I was going to write a long and involved piece about President Obama’s 2009 and how contrary to most popular rumor it’s been among the most successful first years of any president of the last, oh, century, but it turns out Andrew Sullivan’s pretty much written what I would have written on that subject for his Times column, so I’ll just send you there, with the Internet standard “Yes. This,” notation.
That said, I will additionally note that Obama’s had a very successful year despite the fact that he’s getting hammered from both the right and the left. On the right, this isn’t a huge surprise, of course, since if Obama were on fire, the GOP would call fire departments a socialist plot. The folks losing it on the left, on the other hand, are being a bit petulant about both the actual human they elected to be president, and the practical constraints on his agenda. The man has monolithic, unified opposition in the Washington GOP, a fractious and fragile base in the diffuse Washington Democrats, and was handed two expensive, unpopular wars, a profoundly degraded political environment at home and abroad, and a national and global economy which were dual scorching pillars of oh shit we’re all going to die. That the man got anything substantive done, much less had what is objectively a politically remarkable first year, is impressive.
The day after Obama was elected I wrote a column which I entitled “Reality Check.” One of the things I wrote was this:
Your next president is going to disappoint you. Barack Obama does not fart cinnamon-scented rainbows. He is not trailed by angels and unicorns. Reality does not reshape itself to his wishes. Dude’s a human being, and a politician, and he’s going to have to work with other human beings who are also politicians. Per point 2, some things you want him to do he won’t be able to do, and some of the things you want him to do he won’t want to do, so they won’t get done. He will make mistakes. He will make errors. He will be caught flat-footed from time to time. He will be challenged by antagonists, foreign and domestic, who will have an interest in seeing him faceplant. He will piss most people off. His approval rating will drop below 50%. He is going to disappoint you. Get used to the idea.
And, well, guess what. I suppose I’m confused why more people don’t seem to get this.
Ironically, I suppose, this is also why I’m not personally disappointed in Obama. It’s not that I didn’t expect much out of him — I did, and do — but I didn’t expect it overnight, or contrary to the political realities in which the man has to work. To be sure, I get exasperated that he’s not doing all the things I want him to do when I want him to do them, and there are lots of things I wish he’d do differently, including stop being so goddamned conciliatory to a political right which so clearly wants to stab him through the eyeballs and then rush to Fox News (where the news crawl will say “OBAMA: Was he asking to be stabbed?”), to bleat about how they’re the victims in this whole unseemly stabbing incident. As much as I recognize a strategy there on the part of the administration, I think there’s only so long you act in good faith with people who have no intention of offering the same courtesy, ever. But I don’t confuse my exasperation with a sober assessment of what the man’s getting done in the environment in which he has to work.
I don’t expect the right to change their tactics regarding Obama, even if I think those tactics are stupid, hypocritical and malicious. At this moment in time the right doesn’t actually have a coherent intellectual framework for its politics, nor seems much interested in building one, so stupid, hypocritical and malicious is what they have to work with. Fair enough. I do wonder if folks on the left knee-jerking their anger at Obama are going to pull their heads out and acknowledge the reality of the man and his positions, the political realities of Washington, and the fact that if they’re ever going to get what they want, in the long-term the path to it goes through Obama rather than without him. And if they will ever recognize just how much the man’s managed to get done, in under a year, despite everything.