Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Obama Saved America

Obama has done more for America than most people think, but it is not likely how his supporters present it.
Let me come out and state the premise of this post: Obama has saved America from a very difficult issue and put the society and nation on firm footing that was becoming very shaky under Bush.  But I am not talking about Health Care, Iraq, Bin Laden or Gay Rights.  Obama's main social accomplish is separate from this policy achievements or failures.

What Obama has done is something very different, something more subtle and something that will have a deeply positive long term impact on America:  Obama has managed to take on the divisive rhetoric which was boiling over in the Bush years and turning American against each other on to himself and only himself.  During his Presidency members of the Tea Party have applied massive rage upon him, but this was rage that before Obama Americans were throwing on each other.

Let me set the stage.  Americans in the 1990s saw a major rise in a new kind of right wing activism.  Gone was Reagan's overwhelming positivism and his ability to work with all sides of the political system (including the Soviets) and was replaced with a radical bipolar political world.  Clinton confronted this very directly, engaging the right wing in a series of mean fights that he tended to win.  This method of direct political fight was one Clinton was a master at, but it left a legacy of deep hatred among Americans.  By 2000 it was pretty much impossible to image a serious active Republican becoming engaged to a active Democrat.  By the Bush vs. Gore race America had become bipolar.

I will be honest, by 2000 I would not respect anyone who vote Republican period.  I found having to deal with any republicans in my family difficult, and I avoided knowing them or working with them as much as I could.  Over the 8 years of Bush this just got worse.  I think this was pretty standard all over America.

After 9-11 America had a short period of unity, but Bush and Cheney proved unable to manage a united nation or the serious issue of a war on terror.  They let Bin Laden escape and the Taliban survive as the became consumed with a new Vietnam in Iraq which could only end in humiliation and shame for America.  As they fumbled and failed, trying to exploit every gram of political Capital out of 9-11 as they failed to deal with America's major problems their supporters turned on more and more ' against others' in America.  Under Bush America stopped being a nation of consensus, America stopped being a nation of immigrants, America stopped being a nation that hated war.  America became a nation of extreme radical hatred and aggression, and to a large extend it was directed at other Americans.

Cheney and Bush had no trouble implying that Americans who opposed the Iraq war supported terrorism or were endangering the nation.  They had no problem asking Americans to spy on each other, and creating new means of hunting internal enemies.  America became a much more scary place, especially for Americans.

Then Obama took office.  Not surprising the anger and frustration of a right wing that has seen all of its most prized ideas and religious faith fail it was directed at Obama right away in the form of the Tea Party.

And Obama did something very surprising, something rather impressive for the first African American President of the United States: Obama took it.

Obama could have wagged a Bush or Clinton style political war back, mocking the idiotic stances of the Tea Party in the way Barney Frank humiliated Tea Party idiots.  The Tea Party was such an obvious joke it would have made a simple target for Obama.  He could have painted those against him as racists, as dumb, as hateful. He could have humiliated over and over again in public without the slightest efforts, feeding hurtful jokes to his supporters to be used at uncomfortable Thanksgiving or office all over America.  He could have thought back by raising the culture war in America even higher.

But instead he did not raise his armies, he didn't not rally his troops to stand by him against the Tea Party and the GOP.  He took it.  The more hateful and insane the Tea Party became against him the more he took it.  He didn't draw the rest of America in to the fight, rather with a lot of patience he let the hatred of the right, which comes from its own failures, settle upon him and him alone.

And Obama has had an opportunity to make this a very ugly battle.  The Occupy movement gave Obama a very good chance to make this ugly.  The Occupy was a vicious little fight America had within itself, but unlike the GOP embracing the Tea Party Obama kept his distance from Occupy.  Why?  Well in part because it was a long term fight between Americans that is going to take a long time to work out.  Rather than using the American people to play out his political battles, in a way Clinton and Bush would have, Obama has kept a remarkable objectivity as President.

Sure he is more to the left of the established American political system, but certainly not as far to the left as either his supported mostly hoped and his enemies seem to believe.  But overall Obama has raised the Presidency out of the dirt of people like Nixon, Cheney, Clinton and Rove.  Not only has he managed to re-establish the essential objectivity of an executive office, much harmed by 20 years of petty political fighting, but he has also managed to separate political passions and hatreds from the larger community.

So the Tea Party has expressed itself mostly in terms of their hatred of Obama.  They clearly don't think much of most minorities, women and gay either but their hatred is more and more directly at Obama and only at Obama.  And Obama has managed, somehow, to find the courage and class to take this.

Maybe this should not be surprising.  African Americans have a long legacy of having to take white hatred and still work for the larger community.  Perhaps only a black American could have done this.  I think what Obama did was the essential heroism of generations of black Americans, faced with very personal and very ignorant hatred they managed to keep their 'eyes on the prize' and maintain their essential love of and faith in America.

Obama ability to not let the attacks on him become an issue between Americans is the product of years of dignity learned by great African American leaders.  Not for the first time America owes a great debt, a great unearned debt, to its black conscious.