- Continuing my mission to wrap up the year that was, here's one more post that looks back at the best and worst of 2009. But, this one is going to be a little different, as I want to talk about 2010 and the year ahead as well. So here we go ...
THE YEAR IN POLITICS:
- You know, I've been thinking in recent days about Conan O'Brien's final sendoff, about his message to not be cynical. But I've been thinking about it in relation to politics and the world at large. People are mad, people are angry, people are cynical. And yet, there is reason for optimism. In 2009, we finally helped to get our country back on track. Barack Obama took office, and finally, we had a smart, pragmatic, progressive leader in the White House. Would it take time for Obama to find his footing, and to navigate the rough political waters of Washington? Sure. But at least we are finally heading in the right direction.
However, I think that subsequent polls showing Obama's plummeting popularity are indicative with just how much politics is still a cult of personality. So many people simply got behind the *idea* of Barack Obama, that I don't think many wanted to face the reality of what was actually going to happen once he took office. The reality was that Obama entered the Oval Office having inherited a giant deficit, and facing a global recession that was just reaching its apex. At the same time, the Republican's hateful rhetoric during the election had had exactly the side-effect that was intended - a Republican party that had come to see Obama as an extremist, socialist enemy, and even worse, a segment (a vocal segment) of the population that thought he was practically the devil on earth. Thank you, McCain, Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. What this meant was that Obama faced roadblocks at every turn when it came to actually getting policy pushed through Congress. It wasn't even necessarilly opposition based on any logical, philisophical differences, or based on the Republicans having any better ideas. Instead, it was opposition for the sake of opposition. Republicans were listening to idiots like Limbaugh who simply wanted Obama to fail.
My point in all this is for those who say Obama is all talk ... what would you have him do?
I will say this though - I think the last week or so has been a great one for Obama, and I think he's very smartly painted the Republican opposition into a corner. Obama has taken his case to the American people, via the State of the Union and his recent Q&A session with members of the GOP. Obama has argued his case for health care reform, for the stimulus, for investing in clean energy, and other issues with passion, but also with cool logic. He's presented his mostly moderate ideas in a way that stands in stark contrast to the extremist views that the Republicans try to pin on him. In fact, the Republican response to the State of the Union, to me, came off as almost laughable thanks to its striking similarity to the very points that Obama had just made. At the Q&A, you might say that Obama laid the smackdown on the Republican audience. Obama was fearless in calling out Congressman who tried to make campaign speaches rather than ask real questions, and meticulous in setting the record straight on various facts and figures that the GOP had tried to present as evidence of his failure so far. At both events, Obama made the same point that many of us have surely thought about, that being that if the Republicans so strongly oppose Obama's health care plan, why don't they present alternatives in which the numbers add up and make sense? Health care isn't really an ideological issue, and yet the Republicans try to make it into one. Obama is suddenly a socialist because ...? Because he wants to implement universal health care? Because he wants to help fix the #1 issue that is going to affect our economy in the years to come? Please.
Now, I do think it's fair to criticize the congressional Democrats as well. At the same time, they are in a tough position, because there is that percentage of the country that is still so extreme in their conservative views that it's a tough atmosphere in which to push forward a truly liberal agenda. Still, it does tend to feel like it's Obama and then everybody else. With Hillary Clinton busy as Secretary of State, there aren't a lot of strong voices on the Democratic side, and there aren't a lot of true fighters. I also think that there is almost this desire among the Demoratic base for someone to step up and rally the troops, as was done during the election. I feel like a lot of people, younger people in particular, felt empowered during the election. Now there is that feeling of being to some degree directionless. I mean, clearly, the troops were not effectively rallied and motivated in the recent Massachussetts special election, in which a Republican, Scott Brown, amazingly pulled off the victory and won Ted Kennedy's old senate seat.
But hey, I still get the feeling of frustration that big change is not happeneing quickly enough. On one hand, I feel like we are lucky to have a guy like Obama as our President. But still, there was that feeling that he'd come in and enact sweeping environmental reform, quickly get universal health care passed, and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Still, there is a huge difference in what Obama's doing and what George Bush was doing. Obama is acting pragmatically when it comes to, say, Afghanistan - not ideologically. I'd like to see that war end, but not if it means that the country would become exponentially more chaotic and unstable than it already is. Bush acted ideologically and so the natural response was to want to counter one ideological action with another. Under Bush's black and white worldview, you were either pro-war or anti-war, a neocon or a peacenik. Thank god we've moved beyond that and have a President who realizes that the world is not quite that simple.
I mean, it's hard to know quite what to think of Obama's points about the environment that he used in his State of the Union to call the GOP to action. He basically said that even if you don't believe in the science of global warming, it still makes economic sense to invest in clean energy. On one hand, you want to see him just stick to science and emphasize the dire urgency of the whole thing. Because hey, I don't want to wear a gas mask to go outside in fifteen years. On the other hand, it was a calculated and somewhat brilliant move. The Republicans have long been willing to wreck the environment in the name of the almighty dollar, so why wouldn't they also be willing to help improve it if there was a similar pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
So look, I think it was a transisitional year for politics, but I think it was also a good year, an important year. The groundwork has been laid for a lot of good things to come. We have a guy in office up to the task. Already, we are more well-regarded on the world stage, back at the negotiating table with other countries in terms of peace talks, climate change, trade, etc. There is always going to be that vocal bunch that gets off on spewing hate and venom, but as it becomes more and more apparent that that bunch stands in the way of true progress, I think they'll become drowned out. The important thing is that all the energy that some of us put into helping Obama get elected - we can't just let that go. There's still a lot to fight for.