Friday, January 8, 2010


President Obama is not Jesus come to cleanse the Temple. He did not stride up the Capitol Building steps and cast aside the lobbyists and yes-men and panderers, and declare that Congress would be a house of reason and law-making. While so many imbued him with their sense of hope and their need for change, a mantle he gladly shouldered, it was unrealistic -- given American history -- to believe that the man could change Washington, D.C. simply by his election. The rats did not abandon ship when President Obama set foot on the deck.

And so, the promises and hope of the campaign turned to the grim-faced reality of the first year of an administration tasked with handling two wars it inherited, a global financial crisis it inherited, and a country in turmoil, split open by a divisive and shockingly brutal campaign that highlighted the best and the worst of human behavior. And while Candidate Obama held up the ideals of hope, change, transparency, and bipartisanship, President Obama had to deal with rancor, partisan politics, mistrust, and hopelessness.

It is easy to be disappointed. He was held up as a knight-in-shining-armor, who would slay the dragon known as politics, and restore decency and honor to the government. He would overturn the horrid and nonsensical policies of his predecessor, and bring praise and accolades back to the nation. He would, with a stroke of his pen, end the tyranny of unwarranted detentions, the on-going meat grinder of unpopular wars, and the erosion of personal liberties. He would spread justice, ending restrictions against needed research, allowing gays their just due, and providing essential services to all Americans. He would be the savior of a nation.

It didn't work out that way.

In casting off the shackles of the previous administration, the American people deluded themselves into thinking that it would be so simple, that the special interests, lobbyists, and ne're-do-wells that had spent decades choking off necessary legislation and watering down protections would flee in terror. Strangely, they did not. If anything, they dug in their heels, whispered in the ears of their "friends on The Hill," and set up even more roadblocks to compromise and good governance.

So it came to pass, that despite assurances from Candidate Obama that things in Washington, D.C. would change, it becomes apparent that President Obama overstepped the bounds of credulity. If he, too, believed in the aura that had been cast about him by an adoring electorate, then the shock of the fall must have been a sharp one, as it became clear early on that the resistance to his reforms had girded for battle, and even a majority by Democrats in both houses of Congress was a paper majority, at best.

Almost a year in, the hand-wringing and moaning has begun. Already people are looking to 2012, writing the President off as a one-term wonder, a lame duck with three years to go and no hope of accomplishing anything. What those bemoaning their decision to elect him fail to realize, is that electing Barack Obama was only a tiny fraction of the battle. True, majorities in Congress swept in on that rising tide, but it was not enough to sweep the 2008 election, sit back, and watch the sun set on the policies of the past. As usual, Americans forget that in order for Representative Democracy to work, legislators must constantly be held accountable. The power and energy that got President Obama elected, then magically dissipated, as it so often does after an election. While the President and his staff tried desperately to hold onto it, with the coming of the health care battle, it was clear that the bloom was off the rose; complacency had set in amongst the electorate once more, save for those who had not voted for him.

We, the progressive, change-minded, socially aware portion of the country, the people who elected the first black President, then gave up the ground to the forces of unreason and ignorance. We stood idly by, and watched the tea parties and sycophants and fear mongers spread their bile and vitriol, aided by the popular media, and did very little to counter it with any force. Perhaps we thought we'd done enough; perhaps we thought our responsibility ended at the ballot box. The Proposition 8 vote in California should have been a portent of things to come: if we do not continue to stand up and be counted, if we do not keep up the fight, if we do not drive the enemy back, then we shall find him back in our front yard throwing stones.

The disappointment is palpable, as the Executive Branch huddles behind closed doors to reconcile health care, and struggles to explain a man on a plane with a bomb in his underwear, while the economy sputters along. those who believed in miracles are now resigned, sure they made some mistake in believing this man and his vision. Any vision, must, of necessity, be dashed against the rocks of reality, for even the most optimistic and pragmatic and humanist among us realize that change comes only slowly, and not without cost. That cost is constant vigilance, constant struggle, and pressing our legislators to bring to fruition those plans and projects that benefit all Americans. If we are disappointed in our President, we must also be disappointed in ourselves, because we assumed he could shoulder the load for us. If there is to be success going forward, we must raise our voices again, and hold both Congress and the President to account. Only then, we will have the change we so desperately seek.

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