Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Obama's Legacy

We've all heard the litany of attacks on Obama. I was watching early (because, being old, I have a leg up on how things are likely to go; not easily caught up in the inertia of it all, I can watch, clear-eyed, from the sidelines) and spotted talking heads calling him a socialist - and worse - before he'd done a single thing. The stuff they've been saying about him preceded any actual actions on his part. The right's "Obama presidency" preceded the actual Obama presidency, and has been a parallel, completely untethered presence all along.

Which is not unusual. As Amazon chief Jeff Bezos says in this recent marathon interview (a rare thing for him):
I’ve been a public figure. You get used to everything being wrong about you. Anytime you think you know a public figure from their media … you really don’t.
I had a very small taste of that during the Chowhound years, and found it so repulsive that I concluded that only extreme egomaniacs - those desperately yearning to see their names writ large - would willingly undergo it. If a food web site dude can get a taste of that, it's no surprise that the parallel false-imaging ratchets up so monumentally with presidents. It comes with the gig.

You know what Goebbels said about oft-repeated lies. But that's only half the problem. The big surprise with Obama has been that a guy who's so accomplished with communication during campaigns has ruled almost entirely without flexing those same muscles. Even he himself sees this as a problem:
“If there’s one thing that I regret this year, it is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are.”
He said that back in 2010! Obviously, the problem continued. As an insightful must-read article in the latest NY Magazine argues, Obama's been putting his head down and making things happen, without the slightest regard for ensuring it's recognized and appreciated at the time. And now that the smoke is cleared, a case could be made that he's actually performed quiet miracles.

I don't mean just the improving economy. That stuff cycles, and we assign blame and credit to whoever draws the unlucky end of the cycle - though Democrats have seemed awfully lucky over the past half century. However, the fact that our economy is beginning to look about as bright as it's ever been (Mitch McConnell says it's just public jubilation at midterm election results) certainly stands as staunch contradiction to all that howling over the bail-out (we got our money back), ObamaCare (it's doing great), suspension of tax cuts for the mega wealthy, and a host of other Obama decisions supposedly certain to wreck things.

See Andrew Tobias rebuff the usual misinformation here (he does so in a quite harsh way, despite being a polite, affable felow; having apparently been heckled via email for years by a Republican reader this was his public explosion). Per that NY Magazine piece, Obama's decisions have turned out right much more often than they've turned out wrong. He just hasn't gloated enough.

In such a bifurcated society, I sometimes feel like the only one recognizing Obama as a centrist/moderate (to the right, he's a Marxist, to the left, he's a DINO). And being a centrist/moderate myself, I've had high hopes for him. He's disappointed me several times (e.g. drones, NSA privacy, massive deportations), aside from his many unavoidable realpolitik grim compromises. But I didn't love everything Mayor Bloomberg did, either, yet I've sadly wagged my head at the public's failure to recognize that he "reigned selflessly and with great passion and competence, motivated entirely by civic-mindedness."

We don't get many menschy politicians; they're mostly crooks, hacks and egotists. If we don't duly appreciate the good (though imperfect) ones, we indeed deserve the government we (usually) get. Give that NY Magazine piece a read, and see if it doesn't transform your outlook.

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