As good as it gets

Disappointed with Obama? Get over it.

David Sweet is a retired history professor and regular reader of SN&R.

Disenchantment with President Barack Obama is widespread on the liberal left. The blogosphere is afire with it. People cry betrayal, deride errors, avoid the subject in despair. The American Civil Liberties Union even ran an ad in which his handsome face morphs into George W. Bush’s!

I’ve gone there myself sometimes. To me, war is not the answer. Corporate welfare programs are no solution. I want pro-people policies, at home and abroad. So my campaign window sign is long gone. The bumper sticker is fading fast.

But that really won’t do, will it? This is the leadership of our country we’re talking about. Obama is still as good as we are likely to get. His successes and failures have big implications for our future and the world’s. So his first year probably deserves a more thoughtful evaluation than it’s gotten from folks like me.

The campaign was a “branding” operation without precedent. Hopes were of course greatly inflated. But we didn’t buy a pig in a poke. Obama is exactly who, in two books, he was at pains to say he is. As president, moreover, he’s neither king nor dictator. He inherited an unholy mess, and there’s no question he’s had one heck of a hard job to do.

Millions of Americans simply refuse to be led by him, and the media have lent those dubious patriots an amped-up megaphone. Republican legislators intend to see to it that he fails at every undertaking, and so many Democrats now think, talk and act like Republicans that their vaunted “majority” is unreliable. So he can’t just ram any big changes through.

On reflection, I think there are good reasons to stick with the man still, and get behind the process of transformation he’s promised:

In this nowhere nearly “post-racial” country, it’s still hugely important that he’s a mixed-race man, a symbol of our future. Unlike any recent predecessor, he’s an excellent role model for us all: bookish but athletic, eloquent but a good listener, fun-loving but an exemplary husband and father.

He’s rescued our reputation in the world from its worst period ever and laid some ground for a new era of international cooperation on many fronts.

His brilliant appointments so far—Supreme Court, Justice, Health, Labor, Homeland Security, Environmental Protection, “drug czar”—promise great things to come. He’s put our scandalous for-profit system of health insurance firmly on the table, kept it there, even obtained a sort of victory that will benefit many people. That’s a new beginning in the long struggle for genuinely universal health care.

He’s declared his intention to reform immigration and drug policies, take action to reduce carbon emissions and the threat of nuclear weapons, and reregulate the financial system. All are good directions.

This is not a plea to “give the guy a break.” Responding to an urgent call for action from labor leader A. Philip Randolph, President Franklin Roosevelt is said to have replied, “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.” Obama understands that principle. The rest is up to us.