Obama and that Empty Chair
Last week I watched Clint Eastwood debate an empty chair in his humorous “dialogue” with the president. Yes his performance was offensive, but more important is that he missed the point.
Had it been me up there, I would have wanted to speak to the president as well. I would have wanted to ask him, “What have you done with my Obama?”
Mr. President, from the moment I watched your “They said it couldn’t be done” speech after winning the Iowa Caucuses back in ’08, I knew you were no ordinary politician. You seemed to have the grace and the oratory skills of a Kennedy; the vision of a King; the smarts of a Clinton and the charisma of a Hollywood star.
I found myself happily willing to set aside my thick-skinned skepticism and be swept up and inspired. The night you got elected, Shelley and I were in a bar in our predominantly black neighborhood. When CNN declared you the winner, the place, and the entire neighborhood exploded in a fit of wild joy. What a thrilling experience for this old child of the 60’s who had worked hard for civil rights and who had been certain he’d never live to see such a day! Can we all once again really feel a sense of optimism and possibility for our country? Yes we can, you said.
So where did you go?
“President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet,” noted Romney in his acceptance speech. Yeah, that guy, Barack. What have you done with him? You’ve had the vision to see just how dangerous global warming really is; yet God help us if you do as little during the next four years to keep that promise as you have during the last.
The Obama I voted for assailed the Bush era tax cuts, but then extended them. He vowed to close Guantanamo’s detention camps, but didn’t.
And the economy, the almost-collapse of which helped sweep you into office, has recovered so weakly that it leaves me with a feeling of dismay. I don’t believe for a minute that it’s all your fault. But are you sure you know what you’re doing?
Now to be fair, your administration has been far from a failure. You’ve speeded up our exit from two wars, and gave the go ahead to kill the man most responsible for the death of 3,000 of us, something your Republican predecessor couldn’t achieve. In addition, you managed to use your political prowess to pass The Affordable Care Act, the most necessary, important (though also politically dangerous) piece of social legislation since the New Deal. Plus you signed a badly needed bill to further regulate a dangerously out of control Wall Street.
And also I shouldn’t deny that you have been met with ferocious resistance every step of the way, led by ideologically-driven radicals who have been more devoted to the failure of your presidency than to the success of the country. They sent congressmen to Washington sworn to never compromise with you, who then threw every roadblock in your path, and who then turned around and blamed you for not making more progress. You have been up against no ordinary political opposition. An entire news network works day and night to destroy you. You’ve been seriously accused by otherwise intelligent people of being a Socialist, a Muslim, foreign-born.
Now, they have even passed legislation in swing states to suppress voting by Democrats. Their entire “blame the government” strategy is an elaborate smokescreen to make sure we “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”, who is, of course, The Man, those who run the corporations and get paid dizzying salaries. Who secure massive tax breaks for themselves and their companies as they ship our jobs overseas while literally buying up our democracy at home. There are some decent people in that party, but they are promoting obscene policies, from denying abortions to the raped to making the rich richer.
So listen, I may be motivated to vote for you again out of fear and dread of a Republican victory. But I cannot pretend that their attempt to exploit our disappointment in you is baseless.
What’s that you say? We expected too much from you? Well, exactly who was it that nurtured that back in ’08? Or are you, just like the man on the stage last week addressing that empty chair, just another actor?
I guess I should have known better. I’ve always been anxious to find heroes, people (and especially men) to admire, believe in, and live up to. They imbue my days with hope and an inspiration that mobilizes me. It’s as if I’ve always needed to find not just something to believe in, but someone. When I was a young boy, I adored my father, and believed him to possess almost magical powers. When during my teen years I could see through the mask to the truth of a very humanly flawed person, it left me with a hero vacuum. Without one, a part of me feels rudderless, even a bit bereft somehow.
I should have heeded author Sheldon Kopp’s admonition…
“If you have a hero, look again. You have diminished yourself in some way.”
So maybe you were right when you said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” We, and not you.
Listen, Mr. O, you have made defending you with other than a Romney-Is-Worse argument a difficult thing. This week you have an opportunity to rededicate yourself to your original, transformational vision, and to inspire us to stop those who advocate a cold-hearted, materialistic, ultra-capitalist philosophy. But more important will be what you do this time should you win again.
At this point, however, I’m left with the truth that four years ago I voted for you happily. This year, I will vote for you once again, but sadly. You spoke in the first campaign of Hope and Change. Now what I hope for is that you do.