The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.
In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary — the economic stimulus — and what he aspired to — health care — by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The president seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilize “the people” to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show. And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as president was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary.
No, that’s not why most of our support, hope, and engagement has disappeared. It was another, bigger problem that did it: everything we had Hope™d for has either not panned out, been compromised so far as to be unrecognizable, or seemingly been forgotten.
We wanted universal health care, and nearly all of us took that to mean a tax-funded, single-payer system like nearly every other advanced country in the world. I don’t think many “young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots” pre-election-Obama fans would recognize the current effort, renamed from “universal health care” to “health care reform”, as remotely accomplishing what we had in mind. We’re told to accept this massive “compromise”, which does little but further entrench and amplify nearly every problem with the health care system, because it’s the best we’ll do for the next few decades.
We wanted definitive action to be taken to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We know it’s not as simple as everyone just flying home one day, but we wanted a firm, near-term timeline for withdrawal. The few administrative actions on this front, so far, haven’t been promising.
We wanted an end to legislative and regulatory corruption from lobbyists and the revolving-door pattern. Nothing significant has been done about this except last week’s Supreme Court decision that made it worse.
We wanted the criminal injustices perpetrated by the Bush administration to be recognized and prosecuted. That was judged to be too politically expensive and was quickly forgotten. If we did that, Obama would have a difficult time getting his other major policy goals accomplished.
We wanted comprehensive Wall Street reform. Our hopes haven’t quite been completely crushed on that front yet, but something tells me they’re about to be.
For the campaign of Hope, we’re not seeing a lot of encouragement from the leader or the legislative majority that we elected. The campaign of “yes, we can” has resulted in an administration of “no, we can’t.”
Blaming all of the federal government’s problems on the leader of the executive branch who has only been there for a year is short-sighted and misplaced. But to us — the people who largely got him elected — he was largely promising to fix not only specific policies and issues, but some of the dysfunctions that cause the government to be so corrupt, inefficient, and ineffective. But so far, we’ve seen almost no results for almost every major issue. It’s hard to keep our hopes up for long when all we’ve seen is repeated disappointments, compromises, and giveaways.
Maybe we’re frustrated with ourselves for incorrectly believing that one executive election would be able to do anything we considered significant. Like getting duped by a salesman, we’re more frustrated not in the unfulfilled promises, but in ourselves for believing them.
We’ve been taught that our government, ostensibly a representative democracy, is effectively neither. We’re powerless. We’ve had the civic engagement beaten out of us. Friedman’s assumption that we think our job is done is condescending and incorrect. We’ve been shown by all three branches of the federal government that they’ll do whatever they want regardless of popular opinion, that common sense and the people’s best interests don’t matter, and that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.