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Change (What) You Can Believe In

December 9, 2009

Lately, I’ve been put in the position of having to unsuccessfully defend Obama’s performance in the White House to Craig.  I admit that the Obama apologetics are getting tiresome, given that Obama has yet to prove that he is more than Politician 2.0.

In the campaign, Obama offered America the political equivalent of absolution for its sins and transgression, from the racism that lay at the foundation of this country to George W. Bush’s totalitarian presidency.  He was the Change We Can Believe In, the Out With the Old and In With the New, the paradigm shift that could only mean everything that was wrong would be made right.  He used his competence in new, social media (Facebook, Blackberry) to sell himself as savvy, cool as a cucumber, and showed that he was the voice of the new, emerging generation of Americans. Especially standing in stark contrast to John McCain (at least we dodged that bullet), Obama proved himself to be (if nothing else) the latest and greatest political huckster who knows how to work a crowd.  And what else is democracy really all about?

What Obama always offered America, it seemed to me, was his experience as an educator.  Liberals hoped he would be their Ronald Reagan; the newest great communicator, and he certainly held (and still holds perhaps) that promise.  The problem is that Obama has–rightly or wrongly, but probably rightly–estimated that the American public is too lazy to be educated, and has instead opted for the route of political fiat, achieving consensus among the politicians and not the polity.  At the time of the election, I commented that this promise unaccompanied by a call for increased responsibility on the American public’s part to meet him halfway would be futile and ultimately destructive of the American polity.

So far, that view seems to have borne out; Obama has concentrated his political strategies on backdoor deals, whether the bailout or health care reform, and used his prowess on the bully pulpit to disseminate shiny talking points rather than information and deliberation.  He uses his net savvy to direct his troops on the ground, and give them ammunition to fight the war that already has its sides determined and relatively unchanging, when he could be using these media to change minds.

We’ll see if this strategy persists through the rest of Obama’s term(s) in office, but I will agree with Craig that until Obama becomes the Great Educator he implicitly promised he would be, he really isn’t anything more than the Great Rose-Tinted Mirror of American Hubris.

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