If he was wrong, his whole Presidency was over. Done.
--Vice President Joe Biden
The above quote by Joe Biden refers to the decision the President took to eliminate Osama bin Laden. It was one momentous decision among many Barack Obama has taken since winning the Presidency; but it crystallizes the singular character of the man. The odds were at best 50/50 that bin Laden was in his compound; the US was sending troops into a "friendly" country without clearance; if things went wrong, it would be Jimmy Carter's failed hostage rescue, but even worse. Yes, his presidency would be all but over, and the Republicans would just have to sit back and coronate Mitt Romney for 2012.
But watch the video. The film hits on every courageous action taken by this President. Pushing to get the maximum out of healthcare reform; passing the American Recovery Act; bailing out Detroit while demanding structural improvements in how the industry did business, in the face of both Republicans and Democrats throwing up their hands and saying to just let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt.
His legislative party was, at best, a fair-weather friend. But let's not apportion blame equally. There is a truism in Will Roger's statement about Democrats. But his greatest, most fevered opposition has come, continues to come, and will still come from the pathology we call the GOP.
It is a party that saw its 30 year project almost within reach during the George W. Bush administration. A pliable President who was led around by a Svengali vice president; both Houses of Congress in its control; a majority on the Supreme Court. Their funders were on the verge of achieving everything for which they had striven: government oversight reduced to a mere formality, tax breaks in perpetuity, costs socialized and profits privatized.
Americans are a funny bunch, though. Yes, we're infuriating. Often we don't pay attention. We can be woefully incurious about anything outside our immediate horizons. But by 2006, there was a sense that things were going horribly wrong. We were in two wars with no seeming end; the economy was stagnant, a jobless recovery from the dotcom bubble's bursting. There was a feeling that America has gone jarringly offtrack after September 11, that the country had become something darker, something more sinister. Allegations of torture under US government aegis just hammered home that anxiety of values gone awry. In effect, the Right overreached, read a mandate for radical action where none existed. Americans aren't radicals. If anything, we're plodding progressives, wanting things to be a bit better for the next generation than they were for us. Not too much change, but just enough so that things keep moving forward. When the sense we have of ourselves of being basically decent, kind people gets threatened, then we react, and punish those who threaten that self-perception. Often, it's the Right who suffers the brunt of our wrath, because the Right wants to fundamentally change what it means to be American. It lives in a paranoid nightscape, and wants to push the rest of us into it.
So, 2006 saw a ray of light with the election of a Democratic Congress. And 2008 saw the dams bursting with the election of that pragmatic revolutionary with the funny name.
He had to be a revolutionary, because the exigencies of the moment demanded it. The economy was cratering, hurtling towards a second Great Depression. The opposition party didn't care about the commonwealth of the nation; all it was interested in was doing away with the Kenyan usurper, and restarting the project. His own party, often acting like abused dogs, never fully backed him the way the GOP backed Bush. He was, pretty much, a man alone.
And that's what makes his accomplishments all the more amazing. They've come in the teeth of irrational GOP opposition and half-hearted Democratic support.
Democrats should have stood united behind his program, because it addressed long-held Democratic priorities. But polling said this, and constituents who voted for the other guy said that, and never underestimate a Democrat's ability to find the most expedient position and call it "principle".
But, again, let's not put too much blame on the Democrats, although it's deserved. The main adversary is the Right, driven into an existential rage by a man who knows their game, knows what they want to turn the country into, and who is determined to stop them dead in their tracks. It takes a special kind of courage to face the untrammeled hatred spewed by the opposition, to be the occupant of the Presidency to have received the most death threats in history since the creation of the Secret Service. Far from being a symbol of the post-racial society, Obama's election unleashed America's raging racial id, which had been papered over superficially. A black man is President, and for a significant segment of this country that's not only unacceptable, but an evil, ungodly stain.
So watch the film. And watch it again. Marvel that the right person was around at the right historical moment to meet the challenges facing this country and the world. Even for this agnostic it makes me almost believe in Providence. And then work: volunteer, donate, talk with friends and neighbors, whatever you can do. On one side is peace and a better world, on the other the abyss. We know which faction in our Second Civil War will lead us to each.
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