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Stop Blaming. Stop Complaining.

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Why the U.S. Does Not Deserve Obama

illustration

Illustration by Ya-Chi Hsu

By Ania Szremski

When skeptically skimming through an online op-ed piece on why Obama has failed in his first year in office, an ad popped up with side-by-side photos of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “Who’s to Blame?” the image exclaimed in bold yellow print. “Vote Now!”

Surprisingly enough, this inconsequential pay-per-click ad is actually a profound symbol of the ethos of 21st century America. Got problems? Then by all means, heap the blame on the nearest available elected official and wait petulantly until your whims have been catered to.

When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, I tried to remain realistic in my expectations. Would he end racism, make the war in Iraq disappear and turn our economy into gold with his Midas touch? Of course not. Was he the super liberal knight in shining armor that leftist Democrats had been waiting for? Um, no — he had to be centrist enough to win after all.

But, I did have faith in his ability to inspire millions to action, especially those who had been mired in a sluggish political apathy until his campaign touched a nerve no one seemed to know that they had. By “those” I am specifically referring to my own generation of late teens and 20-somethings, a demographic that is historically characterized by political fervor and idealism.

I also had the naïve confidence that this enthusiastic drive to service that had inspired so many to take action during the campaign would carry over after the election. And perhaps it did — for a month or two — only to wither and die when Obama “failed” to put a magical band-aid on the world’s problems.

Working in the arts, I inevitably work with a lot of left-leaning people (often radically so); people who had been some of Obama’s staunchest supporters and pounded the campaign trail until the last hour. Exactly a year later, his presidency has become the stuff of sneers among this exact same group of people. And now, the results of certain senate races have made Obama’s ability to achieve that famous change, not to mention the very future of his presidency, all the more precarious.
I
am no political scientist, of course; nor can I claim any profound understanding of the intricacies of economics or foreign policies. I do follow the news and possess a fairly rational and logical mind, however, making some of these criticisms increasingly rage-provoking in their inanity. Hence, my desire to address some of the most common complaints I encounter on a daily basis.

Complaint 1

It’s been a year, and he hasn’t done anything!
Why hasn’t he fulfilled his promises?

It seems to me that the attention span of some people is akin to the lifespan of a dog—apparently, one year is equal to seven. I shouldn’t need to point out that Obama has a total of four years to work on his campaign promises; and given trends in this country’s election patterns, he was probably already looking forward to a second term in which he could finish what he started.

That being said, let’s take a look at exactly what he has accomplished. According to CNBC, in his first 100 days of office alone, the President lifted Bush’s ban on stem-cell research; held his ground against an irate auto industry and imposed pay limits on top CEOs of companies that received taxpayer funds in the bailout; and managed to pass a $787 billion stimulus package in response to one of the worst fiscal crises in U.S. history.

He ordered the withdrawal of troops from Iraq (which is, indeed, slowly taking place); ordered Guantanamo closed and is taking the steps necessary to do so; and ordered an end to “harsh interrogation methods” (i.e., torture) at that very same facility. Furthermore, he instructed the EPA to allow California to adopt stricter auto emissions standards (standards that can now be adopted by other states), reversing the ruling against those standards that had been made under the Bush and Cheney administration. Also on the green front, Obama saved nature parks from becoming drilling grounds and added more species to the endangered list.

The list goes on and on — actually, according to the White House, Obama passed more legislation in his first 30 days in office than any other president in history. To those who complain that all this legislation amounts to a lot of noise that hasn’t actually taken effect, I am compelled to counsel a virtue that is so loathed in this country: patience.

Complaint 2

Obama is compromising his ideals and trying too hard to secure Republican favor. He has betrayed his liberal values.

In case you don’t remember, Obama always ran on a pragmatist platform; he never presented himself as a radical liberal (despite all the mutterings about Bolsheviks and socialism). Also, keep in mind the sheer vitriol he faces from the GOP and that party’s utter determination to block his every move, as Obama himself so eloquently alluded to during his State of the Union Address.
Guess what, folks: he has to get the GOP to work with him, and he may have to tailor his rhetoric a bit to get them to listen. And it appears to be working: the New York Times reported on February 11 that a bipartisan agreement was finally struck in the Senate regarding a new jobs deal.

Complaint 3

Obama has destroyed his presidency with the health care reform fiasco. He used up all his political capital flogging a dead horse, and has compromised on the bill so much that it isn’t any good anymore anyway.

This problem is intricately bound to what I briefly mentioned earlier: vitriol and divisiveness in the House and Senate. This is a history-changing proposal that quite simply has to happen.

As someone who has lived in five different countries, I can personally assure you that the state of health care in this country is mind-bogglingly disturbing. Did Democrats compromise on the bill to get it through the House? Yes, but if it were to pass Senate, it could establish the precedent for even more significant reforms in the future.

In short, I don’t think Obama has failed in his first year of office. The people
have, by bailing on his attempts at reform before they can possibly take effect
and, in their peevishness, paving the way for the GOP’s return to power in
three years.

Got problems? Stop griping and impulsively switching political allegiances.

Vote, learn to be fiscally responsible and stop resorting to arm-chair apathy when you don’t agree with policy. Participation in a democratic society is not an inherent right — it is a privilege, so learn to make it work.

One Response to Stop Blaming. Stop Complaining.

  1. JE Kaufman says:

    Thanks for this wonderful thoughtful essay! And now we have health care reform too!

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