President Obama’s speech on the oil spill has ruffled those on both sides of the political aisle. Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, both progressive and both hosts on the cable network MSNBC, chided the speech, and were among many to do so on both the Left and Right.
Obama’s election was based on the promise of a new mature and pragmatic leadership. But leadership has been the element missing from Obama’s administration for a year and a half. It’s been missing from the Democratic party for at least a decade.
An example of this can be traced to the early days of the war on terror. One of the many politically related laments of 9/11 for Democrats was the timing. Nine months after Bush took office, the United States was hit with the greatest terrorist attack in its history. But amid the wreckage and the bodies was opportunity, at least to some political experts.
The lament from those now jobless politicos on the left was a “chance for greatness,” something Bill Clinton was denied simply by the timing of the 19 terrorists who bordered airliners that September day, and not, say, a few months sooner. When the comment was uttered, it was believed our engagement in Afghanistan at the time would be an event of a scarcely more than a couple months and a few cruise missiles.
It wasn’t hard to believe officials in the Clinton administration felt this way. Clinton had spent the last four years in office looking for ways to cement his legacy, as if greatness was something that could be achieved on some sort of polling or political grade card.
But to these people, greatness, at least how it existed in the minds of the politically expedient in 2001 and 2002, was simply a matter of political calculation, policy and timing. It had nothing to do with inherent ability, a life of experience, or those certain qualities that exist in the right people.
Maybe this was the moment it became apparent that the Democratic party lost all sense of reality, but it’s evident from that point on the party lost any ability to be a viable political leader in this country. To understanding this, is to understand many of the problems currently in Washington.
Watching the president’s Oval Office address, it was hard not to be struck by this realization. A few words of empathy for victims, workers and the environment were paved over by what was essentially a cold-hearted policy speech draped in the drama of a national emergency. Instead of encouragement, it was the usual stern moral superiority and lecturing of those unfortunate enough to catch Obama on television. Obama had a chance for a fresh start on a disaster that has plagued his presidency -- instead, he spent the better part of his airtime dragging from the dead legislation that has been buried in the Senate for the better part of a year and has nothing to do with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Obama’s election represented an inspiring moment for many Americans, especially those who lived through the civil rights battles of the 50s and 60s; days when blacks and whites couldn’t even use the same bathroom. But as far as rising to the expectations of someone in that position, Obama continuously relies on the contrived and what has been a heartless, teleprompter presidency since the inaugural.
The question becomes: why didn’t we know this sooner? To understand that, one has to understand the media and the circumstances surrounding Obama’s election.
Obama was the historical candidate. He also agreed politically with 90-percent of employed Washington journalists, something that would appear to give any candidate an advantage in the mainstream press. Given public sentiment toward the Iraq War, and the rather odd campaign of John McCain, Obama should have walked away with the election. But polling showed he wasn’t firmly in the lead until after the banking crash in September 2008.
McCain had his own major faults as a candidate, but it would have been interesting to see how Obama would have fared against the Arizona senator had the economic crisis not occurred. But as circumstances provided, as well as a friendly media narrative and a historic amount of campaign cash, we never found out, and a candidate who was generally unscathed except for a few minor instances involving his church, took office.
It’s important to remember what began Obama’s rise in the Democratic party. Not performance, or noted legislation, but a speech he gave at the 2004 national convention. He had no executive experience, had never run a business or even worked as manager in a private enterprise.
In this sense, Obama is the perfect candidate for a party that abandoned any sense of responsibility to lead once polling turned downward in the Iraq War. The opposition party in 2003 won Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008. Things should have changed, and the Democrats should have assumed responsibility for the direction of the country.
Instead of taking ownership, the first instinct of the Obama presidency wasn’t to take a tough stance with America’s enemies abroad, but to combat Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. Words like “war on terror” or “terrorist” were too tough to use on enemy combatants, but those in charge freely throw around racist to describe their own sign-carrying constituents.
The old adage is “the personal as political.” As noxious as the term is, it could be said of Democrats that there is no longer any personal, only the political. This is a political movement bereft of everything but talking points and a legislative checklist. It’s also a political class on the verge of nihilism.