The things about President Barack Obama that I find endearing are also the things that I find annoying. And incidentally, we’ll probably be seeing more of these things in the last two years of his Presidency, now that the Republicans control the Senate.
I admired Barack Obama for being an open-minded centrist and a conciliator, and also for standing by his principles, regardless of what anybody thinks (a paradox, I know). In 2008, I read his book, The Audacity of Hope, and, although I would go on to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket, I really liked Obama’s book. The reason was that he seemed to me to be trying to understand where people of different ideologies were coming from. He rejected right-wing conservatism, but he also acknowledged where it made valuable points, and he admitted that the Left’s ideology was not perfect, either. He presented himself as one who could bring factions together, while reminding voters in the Democratic primaries that Hillary was a divisive figure.
But, paradoxically, I also respected Obama’s stubbornness. He would not allow his opponents to define who he was, but he fought back. When Hillary and later McCain tried to portray him as green on foreign policy because he was open to meeting with the President of Iran without preconditions, Obama offered a cogent defense of his stance. Obama even highlighted McCain’s irresponsible statements (i.e., bombing Iran), putting McCain on the defensive! When Obama was inaugurated, I respected him for proceeding to nominate Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, even though many Republicans were highly critical of that choice: after all, didn’t you know? Israel is always right, and we made such good moves in the Iraq War, so Chuck Hagel was obviously misguided in straying from such truths. (I’m being sarcastic here, in case readers can’t tell. More than one person mistakes my sarcasm as what I truly think!)
But the strengths I admire can also become traits that turn me off! On conciliation, how many times did President Obama roll over and let Republicans do what they wanted? Remember the sequester. And, when Obama decides to be a fighter, he comes across as arrogant, acting as if he is above the political process and blaming the other side, promoting good ideas when we know that those ideas have little chance of passing, at least not in this political climate. What is especially sad is when he merges these two approaches. For example, he talked tough about Syria, then didn’t deliver.
Now that the Republicans have the Senate, we’ll see more of the same thing. Sometimes, President Obama will agree to Republican demands. Other times, he’ll talk tough from a position of powerlessness. That’s my prediction. I will give him this, though: he will probably continue to make efforts to do what he can as President to effect his vision, through executive orders, perhaps through whatever power he has to decide on the administration of funds. But the Republicans in Congress will challenge him every step of the way.
I don’t really regret voting for him, considering the other options that were out there. Although I voted for McCain, I now have my doubts that he would have made that good of a President. He would have probably gone the opposite extreme to where Obama is: he would have conducted a bellicose foreign policy, which wouldn’t have been helpful. The Supreme Court would also be further right than it is now. That would be bad, considering the horrible decisions that have come from the conservatives on the court now (i.e., Citizens United).
I also doubt that Romney would have been that good of a President. He was making gaffes almost every week, alienating foreign allies. Even though today I look at the world and feel that it is falling apart, I doubt that McCain or Romney would have made things better.
Maybe we shouldn’t have elected a man who had so little political experience. Barack Obama was a community organizer and served two years in the Senate. His supporters assured themselves that he was smart and charismatic, and that would compensate. Well, he is smart! But Jimmy Carter had a high IQ, and he was not a particularly effective President. It takes smarts to be President, but it also takes more than academic knowledge. It takes competence.
So where should I go from here? There’s Hillary. I don’t like her, but maybe she is more politically savvy and competent than Barack Obama has been. I also appreciate a point that more than one progressive article has made: that a lot of reform can occur at the local level. A number of states and cities have raised the minimum wage. Some states have progressive health care policies.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that I would do a good job if I were President. Being President is a tough job. But we all have rights as citizens to have opinions about our leaders and whether they are performing well.