by Eric J. Wallace
American Reporter Correspondent
Kill Devil Hills. N.C.
January 8. 2009
A PLEA TO THE MODERN READER
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Has President Obama's first year in office been a failure? There are plenty of people arguing about that one. But I'd say there's one thing he has definitely failed at: articulating a vision of the future and working hard to make it happen.
It's not just that they underestimated how much the Republican Party has been completely taken over by the far right. They have also underestimated how much the left wing of the Democratic Party has changed since the Clinton years.
When the Democratic Party was at its nadir in 2004, and the Republicans crowed that the United States was entering the age of a permanent Republican majority, it was the lefties that wrested control of the party away from the Clinton-era hacks and re-energized it with a combination of Internet technology and grassroots organizing. That was how Democrats took back control of Congress in 2006 and how Obama won the White House in 2008.
But the Obama Administration still seems to think it's 1994. It is following Bill Clinton's strategy: if you appease the center-right, liberals will follow along because they have no alternative. Rahm Emanuel, the President's chief advisor, recently told The Wall Street Journal that the White House has nothing to worry about from the left, even though there are several polls showing that as many as 40 percent of Democrats say they aren't going to show up to vote in 2010 because they are so disenchanted with the Administration's actions on health care, financial reform and the war in Afghanistan.
Remember how he was called "No Drama Obama" during last year's campaign? Mr. Obama carried that philosophy to the White House. He seems to be suspicious of passion, of taking stands and being unafraid of the enemies he might make. This is a huge danger for the President and the Democrats in 2010.
As psychologist and political analyst Drew Western recently wrote for The Huffington Post, "The President has accomplished the remarkable feat of both demoralizing the base and completely turning off voters in the center." He cites three reasons for why this happening: "a laissez-faire style of leadership that seems weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting."
Western, who is the author of "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation," believes that if the President doesn't figure out soon what he believes in and doesn't "start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he's not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he's going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they're seeing right now is "liberalism," and they don't like what they see."
According to the Census Bureau, during the last decade Americans' median household income declined. Poverty increased, particularly among children. The number of Americans without health insurance increased. The rate of new jobs created was one of the lowest since the 1930s. The gap between rich and poor widened, as 1 percent of Americans - roughly 1.3 million people - now own 45 percent of the nation's total wealth. These metrics were bad before the recession of 2008-09, which made them even worse.
When a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked Americans how they would rate the 2000s, a combined 58 percent said either "awful" or "not so good," 29 percent said "fair" and only 12 percent said either "good" or "great." Asked what event had the worst negative impact upon past 10 years, 38 percent said the Sept. 11 attacks, 23 percent chose the collapse of the mortgage and housing markets and 20 percent said the Iraq war. As for where we have lost ground as a nation, 37 percent said the environment, 46 percent said the nation's health and well-being, 50 percent said peace and national security, 54 percent said the nation's sense of unity, 55 percent said treating others with respect, 66 percent said moral values and 74 percent said economic prosperity.
The election of Barack Obama scarcely made a dent in any of these things. Realistically, the damage that has been done to virtually every aspect of our society over the past decade will take years to heal. And healing will only take place if more of the politicians, businessmen, lobbyists and media people who enabled the damage to happen are swept out of public life.
Granted, the messes that President Obama inherited from President George W. Bush are deep, numerous and will take years to fix. But it's clear that Mr. Obama has missed many chances to do more.
Why? Simply because he seems shackled to the conventional wisdom that got the Democrats beaten in too many elections over the past 40 years. What happens in the year ahead will greatly determine whether Democrats lose their majorities in Congress and whether Obama becomes a one-term President.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.