Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obama’s Mosque Stance Reveals President We Never Had


“We must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. … But let me be clear – as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship, and a community center, on private property, in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.

“This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and that they will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of the founders must endure.”

I can’t begin to tell you how amazingly gratifying it was to hear those words come from the mouth of an American President. No hesitation, no hedging. No equivocation, no mealy-mouthed meandering. It could have been any number of statements, but it became a simple, but eloquent reminder to those too willing to ignore history, and overlook the pitfalls of unreasoning fear, that we are Americans, in America, and we should be doing things differently than the rest of the world.

But at the same time, listening to that speech – a speech that is going to cost him a good deal of support from so-called Middle America, at a time neither he nor the Democrats can afford that loss – I realized that I may have been very wrong about the person who’s been my President for the last year and change. While I maintain that Barack Obama is still fully committed to doing the right things for America, I think I may have overestimated where his priorities lay.

I think he might be, rather than the next great Progressive hope, another left of center functionary who needs to be led to the promised land.

You see, before Obama took that public stance on the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, I maintained (hopeless optimist I) that Obama wasn’t making with the promised – or implied – progressive promises because he was being far too cautious. I thought that he’d taken the lessons of Bill Clinton’s first four years in office too much to heart, and was avoiding a replay of 1994.

Remember 1994? I sure do. After four years of Bush I’s listless and seemingly-impotent little-c conservatism, Bill Clinton came into office swinging both progressive fists, with big talk and bigger plans. His reward for laying those plans out on the table was a near-total repudiation of national health care, the loss of the House to the Republicans, and the subsequent years in which the likes of Newt Gingrich ate out on calling Clinton the “enemy of all normal Americans.”

(More on Newt Gingrich’s hypocrisy at the time can be found at this Esquire article, here, lest you want to see the Republicans take the White House in 2012.)

That Bill Clinton was able to still be an effective President – though clearly not accomplishing everything he’d intended – speaks more of his ability to compromise when possible, dodge when not, and slide for home whenever he could, even if his team didn’t have the ball at the moment. The end result was that, in spite of failing to enact a Progressive Presidency, and overseeing the legislation of things that gave many Progressives pause (like NAFTA), Clinton legacy is still championed by many Progressives as something of a golden age.

If nothing else, they can point out that a “tax and spend” President gave America a surplus, while his “conservative” successor, Bush II, left us deep in the hole.

But it would appear that Obama is not eager for a replay of 1994. The battle for Health Care Reform – such as it is – was tough enough without adding the deadly words “single payer” into the mix. And even though it was a highly-compromised thing that has clearly not been the panacea that sane America’s been hoping for, it is still seen as a terrible plague upon the land by the Obama’s many detractors. The question is how many of them are crucial swing voters who cast a ballot for Obama in 2008, but will abandon his party at the polls in 2010, leading to another Republican takeover of the House, and possibly the Senate.

Seen in that light, could be perfectly understandable why I could have thought Obama might not be anywhere as openly Progressive as we’d like him to be. He might have been operating under the belief that, even though he’d thrown us that one, big bone – such as it is – and done a lot of quiet good, he was still going to play middle of the road enough to make sure his party wasn’t punished too badly in the upcoming elections by either side.

Maybe – oh maybe – I hoped, he was of the belief that, once 2010 came and went, and he still held a majority in both Houses, he could pull out the cards he didn’t play in the first two years and make good on that Hope and Change thing. The next referendum wouldn’t be until 2012, and then it’d be on both his party and his Administration, so what would he have to lose? Free ponies for everyone!

Well, after hearing that speech about the Ground Zero Mosque, I have to take a deep breath and admit I was fooled. Obama isn’t being cautious. This is just the way he is, and we are not going to get a lot of Progressive hope and change out of him. He is still a damn sight better than W, or McCain, on a lot of key issues, but on others, we may have been hoping for a change that did not come.

Who is the President? He's a smart man whose heart is in the right place, but whose head isn't where we need it to be. He's a caretaker who is more interested in making sure the economy-makers are happy than securing us a better future free from some of the big money interests. He will stand up for our rights (usually) but deny us ones that are inconvenient to the powers that be. And while we can count on him to bring home certain slices of partisan bacon, we're not going to get a lot of our progressive ponies out of the stable in his Administration.

So there was me, up until I heard that speech - running around the filthy stable that hasn’t been cleaned in 1000 years, shoveling like mad to find the pony that wasn't there. Maybe I should have re-read what I wrote some time ago and saved myself the bother of disappointment?

To wit:

Who is going to confront Obama about the bad decisions he’s made so far and try to get him to reverse them, or at least do a better job of explaining why he made them.

Who is going to effectively make noise to make those mistakes visible, and explain why they’re wrong in a way that makes the right people listen, and makes everyone who gives a damn act on them.

Who is going to use their influence to influence others to put pressure on the folks up at the top to get them to change their ways.

It looks like the answer is “us.” Now more than ever. Never more than now.


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