Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Obama Makes a Date for 2012

On Monday, President Barack Obama made an official announcement that he is running for a second term. This puts to rest some online chatter that Obama might not run, allowing Hillary Clinton an opportunity to run again and reinvigorate the party base of progressives who have been grumbling about his presidency being far too moderate and conciliatory towards the Republicans.

Yes, I share some of those feelings of disappointment, but I don't blame President Obama, actually. He was dealt a bad hand and is making the best of it. Often, we seem to forget the man who came to national prominence after his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He spoke of there not being a white America or a black America, not the red states versus the blue states, but a UNITED States of America. I believe that he feels that his calling to run for the presidency is that he was the best hope America had for ending the ridiculous culture wars and divisiveness of the past 16 years. He wants to restore the presidency back to how it was viewed by Americans when George Herbert Walker Bush was president. When people disagreed with the elder Bush, it was on political issues, not personal attacks. Americans--Republican, Democratic, and Independent--actually respected the elder President Bush, even if they disagreed (and the elder Bush had Democratic members of Congress who supported some of his policies while some Republicans disagreed).

How did America become this hyper-partisan place? Well, my theory is that conservatives absolutely hated Bill Clinton and couldn't believe that a "draft-dodging, pot-smoking, adulterer" could defeat a gracious, patrician president. From Day One of Clinton's administration, conservatives made war on him with a vow to bring down his presidency by any means necessary. Millions of dollars were spent digging through his personal life hoping to find the magic bullet that would destroy his presidency or his credibility. The Clintons were subjected to some of the ugliest rumours and innuendos. Some of these included drug running, rape, and even murder (some conservatives still believe that Hillary killed Vince Foster). No conspiracy was too outrageous for the right wing, which gave birth to muckrakers like Matt Drudge who egged them on.

Because Clinton gave his enemies ammunition with his inability to "keep it in his pants", our country went through the trauma of a sensational sex scandal and the first impeachment trial of a president since President Andrew Johnson (President Nixon had resigned rather than put the country through a full impeachment trial). Clinton's personal sleaze might not have done his presidency in, but it doomed his Vice President, who did not seem to know how to use Clinton on the campaign trail and preferred that his boss just stay away entirely, which turned out to be a colossal mistake.

The 2000 election showed exactly how divided the American populace had become, as this election came right down to the wire. Only half a million votes nationwide separated the popular vote winner from the loser. However, for the fourth time in American history, due to the quirk in our electoral process, the loser of the popular vote actually became president because of the electoral college vote (even though the Florida vote is highly dubious, as I don't believe that Bush legitimately won Florida). This outcome was bad for the country, because many liberals refused to recognize Bush as the legitimate president. Had the reverse happened, you can bet that conservatives would not have let the issue go either, and Gore would have had the same problem of legitimacy. What made the divisiveness even worse is that Bush decided to run to the far right, after campaigning as a "compassionate conservative" who had worked well with the Democratic legislature in Texas while he was governor. As president, though, he basically said "Fuck you!" to everyone who voted against him (which was the majority of the popular vote) and became president to his rabid base. He had the most ideological extremist presidency our country has ever seen. While both Reagan and Bush's father knew well enough to keep the neo-conservative fantastical schemes securely locked in the basement, Baby Bush unlocked the door and allowed them free reign all over his domestic and foreign policies.

Had Baby Bush been gracious like his father and reached out more to those Americans who had voted for his opponent, being the president of ALL Americans, it would have went a long way. But, he was petty and there was a book published that perfectly described him: "Sore Winner." Bush did a lot to further the divide between progressives and regressives (liberals versus conservatives). His policies were geared towards his wealthy backers and he squandered the surplus, while launching two wars on borrowed money from Chinese bankers. He became the first leader in human history to launch a war and give citizens a tax cut (the standard operating procedures for leaders throughout history was to raise taxes to fund the wars that the leaders get their people to fight or support). The conservative base loved Bush and thought he was the greatest president ever, and even claimed that God had made him president.

Then everything came crashing down when Hurricane Katrina turned New Orleans into a lake in 2005. Bush's popularity sank below the 50% approval mark and he never recovered, as more bad news from all quarters kept coming in: government incompetence, Wall Street collapse, increased deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even some of his most vocal supporters started to question his decisions, and some even absurdly claim that Bush was not a "true conservative." In their hearts and minds, they believe that Bush was really a closet liberal, which is why his presidency was such a disaster. Don't make me laugh! Speaking as a liberal, I can assure any doubters that there was nothing remotely liberal about Bush's policies. He was an ideological conservative who allowed the neo-conservatives to have free reign in his policies, which is why they proved to be a complete disaster for the country.

For 2008, one of the big reasons why I supported Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Clinton was because I had believed that Obama would be better than Clinton to end the divisiveness in American domestic politics. Conservatives seemed to like him, even as they focused their hatred on Hillary Clinton during the primaries. Clinton carried too much baggage, though to be fair, a lot of that had to do with the fanaticism of Clinton-haters on the right. When supporting a candidate, I don't think most voters care about the voting record. The grueling two-year presidential campaign is actually a gauntlet which allows the press and the American public to see how candidates handle the inevitable gaffes and controversies that get stirred up. How a candidate handles himself or herself and the issues that come up matters, because this gives us a look at how they might handle real-world issues that actually will present itself during the presidency.

Obama's 2008 campaign was quite simply the most brilliant campaign for president that our country had ever seen. It was a cool and clean operation. They were smart and had the great foresight to focus on every vote, including the caucuses, where Obama got many of his delegates which made it virtually impossible for Clinton to surpass him, even if she won primaries in delegate rich states like California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. At campaign rallies across the country, tens of thousands of people attended to see this history in the making. The more popular he became, the more the right began to scoff at his celebrity status, but it was just jealousy, as evidenced by the Palin rallies in the fall, meant to compete with Obama's rallies.

Since becoming president, Obama has been subjected to many of the same absurdities that the right lobbed at the Clintons. However, unlike Bill Clinton, Obama seems to have a personal discipline that keeps him from giving ammunition to his enemies. Instead, they have to invent controversies, such as the ongoing "birth certificate nonsense" and the idea that Obama's worldview was shaped by his Kenyan father and grandfather or from having lived in Kenya. Its amazing that people believe this, because Obama only met his father twice in his life, and both times were too brief for a small boy. Barack Obama, Sr. was a polygamist who married and impregnated a naive young white girl in Hawaii and then abandoned when he was accepted to Harvard. How can an absent father (and his father back in Kenya) be a positive influence on a young boy, who likely experiences disappointment that his father didn't seem to care if he existed or not?

If Obama was influenced by anything, its a multicultural worldview, as his mother had married an Indonesian man while Obama was a young boy. They lived in Indonesia for awhile, before Obama returned to Hawaii to attend junior and senior high school. Obama lived with his white grandparents on an island populated by Asians and Hawaiian natives. Because Obama is half white and half black, I felt since 2004 when I first learned about him (in an article on Truthout.com well before he won the Democratic primary in Illinois for the open Senate seat), that he had the best chance of becoming our first black president because his connection to white America was part of him. Being a child of two races does have a psychological effect on the person growing up, because you don't view the world through a strict "black and white" filter. You actually look at the best in each and embrace them both. For this reason, I believe that is why Obama is a natural to be the uniter-in-chief. In his heart, he really wants America to end this ridiculous culture war that keeps conservatives suspicious of liberals and making all kinds of unfounded, outrageous accusations of socialism, communism, Islamism, or whatever boogeyman suits their fancy.

People who rabidly repeat lies they've heard on Fox or other rightwing propaganda outfits are perpetuating the culture wars. What is it about Obama that sets them off? So far, our country has averted disaster and the economy does seem to be heading in the right direction. Its amazing that so many people really had such inhumanely high hopes in Obama that they expected him to walk on water, like he was the second coming of the Messiah. Its morally wrong to place super high expectations on a person who is merely human, like all of us. Perhaps its the result of Americans watching too many Morgan Freeman movies, where he often plays the black saviour. This belief that the black man will clean up our mess and save us from disaster is every bit as racist as the ones denying his citizenship or the ugly signs showing him as the Joker in whiteface. Palin loves to taunt her audience with the line, "How's that hopey, changey thingy workin' out for ya?" The cynicism of the Bush era policies has continued into the Obama era, as rightwing forces have made it a goal to bring down the Obama administration in the hopes that he will be another Jimmy Carter. Well, given the choice between the cynicism offered by the right and the hope offered by Obama, I much prefer hope over cynicism. Hope can move mountains and improve lives. Cynicism does nothing to build a better future. Its designed to corrode trust and cooperation.

I've thought a lot lately that four years is simply not enough time for a president to accomplish much. It takes awhile to change a culture and the presidency does have the power to inspire a change in people. Often, people aren't aware enough to pick up on the subtle changes until it appears later on. In my understanding of numerology, we all live in nine year cycles in which the issues we focus on in our personal year one will eventually manifest in year eight and nine. This idea of planting seeds that will sprout later is a powerful one worth paying attention to. I believe that Obama is an incredibly self-aware, self-disciplined person who understands this. You can see his cool, detached demeanor that he can stay pretty calm no matter what comes his way. In his first few years, he has planted the seeds of cooperation, of reconciliation, and of reaching out to the other side. It doesn't matter that the other side is trying to demonize him at every turn and rile up the base with ugly lies. He is planting seeds that will later come to fruition, likely by the end of his term, if he's given a full eight years to make his impact on American culture and society.

By contrast, when Bush came into office, he was not gracious to the winner of the popular vote and the majority of Americans who voted against him. Bush decided that he would do everything he could to reverse every Clinton policy. He made enemies out of everyone who didn't vote for him and as we can see from his tenure, everything came crashing down. He had planted seeds of cynicism, discord, and suspicion of everyone who did not support him. When the trials came, he could not count on the support of the people he dismissed early on in his presidency. All he had left was his base, which was around 30% of the total population of our country. No surprise that his approval ratings rarely got above 40% in the last three years of his presidency.

So, despite some of my disappointment that Obama has not become the FDR or JFK of my dreams, his campaign can still count on me to support his campaign in 2012. He deserves a second term to finish the job that we elected him to do in 2008: to drain the swamp of negative hyper-partisan cultural wars; to get our economy back on track; to get government competent again through the appointment of qualified people. In his second term, I hope that he will also focus on the racial divide. As the first black president of the United States, I'm surprised that he hasn't held a national forum on race relations. The beer summit between the black professor and white police officer doesn't count. Its a lovely gesture, but doesn't go far enough. He has to do more, though I suspect that he's been too busy with the mess Bush left behind that he has been unable to focus on some of his dream policy initiatives or dialogue building.

It bothers me when I hear liberals and progressives say that he lost their vote or they will support a third party candidate. This is egotism at its worst. There are 300 million Americans and the president has to be president to everyone of us. We're not always going to agree. When we have disagreements with our family or friends, do we shun them? No, we support them no matter what. That's what being a true friend or being loyal to family means. Besides that, who out there looks presidential at the moment? Obama still inspires us to be our best selves, to be bigger than our petty grievances. The Republicans flirting with running are all divisive and petty. If Obama has accomplished little of what he had hoped and only inspired us to be bigger than we are, to be the builders of a new society, then his presidency will still be a success because inspiration is the true power of the universe. Its the reason why JFK is still admired to this day while GWB will be ranked among the worst. History remembers those who tried to build a better world, not those who destroyed what was good.

Obama deserves a second term. We owe it to future generations to keep hope alive. Don't blame the president because he's not moving fast enough. He had inherited the worst set of circumstances of any president since FDR, while his predecessor had the benefit of Clinton's peace and prosperity. I had told some conservatives that I believe a president's legacy should be judged by one criteria more than any other factor: how did America look when they left office versus how it looked when they took office? Bush destroyed all that was good after the Clinton years and I think after Obama leaves office having completed two terms, America will look a lot better in 2017 than it did in 2009. Yes, I'm in. Count me in. Yes we can!

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