, with comparatively less attention being paid to some of the real stories underlying his actions.

  17. Sam, we’ll have to agree to disagree on the scrutiny of Obama vs. Bush and quantification would be difficult. Bush was hammered from the moment Gore conceded the election, then took his concession back.

    I think that any person who becomes president should be skewered….it’s an American tradition:)

    Obama is very funny but in this environment it’s not PC to make fun of a black guy unless he’s a caricature like Don King.

    You’re right about Bush being funny. I enjoyed the satire and got many hearty laughs as Bush just provided such great material. That guy on SNL that did the Bush/Gore debates did the best job of Bush I’ve ever seen. One should be able to laugh at their own side and I strongly suspect that the left isn’t ready to do that.


  18. Jeff did you forget that after 911 almost everyone stood with Bush — worldwide. Yet Bush squandered that — or did you forget that, too?

    Insofar as Obama getting a pass from comedians, not from Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Bill Maher and a few others. While Bush gave comedians plenty of material to work with — the script practically wrote itself — comedians expressed concern that they would have a difficult time skewering Obama — not because they don’t want to, but because they lack material.

    On the other hand the media abrogated their responsibility to the public by not asking Bush tough questions or holding him accountable. They let him slide for years until Katrina. That was the turning-point.

    In contrast the press has been relentlessly scrutinizing Obama’s every move. They question whether he is too black or not black enough, too centrist or not centrist enough, too liberal or not liberal enough, is he patriotic enough — he doesn’t always wear the flag pin — is he doing too much or not enough, on and on and on. No matter what Obama does it is never good enough. He has been held to unrealistic standards and expectations.

    The media stirs up controversy where there is none. I would like the press to do a better job of analytical reporting rather than infotainment. I have no problem with challenging, probing questions, but ignorant and/or trivial questions, I do.

    The interesting aspect is through out it all Obama stays calm, confident and focused on the problems that challenge the nation. He will not please everyone, he’ll make mistakes, but Obama is a human being, not a super hero.

    Jeff, I believe if all of us were more circumspect in our thinking and heedful of the sobering challenges facing the country we’d see that Obama is doing the best he can under the circumstances.

    We may not always agree or see eye-to-eye, but that is okay; it is life. By the same token we can differ on opinion, but let’s not revise history.