Friday, April 18, 2014

We the People - Working for Democracy




Four days ago somebody called Eric Roth, in a comment to a Paul Krugman article in the NYT, wrote “…While [Presidents, Congress and the Courts] are all are culpable for horrific crimes… none match the toxic quality of deadly damage done by President Obama [who] within a handful of years… has managed to evoke, arouse, and then kill hope itself. That cementing of cynicism will stand as his one extraordinary and abominable accomplishment, for which he will be rightly reviled throughout history…”

From where I’m standing, I see that Mr. Roth's hope is dead and his cynicism cemented but to say that his opinion is what history will reflect is a bit of an over-reach, given the reality. For the record, my hope for America isn’t diminished, it’s alive and burning. And I think history will appreciate Barack Obama for being one of the greatest American presidents. It’s not even hard to find evidence of his achievements. If I can find it so can anybody else.

It's not unusual to blame somebody else for our cynicism and to project our own feelings onto others we’ll never meet, and also to extrapolate that our experience and conclusions are an accurate illustration of how the entire world works. What’s missing from that picture is our own personal responsibility for where we find ourselves, for keeping hope alive and avoiding the death trap of cynicism. And accepting that how we feel has a lot to do with how much real effort and independent thought we put into understanding the complexity of a situation or a person.

Barack Obama is still the same man, with the same core integrity, humanity, intelligence, courage and profound understanding of social and economic issues and how they are interlinked, who stood in front of millions of Americans and said ‘Yes we can’. He said it wouldn’t be easy, and that he couldn’t do it on his own, but that together a lot could be achieved. 

I think many people didn’t hear that part or if they did they didn’t register what it really meant. The operative word in ‘Yes we can’ was ‘we’. 

It’s easy to lose heart when life is difficult, when you have to work too hard at a crappy job for not enough money to do much more than survive if that. It’s understandable that people need somebody to blame and that their first port of call is politicians. They make the laws, they’re in charge; they should know what they’re doing. 

What’s hard to comprehend is when people point their finger at those politicians who haven’t broken their election campaign promises, who work diligently and even effectively against back-breaking obstacles to improve the lives of those they represent. 

The problem America faces right now isn’t Barack Obama. He hasn’t let anybody down. He’s delivered magnificently. He’s part of the solution, which is there for anybody to see if they choose. The other part is everybody actively participating in democracy, rising above difficult circumstances so hope isn’t replaced with cynicism. Searching for the truth, taking responsibility for ourselves as individuals and as part of a whole. Using our minds to discern the lies. Writing to politicians who represent us, calling them, making their lives a nightmare if they aren’t working towards the betterment of the nation as a whole. And voting of course. There’s that.

At some level the easiest thing in the world is destruction, whether of self or somebody else and the easiest society to live in is one where the ruler dictates everything. But at heart we don’t want that, we want our independence and our power. We revere democracy, where the ruler can’t just do what they want, they have to take everybody’s needs into account. 

So why then does everybody expect President Obama to do it all on his own? He can’t order the House to do his bidding. He can’t force Democrats to the polls. He can’t stop Republican ads that are misrepresentative of the truth. He can’t force people to look further than those ads. He can’t magically wipe away the ill-effects of past administrations; all he can do is work incredibly hard at rebuilding America. And he’s doing that. Effectively. He’s pro environment protection, pro renewable energy, pro equality, pro decent wages, pro middle class, pro tolerance. 

Because of him, America didn't dip as badly as European countries in the recession. Because of him America is less at war - and they don't give you a Nobel Peace Prize for nothing. Obama is one of three sitting Presidents who received that prize. The last one was in 1919.

What more do people want? Another historical achievement? Well, they got that too. He's not the first President to try and accomplish universal health coverage, but he's the first to succeed. On its own that's award-winning stuff. Given the obstacles Republicans have put in his way - how many times have they tried to repeal it? 51? - it's verging on the miraculous. Given that Obama is up against conservatives like the Koch brothers, now worth $100 billion who use their money to control Republican politics and to try and destroy Obama and anything he achieved - forget about verging; it is miraculous.

President Obama is definitely doing his bit. But he can’t secure the Senate in the mid-terms.

It's not 'I the President' it's 'We the people'.