Wednesday, January 23, 2013

US Inauguration 2013: Congratulations to President Barack Obama


One of the hardest things about dealing with a challenge is all the people who want to give you advice when they’ve never been in your position and are never likely to be. This doesn’t deter them, self-styled authorities that they are.  Imagine what it must be like to be the first African American President in a country still rife with racism, who took on the mammoth task of healing a giant economy reeling from years of bad governance and bringing a hobbled middle class back to life in the face of brutish and often pretty sinister resistance. 

All the advice, all the criticism, what a nightmare. In the past four years, Barack Obama has been accused of everything under the sun – of having no spine and selling out; refusing to compromise; refusing to reduce government spending;  being intent on stripping Americans of their Second Amendment rights; obsessively bashing the wealthy; being a communist; making promises he didn’t keep; betraying Israel; being a weak leader.

None of it’s true, of course. In a recent New York Times article, the author commented that resistance in Congress underscored Barack Obama’s inability to make good on his promises that he would create a bipartisan culture of working together to solve problems. That’s not true either.  Obama did keep his promise. He opened the door and has bent over backwards to work with House Republicans – to the point of being accused of selling out and not having the strength to draw his line in the sand. That the culture hasn’t blossomed can’t be laid at Obama’s feet.

This is not about his inability, it’s about hardliner House Republicans not having an investment in the good of those they are supposed to be representing. Any sod can work it out that the wealthy in a country can’t sustain their wealth in a broken down economy with a broken down middle class. Any sod other than a hardliner Republican, it seems.

As for advice, prior to the inauguration CNN aired Fareed Zakaria’s Memo to the President where he interviewed a group of past and present high profile politicians with a lot of experience, and asked them each what advice they would give to President Obama. A couple of them said it was time for Obama to put aside party loyalty and get down to work with the opposite camp to give this country what it needs.

I wonder where they’ve been the past four years. Or, which is more to the point, what they think America needs. Not one of the men and women Fareed interviewed had the wisdom and humility to list Obama’s achievements and obstacles and to say “I couldn’t have done it better.” None of them had personally achieved as much as Obama or had as many stark and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Well, despite all the criticism, all the pompous advice everybody has given President Obama – as if he can’t think for himself – he made it through the first term with flying colors. In a world where economies are falling like dead or diseased flies – even Germany is slipping – the US stands out as being the one that is recovering.  Remarkable. And nobody can lay that at the feet of hardliner Republicans.

Obama said in the run-up to his first election, throughout that term, and in the run-up to the second election that he can’t do it alone, that the road to recovery is long and difficult. Not many people seem to have heard that bit, but he succeeded anyway. Michelle Obama said of her husband once that one of the things she admired about him the most was the way he kept his head amidst the violent storms that rage around him. Amen to that.

And so he starts another term with no less vision, no less hope, no less outstanding capacity to understand what lies at the root of an ailing economy and to come up with measurable, practical solutions, no less compassion. No less willingness for bipartisan problem solving. But a lot more realistic about what drives hardliner Republicans.  

The inauguration was beautiful, starting the way it did with a simple ceremony; no outward show, just a man giving his word. Before the world. But the outward show stuff was fabulous too. When Beyonce sang my heart soared. When the Obamas got out the car and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue I feared for their safety and celebrated with the crowd, drinking in every smile, every wave, every cheer. Wow, those two know how to connect, how to feel and share pure unmitigated joy.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid used these words when describing the President: "brilliance, patience, wisdom, courage, kindness." Amen to that, also. If I had a chance to say something to President Obama, it would be two words. Thank you.