Thursday, February 26, 2009
Contrary to the accusations of detractors, I don't believe Barack Obama is god, or even god-like. I do, however, find him to be unlike any politician in recent memory, and closer to what I'd consider ideal than any I've lately seen.
Which is not to say I agree with everything he says or does. Particularly his plan for more troops in Afghanistan, and, to a lesser extent (because I don't really understand banking), his reluctance to put some banks in receivership. Is it because he thinks his plan is better, or because he's afraid of the politics? I don't know. But some economists argue in ways I find compelling; particularly Paul Krugman.
But the ideal politician is not one with whom I universally agree. It's one who is intelligent and thoughtful, who understands the arguments, and can make a case for his. Who addresses constituents as if they are adults. Who speaks well, and can mix inspiration, humor, and reality. Who doesn't need notes all the time to form a sentence. Who is truthful. Who seems more concerned with solutions than the next election. In all of these, Barack Obama comes closer than any I can name.
Which is exactly the problem. LT couldn't score if his offensive line were from a Pop Warner team. Likewise, Magic Johnson made Larry Bird better, and vice versa. As I watched Obama's speech to Congress, and observed the people in the audience; as I listened to Bobby Jindal's response, and as I've heard commentary from the likes of Tom Delay, it seems clear: what's missing is more people like Obama on his side, and across the line of scrimmage. And there are none. It bodes ill.
The good news is that the vast majority of people seem, to a greater or lesser extent, to share my feeling about the president. So even if the politicians around him are, variously, stupid, incompetent, hide-bound, narrow, incapable of forward-thinking, if it's clear that Obama has support from the electorate, the rest of Washington might be expected, in spite of themselves and their limitations, to get the message. In the referenced poll, 92% of people had a favorable view of the speech.
Amazing, isn't it? During the campaign, Obama said it wasn't about him, it was about us. He couldn't do it alone. Change comes from the bottom up. It's what energized the people (myself included) who worked for and donated to him: the idea that democracy could, after years of disbelief, actually be made to work. I'm not yet close to convinced that it's true. But given the mediocrity of most of our leaders, the only real hope is that the people make it clear what they want. If they want enough of what Obama wants, and if they continue to make themselves heard, it's conceivable he could accomplish things in spite of Congress. It would be the opposite of what's been the norm for years: politicians saying one thing and doing another, while voters eventually tuned it all out, disillusioned, convinced they didn't matter.
This would be a new (or maybe a very old) paradigm: a president demanding that the electorate stayed actively tuned in, letting Congress know what they think, believing it makes a difference. And actually making a difference. This is the power that Obama has, and I think he knows it. I believe the rest of our national politicians know it, too. Some are excited, some are scared. But maybe they'll all be listening. His budget should be a real test; Congressional Republicans are already screaming bloody murder.