Friday, September 7, 2012

Barack, Stop Talking and Fight

I don't know that I've ever written about politics on this blog. It's definitely not my general interest.  I find American politics by and large debilitating, and I find when you start talking about it it only makes people crazy.

But I was frustrated with what I watched last night, and I want to rant and rave a bit.  I'm going to be pretty equal opportunity in who I criticize, so if that's going to frustrate you, you might want to turn away...

I've been stewing after the President's speech last night. And I say this as a Democrat. I have no time for the politics of hate and fear that the leaders of the Republican party have been dishing out of late (and by late I mean the last 12 years, more or less). I think their basic strategy of opposing everything has completely demoralized the country and while I support the Tea Party as a way for people to express their frustration, politically I think it's been taken over by some pretty destructive forces.

But I listen to the President speak and I'm struck by on the one hand, yes, I want a world guided by the principles of fairness, of helping the underdog, and above all of we're all in this together.  I believe in that as the good.  

And on the other hand, I'm not sure he's making that happen.  He said over and over last night that we have this choice to make, and the choice is basically between fear and hope, between community and individualism, between progress and stagnation. But does he really represent the first half of those equations? It's quite an astonishing claim for anyone to make, if you think about it, let alone a President whose country remains mired in recession; who hesitates to push through basic gun control legislation even after one of his own Congresspeople has been shot; and at a fundamental level lets himself get pushed around by not just the Republicans, but the business community, the gun lobby, Israel, you name it.  

Yes, he saved the auto industry, as I heard over and over last night. Of course, no one was saying the other half -- the auto industry needed saving not just because of the financial crisis but because of incredibly poor management that had gone on for a long time.  Much like the financial community, which he also saved and has since continued by and large in its shockingly rapacious ways.

More importantly, he got through health care. (Why didn't he mention that?)  He's also been great on the international stage, and given back to the United States its moral authority. Which is huge.  So don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the man hasn't done good things.  When you put him alongside Bush, there is no comparison.

But I have to say, on the issue of the economy and unemployment, which for me is the fundamental issue in this election, I don't see him offering any solutions. From a practical level his speech last night amounted to "Stick with me, because we have great things planned." And that's just not good enough.  What are those things? And how are you going to get them through Congress?

He's entered into almost all the major issues -- unemployment, the debt ceiling, bonuses for billionaires, health care -- far too late.  He relies on some pretty pat tropes -- how many times have we heard him say "It's going to be hard"?  -- without ever digging deeper.  When has he shown an appreciation for just how hard it has been, for example? Certainly not last night.  

To me it has long appeared like he really needs to have his back against the wall before he really digs in and starts fighting. And that is such a terrible way of proceeding. Because even if you are as incredibly talented as he is, it means a lot of anxiety for us and probably a higher rate of failure than would otherwise be true.

Again, I'm a Democrat. I think anyone who is thinking of voting Republican has to answer some hard questions about to what degree the Republicans' style of opposition has been responsible for how slow the recovery has been, and whether they're ready for the extremists in that party to have a hand at the wheel. Because as moderate as Romney may seem, if he gets into office those guys are going to be running the show. That's what he signaled in picking Ryan.

But -- and this is probably the first time I've felt this way -- weaving words is not enough. I want to be reminded of who we are as America, but that narrative has to be grounded in a day to day willingness to fight for its realization. I see that pursuit within individuals in our country, people sacrificing for their families or their communities, people sacrificing for strangers. I'm just not sure I see it in our President.



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