I voted for President Obama. At the time probably because of what I saw as his reasonable stance on most things, in particular for what he wrote in the two autobiographical works published well before the presidential campaign, and for the many thoughtful and persuasive talks and speeches he has give during the recent past, both prior to and during his presidency.
I voted for him also because his election, as I thought at the time and still do, would take us another giant step forward in our march towards equality of races and peoples.
No matter what the subject, first the Senator and then the President always seemed to have thoroughly mastered the material in all the relevant details. Invariably I would come away from listening to him persuaded that he had missed nothing important.
I had much the same kind of feeling you get after reading a white paper or an article in the encyclopedia, those inclusive treatments of a subject that do justice to all the varying points of view.
Well what has changed? Why am I now questioning my support for the President? Probably not Obama himself, nor his ability to make good speeches. But it has become all too evident that the speeches are not enough to satisfactorily handle the burning issues and questions of our times.
And the burning issues that call out for something else, that call out for strong leadership, are many. There are the war, the millions of the unemployed, the sputtering economy, the oil spill in the Gulf, and others, real problems that continue to resist the President’s efforts to either contain them or change and resolve them for the better.
On the other hand there are those, mostly on the Left, who praise this President, placing him up there right along with FDR and Ronald Reagan in respect to his two major legislative accomplishments. These being:
A health care reform bill that corrects some of the most unsatisfactory elements of an earlier, inadequate health insurance system, and a financial reform bill that substantially strengthens government regulation of Wall Street, lessening if not eliminating some of the worst abuses of the financial industry.
But, and this also has been said by others, both reform bills are creations of Congress, not of the President. Instead of going to the leaders in Congress with his own ideas he called them and asked for their ideas, and expected them to write the text of the legislation.
He didn’t go to them as a leader, taking his own ideas with him. And in fact one is not even sure what the President’s own ideas are, his failure in this regard being a major source of my own doubts regarding his presidency.
In any case the result is that both bills suffer from being creatures of Congress, a kind of a mythological hydra or many headed creature, representing as it does multiple messages stemming from multiple and powerful lobbying groups.
We really don’t know what to think of these two bills, whether or not they will turn out to be real, substantial reforms of health care and banking and business practices. Because both bills reach us without an accompanying, single, powerful reform message from the president, one that would have better served to carry our country forward than the chatter of the headless and nameless Congressional authors.
The President from up on a bully pulpit ought to have got behind the several, perhaps as many as 10 or so reforms that everyone could agree were necessary, such as making health insurance affordable for the millions now not able to pay the premiums, such as eliminating the insurance companies’ practice of holding preexisting conditions up as a reason for rejection, such as enabling workers to hold onto their health insurance even when losing their jobs….
And in respect to financial reform, measures such as ensuring that shareholders and creditors — not taxpayers — bear the losses when big financial institutions fail, such as establishing new capital requirements for banks in order to limit speculative excess, such as the regulation of derivatives, such as appropriate restrictions on proprietary trading….
It’s not that these and other needed reforms are not within the bills passed by Congress. But they’re buried there in thousands of pages of what we have to call bureaucratic gobbledygook, that which puts them out of easy, perhaps out of any reach at all of the people whom they are supposed to curtail or benefit.
And worse, the few who do read them and understand something of what is being said will probably find in the thousands of pages hundreds of ways around their provisions, and in many respects things will go on much as before, although with additional government workers and regulators, if not new departments, to manage the bills’ provisions whatever they may turn out to be.
So far I’ve only spoken of the President’s “successes,” and how these will suffer from being without his leadership. When one turns to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the oil spill in the Gulf, there are no successes. Nor is there presidential leadership.
In regard to Afghanistan it’s as if the President were ignorant of the past, in Afghanistan of a past that is centuries old, and in Vietnam of our own recent past experience in that country. In two un-winnable wars, and elsewhere, the President continues to sacrifice the nation’s blood and treasure, and for no good reason. And I continue to wonder why.
And again regarding the oil spill in the Gulf why here also has he left leadership to others? He might not have been able to plug the hole as his daughter wanted him to but he could have at least made sure that from the beginning the number of actors in the Gulf, —Federal and State authorities, local governments, private organizations, and many others— were all coordinating their efforts to clean up the spill if not stop the flow.
He didn’t do this, and too often we heard stories of how this or that initiative or step in the clean-up process was not taken because of disagreements among the various organizations working, but not working together, there in the Gulf.
So I’m left with questions, and so far the single answer to all of them seems to be that the president is not up to the task of leading the country out of the several deep quagmires in which it finds itself.
In Afghanistan the President doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that the war, now in its ninth year, is going nowhere, that people are dying, or living but losing both arms and both legs, and for no good reason, and that there is no end in sight other than eventual withdrawal following a recognized failure to change things on the ground, at least for the better, if not in our favor.
Finally, in regard to what is still the freest market economy in the developed world the President doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that our country’s wealth, and health, are probably more dependent on the private sector than on the actions of his government, and that by his continuing to strengthen the government’s part in regulating and controlling the health and financial industries he is also running the risk of diminishing the people’s part, making them less responsible for their own lives and actions, and thereby weakening the private sector, which is still, in spite of the growing reach of the welfare state, the principal source of the country’s wealth.
Entitlements, including public schooling, social security, medicare and medicaid, ought to have tightly targeted with their benefits those populations in obvious need of help. Instead, too many, many not in need, tend to benefit from Obama’s and earlier entitlement programs, with the result that their cost is becoming more that the country, which means ultimately the private sector, can possibly bear.
Doesn’t the President realize this? Does he think that there are not strict limits to what the government can do for the people? Governments, including that of President Obama, tend to make all their reforms blanket reforms, leaving no one out, perhaps because that’s what’s going to get the members of that government re-elected.
I’ve never heard the President say that his government, any government, needs to live within its means, and that the funds are just not there to pay for the two wars, to bail out the automobile and financial industries, nor especially will there ever be enough to assure access for everyone to whatever health care is out there and available regardless of the cost.
My disappointment with the President has been that he sees the principal role of government as doing things for the people, making their lives easier, solving their problems etc. — rather than employing government programs and services, such as schools and neighborhood health centers, not to mention police and fire departments, to help people become better at doing things for themselves.
Just as one raises children to fend one day for themselves, so governments should be doing this, as much as possible, with the people who have elected them.