For a President that spent all of his political capital passing the other party’s version of health care reform, it should be no surprise that the Republicans stand on the verge of winning a political battle by purposely stalling the anemic recovery in a stunt they announced they would be pulling before the end of the last Congress’s lame duck session. Bill Clinton would have never let them get away with this. But Clinton understood, as a President elected both times with a minority of votes, that he was not a unifier-in-chief.
But Obama created his national political identity on the substance of his 2004 DNC speech and now has repeatedly staked his presidency on it. He continues to bargain away positions that the majority of voters support to the right-wing, never mind the positions of voters in the states that he will need to not even think about campaigning in if he wants to get reelected.
The Obama White House has refused to call the Republicans’ bluff on anything and now stands in a position that is perhaps the worst one to be forced into a bluff-calling situation, with the other side knowing they can win with a pair of twos. This is an administration so deeply seduced by right-wing tropes that it touts its economic performance as being good because it has created so many private sector jobs, even as the country hemorrhages public sector jobs–those jobs don’t count to conservatives, you see. But to the families whose food and clothing comes from those jobs, they matter. So too to the private companies that depend on their patronage.
But America is unlikely to be united by politics. With the possible exception of 1820, it never has been. And even if there was a unifying political mandate, such as in 1932, it cannot be solidified by the milquetoast politics of Obama’s establishment centrism. And even world events like 9/11 and wars have failed to unite us because they are so often of late exploited for political advantage or carried out for dubious purposes. Only bold action has ever carried a political mandate into a healing cultural one, and even then, only for a little while.
And these bold steps were taken by Presidents that understood the uses of power and understood the dimensions of their adversaries’ power. Lyndon Johnson knew Civil Rights would heal culturally, but divide politically (for at least a generation). FDR knew that the “money power” that opposed him would do anything to stop his plans to fix the very system that money power depended.
Obama seems to be a smart man. But I wonder if he doesn’t see himself as trying to perform some Lincolnesque role–from the Lincoln of historical myth, practically sainted by American historians. Yet I’m sure Lincoln did his fair share of wrangling with Congress. I bet his shit stunk, too.
It’s not that I don’t want to see the deep divisions in this country healed. It’s that I don’t see politics, and certainly not this certain politician, as the way to do it.
The other side is wrong. They are hurting our country. They do not respond to concessions other than to be emboldened to do more damage.
It’s still inconceivable to me that I could seek Obama’s defeat in 2012. He must win, if only because the other side is so emboldened that they are seriously considering nominating some of the most insane candidates for president ever. A Republican president would lock up the Supreme Court in a rightwing knot for another generation.
Despite that, I no longer believe that Obama’s presidency has done anything other than fatally poison the new liberalism that was created as a reaction to Bush, that liberalism that promised to start repairing the damage of the Bush years and move us forward, that liberalism that won in unlikely places to take back Congress in 2006, and, we thought, had appeal in places like Virginia and North Carolina as Obama was elected.
But Obama has misappropriated that energy in an attempt to transcend partisanship instead of growing liberalism. And now the question of his presidency has once again divided the fragile left coalition that was unified against Bush.