On Leadership

President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, January 2009.

I seem to have lost faith in the promise of the Obama administration, which has pursued a radically centrist agenda and left me sorely disappointed. There has been little real change. Kevin Drum summarizes the last eighteen months best in a much-circulated quote:

Here’s the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here’s the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

While obviously Obama is not solely to blame for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the media lockdown that has been enabled by it is un-American on a fundamental level.

Nominees like Sonia Sotomayor or Elena Kagan, while a lock for confirmation, are exactly the kind of uninspiring mediocrities that have once again disillusioned us. If one of Kagan’s strongest credentials is that Lawrence Lessig endorsed her, why not reach for the stars and nominate Lessig himself? Or Harold Koh?

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that Barack Obama, who signaled an end to the Bush era abridgement of rights and liberties, may in fact be worse than his predecessor; a “third Bush term” that brings to their logical extreme many of the policies put in place that Obama had suggested might be curtailed. And even if all this does not accurately reflect Obama’s actual intentions, it points to something nearly as unforgiveable – half-assing it.

If you’re serious about a high-speed rail program, don’t just hand out the paltry sum of $8 billion and expect the states to pay for the rest. That would be worse than not spending anything at all. And at the same time, there are 1.8 million construction workers without anything to build. That’s an industry-wide unemployment rate of 20.1%. I mean, get serious about this. Put them to work. We need massive repairs to our roads, bridges, and vital infrastructure? Then sign a $1 trillion package. Or at least propose it. To quote The West Wing, “this is a time for American heroes – and we reach for the stars.”

Right now we’re just gazing at our shoes.

Crossposted at The Smolerian.

3 thoughts on “On Leadership

  1. The question would be where would the money come from? They clawed over the reinvestment act and that was $787 billion, not a trillion (had it been a trillion we may legitimately be out of danger or at the very least better off). Sadly it’s an election year and this isn’t the West Wing. There’s a reason that that one mid-term election episode basically leapfrogged 3 months. Mid-term years are for mid-terms, and while the thought of proposing something seems good on paper, it’s bad politics. If Dems flee the bill, it’s a body check to the President. If Dems don’t flee and Republicans kill it, they’ve gotten an issue and hit back at Obama. And should a bill pass the Republicans still get the issue and the usage of the lovely ‘Spendocrat’ title. Obama’s accomplished quite a bit. It’s time to let him call a few run plays, rather than asking him to audible for a wild cat every other month.

  2. See, but there you go talking politics, and that’s the whole problem here.

    You run for – and win – elections in order to enact a policy agenda. You don’t make policy on the basis of winning reelection. At least, that’s how it should work. I don’t care if it give the Republicans both chambers and Obama loses in 2012: you’ve got a 59-seat majority right now and some huge problems to solve.

    What the hell is the point of being in office if you’re not going to do anything with it?

  3. A policy agenda that included, health care reform (which took nearly a year of the year and a half obama has been in office), a stimulus bill, a reassessment and hopeful removal of DADT and financial regulation.

    Two supreme court justices who (though you might not find them inspiring) are still going to help weigh the court towards the centrist left.

    A 59-seat majority that includes a fair amount of conservative democrats who don’t believe in aspects of the president’s policy agenda despite being from the same party. Let’s also not forget that a 59-seat majority means you must get every democrat and still have 1 republican break ranks to be filibuster proof.

    My question is what the hell is the point of proposing legislation that cannot pass if it leads to you losing elections and thus having the little good you could do overridden? Of course I’m talking about politics, because that’s what this is. You talk history you already know who came out on top. You talk politics you’re working for whats best, while also trying to win so you can keep doing what you think is best.

    Policy agendas are the outline of what you will do if you win. Politics is how and what of that blueprint you get done.

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