Tuesday, November 03, 2009


A Promise Unfulfilled

One year after the exuberant optimism that accompanied Barack Obama's historic election, the nation's mood is considerably different.

Conservatives and Republicans are both furious and disappointed that the admittedly liberal senator elected last year has hardly proven to be an individual with whom they can find much ballyhooed "common ground." But it isn't a big surprise that the opposition will just dismiss the efforts of the party in power. It's the broad middle of the spectrum, however, that has the greatest reason to be disappointed in Obama's first year. The broad middle is willing to be patient on the big issues -- the economy, war, Guantanamo, terrorism, etc. Obama might get an "incomplete" in those areas, but that's fine. Solving all these big issues isn't going to be done overnight. However, it is in Obama's biggest promise that he has, sadly, proven to be a failure -- that of bringing a change of tone to Washington.

Sure, bipartisanship is a two-way street. The White House can make a reasonable claim that congressional Republicans haven't been eager to work with Obama on big issues. Only three GOP senators signed onto the economic stimulus package earlier this year. One of those -- Arlen Specter -- has since become a Democrat. It's beginning to look like the health care legislation -- if it ever gets out of the Senate -- will not have a single Republican on board. So, Obama can say that he tried to extend a hand, but was rebuffed. And he certainly didn't ask for the Tea Party movement to turn him into the living embodiment of socialism.

However, responsiblity for much of the increased tension and rancor that still exists in Washington, DC, has to be laid at the feet of the administration -- and the president himself. Some of the tension was created by accident: Obama's calling Henry Louis Gates' arrest by Cambridge Police Officer James Crowley "stupid" did short-term damage to Obama's "post-racial" brand. But that was, if anything, a slip of the tongue at the end of a lengthy press conference.

But it's Obama's overt partisanship that has been most distressing. The White House early on decided to start picking fights with those opposing its plans. Rush Limbaugh went after the administration with full guns blazing so taking him on might have been expected -- even though declaring him the Republican Party's "leader" might have been laying it on thick. But then, Fox News? The Chamber of Commerce? The insurance industry as a whole? And with all the big issues on its plate, how is it that the White House still manages to plunge itself into obscure congressional special elections in upstate New York? Or pulls out all the stops to get one governor re-elected?

During the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt relished identifying and castigating political foes. Wealthy himself, he didn't might mixing it up with what he saw as the members of a wealthy privileged class trying to prevent him from establishing a New Deal. But Roosevelt wasn't elected on a rhetorical platform of overcoming political and ideological differences. Obama was.

Instead, in a city where one doesn't have to work too hard to produce enemies, Obama and Co. seem almost eager to find more. One year ago, the nation elected a seeming agent of reconciliation -- not just across racial lines, but ideological and political ones as well Perhaps the nation was a bit naive to believe that all partisanship would suddenly come to an end.

But the president could and should have done more to work to that goal and help fulfill the public's belief in him. With three years to go before his re-election, Obama still has much time bring about the policy changes that he promised.

Alas, it's already too late to fulfill the change in atmosphere.

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