January 12 – Volume 13, #1
November 4, 2008 was one of the best days of my whole life. And I’ve had a very blessed life that has had a lot of really good days.
On this particular good day it was unseasonably warm in Chicago, a balmy 72 degrees. The Chi Town streets were all abuzz in a way that I had never seen them. Even more than I had experienced on nights that the Bulls clinched championships. There was a wave of optimism permeating the nation as a whole that I didn’t think was possible, period. But this seemed especially unlikely on the heels of the political acrimony that defined the previous eight years. Q-Tip’s new album , The Renaissance, was released that morning. Timely in its title for so many reasons that resonated with me personally, the LP was both in the mold of classic Tribe while also being 21st century fresh and relevant. For one of the few times in the past decade, the whole vibe had me feeling optimistic for the future in a way that was hard to describe with a billion words.
This natural high was culminated in Grant Park that evening when Barack Obama gave the speech commemorating the ass-whoopin he put on John McCain to become the 44th president of the United States.
Since that day, a lot of that energy has evaporated. Both hope and optimism have waned.
Some of this is due to unrealistic expectations on exactly what this, or any, president could get done. Some of the loss of good vibrations has been due to some real letdowns on behalf of the Obama administration.
There has been far, far, far too much appeasement of Republicans. At times, Obama behaved like he thought he was still in Chicago or Springfield. Illinois politics isn’t about a bunch of public bombast. There is plenty of venom behind closed doors, but in places like Chicago you actually have to govern because there are far too many immediate problems that can spiral into crisis faster than Caleb Hanie can throw an interception. But you ain’t in Chicago anymore, Dorothy. The Republicans have very little interest in doing any real governing. And it’s been frustrating to watch Obama take so long to come to this conclusion that the rest of America came to some time ago.
It was not independents or Obama-Republicans that swept the first black man into the White House four years ago. It was bleeding heart, liberal progressives who he inspired to vote in record numbers. Obama has not fought as hard as he’s capable of for those people. And if he’s not careful, these actions may well cost him a 2nd term. And though I don’t believe the country deserves another Republican president anytime soon, on some levels Obama would deserve to lose. At times the president has behaved like a football team that goes 14-2 during the regular season playing a certain style, and then they panic in the playoffs and change their whole gameplan once they find themselves in a dogfight. Losing is never good. But if you must lose, at least lose on your terms. Far too often during this first term, President Obama has yielded the high ground to the goblins and goons on the other side of the aisle.
He capitulated far too much to Republicans in the battle over health care. In fairness, this wasn’t fully on Obama and the health care law he passed was far more than any other president had the political balls to get done. Obama knew he couldn’t go full socialist with this law because there were too many pussified, moderate blue dog democrats in congress who are beholden to the insurance companies. And frankly, during the heat of the debate in the summer of 2009, the Tea Party opposition was vocal and visible while many progressives sat silent. Still, Obama could have used the bully pulpit more than he did at the time. Instead he let crazy people frame the argument. He gave in on extending the Bush tax cuts in 2010 even though he knew damn well they were bad for the country. He’s hemmed and hawed on gay marriage, has deported more Hispanics before completing one term than George W. Bush did in two, and he renewed the Patriot Act.
Some of these decisions are political and I don’t begrudge him for that. The Patriot Act was never really an effective tool in keeping America safe, and the reality is that the government is going to spy on all of us from here on out – whether or not it’s authorized. But the president is not going to let this be a political blind spot for him, particularly if some crazy shit happens again. All anyone would ever hear was that there were no attacks on America when the Patriot Act was legal. And while I understand the symbolic meaning that the president speaking in favor of gay marriage (particularly when he really believes in it, deep down) would provide the gay community, the reality is that him saying it wouldn’t do a whole lot to move the issue forward. You’re going to get your opportunity to ruin a good relationship by getting married soon enough. If a Republican gets in office, they’ll delay this formality by 150 years. But at least you’d have the victory of Obama publicly endorsing it.
I know, I know. Obama was supposed to be a different politician. He is on some levels. But make no mistake, he’s still a politician. He wants to get re-elected like anybody else. And from a political point of view, it just didn’t make sense for him to be the hatchet man who loses his political head in the name of principle. Especially when so few in his party are willing to follow suit.
I still believe that in his heart of hearts, President Obama has the best interest of the American people in mind. I see this, not by looking as much at some of the political shortcomings of his first term, but rather by closely examining his accomplishments. And when one steps outside the bubble of the 24-hour news cycle, you’ll find that what the president has accomplished for the American people has been considerable.
While America’s international reputation was badly sullied at the time that Obama first arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue, he has improved the nation’s global standing by prohibiting the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, allowing America to finally fall in line with the standards laid out in the Geneva Convention. The president built up further global equity when he fulfilled his campaign promise in June of 2009 and gave a speech in Cairo that gave him more credibility in the Middle East than any U.S. president has had since Jimmy Carter. And the president finally put to sleep the boogey man that the GOP had continuously ushered out to scare America whenever they found themselves in a political bind. Obama relaxed badly outdated laws that prohibited Cuban-Americans from visiting their native island and from mailing relatives’ funds and other goods from the States.
President Obama has made strides to ensure that America is truly a land of equal opportunity by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 that gave female workers greater protections against the systemic pay discrimination in this country that has made it where women make 71 cents for every dollar that men make. Obama nominated the first Hispanic Supreme Court judge in Sonia Sotomayor and the 4th overall woman, with his nomination of Elena Kagan. He also appointed more women to his cabinet than any president in history. He extended benefits to same sex partners of federal employees and repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In addition to passing the health care law that allowed 32 million more people to be insured and eliminated insurance company discrimination for preexisting conditions, Obama also increased the number of insured children by 4 million and helped reduce senior’s prescription drug costs by 50 percent.
Under President Obama, financial aid has increased, he signed legislation that allowed students to refinance their loans at a lower rate and he has cut out the pillaging middle men from the process, helping students save thousands more in unnecessary interest. The president appropriated over $2 billion for historically black colleges and universities. The president has fought for the poor and working class by increasing food stamps by $20 billion in a time where many formerly middle class people really need them. The Obama Administration allows tax write-offs for consumers who buy hybrid vehicles. In a recognition of the sacrifices that Americans in the lower rungs of the economic ladder are making these days, the president froze White House salaries upon ascending to the executive branch. He oversaw the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that helped to stave off another Great Depression. This legislation was accompanied with the website recovery.gov that allows taxpayers to keep track of how their money is being spent, providing unparalleled transparency. And though democrats have been loathe to take credit, independent estimates suggest that the aforementioned stimulus package helped to maintain 2.1 million jobs that would have been eliminated otherwise and helped boost the economy by 3.5 percent. And while job growth certainly hasn’t been what one has hoped, Obama has still managed to create more jobs in 2010 alone than Bush created in two terms.
He has made the White House feel more like the people’s house by being the first administration to stream every oval office event live over the internet and he even conducted a town hall online where he took viral questions from John & Suzie Q. Public. Obama loosened federal restrictions against marijuana use, allowing the 14 states that permit the use of medical marijuana greater range in establishing their own parameters of regulation and enforcement.
There is still much to be done. He needs to close Guantanamo Bay altogether. He needs to work fervently to steer the U.S. economy away from one that’s so dependent on oil. He needs to reform the immigration laws by going harder after corporations that violate them. He needs to fight for more funding to go towards improving our rapidly crumbling infrastructure. He needs to draw the troops down in Afghanistan, something any would-be Republican presidential elect wouldn’t dream of doing. We desperately need comprehensive education reform in this country. And while Republicans over-dramatize social security’s impact on our budget deficit, the president would be responsible to try and plan ahead for some necessary adjustments to this system if anyone under the age of 40 hopes to enjoy its benefits. I’d like to see him relax the Patriot Act and speak more definitively about the unique challenges that the black community has experienced during this recession. Challenges that calls for unique and targeted solutions. He’ll have to continue to use America’s improved international standing to his advantage with newly formed, fragile democracies afoot in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. And he’ll need to find a way to create more jobs. Buckets and buckets of jobs.
One thing that he surely should leave behind in his first term is the overly conciliatory tone that defined much of his first four years in office. I appreciate the president’s sincere and earnest desire to want to usher in a new type of politics in Washington that focuses on getting things done over showmanship in these times of crisis. But the president’s political opponents have no desire to join him in this enterprise. For them, this is a bloodsport that they are out to win at all costs. The president needs to do a far better job in meeting his political enemies in kind.
And the American people need to grow up and grow a pair. This is politics. Politics has never been about getting everything that you want. Nor will it ever be. Particularly in a corporate democracy like our own. But not having gotten everything you wanted shouldn’t be confused with having gotten nothing. For those who care to pay attention, we’ve gotten a lot more under this president than we’d been getting under previous regimes. And that we would have gotten under a McCain administration. More than we are likely to get under a Romney/Gingrich/Paul/Perry administration.
I understand the periodic frustration with this current White House. I’ve felt it as well. Although we have gotten a little bit more, we, the American people, are a long way from getting our fair share in this country. But this imbalance is a problem that has been created by several presidents so it will take several presidents to reverse this process. And it’s going to take a lot more from all of us as well. Yep, even yo lazy ass too.
The energy from November 4, 2008 quickly dissipated. On the left anyway. Tea Party racists and other extremists were particularly vocal for the better part of two years while those who elected the president allowed him to get pummeled relentlessly with little support. The president has a duty and responsibility to fight more over the next four years for the people who got him elected. No more of this nice guy stuff, it’s time to get into some gangster shit. But we have to hold up our end as well in staying engaged with the political process, and even putting more pressure on the president to bow down to the needs of the people.
Peace and God bless,