Obama vs. Obama

If you sniff around news blogs, rumors of “Obama’s 2012 comeback” or “Obama’s primary challenge” are starting to metastasize out of all the ugliness and criticism and backlash our dear President’s been facing pretty much since day one in the Oval Office. If you sniff around Fox News, the speculation tends to be shaped more by narratives of conservatism rising above evil sociofascism. So which is he? An overly idealistic rookie or a naïve, cocky socialist? A potential second-termer or a lame duck?

I voted for Obama in 2008, and I took a hell of a lot of flak for it from my parents, my boss (a lawyer who bet me a cupcake McCain would win–I collected on that), socially conservative friends and pro-life friends. At the time, I was living in a county near Chicago that typically swings far right, so while the city was exploding with Obama-fever, I was living in a wealthy, suburban Pleasantville demarcated by elephant-shaped lawn ornaments and a deeply cowed local Democratic Party.

I personally disliked McCain because of his stance on the wars overseas. In fact, Obama’s pragmatic attitude towards troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq influenced me to vote for him more than any other single issue. Then Sarah Palin was inexplicably tapped to be McCain’s running mate, which set off all kinds of feminist-baiting alarm bells. Finally, Wallstreet imploded and Obama’s commitment to renewed regulatory policing convinced me that this was my guy.

So how’s he doing in my book? Ok. Like other Democrats/progressives, I’m deeply disappointed that he capitulated to the Republicans’ stoic refusal to vote on anything until the Bush tax cuts were extended. While I respect that concessions have to be made for the sake of moving the country forward, I worry that this particular compromise will cause more setbacks than it will grease the wheels for future Democratic political wins. That “don’t bargain with terrorists” mantra, which extends to toddlers, ought also to apply to Congressional representatives who view government-grinding threats as viable political tools.

That, and if Obama thought “reaching across the aisle” on the tax deal would endear him to conservative voters (who I firmly believe would vote for anyone but Obama, even if it means writing in Mickey Mouse, even if Obama turns tail and gives them everything they want from now to November 2012), he needs to think again.

On a related note, I really don’t think the man is good at galvanizing party leadership. It stands to reason that the politician who swayed millions of young people to vote in the 2008 election has the type of electric charisma that ought to work on members of his own party, at least, but I’m not sure if Obama just hasn’t figured out how to harness the beast or whether his motivational skills extend only to crowd-sourcing.

Finally, journalist George Will on ABCNews’ “This Week” sums up the laundry list of gripes better than I can:

” [T]he reason there’s so much vitriol surrounding this is this comes at the end of a long list of liberal disappointments. I made a little list of them: card check for unions, not going to happen; climate change legislation, not going to happen; the EPA says we’ll do it by regulation, they’re now backing off those; Guantanamo Bay, still open; “don’t ask/don’t tell” not being repealed; Afghan war escalated; Federal pay frozen, which goes right at sort of the Republican theme that government is the problem.”

And now we move on to the defense: PolitiFact “Truth-o-Meter” has been following the status of 506 promises Obama made on the campaign trail. To date, he has fulfilled 123 of those promises and 232 are “in the works.” He’s only broken 24 promises. Of course, among those 24 are a few biggies, i.e., No. 38: “Repeal the Bush tax cuts for higher incomes” and No. 228: “Provide a path to citizenship for undocument immigrants” (which is technically listed as “stalled,” but with the death of the DREAM act and the promise of Republicans to oppose any similar legislation that isn’t connected to “comprehensive immigration reform,” it might as well be broken).

In the win column we have several promises related to health care, including No. 56: “Require children to have health care coverage,” and No. 422: “Create New Financial Regulations.” Obama signed a bill legislating financial reform into law on July 21, 2010.  The bill is probably not strong enough to completely prevent a new financial crisis, but it did create a Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection whose aim it will be to ensure big banks and companies can’t easily reenact the predatory lending practices that helped spark the recession. Additionally the bill gave the government the right to break up threatening financial monopolies and enacted regulation of credit and debit card fees (though I’m not sure how that jibes with the “higher interest rates and annual fees” on the credit cards currently being offered to high-risk borrowers).

Ultimately, I have to respect that Obama is the type of person who can successfully switch bargaining tactics, who can practice self-restraint re: executive orders (you know George W. would have just declared DADT repealed, if this were his fight), and who can restore some of the global standing the U.S. lost under Bush II.

Will I vote for him again? That remains to be seen, as does whether I’ll vote Democrat or for a third party–always the tug-of-war between idealism and pragmatism. I think Obama’s worked well with what he’s been given, namely one of the most obstinate Republican caucuses in years, but he’s criminally overestimated how far the fervor of the election would carry him in the eyes of the American people and fellow politicians.

One thought on “Obama vs. Obama”

Leave a Reply