Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On Obama

Any discussion of the Obama presidency is multi-dimensional. It encompasses ideology, policy, expectations, hopes, disappointment, fear, and paranoia. The far right attempt to paint Obama as a Socialist, Communist, Muslim, anti-American other has had traction in a certain portion of the population. Considering that his economic policy is in the hands of the titans of American Capitalism, that his foreign policy is closer to McCain than even Carl Levin, that his health care reform plans have left the single payer option to wither on the vine, there can be no question that the far right paranoiac view of Obama is a fantasy that serves some other agenda, an agenda that is still developing.

My view, which is still fundamentally in support of Obama, despite his centrist policies, is rooted in the belief that he is operating responsibly and honestly. Obama is attempting to balance his own perspective, with his practical assessment of how to make incremental progress across a number of terrains. It is clear that the Democratic Party will not march in lock step with the President. The fantasy of the 60-vote veto proof majority has dissolved in the hands of Lieberman, Nelson, et.al. Building a majority party meant expanding what it means to be a Democrat, and those chickens are coming home to roost. So, on domestic policy, Obama has bravely, and at the expense of much of his popularity, thrown open the divisions in this county and in his own party in an effort to make some progress on providing health care to more people with less chance of being dropped from coverage in the crunch. This is not nothing, but far from universal health care.

On Afghanistan, the escalation is a most egregious betrayal for the anti-war left that supported him. But there are the following questions to ask: Is pulling out of Afghanistan militarily, and completely, an option, and if so, would it be acceptable for Obama to watch as the Taliban restored themselves to power? Or, is the position of staying with a more modest military footprint acceptable in the face of more sophisticated and lethal attacks? Can you as commander in chief, decide not to provide the strongest military profile if you are going to be lethally engaged? The dream of a pacified Afghanistan, and a stable Pakistan are a long way off.

The point is that there are no ideologically pure answers to actually governing this country. The purest ideologically driven governments, either theocracies, Stalinist regimes, or Fascist Dictatorships have the darkest track records. We have the messy, frustrating, debased mess of this democracy with powerful elites still holding the majority of the real power. Obama is not the supreme leader, as much as the fantasists would like to imagine him that way. He is working systematically, expending all his capital on real problems: Re-building and re-regulating the financial system, reforming health care, stimulating the economy, dealing with climate change, managing two inherited and complex wars, all under the shadow of massive unemployment, huge deficits and the treat of terrorism. He has his hands full, and at least he is an adult.

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