Only a few days into his presidency, Barack Obama has given the hopeful who supported him a dose of bitter Beltway baloney as he tests his theory of politicians working together for the common good. Is he really naive about how the game is played — by both Republicans and Democrats? Elsewhere there may be strength in sweetness. But in the halls of Congress? Is this a crisis of congeniality?
Plucked from the campaign trail and placed in the White House, President Obama and his checkerboard team may be suffering from (to use a Great Depression term) The Jitters — in this case a fear of early failure for going too far. Hailed by himself and others as a “pragmatist,” Mr. Obama faces domestic and global disasters that call for real risk-taking courage. He could learn from the Super Bowl teams he watched on Sunday. Give it your all and let the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately, the president faces smiling villains in both parties who need to be smacked upside the head by fearless but intelligent leadership. Barack Obama may already be on the verge of letting his people (the nation) down.
Give George W. Bush and Dick Cheney some credit. They came into office determined to wreck the economy so progressive programs would be off the table; they wanted to invade Iraq; they wanted an Imperial Presidency, and they succeeded, beyond their most Strangelovian dreams. Their triumph of chutzpah and willpower has left a spill that only greater (and more thoughtful) chutzpah and willpower can clean up. Rather than fudging on transparency, ethical appointments, criminal investigations, prosecutions, ending outrageous military expeditions, the slaughter of innocents, the nation and the world require “take charge” visionary leadership of the sort Barack Obama seemed to show during the long march from Springfield. But now?
Obama’s administrative leadership can be accomplished without tossing overboard that warmth, that relaxed West Wing, the decency and concern for which President Obama is famous. Voters (but apparently not members of Congress) have had it up-to-here with hubris, arrogance and hypocrisy. Both Republicans and Democrats are testing his resolve. Will the new First Lady and millions of hope-filled citizens remind President Obama that he was not elected by members of the House and Senate but by a people yearning to breathe the air of constitutional fairness and freedom after years of monstrous political suffocation?
Instead of stroking political insiders, a presidential Obama could dare to make his case to the nation, that is unless his case is more perfumed smoke than substance. The Beltway Game is not changed by instant replays. Those who now look to Barack Obama for leadership and change must not settle for Bush or Clinton Lite. Sailing our ship of state between the rock and the hard place requires the will, courage and independence of Odysseus. So he is ours at last. Americans and others around the world have someone to press their hopes to — until they find he’s just one more pathetic chorus of the same old song and dance.
DOUG GIEBEL writes from Montana. He welcomes comment at firstname.lastname@example.org