Wednesday, January 27, 2010
A President Stands
My frustration going into this evening was great.
As a liberal, as a thinking progressive, as a Democrat, and as an American, I was distraight to watch my party assume the most powerful position held by either side of the aisle in decades and then spend a year bickering and infighting amongst themselves while the crippling problems facing the American people continued to mount.
Between 2006 and 2008, the electorate handed the Democrats first both chambers of Congress, then the White House, and then a supermajority in the Senate that enabled the party to pursue whatever agenda it wished independent of Republican consultation, irrespective of conservative input.
Advocates of bipartisanship would protest such an approach, but the fact of the matter is that the American political system was carefully engineered to ensure that a single faction had to win extraordinary and sustained public support in order to attain the capability of going it alone.
When one bloc finds itself with the presidency, the House of Representatives, and sixty seats in the Senate, it has been empowered by the public to act and the public will expect the implementation of an agenda as dramatic as the trust they have vested in their leaders.
The Democratic Party has failed to provide this.
Instead of making desperately-needed headway on the issues that affect millions of their compatriots' lives on a daily basis, they have squabbled and argued and achieved nothing. A perfect example is the dilemma over healthcare reform, a mess for which the Republicans for once bear no blame.
Granted authority by the electorate to enact sweeping change, the Democrats instead quibbled over abortion coverage and allowed the wilful distortion by conservative groups concerning the nature of the public option to hold up passage of a vital bill. Meanwhile, forty-five million Americans continue to go without health insurance.
It was this spectacle, of a party with total control nonetheless unable to get anything done, that moved the voters to hand the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, which had been held by Democrats since 1972, to the GOP.
I could express outrage or dismay over the move, over the measure of faith given to the very party that caused the financial collapse in the first place, but the harsh truth is that the Democrats deserved to lose. If they cannot achieve an agenda now they will never be able to, and a party that does not produce has no place in power.
The whole debacle of the last year seems to have opened at least one pair of eyes: that held by Barack Hussein Obama, who tonight delivered his second State of the Union Address in the face of the Massachusetts defeat and intense criticism from far-right conservatives across the nation.
The conventional media wisdom heading into tonight's speech painted Mr. Obama as a chastened leader, a man mindful of his headstrong mistakes who would backtrack from his ambitious agenda and veer to the center right from which America evidently must be governed.
The presentation that actually proceeded heralded to the country the arrival of a man strengthened by his defeats, emboldened by his enemies' advances, steeled to break his own ranks into shape, and more determined than ever to push the aggressive program that, though painful, is needed to ensure his nation's longterm wellbeing.
Tonight, for the first time really, Barack Obama stood as the President of the United States.
Far from being cowed into submission by the gains across the aisle, he seems to have realized what has been true all along: that weakness breeds contempt; that action must be decisive; that those who hold out for perfection will get nothing; and that even if he stops fighting, his ideological counterparts won't.
He finally gets it. He finally understands.
If the 2010 State of the Union is any indication, he is also dead-set that the Democratic Party will understand, too. He tackled the issues tonight like the Commander-in-Chief he is, only lacing with the rhetoric of old blunt declarations of what must be done and unflinching acknowledgement of what hasn't.
He gave recognition to the arguments of his opponents and then flattened them.
"The bank bailout was about as popular as a root canal," he said at one point. "But if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, millions more jobs would have been lost and millions more homes foreclosed on."
In a stroke of brilliance, he empathized with Americans' frustrations concerning his policies but then made the case, convincingly, that those policies were necessary.
He offered a pragmatic take on the energy crisis, as he had to, citing solar and hydro power but also nuclear and clean coal technology as potential sources for America's needs.
He held out the branch of compromise on the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses and drilling for off-shore oil, but was unyielding in demanding both a substantive health care reform bill and equal rights for women and gay Americans.
He managed the difficult task of presenting those items most sacred to the Left as instances of fundamental American values, and he made it very difficult for the Republicans to disagree with him, at least in front of their constituents.
This is a president who has come into his own.
As both a policy push and the start of a public relations overhaul, tonight was a resounding notification to both parties and to all Americans.
Democrats should be ready, and Republicans should be afraid. Liberal prospects look weak now, but with Barack Obama at the helm, a lot could change by November.