Obama Promised Hope And Change, But Preserving The Status Quo Is All He Can Do

by | Aug 7, 2011

President Obama is an enigma. People on the right call him a socialist; yet, his critics on the left can’t believe how much ground he’s given on fundamental liberal issues.

One critic on the left, Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University, author and political consultant, laid out a strong argument against Obama in today’s Sunday Review section of The New York Times. His main thesis looks harshly at Obama’s Achilles’ heel, namely, his desire to be liked by all sides.

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.

I can’t help but think what a difference Hillary would have made. I wasn’t for her at the time, nor was I for Obama, but in hindsight it’s easy to see how the hope Obama offered could only be realized through bulldog politics of old. The Clintons know how to work within those confines, while Obama does not.

So, where does the country go from here? Will there be a Democratic primary challenger? Will a third party candidate emerge to speak for the millions of disenfranchised Americans who have no national voice? That would be great, but said leftist will need close to a billion dollars in campaign funds to have even an outside chance of winning. All of which means the Republican contender will once again have a very good chance of being elected.

Westen rightly points to earlier times in our nation’s history when strong Presidents did rise to meet immense challenges.

In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today. He swore to keep the people who had caused the crisis out of the halls of power, and he made good on that promise. In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he thundered, “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Like his younger cousin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, busted up monopolies and forwarded a Progressive agenda. It’s important to note that the Roosevelt family is as blue blood as American blood gets. So, why would members of the American aristocracy advocate for the people? Maybe because it was the right thing to do, more likely because it was the right thing to do for the monied class.

Right now, the wealth of the richest 400 Americans is equal to the holdings of the poorest 150 million Americans. No private Army, nor public Army for that matter, can hold back that kind of mob, should the disenfranchised turn on the rich. To keep the peace in a civil society–especially in a society with lofty ideas about itself–income disparity of this nature can not be tolerated.

People on the right tend to get upset when their opponents skillfully expose the long standing class war in this country. They say things like, “What class war?” Which is an insult to anyone with a working knowledge of American history. Class divisions and income inequality are as American as apple pie. As is resistance to these unprincipled ways.

Strangely enough, the rise of the Tea Party on the extreme right is a populist, anti-elite movement. So, the Tea Partiers have half the equation right, even while hopelessly misunderstanding the rest. The nation’s problem, as Westen points out, “isn’t tax-and-spend liberalism or the deficit — a deficit that didn’t exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.” The problem is the game is fixed, and until “we the people” intervene in a massive bi-partisan rejection of the status quo, the change Obama promised won’t be realized during his term, or beyond.