Politics is the elixir of the uninformed.
We see it each and every day in this country. People expressing their political opinions that are based on misinformation, distortion of the truth, or outright lies. People who refuse a factually-based argument because it contracts what they see as being true. People who use their own life experiences as being indicative of the experiences of every single American regardless of their race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, geographic location, culture, or beliefs. People who are won over by someone at a microphone who says things that they've been thinking all along.
Yet in this technologically-rich age, we are actually more uninformed than ever.
Because politics is hard work. There's a lot of bullshit to wade through that requires a person to look at multiple sources and to consider the source and how or why it might have chosen to portray the event or issue in the way that it did. There are the clickbait articles that are often portrayed as "headline news" but often ended up being something inconsequential that in no way impacts our lives like a celebrity breakup or a successful movie debut. There are online sources that provide some decent alternative viewpoints but these sources are also littered with wild conspiracy theories. While our mainstream media has a clear corporate agenda which dictates how certain news stories are portrayed, many online media opt to counter this by overemphasizing certain articles and themes to try to find their niche in an otherwise crowded online community. With so much to consider, most Americans are perfectly content to just skim the surface of the news or ignore it completely.
So it should come as no surprise that Americans have a short memory when it comes to politics. We live in a world of rosy retrospection where we tend to overly remember the good parts while simultaneously suppressing the bad parts. Think about your last vacation: what was the worst thing that happened? Maybe you can pinpoint one thing. What else went wrong? Now, you're having problems. You can name maybe one or two minor things that went wrong but odds are you'll be able to recount at least a dozen fond memories, from activities to restaurants to pictures you took to meeting people to any and all adventures that you undertook. We do it all the time in our own lives, so it would be only natural that we would do it in our political lives as well.
The problem is that our political lives are absolutely dependent upon the fact that we remember both the good and the bad in order to make informed decisions. As philosopher George Santayana once famously said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." If we don't think about the bad in politics then we, as a citizenry, are not able to properly evaluate what caused the bad and what we can do from preventing it from happening again. We're already seeing this today with the American people as a 2015 poll found that former President George W. Bush had a higher approval rating than President Barack Obama. Yes, you read that right: the man who was president during both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, who added nearly $5 trillion in debt, who got us involved in two wars including one based knowingly on faulty intelligence, and whose tax cuts to the rich help contribute to the worst financial crisis in 80 years was more popular than the man who helped fix the mess he created. It's the political equivalent of having more respect for the unruly house guests who trashed your party rather than the poor maid who did everything she could to clean up the mess.
But that's how America works: we have no sense of history. We don't understand just how bad it was right before the 2008 election. In actuality, we were losing 700,000 jobs per month. Unemployment was twice what it was now. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was below 8,000. The financial industry had crashed the global economy and was seemingly continuing those very same actions as if nothing they had done was even wrong. Retirees were losing their life savings. Millennials were unable to find their first jobs and were being crushed by student debt. Our country was bogged down in two costly wars that were contributing to the deteriorating conditions and instability of the Middle East. While all this was going on, the rich in this country, seemingly unaffected by everything going on around them, continued to profit at record levels.
When it came time for him to run for president starting in 2007, Barack Obama did not run on a promise of revolution.
What he did run on was convincing millions of Americans that were was a better way to govern. That we were all in this together and that if enough Americans stood up and voiced their concerns then Washington, D.C. would be forced to listen. His soaring rhetoric was based upon the idea that through hope and change we could advance the mission of our founding fathers and get ever so closer to our perfect union. That was his pitch: not simply that he would go in and overturn nearly 220 years of constitutional governance but that he would advocate for a way to govern more effectively. By voicing their support for his candidacy, Barack Obama's supporters were confirming that they too, agreed that we needed a candidate whose policies and whose views on government would best provide a way to make our system run as it was intended to run.
And so in 2008, America made history with its resounding election of Barack Hussein Obama. It was such a decisive victory that even Fox News had trouble describing it: nearly 69.5 million popular votes, a 365-173 victory in the Electoral College, and the winning of nearly all swing states including Florida, Ohio, and even North Carolina. Even better was the fact that Democratic senators rode Obama's coattails and with the defection of Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and the delayed seating of Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota, Barack Obama found himself in April of 2009 of having a filibuster-proof Senate and a Democratically-controlled House. Here was his chance to enact a progressive wish-list with things like universal healthcare, a way to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, an increased minimum wage, and free colleges and universities.
Does any of this sound familiar?
It should. Because it is the very same platform that now Senator Bernie Sanders is echoing for president. Yet despite this huge "wave" of enthusiasm that brought Barack Obama into the White House, he faced stiff opposition from not only Republicans, who vowed to make him a one-term president but also Blue Dog Democrats who felt Obama's "radical agenda" wasn't in the best interest of the American people. During a bitter and fought-out battle for the Affordable Care Act, not only did the landmark legislation not receive a single Republican vote from either the House or the Senate but Obama had to compromise on the legislation and even the idea of a public option was too much for certain Blue Dogs to swallow. The ACA that we now have in place passed after a nearly eight-month battle on Christmas Eve of 2009 with Obama needing all 60 votes in the Senate as well as having to fend off 34 Democrats who voted against the legislation in the House.
This is what it was like to actually govern with a mandate from the American people.
And so Barack Obama soldiered on. Despite the in-fighting over the Affordable Care Act, the Democrats actually did get their stuff together for those first two years. In fact, the 111th Congress from 2009 to 2011 was seen as the most productive Congress since Lyndon Johnson's 89th Congress that worked to pass programs related to the Great Society. The 111th Congress passed such meaningful legislation as the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the "stimulus bill." Despite the runaway success of a Democratic House and Senate, the American people felt that our country' economic recovery was too slow and so in 2010 conservatives formed a new faction that called themselves The Tea Party who ran on a platform that big government was running up huge debts and deficits and that taxes were simply too high. This groupthink ended up prevailing over the American people and Republicans won back the House despite the fact that the aforementioned stimulus bill actually cut taxes for 95% of American families.
But researching that bit of information would have too much work.
So for the past five plus years we've had a divided government. Yet that still hasn't stopped Barack Obama for pursuing his progressive goals. Since 2005, Congress had been in the process of working on a transportation infrastructure bill and Obama had used the bully pulpit multiple times to ask that the process be accelerated. It was not until December of 2015 that a five-year package worth $305 billion was finally approved by Congress and sent to the President's desk to sign. As easy as it is to clamor for spending for infrastructure on the campaign trail and as well-received as the line plays out in a debate or town hall, it is actually difficult to achieve in practice. Even as the American people overwhelming elected Barack Obama to office twice with a majority of both the popular and Electoral College vote, he still had to work his magic to get bipartisan support on something like infrastructure repair which theoretically should be a slam dunk issue.
In addition, Barack Obama has used his executive authority to advance his progressive goals. The president cannot magically raise the minimum wage across the country no matter how popular it may be politically. What he or she can do it use the bully pulpit and that is what Obama did. In 2014, a central theme to his State of the Union address was the fact that it was "time to give America a raise." Up until that point, this was not even on the nation's radar. However, thanks to Obama's leadership we now have multiple cities as well as 16 states planning on raising the minimum wage this year alone. Barack Obama also issued an executive order to raise pay for federal contractors as well as implementing new rules for disability and caregivers through the Department of Labor which was designed to give as many as 2 million workers better pay and working conditions.
Lastly, Barack Obama is keenly aware of the spiraling costs of college education. Like any true progressive, he sees not only the value but the necessity of having an educated workforce. That is why his administration unveiled a new push for free community college. Rather than tackle the issue at every single one of our nation's public four-year colleges and universities that would simply overwhelm the system, Obama has once again started an initiative that has slowly and steadily built up steam. This process doesn't break the bank and it also shows opponents that it can be done if it's done right. There are now statewide programs in Oregon and Minnesota for free community college and several other states are considering similar programs. Much like the minimum wage, this was an issue that wasn't even on the nation's radar until Barack Obama brought it to the country's attention.
That, my friends, is a revolution. It may not shout from the tree tops or hang from the highest rafter but it gets the job done. It is slow and methodical, utilizing every resource at its disposal. It might hurt some feelings along the way for not being "radical" or "progressive" enough. But successful change is a gradual, painful process. You will be stymied by not even your enemies but also your friends. How you deal with these setbacks depends on your character and whether or not you are willing to get into the political trenches for a fight that very well might only advance your cause an inch or two in the right direction. Because deep down inside you know that any kind of progress that can help just a single person is worth pursuing.
The American people are living through a revolution. It is not a revolution from a seventy-four-year-old democratic socialist from Vermont. It is the revolution from a fifty-four-year-old biracial man from the south side of Chicago. A skinny man with large ears and a funny middle name who has put our country on the path to prosperity for decades to come. A man staked his presidency on providing affordable healthcare to tens of millions of people. A man whose actions staved off a second Great Depression despite the fact that these actions gave his opponents the ability to misinform the public and to retake Congress. A man who slowly and methodically worked with Congress to improve our crumbling infrastructure. A man whose very first bill was a bill to help protect women in the workplace. A man who has used the bully pulpit to advocate for higher wages and more affordable college. A man who has done all this despite having two of history's least productive Congresses since 2010.
People today may have short political memories, but for those of us who know and understand how government works, we are keenly aware that we may not see a President as revolutionary as Barack Obama is a long, long time. The true impact of his genuine, organic revolution won't be felt for a generation or more. But that is how revolutions work. You cannot shout something from the rooftops and expect millions to join your cause and upend the system overnight. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez all knew that change takes time and that it is integral to plant those seeds and allow for them to grow. As King himself famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” There might be candidates on both ends of the political spectrum who do not appreciate Barack Obama but for those of us who have studied him and have seen what he has overcome in today's hostile political environment is nothing short for a miracle.
A miracle that will not be replicated any time soon.
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