Disappointment in Obama Disappointment

Posted on October 3rd, by matt_schiavenza in US Politics. 4 comments

Reading this Guardian piece about how Jon Stewart has turned on the Obama administration has left me disappointed- in Stewart. The Daily Show host is quoted as saying that Obama ran as a visionary but has led as a functionary, with the implication that this is a bad thing.

I realize that Stewart and a lot of other liberals expected more radical progress from this administration, but let’s consider the situation that Obama found himself in as he assumed office: ¬†an economy in complete ruin. Two bad wars. The international reputation of the US in the toilet. Not exactly a walk in the park!

(Incidentally, my favorite headline from the Obama election victory was from the Onion, natch: ‘Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job‘)

Given his challenges upon assuming office and given the utterly recalcitrant Republican minority in Congress which has had no agenda other than to stymie him, I’d have to say Obama has done very well. On top of his efforts to stave off further economic recession and to wind down the wars, Obama accomplished something that every Democratic president since FDR has sought but not achieved: major health care reform.

The issue here is that a lot of Obama supporters felt that his inspiring rhetoric from the campaign should have guided his performance in office. What they forget is that for all of his charisma and unusual personal history, Obama still has to do battle with the normal checks and balances of the US political system. There are simply limits to what he could possibly accomplish, and while ‘hope’ is a nice concept it isn’t exactly a viable governing philosophy.

So as for Stewart’s comment about the president being a functionary rather than a visionary, my response is: well, good! President Bush was certainly a visionary- that no one could deny. But his vision was to remake the entire Middle East via a preventive invasion of Iraq based on a series of cynical, false assumptions that all turned out badly. His vision was that the United States was divinely ordained to spread a wave of democracy and so-called freedom to all the oppressed people in the world. The Bush presidency, people seem to be forgetting, ended in disaster. If Bush was a visionary, then I’d say the United States has had more than enough visionaries for awhile.

I won’t go far as to blame wobbly liberals for the upcoming electoral massacre the Democrats face in a month. Unemployment this high simply spells doom for the party in government, and even ultimately popular leaders such as Clinton and Reagan each ‘flunked’ their first mid-terms.

But I think Obama supporters simply need to readjust their expectations and consider his performance in the proper context. When everyone was dancing in the street two Novembers ago on election night, there was a feeling that with Obama’s election all of our problems would soon go away. Nobody- visionary or not- could possibly meet those expectations.

4 Responses to “Disappointment in Obama Disappointment”

  1. me says:

    That said, I had a bit more hope for his administration not invoking the State Secrets doctrine to support the unlimited right to assassinate anyone anywhere without due process quite so often.

  2. Sheri Esguerra says:

    I was one that danced in the streets (of Seattle) on the night Obama was elected. I am still a supporter. While he has made mistakes and there have been dissappointments, such as the delay in adequate outrage over and action on the BP oil disaster, overall his performance has been impressive. I especially appreciate how he redeemed our relations around the world. One thing I think has been missing is better PR from his team really helping the public understand the deliverables. Anyone trying to speak on his behalf seem to be in his shadow. No one hears the message if it doesnt come from him directly. Also, I know that I have an ingrained fear of being fervently in favor of a public figure in such a powerful position. It seems dangerous. So I remain a quiet supporter and I suspect I am not alone. So I predict an election night surprise with fewer seats lost to Republicans than expected.

  3. Dan says:

    You are not being fair here. Obama ran on all sorts of grandiose promises, telling us to hope. Instead, other than the half-assed health care reform, he’s barely different from Bush on style or substance. When I was out there pushing for Hillary, insisting that she would actually be able to accomplish something, I was getting criticized by all comers for my lack of faith and lack of hope. Now that reality hits, you say we should have been expecting it all along. I call that revisionism.

    We are still in Iraq. We are still in Afghanistan. Our economy is in a shambles and Guantanamo is still going strong. The world hates us more than during the Bush era. The government is at least (probably more) intrusive with respect to our private and internet lives and you are telling us to take solace in health care.

    Get real.

    When we all voted Bush out, the media called it change and hope. Now they are calling our wanting something new anger.

  4. matt_schiavenza says:

    Your assertion that the world hates us more than under Bush is demonstrably false. Every single poll I’ve ever seen on this subject- every single last one- states that the impression of the US in almost every country (Israel excepted) has improved since the election of Obama.

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