We’re so disgruntled nowadays, aren’t we? We who worked so hard to get this fresh, inspiring, and — gasp! — intelligent President (oh yes, and black, too) elected look back now and assess his accomplishments so far. And we’re comparing where we thought we’d be by now with where we actually are. We note that the unemployment rate’s still climbing; we’re still in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and may even be sending more troops; DADT hasn’t been repealed; health care reform is fighting for life; no investigations of the previous regime’s deep corruption; and other drivers still sometimes cut me off in traffic. Wasn’t the world supposed to be set on a fundamentally different path last November?
Collectively we’re a bit like a starry-eyed young bride of old who thinks the world is over when she discovers her perfect beau actually has morning breath, sometimes forgets to pick up his dirty socks, and once nearly flooded the bathroom trying to fix a leaky sink. Is this the deal we thought we were getting?
I struggle with the disillusionment too. But I try to remind myself once in a while that this is why we have 4-year terms. Obama doesn’t have one year to prove himself — he’s got four. Think about the last time you took an important new job — no matter how qualified you were (and remember, we elected Obama for his vision and character, not his résumé), chances are that a year later, even if you were doing well, you were still learning the ropes somewhat.
Obama’s got gays demanding fundamental changes in military culture at a time when we’re stretched between two unwinnable wars — a guy who’s never served in the military trying to make life-and-death decisions based on ground intel, his generals’ demands, and the State Dept’s assessments, which may not all agree. He’s got people demanding fundamental changes in a broken health care delivery system that’s about as sticky and entrenched as our food and water delivery systems. He’s got tree-huggers like me demanding an immediate end to dirty, wasteful energy and environment policies, and Big Business on the other hand warning that such changes would just weaken a still-fragile economy. And he’s got countless mandatory meetings, briefings, photo-ops, and other junk sapping his time. He reads ten letters from average people every day, while I struggle just to keep up with my email. He has to read the papers and be able to say something intelligent on every topic. And then there’s Congress to deal with… And he does all this in a Secret Service bubble, not a moment of privacy, probably not even in the bathroom. I’m sure they have sensors or something in there in case something goes wrong. Imagine living that kind of life and trying to do so much under those constraints, and he’s still relatively new on the job.
As long as he’s not actively trashing this country, as his predecessor did (my worst moments of fear came when W had his colonoscopy, and I prayed sincerely that the docs wouldn’t mess up and kill him, because then we’d have the Cheney…), I’m content to support him and cut him some slack for another three years. That’s when it’ll really be time to examine our decision, compare notes, measure how far we’ve come, and keep him or replace him.
And one more thing — Obama does have experience in changing hearts, minds, and circumstances, on the south side of Chicago. But then, he was working with downtrodden people desperate for a better life, and they were willing to roll up their sleeves and go after it. He didn’t have monster corporations mounting million-dollar ad campaigns against him. He didn’t have right-wing loonies trying to convince a gullible, fear-conditioned populace that change was bad, change was un-American, change would threaten their liberties and their very lives. And he was free to operate solo, going against the grain, unconstrained by a rigid and power-grasping Congress.
Yes, he promised to change the game in Washington, but he may have overestimated his ability to effectuate that change. Maybe he really thought the Liebermans, Cantors, Boehners, and their ilk would be easily won over by his charismatics and persuasive ways. Little did he expect those very qualities would be turned against him as evidence of some kind of nefarious, hypnotic power, and that their minions would actually buy into that. Little did anybody know how truly dysfunctional some portions of our society is, still, after all our vaunted “progress.”
And let’s not forget that to really change the way Washington works, you’d have to change the Constitution, which is not about to happen. Not only cannot the President do that, but he would not. He respects that document too much, and if we wanted a cowboy who was prepared to ride into town and impose his agenda on the masses, however wholesome and healing it might be, we did, in fact, elect the wrong guy.
But we shall see…