Normally I don’t write about the presidential election – there are many, many, many places to get first-rate commentary about it. But recently I saw this YouTube video that perfectly captures both why Obama drives Progressives nuts and why he could be a great president for us in his second term – if we get our act together.
In the video Obama is playing preacher to the UAW convention – and baby, the choir is fired up. This is the Obama a lot of us fell in love with: brilliant cadence, a wonderful mix of soaring and down-home rhetoric, with the looseness, speed, and matter-of-fact swagger of a basketball player who owns the court.
And it drives us crazy. Where did this man go for the last three years? And is he going to disappear again the minute he gets reelected?
That’s one way to see it. Another way to see it is through the lens of FDR. FDR was a much, much less promising candidate than Obama – a more conservative man who ran in part on balancing the budget during a time of suffering that is now almost unimaginable. The difference between FDR and Obama is not the man. The difference is that when FDR was elected, parts of Iowa were under martial law.
I’m not saying Obama couldn’t have done more; he could have. Even with the scorched-earth Republicans, Obama had more room to maneuver than he ever tried to use. And he could’ve gotten a whole lot more room to maneuver if he had try to encourage our side – or just gotten out of our way – instead of having his folks do would they could to tamp us down.
But guess what? No politician in their right mind who gets to be US president is going to give us what we want unless they are absolutely forced to do so. All you have to do is look at the recent history of hard-core lefties like Lula in Brazil to know how foolhardy is to expect we’ll get different results if we keep playing the same way.
But if we are on the march, if corporations and the rich are scared silly, we couldn’t ask for someone better than Obama to broker a good deal. As we have learned the hard way in the last three years, this is a man who truly, honestly believes in his soul in bringing everyone together. And as we are reminded by the YouTube video, this is a man with enough steel to pull it off – if we move the playing field far enough to the left.
I’m not saying it’ll be easy. Iowa wasn’t under martial law just because of hard-core organizing by farmers. Folks were desperate and their backs were against the wall. Due to the struggles of our foremothers and forefathers in the 30s, thankfully most folks aren’t facing suffering that’s anywhere as severe. And given the hope and joy so many of us felt when we elected the first black president in the history of the US, it’s hard to imagine that something like Occupy Wall Street would’ve taken off in the first couple of years of his presidency (although it pains me to admit that). I don’t know if it would be realistic or fair to have expected we could have done more given the cards we were dealt.
But the next four years are a whole different story. We could have the president we see in the YouTube video – but only if we fight for it.