President Obama and those who voted for him could use a good marriage counselor.
Like many couples for whom the honeymoon is a fuzzy memory, the President and some who embraced him adoringly find that the relationship has become strained. Each saw in the other what they wanted to see and now wonder how it all changed, when in fact nothing really did.
Progressives have become increasingly bold in expressing disappointment over Obama’s midterm record, particularly the deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but they must not have been taking notes during the ’08 campaign. If there was a central theme – you could call it a “centrist theme” – it was this: “We are not a nation of blue states and red states, we are the United States of America.” Candidate Obama said it a thousand times, pledging, above all else, to reach across the aisle to find compromise.
What did Obama’s supporters see during the campaign? Young people saw a candidate who spoke their language and was handy with social media. Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities saw one of their own. Educated Americans from both parties as well as independents, frustrated by the dumbing-down and harsh rhetoric of politics, saw a bright, savvy communicator. Caroline Kennedy even declared that she saw her father, JFK.
Progressives saw in Obama a miracle worker who would wake us from the nightmare of the Bush years. They envisioned an immediate end to war, rapid rebuilding of social programs, and a quick escape from the economic recession.
Most unfortunate is that many who campaigned for Obama said they wanted a fighter, when it turns out what they really wanted was a rabble-rouser. Rage on the right need not be countered by equal rage from the left – or from the White House. President Obama’s measured approach to digging out from the avalanche of problems he inherited should have soothed his supporters instead of inciting their anger.
Upon his election in 2008, Obama declared: “While the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, ‘We are not enemies, but friends – though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.’ And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too.”
It took a remarkable coalition of Americans to elect Barack Obama, but it will require an even more remarkable coalition in government to fix America’s problems.
During the last two years many Republicans in Congress have seemed not to share the goal of building bridges, and since the elections last month have become even more brazen in challenging virtually all bipartisan proposals. Meanwhile, from some in his own party, the president now hears whispers of a primary challenge in 2012, or a third-party candidate emerging on the left.
Against this background, Obama said the other day: “This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people.”
Given the makeup of the new Congress, even painful compromise soon will be even more difficult to achieve, while policy purity will be impossible.
Those who elected Obama are fortunate to have a president capable of dealing with that, whether they recognized it during the courtship or not.
©2010 Peter Funt. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. newspaper syndicate. For info call Cari Dawson Bartley at 800 696 7561 or e-mail Cari@cagle.com.