FILAM STAR (September 23, 2011)
As shuffling Democrats and wild-eyed Republicans and their respective ideologies and policy platforms become ever more irreconcilable, let us give credit to President Barack Obama for trying to stand above it all, above the public anger, above the political gamesmanship of Washington politicos, and above the Republicans’ cannibalism of the American economy. Much of the return on this stance however, has encouraged views that the president is too pragmatic and too noble for the American people’s good.
Led by his liberal base, many on the Left have had their qualms about Obama’s distancing himself from direct confrontation with the Republicans. After all that has happened since he took office in 2009—with all the warning signs about an economic recession and the hand-on-heart brand of Republican/Tea Party ideological insanity—Obama has seemed anywhere from indifferent to inadequate to too accommodating to his opponents.
When I was still a naïve, idealistic young adult, my mother used to tell me in no uncertain terms that you cannot always be a gentleman. She meant that there would come many times in life where believing in a perfect universe and being blissfully ignorant of the dog-eat-dog terror of the real world would come back to plague me to no end. My mother added that more times than not, life forces you to necessitate thinking and actions that are steeped in a cold-blooded recognition of what the darker side of existence often demands from all of us.
This was my mother’s way of telling me that life is not fair and that not everyone is going to be cooperative, understanding, or caring. It’s a cynical sensibility to be sure, but can anyone who claims to live in the real world deny it wholesale? The same has to be asked of Barack Obama. Having had the honor of being the first black American president, should Obama have known better than to fall into the trap of thinking that there was considerable merit in reaching across the political aisle in order to work hand-in-hand with the Republicans? As gallant and magnanimous as this view was, it was contingent upon the guileless vision that the GOP was no worse than a constructive opposition that had, in common with the president, America’s best interests at heart.
Assuming that this was Obama’s thought-process, it is only in the past few weeks that he has appeared to have awoken from this dream of time-honored bipartisanship. Obama, if we go by this reasoning, essentially found out the hard way that this generation of Republicans and what has morphed into their Tea Party brethren are champing at the bit to cut off the Democratic hand that reaches out to them.
As much as that view would bring gratification to liberals and Democrats, there is another that places more accountability than gullibility on Obama. Liberals may need to be sedated when they hear this, but as political commentator Fareed Zakaria said on CNN a few weeks ago, “liberals need to grow up…Obama is a centrist and a pragmatist who understands that in a country divided over core issues, you cannot make the best the enemy of the good.”
If Zakaria is right, then Obama’s discourse of farsighted bipartisanship should come as no surprise to anyone. It probably won’t be a good enough reason for liberals, but Obama’s “persistent tendency to compromise” as Zakaria puts it, is a conscious commitment to “common sense” politics and governance. Sharply critical of Obama’s perceived fence-straddling, liberals regret that he has caved into the Republicans without much of a fight thereby causing them to lament that they voted for a Democratic candidate but instead got what amounted to a Republican president.
If Obama’s policies often read as if they were written by a Republican strategist, it is because they are in conjunction with his entirely voluntary decision to leave the extremes of both parties to their own volatile devices and to sweep to what he hopes will be his re-election in 2012 on the wings of a golden political mean. Call it what you want: a betrayal of liberal values or just smart politics. It is Barack Obama at his shrewdest and Barack Obama at his most utilitarian. Yet, I keep wondering if this is the Barack Obama so many of us voted for in 2008.