President Obama: a 3-Way Appraisal
When I first launched The New Moderate three years ago, it was simply a collection of three-way debates on the issues. First we’d hear from Righty, our hidebound conservative, followed by his “progressive” nemesis Lefty. Finally The New Moderate would weigh in with a supremely sensible opinion that could also be surprisingly impassioned (and not always middle-of-the-road).
I’ve resurrected that three-way format for this week’s column, because I think it’s time our current president sat for his New Moderate portrait.
Righty: What is there to say about this unmitigated disaster of a president? Just pull up a chair and I’ll say plenty. First, I can’t think of a president with a shadier past: uncertain birthplace, Muslim upbringing, collegiate Marxism, cozy alliances with known terrorists and prominent black racists, early career as a “community organizer,” beholden to evil lefty billionaire George Soros and his nefarious scheme for world domination. Obama was the “Chosen One,” all right: mysteriously groomed for the presidency before he had even been elected senator, given a free pass by the liberal mainstream press and catapulted to office amid a flurry of mindless huzzahs and obsequious tributes. It couldn’t have been because he’s “black,” could it? (I put “black” in quotation marks because everyone seems to overlook the fact that Obama is actually biracial, including Obama himself.) I don’t know which hallmark of Obama’s presidency deserves more opprobrium: his socialist agenda or his pathetic indecisiveness and flip-flopping. He’s a radical in moderate’s clothing… a driven ideologue who looks forward to a socialist America with a nonwhite majority and Muslim muezzins calling from the minarets of mosques in cities across the country. When it comes to fighting terrorism, he’s an appeaser and our enemies know it. Every loyal, godfearing American must resolve to make him go down in flames as a one-term failure.
Lefty: I have one question about your reprehensible Obamaphobic tirade, Righty: It couldn’t have been because he’s black, could it? You racist right-wing fanatics are driving us to the brink of civil war… based on your insane (that’s right, I’ll say it again: insane) assumptions about Obama’s background and motives. When I watch you tea-baggers in action, as your warped ideas feed on each other and spread like a sinister virus, I truly fear for the future of our country. I’ll say this about Obama: he may not be perfect (can you think of a single president who was?), but he represents the best and noblest traditions of American liberalism: tolerance, fairness, idealism, activism and concern for the less fortunate. During his brief presidency he’s already saved the capitalist system from self-destruction (and you dare call him a socialist?), made healthcare reform a reality, and reversed the seemingly irreparable damage that the infamous Dubya had done to our international stature. Obama has shown a willingness to open dialogues with our enemies (how else are we going to persuade them?) and demonstrated grace, intelligence and class in everything he’s done. Granted, he’s too cozy with Wall Street honchos and moneyed lobbyists, and he hasn’t revolutionized our political system the way we had hoped. He needs to create public-sector jobs and put more muscle behind entitlements for blacks, gays and other oppressed minorities. But I have faith that Obama will emerge as the greatest and most progressive president since FDR.
The New Moderate:
Obama is an enigma: a progressive with a moderate temperament, a highly intelligent man who can’t seem to put his finger on America’s pulse, a likable man without the common touch, an inspiring and engaging speaker who’s been strangely ineffective at rallying the troops.
If he’s a socialist, as Righty and his friends would have us believe, why would he have spent nearly a trillion dollars bailing out the crippled potentates of American capitalism? If he’s weak on advancing the cause of minorities, as Lefty suggests, why would he have sued Arizona to nullify its new illegal immigration law?
Given his background, affiliations and aspirations, it’s hard to characterize Obama as a moderate. But he thinks like a moderate, and he’s taken grief from both sides in the best moderate tradition. I give him credit for aspiring to be everyone’s president — a difficult task in the best of times, and nearly impossible when the nation is polarized into mutually hostile camps. Minorities are disappointed that Obama hasn’t been more partial to their special interests. (Good for him!) Tea Partiers are livid about the taxpayer money he’s spent trying to lift us out of the hole that Wall Street dug for all of us. (More power to him!) When you’re everyone’s president, you can’t cater to any one group.
I’m disappointed that Obama hasn’t been a more transformational president — not in the sense of driving us toward a progressive vision of America, but in the sense of steering us away from our deeply entrenched system of big-money interests and government-by-lobby. I thought he’d be the man to restore ownership of our government to the people. I don’t know who’s pulling his strings (Soros? Wall Street? The military?), but he needs to break free from the ruling elites and assert himself if he wants to leave a distinguished legacy.
It might be that Obama was propelled to the presidency before his time. He could have used a couple of terms in the senate, learned how Washington works, honed his ability to schmooze and twist arms in the manner of Lyndon Johnson. He needs to get along with the obstinate Republican opposition — without either surrendering his principles or turning a deaf ear to their complaints. If anyone can learn on the job, Obama can. But the American presidency really shouldn’t be a learn-as-you-go proposition.
I worry about the burning, visceral, irrational hatred heaped on Obama from the Right. I even worry about his physical safety as the extremist rhetoric escalates to a bloodcurdling roar. In fact, I wouldn’t wish the presidency on my worst enemy during these godawful years. But Obama clearly wanted the job, and he’s cool enough to shrug off the assaults with his customary grace under pressure. What remains to be seen is whether Obama — or anyone — can pull this country out of its great dismal swamp and onto higher ground.
Summary: Obama is an embattled but gifted statesman who needs to discover and leverage his gifts ASAP.