Thoughts on the Obama Presidency

As long-time readers of this blog know, I was actively involved in the 2008 presidential campaign – for the first time in my life. I was less involved in the 2012 campaign, but was still a vocal public supporter for Obama/Biden. Like everyone (including, I’m sure, President Obama himself), I’ve had my share of disappointments about the last four years. But I remain respectful of President Obama’s leadership and cautiously hopeful about the next four years.
Three things, I think, need to be said about the last four years.
First, I don’t think many of us – perhaps any of us – realize just how bad and precarious things were at the end of the Bush years. I like President Bush and think he was a good man with a good heart (and a good wife). But I think the Neo-con agenda that presided with him was disastrous. Elective and so-called pre-emptive wars justified on false grounds were bad enough. On top of that there was irresponsible de-regulation nearly across the board, based on the risky assumption that we can trust “big business” more than “big government.” (I’d say we should be suspicious of both, and hold both accountable.)
Even though Pres. Obama is frequently criticized for referring back to the previous administration – as if to make excuses, I think the Obama administration has been highly restrained in this regard, by necessity if not by virtue. If they had told us how precarious things actually were, they would have undermined confidence, thus making things worse. (Sadly, this is still the case in many areas – global warming, too-big-to-fail banks, the Israeli occupation, Syria, etc. – where we are arguably worse off than we were four years ago.)
Second, I’m sure many factors that have nothing to do with Pres. Obama have converged to create the ugly polarization that exists in Congress and in society today. 24/7 Cable “news” is surely one factor – spreading fear, misinformation, and ignorance in unprecedented amounts, pandering to the personal and ideological prejudices of large demographic sectors. The role of the 1% in controlling elections is another – aided and abetted by the Citizens United (an ironic name indeed) ruling. The power of mega-corporations and their advocates (especially those representing the fossil fuel and weapons industries) is a third … having in their pocket, as they do, so much of the media and government. For a president to have accomplished anything in this environment is amazing.
Third, I have a suspicion or hunch about our current political angst. I think that America’s “original sin,” as Jim Wallis aptly puts it, still has not been adequately dealt with. The racism and White privilege that fueled the colonization/land theft/marginalization of Native Americans and the slavery/segregation/systematic oppression of African Americans still is deeply embedded in many hearts – often unconsciously, even counter-consciously. President Obama’s election and re-election have touched that reservoir or racism and its related -isms. As is often the case in individual souls, unresolved issues in the national soul must be expressed before they can be acknowledged and resolved … and I think that President Obama’s steady and non-reactive hand over these four years have allowed that process to run more of its course.
All that’s to say that I expect history will look kindly on the first Obama term, and less kindly on its ardent and uncompromising opponents. I hope that the next four years will pleasantly surprise us all with even greater progress on the issues that are most important, even if they are not most publicized: care for the planet rather than its careless pillaging, a turn toward peacemaking and away from the military industrial complex, and a reversal of the growing gap between global and national economic elites and the rest of us. That important work is not simply the job of elected officials, although we elect and pay them to focus on it. We all must participate – advocating, explaining, respectfully differing, and making a case for a better way forward.