19 June 2010

A Practical Progressive Assessment of the Obama Administration

It's been a while since my last post, and I apologize for the delay. The past month has been somewhat stressful; job change, personal issues, Celtics losing the championship in classic fourth quarter fashion to the Lakers. But I am back with renewed focus and an even stronger desire to force my opinion upon you and the world. So relax.

Recently I have been speaking (albeit aggressively and at high volume) with a certain conservative, Tea Party-supporting friend of mine who actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to politics. Hearing his constant and justifiable criticism of Obama's handling of everything from healthcare to the oil spill has pushed me to better define my own views.

I am not registered with either party, but consider the following facts: I voted for Obama.* I interned for Ted Kennedy. I was born and raised in and around Boston, the greatest city on earth. So it's safe to say I'm not going to run and join the Tea Party any time soon. My instinct is to believe that a strong, well-run government has greater potential to protect individual liberties than a weak one, or just leaving society up to the inevitable immorality of human nature. However, I also view government as a necessary evil; a system that, in a perfect world, would not need to exist. But it does, and should exist as an instrument of the people, not career politicians, elite bureaucrats or narrow special interests on either side of the aisle. In short, if I had to, I would call myself a practical progressive: someone who believes government shouldn't be the enemy and that reform is necessary to keep up with the pace of human ingenuity, but in the end will always side with reason.

*(NOTE: If you did too, don't let anyone give you retroactive crap for it. Some people forget how awful things were in November '08. Obama was a great candidate with an overdue message. If you didn't vote for Obama, you either voted for Palin, threw your vote away or didn't vote at all. Sweet.)

That being said, I'll admit I had high hopes for Obama. All of us who voted for him did, himself included. Even though the guy came to the table with the worst place setting for any president in recent memory. I mean, his first major act was to pass the most sweeping economic stimulus package since the Great Depression (one that was supported by every reasonable decision-making mind in the country and already in the works when he took office). He hasn't had it easy by any means, and since the country is still in one piece and arguably in better condition than when he got here, I have to approve of his overall performance. But the sad fact of the matter is that however effectively President Obama might be dealing with the economic crisis, which I feel still remains to be seen, he's not doing the best job of communicating it to the public.

In a time of crisis, Americans want our President to BE smart, calm, cool and collected. But we want to SEE emotion. People, myself included, are tired of the stoic, obviously teleprompted press conferences and speeches. Tired of the same old knuckle-pointing and vague rhetoric (Everyone can appreciate this mixtape of presidential bs put together by the Daily Show). Obama, the next great communicator, the Democrats' answer to Reagan, has seemingly failed to connect with ordinary Americans.

Taking on an enormous agenda and surrounding yourself with establishment politicians and advisors will make it difficult to shoot straight with the public. But come on, almost 60 days before a major speech on the oil spill and a meeting with BP brass? Obama is handling this situation TOO rationally and politically correct. He should have pulled a Teddy Roosevelt and come out swinging from the beginning, put together a coordinated response coupling US military resources with BP technology and barreled through all ideological opposition. Instead, he sat back to gauge the mood of the country, and reasonably the extent of the spill, when he should have acted. He's probably kicking himself now for not taking things over from the start, which I'm sure everyone advised him against doing at the time and wouldn't have overcome the limits of human technology. Regardless, the bottom line is that Obama, not BP, should have been running the show from the beginning.

But to be fair, I don't think anyone in office would have done things much differently thus far than Obama has (minus healthcare, which I think is philosophically right and has the potential to open up a vast new market and source of revenue...but could also end up bankrupting us). Despite rumblings of Obama's no-confidence vote within the Democratic Party, he actually seems to be following a pretty establishment-oriented line. But even if establishment ideas are sometimes good ones, he needs to better bridge the gap between the American public and his administration's policies (if he cares about reelection). He is obviously not afraid to assert his authority (see: Healthcare), he just needs to do so in areas all Americans can relate to: fixing the economy, creating jobs and saving the Gulf Coast.

I guess I wouldn't give Obama an A so far, but I certainly wouldn't give him an F either. The guy is smart, determined and well-intentioned, despite his lack of effective multi-tasking and communicative abilities. I know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But I would rather continue to support a President who wants what's best for the country when he has much more work to do than sit on the sidelines shouting and obstructing. All I ask is that he talk with, and not at, the American people.

Even FDR's critics couldn't deny his connection with the people. Ultimately, it was this spirit of unity through adversity, culminating with the attack on Pearl Harbor, that made it so easy for Americans to mobilize and turn the country into an industrial superpower as soon as we entered WWII. Obama needs to take a few pages out of both Roosevelt playbooks.