On Presidential Disappointment
I was an actor and director for most of my teens and twenty’s. When casting a show, especially at the semi-professional level there is something all directors’ fear, the Audition Monster. This person looks great at the audition. They read like they wrote the script themselves, they work well with just about anyone you pair them with; they are engaged and interested. Even those of you who have never cast a show can see why you would want to hire someone like that. Then rehearsals start, and the wheels come off. The Audition Monster becomes everything they were not in the audition. They cannot act or they cannot work with others or they cannot memorize their lines or blocking or worse, all of the above. It is a nightmare for any director.
"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"
I have been starting to wonder if President Obama does not have a touch of the Audition Monster in his political make up. When he was on the campaign trial, he said and did the things that made most of the country think he was the man we needed to lead us out of the fetid swamp the Bush Administration and the Republican Party had lead us into.
If you actually read his policy documents, you knew he was not going to be anywhere near the left of his party, but that did not matter as being in the center of the party is still way the hell and gone to the left of the policies of the Bush Administration. That was not really what propelled him to the presidency anyway, it was the perception that he was going to fight the forces of the Republicans and lead the Democratic Party in a way that it had not been lead in a long time.
This, to me, is where he looked like one thing and has turned out to be another. The office of the President does not have the power to enforce its will on the people of the nation. There is the filter of both Houses of Congress that he must get past. This means that even the best policy can be, and often is, distorted by the process. However, the President is the leader of his party. There are ways, up to and including threats of primary challenges that a president can use in order to keep his caucus in line with his agenda.
I can see how a Democrat and a professor of Constitutional law might find it distasteful to put the strong arm on members of his own party, but that is part and parcel of being the leader of the nation. There may be times in a nation’s history where these tactics are not needed, but this is not the time. Mellow persuasion and appeals to folks better nature are to be the preferred course, but when you inherit multiple crisis, when you run for the highest office in the land knowing you will be inheriting them, there is a need for strong leadership.
There are two aspects of leadership; there is the example and the exertion. President Obama is great at the first and seems to be, at best, fair in the second. He does not seem to understand that the willingness to meet everyone half-way from the start makes it nearly impossible for him to exert leadership. There have been, up to this point, no bright lines with President Obama. He has always showed a willingness to start from less than 100% of what he wants. This means that almost all of his policies from the stimulus to the closing of Guantanamo to Health Care Reform has started from a weak position and then gotten weaker over time as the politics of getting them done is worked through.
Then we come to the most recent of his capitulations, the freezing of spending increases on some domestic programs. It matters very little that the President is talking about mild amounts of money and freezes for only three years. What he has done is, once again, cede the ground to the Republicans. Instead of working to explain more clearly why it is important in an economic crisis like this one for the government to spend more and to not worry about the debt right now, he has validated the Republican idea that we can’t raise taxes and must cut programs.
It is moves like this that seem to confirm something I thought back in the campaign. Senator Obama was not my first pick for president. Originally, it was Sen. Clinton. The reason was straight forward, then Sen. Clinton was a tough as nails knife fighter of a politician. She might be divisive, but part of that was because she has a willingness to kick ass to get her agenda completed. This was the characteristic that I thought was most needed.
The argument against then Senator Obama was not that he was not whip smart or that he could not win, it was flatly obvious neither of those were true. The argument was all about his level of experience. It was m y thought that he could be a great president, but after a few more years of learning where the bodies where buried in Washington.
What changed my mind was is stand on investigating the torture program of the Bush Administration. It is the only issue that I am a single-issue voter on, so I switched my support and worked like hell to put Sen. Obama in the White House.
But that is history, it is one with yesterday’s snows, and unchangeable. In the end, all politicians will disappoint you. This is true even when it is your own family in office, so why should any of us expect President Obama to be any different? After a year of his leadership, it is becoming clear that he will disappoint us not in the aspirations of his policy, but in the leadership required to achieve it.
This puts the burden back on us if we are to achieve the agenda we expected from the 2008 election. It also means that we must recalibrate our views of what is really possible to achieve. That is a hard pill to swallow, but if we are to get anything done we have to deal with the real, not the ideal. We do not have the ideal, we have a large and frightened majority. We have a White House that views very small incremental progress as better than none. There is a grain of truth to that, but it is small comfort for those who clearly see the mountain of problems facing the nation.
There is no comfort in this post. There is no ray of redemption, there is merely the knowledge that we hired this particular president, we will be working with him for the next three years at least. Now that we know where he is going to disappoint us, we have to find the ways to deal with that as best we can. This all means more work for a few marginal wins. There is no getting around that and to think otherwise is to just set ourselves up to be crazed when it comes true.
This president is head and shoulders above what Sen. McCain would have been, it is just that there is nothing so frustrating and disappointing as near greatness. There is a chance President Obama will adjust and change and achieve the greatness we have all seen possible in him. However, that is his challenge and there is very little other than constantly calling for him to stand up and be great that we can do to help him.
So, what do we do? We take a deep breath, we get our individual and collective priorities straight one more time and we get back to the fight. This was designed so that the people could chose their representation and then let them do the work, but that is no longer working. If we want change, we will have to stay on top of our politicians at all times. It is not fair, it is no fun, it is often frustrating beyond belief, but as Dad used to say “You do not get to pick your challenges, only how you respond to them.”
The floor is yours.