Friday, January 22, 2010

Stick around; things always change

My, how quickly things can change.

Exactly one year ago today as I write this, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, riding a wave of popularity unequaled in recent times. His aura was undeniable – the first African American president; the young, handsome leader with the beautiful family. Even many of us who were non-supporters could not help but, at least partially, buy into the “audacity of hope” he seemed to represent.

For me personally, having grown up around bigotry and easily remembering segregated schools, I was proud of my country for taking such a dramatic step away from that ugly part of our history, even though I had enthusiastically voted for John McCain.

Obama’s Democratic brethren were nothing short of giddy, and with good reason. Not only was one of their own taking back the White House, but they were taking over comfortable majorities in both the House and Senate. The pendulum had swung back their way and the Gospels according to Pelosi and Reid would soon unfold.

As for the Republicans, well, there was much wound-licking and wringing of hands. Fingers were pointed and in-fighting persisted.

The tongue-clicking of the media pundits echoed across the land as they reported on a GOP in shambles, a political party that had “lost touch.” How would this formerly stalwart institution rebuild and recover from such a resounding blow?

But, as I said earlier, things can change quickly. The American electorate has repeatedly shown that memories, like honeymoons, are short.

To give an example, September 11, 2001 was way too long ago when the election of November 2008 came along. Although George W. Bush had been perceived as doing an admirable job of bringing the country together during his first year in office following the 9/11 attacks, and enjoyed immense approval ratings at the time, all of that was ancient history by late 2008.

Even though Bush was not the candidate running against Barack Obama in the November 2008 election, he was definitely Obama’s opponent. The “Bush era,” that of the spiraling economy and misguided military action, was denounced through hissing lips and clinched teeth by the Obama faithful. Republican Candidate John McCain could not distance himself enough from that concept.

But here we are one year later. The economy appears to be stabilizing but unemployment has risen in the last year. Some believe our military efforts are stalled. Domestically, a health care plan is still on the table, but greatly watered down from its original incarnation. And public support for it has waned.

If a person had gone into seclusion the day after President Obama’s inauguration last Jan. 20 and just emerged today, and if that person were to open a newspaper, watch a television newscast or log onto any of the Internet news sites today, that person might think that those reporting the news are getting the word “Republican” and “Democrat” mixed up.

For today, January 20, 2010, the wound licking and in-fighting is taking place within the Democratic Party. To the utter shock and dismay of the majority party, the Senate seat formerly held by the late Edward Kennedy will now be filled by a Republican, thanks to Massachusetts voters who took matters into their own hands Tuesday night. And the Democrats are left wondering what went wrong.

Theories abound on what turns the tide in an election. There will be much pontificating in the days ahead.

The Republicans will claim the people have sent a clear message that the “change” for which the Democrats were certain they had a mandate was not the change the voters had in mind. The Dems will tell us this is just a pause in the action, that they are still very much alive and well and still committed to fulfilling the mandate they were given.

Did the Democrat candidate in Massachusetts run a “bad race” as many are contending? Or was President Obama too late to the party when he made his last ditch effort to rally Democratic voters the week before the election? Or was he part of the problem? Who knows?

One of the “gifts” given to Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts was when someone called the seat in play “Ted Kennedy’s seat.” Brown wryly replied that, with all due respect, it was “the people’s seat.” And that became the cornerstone of his candidacy.

You have to give him that one. And those “people,” in spite of all the trends and polls, can be stubbornly independent.

And things will no doubt change again. It is, indeed, the constant in American politics.


Kelly said...

Some of the races in this fall's election could be interesting, including that of Blanche Lincoln.

I don't think Arkansas has had but one Republican in the Senate in well over 100 years....maybe since Reconstruction.

quid said...

Ahhh... pontificating. If only our elected officials could govern as well as they pontificate.

Two things from me. I think Scott Brown was a good wake up call for Obama and his entourage. You won't get anywhere by forcing things through. Take the temperature before you have things "our way". Of course, both Dems and Republicans in Congress will never pay attention to wake up calls. They're too in love with themselves.

Secondly. Is anyone as sick to death of polls as I am? Do we really have to spend the next 9 months getting new polls every day of next November's elections?


Bob Barbanes said...

I have to agree with quid. We Americans seem totally obsessed with getting INSTANT reporting, analysis and deconstruction of every little thing that happens in the world. The truth is that some things (like, um, life?) play out over longer periods of time.

Yes, the luster of "first black President" is wearing off. Yes, people are seeing that Obama is in reality no different than any other politician. But I hardly think the election in Massachusetts constitutes a wholesale abandonment of the Democratic party (not that you have suggested it, Bob). It may be the start of a trend. Or not.

We shall see. I can wait.

And that's what I love about American politics! It is self-correcting. We muddle along, through good presidents and bad, the incumbent party blaming the one immediatly preceding it for the country's current woes.

The truth of the matter is, we cannot blame GWB for the economic mess that we're in now (as much as we might want to). And in light of this, as I've said it before, Obama has a very limited time to make some positive changes or he's going to be a one-term president.

What I fear is that our collective impatience for instant results will cause us to not be happy with ANYBODY or anything. I worry that no matter what any politician does, it will be perceived as "not enough" or portrayed as just plain wrong in the media. To make a crude analogy, it seems like - if the President farts at 0900, we will have a Full Report ("Breaking News!") and worldwide coverage from our team by 0915. We'll have statements from various domestic politicians and of course, other world leaders. Phone lines are open so viewers can share their opinions, and you can always leave us a comment on Twitter...

It's almost like, you can't win anymore. Well, I take that back. Scott Brown did. I wonder though, if in two years he'll still think he "won?" That man has some awfully big shoes to fill.