Now, I’m no American. I’m apparently pretty close (I’m Canadian) but honestly, a lot of the stuff that goes on south of the border mystifies me. One thing we could all get behind here in Canada was that Barack Obama wasn’t white, was the underdog, and wasn’t George W. Bush. He seemed different. He seemed to believe in change. He seemed to want to run Washington differently. He seemed… fresh, unlike the string of tired politicians and has-beens both the Republicans and Democrats have been dragging up from the bottom of the barrel lately.
And then he won. It was hard not to get caught up in the groundswell of optimism. It was hard to not feel the great thrill of the victory, the inauguration, the speeches. I don’t usually get swept away with the crowds of hero-worshippers, but even I felt it. It was an almost magical time.
Reality always gets in the way though. There has been a wave of disappointment at Mr Obama’s handling of… well, almost anything. As a liberal, I’m disappointed; as a realist I’m not really surprised.
Let me sketch out a few reasons I’m disappointed in particular and liberals are disappointed in general.
We wanted something to wash the taste of George W. Bush out of our mouth. Instead we got George W. Bush 2.0.
Civil liberties. Warrantless wiretaps. Surveillance on citizens. Guantanamo Bay. The slow erosion of the right to privacy. These are some of the reasons we disliked Mr Bush. (Quite apart from his general buffoon-like public appearance.) And we came into Mr Obama’s administration thinking that was all going to change.
Of course, it didn’t change. Guantanamo Bay is still open. Civil liberties are still being pissed upon. The right to privacy is denied and privacy itself is disappearing. Warrantless wiretaps are still happening.
And Mr Obama is using the same legal language, the same arguments to continue these policies. We have a strange continuity between administrations that gives lie to the chant of “change”. There’s no change. It’s business as usual. Nero is gone, but the human torches are still burning.
We wanted wars to end. Instead we got two wars that aren’t ending.
The Iraq war was a huge, awful blemish on the already-soiled presidency of Mr Bush. No one really knows why the war was fought. No one really understands the motivations of Mr Bush or those people controlling him. All we know is that many bald-faced lies were told to start the war. A national tragedy was exploited to start the war. Sons, daughters, parents, grandparents: People of all stripes died in the way. And for what reason? No one knows. We can only guess.
It sounds like something out of 1984. It really does. We have always been at war with Iraq; and for a long time it seemed like we always were going to be at war with Iraq. And we just wanted it to end. I can’t speak for Americans, but from what I’ve read and from what I can imagine there was a nationally-felt sense of fatigue. The war that would not end needed to end, and soon.
Mr Obama promised that the war would be over. He said he would withdraw troops from Iraq. Yet here we are, and the war hasn’t ended. The troops are still there.
Not only that, but Mr Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan! So instead of one war, there are two wars, neither of which seems likely to end soon.
We wanted fiscal discipline. Instead we got a radical increase in spending.
The jury is still largely out on whether stimulus helps or hinders an economy. Yet here we are spending (literally) trillions of dollars on stimulus, which has to be the most incredibly inefficient way to get an economy going every invented.
Add to that a badly-timed health care plan, and suddenly Mr Bush’s spendthrift ways seem again like a pattern Mr Obama is continuing. Instead of change, instead of a move towards austerity and fiscal constraint, we have a runaway train of spending that becomes more difficult to stop with every passing budget. (Pardon the pun.)
Our children will have to pay for our spending. Maybe their children’s children as well. They’re going to pay with coin or with collapse, but they will pay.
We should be looking at austerity measures Germany is so fond of. We should be adopting a posture of shoring up the fundamentals of the economy instead of plugging every hole in the dam with cash. We run the very real risk of developing an economy so addicted to the feedback loop of federal and state money that it can’t develop an innovate on its own (and I say this as a Canadian whose economy has been like this for decades; we a very, very low comparative productivity rate in Canada and I have a sneaking suspicion this might be way).
We should be adopting that posture of repayment long before reaching crises like Greece and Spain have been seeing. I don’t think the US will change until things become unbearably bad, but a visionary leader who wants change should probably be able to see at least that far ahead and be able to sell austerity to a waiting nation.
We wanted reform with teeth. Instead we got compromise and pandering.
I’m not going to say the Republicans are without fault here. They almost never are. This time around Republicans have taken a turn for the crazy, with birthers, and tea partiers, and Sarah Palin, and all sorts of crazy leaking out from under the floorboards. But the one thing that’s really characterized the Republicans during this administration is no willingness at all to play nice. No bipartisanship whatsoever. They oppose everything Mr Obama does, and this makes is hard to do things. So we need to compromise.
Good government is not made of compromise, just like good products are not designed by committee. There is no bravery in compromise, no radical break with the past in compromise, there is no glory in compromise. What compromise does have, though, is less risk.
You know, I’m going to say that it’s better to go big and fail than to go middle-of-the-road and succeed. It’s better to try to do the right thing than try to do the popular thing, or the easy thing, or the politically expedient thing.
You’re always going to have a hard congress to deal with. But that doesn’t mean you get to compromise on everything. You don’t get to give the farmhouse away but keep the silos.
We got more of the same.
Mr Obama promised not to be more of the same. Yet here he is, more of the same.
This is horrible in two different ways. First of all, he’s made a liar out of himself.
But to add insult to injury, with that he’s also proven himself to be every bit the “politics as usual” politician, who will say anything, promise anything, to get into power. And then when in power try desperately to hold onto it.
That’s why I’m deeply disappointed in Mr Obama. Not because he didn’t live up to the hype and the euphoria, but that he didn’t even try.