Friday, November 06, 2009


I still remember Candidate Obama saying these eight fateful words: “We are the change we’ve been waiting for.” To his partisans, like me, they were magical. To his detractors, they were signs that the speaker was the emptiest of suits.

What was it about those words that transfixed so many Americans? For starters, we were convinced that America desperately needed change. W had been running us into the ground for nearly eight years; even he probably had had enough of his Presidency.

But there was something more in those words than the call for change. There was also a realization that the change agents had to be completely different. The powerbrokers in Washington simply weren’t getting the job done They weren’t exactly a generation like Washington, Jefferson and Adams; nor were they the equals of Webster, Clay and Calhoun. Larry, Curly and Moe seem like a more apt analogy. And given that the folks in power couldn’t be trusted, either in terms of motivation or competence, “we the people” were needed to right the ship.

Yeah, I know it all sounds so idealistic. Yet that’s where Barack Obama came into play. If anyone could lead us to the meaningful change we needed, Barack’s the guy. His was the freshest of faces – upstanding, honest, earnest, kind, and symbolic of our nation’s glorious ethic melting pot. What’s more, Barack was hardly a Lone Ranger; his campaign staff seemed to be touched by God. Collectively, they did an unprecedented job of using the Internet to rally, not only supporters, but donors. By the time Super Tuesday came along, his backing was both broad and deep, and it was anchored by an incredibly devoted base: the young. If you were anywhere from 15 to 25 and you weren’t in love with Obama, you probably needed psycho- pharmacological help.

After the campaign was over and Barack won in a laugher, we were treated to an Inauguration like none other. As he stood before literally millions of loving Americans, Barack looked like a truly transformative figure. Never in my lifetime had I witnessed such enthusiasm for a new American President. You got the idea that if only we could add one more face on Mount Rushmore, we just found our man.

But that was then. And this is … well, this is the week that we’re welcoming new Republican Governors in states that had previously been Blue. Go ahead and call them “local elections” that have nothing to do with Barack, but I’m not buying it. Barack might still be relatively popular – personally – but what’s changed is that he has absolutely zero coattails. Right now, voters just want to throw the bums out, and if the majorities of the bums happen to be from Barack’s Party, so be it.

What went wrong? What happened to the “we” who were supposed to change the country? Where the hell were all the young people who worked tirelessly for Barack, but are now invisible when it comes to politics? Without them, the “we” is surely gone.

Perhaps the problem was that when Barack the Candidate became Barack the President-Elect, our nation was in a true economic crisis. You could make a strong argument that the only way out was to make a deal with the Walt Street Devil. As a result, Geithner and Summers rapidly became the most prominent faces of the Administration, and they symbolized anything but change. Still, I think the problem is deeper than that. Even when the crisis was averted and Barack was given a bit of breathing room, he hasn’t exactly shown political courage. Has he fought hard on health care reform? Not at all – he basically threw that issue back at his do-nothing Congress. And what about Iraq and Afghanistan? Has he taken a clear stand there? Nope. Frankly, I’m not exactly sure what he’s done over there that W wouldn’t have.

What about a cause like Middle East Peace? I’ve devoted a lot of attention to that issue on this page, and believe strongly that Barack has real talent as a diplomat. But what I haven’t yet seen is the resolve to fight at any cost for a just and secure peace in that region. I want Middle East Peace to be one of Barack’s obsessions. If it is, however, he hides it well.

If you ask me, the problem here is that Barack is too practical. Everything from him is measured. Nothing seems terribly urgent – other than the rhetoric that flows from his mouth as mellifluously as a mountain stream.

I want to see Barack take some chances. I want to see him dare to fail. I want to see him get out of the middle of the road in Afghanistan and either win the damn war or get the hell out of there (preferably the latter). I want to see him bring the health care reform issue to a head so that he can expose the phonies in the Democratic Party. He should go ahead and let them filibuster a popular bill. If they want to make asses of themselves in front of the nation, let’s roll out the red carpet and watch them implode.

Mostly, though, I want to see Barack grab hold of a controversial issue like my dogs grab hold of a bone. It almost doesn’t matter what issue he picks as long as he deals with it passionately, and it seems to be part of a wider vision that he holds for his Presidency. That’s what Reagan brought to the table, and that’s why he was so effective at making changes, whether we like them or not.

Right now, my man is just too cool for school. And the cooler he gets, the more bored we get by his Presidency.

Remember, Barack’s eight words were truly inspiring, and they rang true. It is all about “us.” We were the change we were waiting for – not the do-nothing Congress, not the Wall Street Barons, and not Barack himself. If he wants us back in the fold, if wants to be a leader of a movement that has some staying power, he has to model raw emotion on behalf of some courageous positions. Do that, and for the next seven years, we’ll have his back.


Mary Lois said...

Again, you're asking Barack to be "not Barack." Whatever he has done has been gentle, measured and professorial rather than dynamic and earth-shattering. He shattered us with his astounding victory, but that victory was won by the very qualities he is excoriated now for having. When he battled with Hillary Clinton, the pundits begged him to be more confrontaional, angry. (Not coincidental one of those pundits was Pat Buchanan, who clearly wanted Hillary on the ticket because he felt she'd never defeat a Repubican opponent. He still curdles my blood.)

But I admire the elegant restraint of Barack Obama and I still say over time he will prevail. He doesn't read his press notices (or if he does he doesn't agonize over them as Bill Clinton did), and he operates by his own lights. I do not agree with every choice he's made, but I think there is a great deal we don't know about his reasons. He is not like the rest of us, and I think that's a good thing.

Daniel Spiro said...

Well, there's no question that he is a good man who doesn't deserve to be "excoriated" for anything. But I do believe that if he came to take on a somewhat different blend of qualities, or at least tactics, he could be more effective at this job.

At the end of the day, he should end up being a fine President. The question for me is whether he can be a great President.

Mary Lois said...

Don't you think it's too soon to decide? Why can't we back off and give the guy a chance? He's had the office for only ten months, and he had a great deal of housecleaning to do that none of us expected.

As to that "too cool for school" style, that was always his style and it always will be. Some of his constituents actually like it. (And it drives the Republicans crazy!)

Daniel Spiro said...

I suspect that most members of the progressive community, myself included, still support him. We're simply expressing that there's a direction down which we'd like him to head.

As for the too cool for school, it certainly is preferable to Glen Beck's and the Rush Limbaugh's style, but there is a middle ground I'd like to see him strive for.

Barack inspired a lot of passion as a candidate. He needs to infuse some of that back into his supporters now that he's President, and that requires some adjustments. He also might want to think a bit more about whether Geithner and Summers are the best advisors for the long haul. I wonder if their values and those of his base are compatible.