I have a lot to give thanks for this Thanksgiving, but I find myself particularly grateful for one thing: I'm not President Obama. From Arianna Huffington on his left, warning that rising unemployment could be "Obama's Katrina," to the ever-crazier Glenn Beck on his right, threatening to desecrate the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with an anti-Obama March on Washington 47 years to the day after King's triumphant convening: His critics are sparing no rhetorical excess in their rush to denounce the president.
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But using Katrina as a point of comparison is excessive. Katrina was an example of government incompetence and indifference, all at once. Obama is neither incompetent nor indifferent. He is a centrist Democrat, one who brought in a record amount of Wall Street money during the campaign and, not surprisingly, a whole lot of Wall Street veterans with him into the White House. I find that many progressives who jumped on the Obama bandwagon early, selling him as the progressive candidate in the race contrasted with corporate sellout Hillary Clinton, are, like Huffington, among the most disappointed by the president. I was an Obama admirer but a skeptic, and I find I'm less chagrined about the ways he falls short of my ideals than the folks who swooned for him early.
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In his New Yorker blog, George Packer examined Obama's declining popularity and rising troubles at home and abroad, and, like me, argues that part of Obama's problem is the unrealistic expectations of many enthusiasts. Packer adds this troubling observation:
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I'm a little more patient with Obama because I never saw him as the great left hope, but I agree with liberal critics who want the president to deliver on Democratic ideals and focus on the many casualties of the economy. It's funny but with a Democrat in the White House, Matt Drudge is trumpeting what liberals have always talked about as the "real" unemployment rate -- the unemployed plus the underemployed and those who've given up finding work -- and it's over 17 percent. A third of all African-American men are jobless. Let's welcome the right's sudden focus on the casualties of the economy, and challenge them to come up with solutions. They won't, but Obama can and should.
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On this Thanksgiving, I remain grateful Obama is in the White House. I'm thankful Dick Cheney is flapping his gums as a private citizen, not the most powerful man in the world. I believe in Obama's intelligence and decency. Like a lot of liberals, I believe he shares "our" values; I've just never been entirely sure he has either the political courage or savvy it takes to act on them, quite yet.
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The real challenge is to show Obama and other shaky Democrats that there are political rewards for representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Too many politically conflicting interests got to say they elected Obama, and too many progressives jumped too soon to claim him as our own, without asking him to prove it. (Joan Walsh, “I’m thankful I’m not President Obama,” Salon, 24 2009)
Strange how this article has a way of making IDing someone as the centrist democrat with wall-street backing, a way of re-establishing him as still, potentially, our great hope. Who is he? He's not the crazies on his right, he's not the swooners on his left. In a world of crazies, his prosaic origins beacon reason.
But these ARE portent times. Crazed goblins bounce about the body-politic, away from office but everywhere still in our face; the blind gain sight; hope has become an affliction. And it is appropriate, then, that Obama actually be made to seem most like an idol -- something near frighteningly unknowable. Someone/thing with great potential, but yet remains inert and removed. Someone/thing we would draw out -- to should and could!, but remain inclined to serve, to show before we would dare have him prove.