Disappointment in Obama Disappointment
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.