Am posting the words of another author, as I’ve done before. Bret Stephens’ article, “Not the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s OPINION page, on November 2, Election Day. It doesn’t seem he’s a fan of Obama, but it’s for sure he’s not a fan of the electorate who voted the president into office, especially those complaining about his performance now. I don’t agree with all he says, but what Stephens posits is thought-provoking. You, dear reader, can decide for yourself.
And so, today, the American people will seek an honest reckoning with Barack Obama. Good luck with that. Whatever his other virtues–not the least of which is campaigning on tautological slogans while passing himself off as Marcel Proust–this president will never be distinguished by his humility: Don’t expect from him a decent admission, as George W. Bush had the decency to admit after the 2006 midterm, that his party had sustained a “thumping.” Instead he will immediately decamp to places where he is still admired. That means exiting the country.
So expect no reckoning there. Nor should Americans expect one with the Democrats. If the party does a little less disastrously than anticipated, it will rally like a stock whose quarterly losses are slightly less bad than had been projected. And if it’s Götterdämmerung, then we already know the narrative: secret sources of funding, plus a failure of communication. On which last score, they have a point: When your “accomplishments” consist of legislation nobody is allowed to read prior to the vote, and nobody can comprehend after it, then no wonder the swine have failed to take appreciative note of the pearls.
No, the only reckoning Americans can hope to get–and the one they most need to have–is the one they’re least likely to seek. That is a reckoning with themselves.
Pundits, particularly those who lean right, are schooled always to praise the wisdom of the electorate. Please. Only three years ago, Americans became acquainted with a junior U.S. senator with an interesting personal history, notable rhetorical gifts, programmatically liberal ideas and zero legislative accomplishments. Whereupon he was hailed as a saint and elected president.
In Argentina or Venezuela such behavior may be unexceptional. But we’re America, as they say: We’re supposed to be into celebrity culture, not cult-of-personality politics. What happened?
Maybe Americans were sold on Mr. Obama as the man who could deliver them from the financial crisis. I don’t buy it. Six months before Lehman Brothers collapsed, he delivered his instantly celebrated and soon forgotten race speech in Philadelphia. Historian Garry Wills compared it to Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech. Others called it “stirring,” “brave” and “flat-out brilliant.” This for an address in which the candidate defended his anti-American, anti-semitic pastor by outing his dying white grandmother as a woman prone to racist slurs.
Alternatively, perhaps Americans believed that Mr. Obama could make the United States beloved in the eyes of the world again. And maybe there’s something to this. He did wow them in Berlin. But what kind of electorate surrenders itself to the good opinion of a Kreutzberg Kaffee-klatsch or a Damascene hookah bar? As president, Mr. Obama also offered an outstretched hand to Iran and gave a big speech in Cairo to the Muslim world at large. Yet Iran continues to enrich, and the parcel bombs keep getting posted in the mail. How did anyone ever expect it would be otherwise?
The answer is that as in relationships, so too in politics: Infatuation clouds judgment. You bank on the empty promises even as you refuse to take the object of your desire at his most precise word. Americans disillusioned today with the president for his health-care legislation, his refusal to extend his predecessor’s tax cuts, his ties to labor unions and groups such as Acorn, and his belief in the regulatory state, can’t honestly say that they were promised otherwise during the campaign. They got almost exactly what they voted for–or at least they got an honest political stab at it. If Mr. Obama now thinks that they have no right to complain, he has a point.
True, the president hasn’t delivered on the promises of unity–of postracial, postpartisan, perhaps even post-American politics. These days, it’s friends versus enemies, the politics of right-thinking people versus the politics of fearmongers.
That’s not surprising. What is surprising are the masses of people who gave themselves over to the fantasy of unity in the first place. In a democracy, disunity is not just the reality, it’s the premise. To wish for unity is to wish for an entirely different kind of politics, or perhaps something beyond politics itself, like religious transcendence.
Americans spent most of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st fighting against that kind of wish, which goes by the name of totalitarianism and comes in fascist, communist or Islamist varieties. No, I’m not saying Mr. Obama is a closet totalitarian; on the contrary, he’s nothing if not a partisan pol. But the people who donned those creepy T-shirts with Mr. Obama looking to the far distance like a latter-day Che Guevara were wholly in the mold of Eric Hoffer’s true believers. In an earlier era they would have found their life’s purpose as followers of Shabtai Tzvi, William Davies or Father Divine.
And so Americans go to the polls. Democracy being what it is, it holds not only our leaders to account, but our own political choices as well. Plainly Barack Obama was not the one we’ve been waiting for. But let’s have the grace to admit we weren’t the ones we’d been waiting for, either.
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I’m not sure who Stephens dislikes more, the president or those of us who elected him. While there certainly are many who are disenchanted with what Obama has, or has not, done; there are probably just as many, like me, who feel he has tried to do the best with the “hand he was dealt.” Yes, he has had to compromise, to pass through legislation. He might have preferred to write a new set of Ten Commandments, obligating us to do as he says. But alas, the presidency is not a “one man show,” contrary to current popular belief. He too, has had to make “detours,” which he probably hadn’t bargained for. That’s life. Even presidents are allowed to make mistakes. George W. Bush did, and it almost landed us into another Depression.
I’ve never thought of Obama as a “saint,” or a “messiah.” I reserve that for my husband, who has to put up with me. He might even claim that’s a bigger job than running a country. Actually, I thought of the President as a guy from Hawaii who was going to encourage the rest of America to do things the way the 50th state does, with “Aloha Spirit.” It may be, that the other 49 states aren’t ready for our laid back, accommodating, everybody’s-got-a-place-in- the-sun, attitude.
The island way is not perfect, that’s for sure. But most visitors to Hawaii leave feeling it’s a special place, where the people are special. It’s an inherent mind-set, where the natives prefer to “get along” with one another, rather than expending energy coveting what belongs to others. Maybe we’re “pupule” (crazy) to think the “Aloha Spirit” can thrive outside of the islands, but it’s just not in our nature to stop trying. Growing up in Hawaii, I’m sure the “Aloha Spirit” rubbed off on the President. So it may have been naive of him to think he could govern with it, but perhaps he knew no other way. Like us, his personal “baggage” is the framework from which he operates.
Sarah Palin brought her 49th state experience to the national political scene, as did Obama who brought his life experience in the 50th state to bear in his political career. I wonder if these two who hail from “the last frontier”, and “an island paradise,” respectively, can truly find commonality with the electorate throughout the other 48 states? Whether or not they can, they are both major league players in our country’s politics.
Unlike Stephens, I think we strive for unity in our democracy, even though we may fall short. America’s Founding Fathers were religious men, whose beliefs permeated the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. So maybe it’s not so far-fetched to think that we unconsciously, or consciously, incorporate our spirituality into our politics. Maybe it is fanciful thinking, but I like to believe our souls are what elevates us to be guardians of all that is available for our use on earth.
I’m not a fan of Stephen’s cynicism, but it did make me think.
how about you?…hugmamma.