PANIC IN THE CAPITAL
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
This time last week, if someone had told me I’d be writing a post with the above title, I would have immediately start researching about Port-au-Prince. We’ve all heard about the devastation there – how the death toll in that area could reach 200,000; how many of those 200,000 will have literally been buried alive; how the survivors will include thousands upon thousands who have lost their homes, their limbs, or in the case of many children, their parents; and how residents have taken to looting just in order to survive. If there were ever a place where panic seems understandable, it would be the capital of Haiti today.
But, as things have developed, I feel compelled to move on from Port-au-Prince, which I wrote about last week, to another capital well to its north. The city is none other than Washington, D.C., my own hometown.
Talk about a tale of two cities. On January 20,2009, Washington was abuzz in Obama-mania. It was indeed a time of “belief” and “Light,” I had never seen Washingtonians so hopeful, so inspired, so proud not only of what their country had become but even more, what it COULD become. Barack, Michelle and their daughters threatened the stereotypical notion of the All-American family. Only the most racist among us couldn’t feel the sense of collective accomplishment. “We did it,” everyone was thinking. “We’ve finally realized Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, that one day, a man could be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.” And that day, if you could be sure of anything you could be sure of this: Barack Obama might not have all the antidotes we need to solve the poisons of the world, but at least we could say that he was a man of character. And brilliance. And charisma.
In short, on January 20, 2009, my city felt that it had just won the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Title all at the same time.
That was the apex of our collective spirit in Washington. Let’s hope, for the good of this country, that January 20, 2010 is the nadir. As I type this, one day later, the city is still in shock. We’re shocked that the seat of Teddy Kennedy in the only state that voted for George McGovern will go to a Republican, and that his election will most likely tank the prospects of meaningful health care reform. But even more shocking is that we can look back at the last year and experience quite vividly so many different reasons why we have fallen from such a high perch to such a deep pit. Different Washingtonians have different explanations, and we feel each of them intensely and painfully. Barack and his senior leadership might have led the fall, but most of us Washingtonians have gone along for the ride. After all, we are partly responsible. It was largely his dominance in the “Potomac Primary” that gave Barack the Democratic nomination.
Lest this sound like a mea culpa, however, I continue to think Barack Obama is a man of character, brilliance and charisma, and that a vote for such a great man made a lot of sense at the time. What’s more, it cracks me up that some observers are stupid enough to write Barack’s political obituary after only one year in office. I was in the tank for the guy from the very beginning of his campaign, but even I figured (and predicted in this blog) that he would struggle in his first 12-18 months. After all, the guy’s experience wasn’t exactly his number one selling point; we all had to recognize that.
So to those Democratic Washingtonians who are panicking, I can only advise them to relax, take a deep breath, and realize that this glass is at least SOMEWHAT full. We’ve got a President with several outstanding gifts and whose fundamental decency has never seriously been questioned. We also have a substantial majority in both houses of Congress. And we have nearly ten months before the next Congressional election to turn things around.
But … and it’s as big a but as Fat Bastard’s … this glass is also somewhat empty, and will continue to leak more and more until Barack Obama realizes the lessons of this past year and implements some sharp course corrections. In other words, he doesn’t have the luxury of taking months to decide what to do next, as he did in handling the Afghanistan War and the health care reform bill. And he also doesn’t have the luxury of making the kind of colossal screw up that he made in entrusting his economic policies entirely to a team who care 100 times more about Wall Street than Main Street.
Like I said, plenty of mistakes were made. But the mistakes are clear, and there is a lot Barack can do to fix them. The Barack Obama we voted for is a guy who is smart enough to understand those mistakes, humble enough to admit them, and courageous enough to fix them. If we’re wrong on any ONE of those fronts … then yes, it would be high time to panic.