Thursday, March 3, 2011

Falling Short


As we stand now in the third year of Barack Obama's presidency, the general shape of his and the nation's political vision have begun to emerge. There are the disillusioned blues, the angry reds, the "don't mess with my medicare" grays, and the vast majority, which feels increasingly bitter and marginalized. For liberals, it is the old story: disappointment and bewilderment. Obama has begun to morph into Obabush: foolishly courting "compromise" with conservatives who disrespect him at every opportunity, heap contempt on his achievements, and seem willing to see the country collapse economically again, rather than increase taxes for any reason, or on any group, individual or corporate. For 'conservatives', it is a new twist on the old paranoia: the Tea Party mentality--a strange amalgamation of grass roots ego-tripping, economic ignorance, right wing billionaire sponsors, John Birch society conspiracy theory, and legitimate worry about the level of federal debt obligations--has to all appearances captured the "G.O.P." A party that in the 1990s was characterized by social, economic, and military conservatism is now a party dominated by what can only be called ideological radicals--the bizarre military adventurism of the neo-cons which has us bleeding out our moral and financial well-being in Iraq and Afghanistan, now superseded by the "Know-nothing" libertarian anti-tax movement which incredibly has already forgotten that it was Wall Street, not the Federal Government, which gave us the Great Recession.

As Democrats yearn for a Harry Truman type who will fight the Republicans, win or lose, and condemn Obama for yielding again and again to his 'inner wimp,' it remains unclear where we are headed--but in general, uncertainty promotes fear and fear benefits conservatives. Obama has to hold on to the older white women, if he wants to retain the Presidency, and it may well be that he cannot do that as the "Angry Black Man" in the White House. In any case, it isn't his way. But he looked a little like Jimmy Carter the other night, scolding the Republicans for their intransigence, and he may well have played his hand badly with John Boehner, who for now has taken over the limelight. Barack, Barack, you've lost the reins of government. No matter how you slice it, that is not Presidential.

The problem is, there is truth on both sides. Bush (we forget the first stimulus was his) and Obama were unquestionably right to take the dramatic steps they did to counter-act the Financial Collapse; and Obama was morally right to push through the health care reform that expanded coverage to 30,000,000 citizens. These were actions to save the country, and to give dignity and some measure of equal opportunity to millions of people. But the country is now facing an absolute need to control the cost of entitlements, above all in the area of health care, and 'Obamacare' doesn't do it. We don't seem to be willing to face the facts about this matter. I know a woman who is now almost 80, who has had four major joint replacement operations, each costing over $80,000 in total expenses. Her medical bill before she dies will probably run upwards of $1,000,000. And she is not unusual. The technological advances which now offer amazing health options to people who only a generation ago would have been crippled are also amazingly expensive. How do we deal with this crisis? How do we face the fact we have to triage health care, distribute limited resources? The issue of long term health care costs is THE economic burden facing the country, but we still have not begun to face, much less resolve it. What is a just system of health care, and can--should--will we act to bring it about?

If the list continues, and we slip into a second recession, a Romney or Perry might win, which would lead the country yet further down the path to oligarchy and internal violence. Maybe Romney wouldn't be a disaster, but his party is. Or perhaps it would need that for Obama would somehow pull his party together, rally the reasonable middle and working class of the country against the Tea Party Mad Hatters, and their strange hatred of government and civility. What no one seems to realize is just how thin the economic ice has become, not only in the U.S. but in Europe and the rest of the world as well. The Greeks may yet bring us down, or start the slide, followed by Portugal and Spain. We lack the courage of our convictions. We lack the vision to see how to fix the future. Obama had a good thought, to work a massive deal with Boehner, but it fell apart, probably because our divisions and mistrusts are greater than our capacity for action, and the ship of state is moving on its own now, without a pilot at the helm.