Tuesday, January 26, 2010

State of the Union Eve

Obama's first State of the Union is upon us, and it has been quite the year for the 44th President. We all had high hopes after a groundbreaking campaign, but we also knew the scope of problems that he was expected to fix. After Scott Brown's surprise win in Massachusetts, the Tea Party is setting high expectations for the potential of their political power (see this week's New Yorker article). To others, we fear what that may mean. Thomas Friedman wrote last September about the sentiment against Obama that has become angrier and more hateful. It reminds him of the months leading up to Rabin's murder in Israel in 1995.

"I hate to write about this, but I have actually been to this play before and it is really disturbing...Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly. Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work."

Why can't we, the American people, agree that we are getting screwed? How many people voted for Scott Brown who have been denied access to an affordable health care plan because of a previous illness? How many people in Massachusetts rail against health care when they have been receiving benefits from the government to make their lives easier? The anger coming from the Tea Party is scary and out of control. Obama must feel helpless. No matter what he says, he does not reach people who scowl at his presidency.

In a March 11, 2009 New York Times Book Review Article, Michael Tomasky reviews a book that analyzes what the lobbying industry has done to Washington and our country. At the end of his review, he looks at the road ahead for Obama.

" Obama's approach on health care and other matters is to bring all interests together and tell everyone up front that they'll be heard but won't end up getting everything they want. This openness may well end up being a weakness. The President's bet- and he might be overestimating his own powers of persuasion- is that he can use his high approval ratings and popular support for reform on these matters to force outcomes that are negotiated in more or less good faith. "

Almost a year later, it is sad to see the opportunity that was squandered and those who have stood in his way, for no other reason, but a political one. While Friedman examines the pressures that Obama feels, Tomasky accurately predicted the mistakes he made. Obama no longer believes he can use his popularity to bring about change. Instead, he should return to the skills that allowed him to emerge from the trenches of Chicago city politics. In a time of crisis, our country needs strong executive leadership. No more consensus building moderate positions. We may not agree on everything, but we elected Obama to fight for us, and we hope he will.

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