A Liberal Gnashing of Teeth

First published in The Pioneer, June 16, 2012


Barack Obama is now reviled by the very people who brought him to power. This week, his ratings trailed that of Mitt Romney. Would liberals rather have a Conservative in power and hate him rather than one who let them down?

President Obama took office promising hope and change. That was then, and it is already time to re-elect him for a second term. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been raised by the Romney and the Obama campaigns, and tens of millions spent on advertisements laying blame on the other, and making claims about a shining new day if only either of them gets elected. The Obama camp has cause for worry because its traditional base of the liberal and progressive Americans has begun to sour on the President’s performance and his less than stellar role in bringing the bad boys to book.

The Rasmussen Reports’ daily presidential tracking poll this week showed that Mitt Romney and President Obama were running neck to neck, with Romney leading Obama 47 per cent to 44 per cent at the beginning of the week. The Real Clear Politics survey showed Obama leading Romney by 4 per cent, and the Gallup daily tracking poll on the President’s job performance told us that 50 per cent of Americans approved of the job he was doing and that 44 per cent were unhappy with his performance. The President administers a divided nation, and these numbers don’t show how many among the liberals, the moderate, and the conservative support the President, not that Conservatives in this country will ever support a person like Barack Obama.

Many who simply like to call themselves Conservative have their skeletons in their cupboards, which only if they tumble out, will tell us why they really “hate” this black man. Yes, for them, Barack Obama is first and foremost a black man. If he was white, and liberal, and just a plain, home-grown Democrat, they might still not vote for such a person, but the election of the first black President in the United States got a lot of the Conservatives breaking out in hives in 2008, and they are still scratching madly all over.

The simple but bizarre example of the hunt for the President’s “real” birth certificate has taken many people, from the openly racist Orly Taitz, an émigré from the Soviet Union, to the crazy billionaire Donald Trump beyond the limits of lunacy. But they have tens of millions of fellow “Conservative” campers. Till recently, when the long form of the President’s birth certificate was released, anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent of Republican primary voters believed that Barack Obama was not born in the US. Once the long form certificate was released, that number of skeptics and birthers has plummeted, but it hasn’t stopped “The Donald,” whose endorsement Mitt Romney sought and got, from going on a media rampage recently about the origins of Obama.

If we ignore the crazy, the racist, and the ideologically committed social and economic conservatives, we should still have a majority voting Obama back into office this November. However, the President has lost ground among the left/liberal/progressive groups because he has chosen to hew to the middle path, and they feel, like the irreverent and folksy commentator Molly Ivins, that the only ones in the middle of the road are “dead armadillos”. We no longer have with us that big, Texan, twangy-voiced writer, who once memorably wrote that if you were to put the brains of Ronald Reagan in a bee, the bee would fly backwards! If she were here, she would have warned Obama that the fine line that he has sought to walk wouldn’t not only win him friends but that he might alienate many of his supporters, and it would not matter to his enemies even if Jesus came down and crowned him the emperor of the land.

What has got the liberals and progressives in such a bind about Obama? From the beginning they have felt that the President seemed too willing to compromise with right wing Republicans. They did not like the big bank bailout that left some of the big scoundrels walk away with their hundreds of millions of dollars, and no prospect of any of them seeing the inside of a minimum security prison. They did not like the smaller amount of the stimulus plan money that was finally voted by the Congress and Senate, and they did not like at all what they felt was a serial cowing down in the healthcare debate that dragged on for more than a year, and gave the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, the hospital industry, and the doctors’ groups seemingly whatever they wanted. What America got was a watered-down healthcare law that which could, if Romney were to be elected, still be sent to the White House cellars for safe burial.

When the debt ceiling was sought to be raised, the Republicans held the President hostage, willing not just to drive him to the edge of the cliff but push the country down it. Liberals gnashed their teeth, asking and wishing that Obama stood his ground and called the Tea Party-driven Republicans’ bluff. The liberal tendency, any novice political science student would tell us, if pushed further left would lead closer to anarchy, while the conservative tendency, driven to the right would lead to authoritarianism and fascism. Compromising comes hard to the ideologues, whether of the left or the right variety, and the tendency to look at the world through their ideological lenses makes both liberals and conservatives of the die-hard kind (we will not use the abusive terms “communist” and “fascist” here) loathe to give in, even a little bit.

For a President who came into office with the world almost collapsing, and with a White House demitted by one of the most disliked of Presidents, it might have seemed that he could do nothing right, and nothing good to please anyone. It is possible that the fates ordained that in such a horrendously complicated time, it had to be someone of the bent of a Barack Obama, a thoughtful, careful muse to be the President of the richest and most powerful country in the world. Holding the steering wheel tight, and getting the country over the deadly terrain, has indeed put a lot of gray hair on the still young head of President Obama — if only the liberals care to look closely.

Jonathan Chait, writing for NewYork Magazine, last November said that liberals would be never happy with a Democrat in office: “Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic President — indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious — but not with the real thing,” he wrote. But that could be said of Conservatives too, I suppose, for ideologues or idealists live in a dream world, whereas the real one indeed has to be lived with messy compromises.

Here is hoping that Barack Obama will win in November 2012, despite many of my friends’ and my own liberal tendencies.

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