36 Days in and Obama Hasn’t Delivered

Recently I’ve had several variations of the same conversation with friends of mine.  It goes something like this:

Me: Did you see this thing Obama’s doing.  It’s pretty cool.

Friend: Pssh!  But what about this, that and those.  He’s not living up to his campaign promises!  It’s more of the same!

It seems like there is a pretty strong sentiment out there that Obama has made too many concessions to Republicans and failed to overturn many of the Bush Administrations unpopular policies.  I’ve argued against this sentiment enough times that I feel it’s time to put it up publicly.

First of all, I feel like I understand people’s frustration and disappointment with some of the decisions that have been made lately.  For instance, the Administration has equivocated on closing Gitmo as it promised.  It passed the Stimulus Bill without the more stringent regulations and oversight that we hoped for.  There are a lot of other things that are making people throw their hands up in disbelief.  Why isn’t he cleaning house?  Why isn’t he pushing his agenda through?  Why isn’t he taking a stand on these things?

Barack Obama’s campaign was an inspirational example of how to spread awareness and foster hope in this country’s people.  But in that same breath he set the bar extremely high for himself.  Obama has created such a bright shining vision of the future of government in this country that it’s almost tangible to some people.  He promised us greatness and we want it now.  I say “we” because I’m certainly one of those people.  I’m anticipating these major shifts in our democracy as intently as anyone else.

But maybe I’m just a little more realistic about the time frame.  It has been precisely 36 days since he took office.  In that time, I’ve learned more about the decisions being made in my government than I have in my entire 10 years as an adult of voting age.  And not from 3rd party sources, but from official government sites that want me to know.  A multi-billion dollar stimulus package has been signed and has started being delivered.  It contains the massive tax break that was promised, as well as provisions for creating the much needed jobs that were promised.  And he’s extended health care coverage for our nation’s children.  I call these things pretty impressive for the first month on the job.  Especially compared to what we could expect from the last 8 years.

I do believe we should continue to hold Obama’s feet to the fire.  I think he should be held accountable for the lofty goals he signed up for.  But what I see around me is a continuation of the focus on negativity and nay saying.  The Bush years put us in a really bad mood, and Obama is going to have a hard time dispelling that atmosphere.

So why am I so up beat?  Why am I not gnashing my teeth, shaking my fist and wondering if this is shaping up to be “more of the same.”  The answer is pretty simple and probably sounds pretty naive.  I believe in our president.  I have stated before that I was an Obama supporter mainly because he convinced me that he has integrity.  I think Obama believes in what he says and he genuinely wants to accomplish the things he’s saying.  Combine that with the fact that I think he is extremely smart and capable.  With those things in mind, it’s not difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt.

And the key point I’m trying to make on my side of this argument is that he deserves some slack.  Look what he’s working with:

  • The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. I don’t think that can be understated.  And it’s made worse by the fact that it’s more closely tied to the global market.  It’s like all of the developed nations in the world are holding giant sinking stones and unfortunately many of the stones are tied to each other.
  • Many adversaries and detractors from the previous administration. The government is still full of people who supported (and still support) George W. Bush’s policies.  If you think these people aren’t making things difficult, you haven’t been paying attention to the way the Bush camp operates.
  • A half-formed team. Obama has had several setbacks in bringing in the people to head up his various initiatives.  Many have been disqualified due to indiscretions in their private affairs (read: tax evasion).  I think the fact that he’s let go of valuable talent to uphold the ideals of transparency and openness is a statement in itself.
  • He’s brand new. This might sound like a cop out.  But he is new on the job.  It was one of the most damning things they brought against him during the campaign and it’s not a completely merit-less argument.  Obama is going to have to figure out how to maneuver before he can make sweeping changes.

Now there is something I don’t understand.  To my friends and anyone else who feels that Obama should be making more sweeping changes and reversals in keeping with his campaign promises: Why are we asking our new President to wield the same unchecked power as our old one? It would be great if Obama could come in and throw his weight around to enact these changes.  But it would only be great because we think he’s right.  When Bush was doing it, we were enraged.  We called it abuse of power.  We called for impeachment and burning at the stake (maybe that last one was just me).  So why would we expect Obama to have the same M.O.?

Obama has always tackled issues with a more measured and intellectual approach.  There are probably lots of things to consider when attempting to right some of the egregious wrongs done by the Bush Administration.  The funny thing here is that I have reversed my position on this since before the election.  I was one of the people going “Just pull all the troops out of Iraq.  How is that difficult?”  or “If we can’t charge the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, just release them and close the prison.  It’s that simple.”  But I’m sure it’s not simple, and that was a pretty knee-jerk reaction.  The President and his people probably have mountains of information to sift through before they can make an informed decision about the best course of action.  But it’s important to note here that my main reason for changing my thinking is that I trust Obama to make informed decisions.  That’s why I elected him.  Because he promised not to shoot from the hip without knowing exactly what he was getting into.

On another note, It seems to me that one of the campaign promises Obama is trying to keep is to restore the honor to our government and the office of President of the United States.  That can’t be done by steamrolling your policies through while dropping any you don’t particularly agree with.  You do that by being reasonable and compromising and making people feel like they are part of the process.  Sometimes that means making concessions.  We aren’t going to like some of the concessions to be sure.  But the one message Obama has spoken repeatedly over the last several weeks is “it won’t happen overnight.”

Well at 36 days, I’d say we’re still smack in the middle of night.  So I’ll wait until day break and then have a look around.  If I don’t like what I see then, I’ll gnash my teeth and shake my fist with everyone else.

I Feel The Need To Help, So Sue Me

A friend of mine has a problem.

What can we learn from the above sentence?  Quite a few things if we put our thinking caps on.  Let’s call this person Buddy.  Buddy is my friend.  Buddy has a problem. Right about now, we’d be aces in our simple reading comprehension class.

Also consider this.  I want to help my friend. To my mind, this is a natural progression.  If you call someone your friend, you should truly want to help them with a problem they have.  Have you ever helped someone move?  Have you ever loaned them money?  Have you ever jumped in to aid them in a fight?

Hmmm.  That last one is tricky.  What if you’ve never been in a fight before?  Most people don’t want to get hurt.  The self preservation instinct kicks in.  We may start asking ourselves questions about Buddy and about the situation.  Who and Why is Buddy fighting?  Did he start it?  Does he deserve it?  Uh oh, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Buddy is our friend.  Friends help friends no matter what right… ?  Will I get hurt if I help buddy?  Am I willing to get hurt to help Buddy?

That’s it.  Buddy is screwed.

In a lot of cases, for a lot of people, the answer to that last question is No.  Not a qualified no as in “well it depends.”  But just no.  Buddy is going to get his ass kicked.  Maybe by some drunk at a bar.  Maybe by a spouse or partner who doesn’t know what stop means.  Maybe because of an inability to keep himself out of trouble.  People get into fights all the time.  And their friends don’t support them, because they’re afraid of the consequences.  When you’re younger, the consequences might be a black eye.  When you’re an adult, the consequences turn into swift and severe legal action.

If Buddy and I beat the barfly.  He could sue the both of us for assault.  If I help Buddy with his domestic situation, I could be liable for invasion of privacy or something to that effect.  If Buddy needs professional help in the form of some type of intervention, either Buddy or his family could sue me for… I don’t know, giving a shit?  I don’t actually know what the legal implications are.  But I know they might be there.  And I know they’re scary.  Either way the problem is I could be found in violation of the law for caring enough to help someone.

The only thing I can say is that breaks my heart.  It’s never difficult to find someone willing to complain about how messed up things are these days.  There’s a war going on.  We’re in a recession.  More and more of our friends are losing fights every day.  And I think one of the big reasons is because they are going at it alone.  But those same complainers turn their backs to it every day.  They watch their Buddy get beat down and they can’t bring themselves to take action.  Apparently someone needs to define the word “friend” for me.

There’s a valid argument that maybe Buddy’s family should ultimately be responsible for helping.  But what if Buddy’s family doesn’t care as much as I do?  What if they’re ignorant and irresponsible and self-centered?  We’re talking about the downfall of society here, so clearly there are people who can’t count on a benevolent family support structure.

Another argument is that I should also consider my own situation when deciding whether to jump into the fray with my friend.  Can I afford to be hurt?  Will other people get hurt through me, like perhaps kids or my employer?  Probably the most pointed question is, if I need help next, will anyone help me? These are all important things to consider and not to be taken lightly.  But shouldn’t we consider them in the right context?  Instead of scaring ourselves with all these “what ifs” and convincing ourselves that it’s best not to get involved, why don’t we convince ourselves to do what’s right.  And then think about how to minimize the collateral damage.

Everyone has a limit.  If you aren’t part of a situation, you have to be cautious about getting involved.  But people survive hardships every day.  We all go through hard times and somehow come out on the other side.  Battered and bruised, but still standing.  And isn’t it worth it to do that sometimes if you can help someone you care about?  I think we have to try to take care of each other if we’re going to make it.  And if we’re going to help each other, we can’t be afraid to stand up.  Even if we might get hurt.

A friend of mine has a Big Problem.

I want to help my friend, but I could get hurt.  So do I help anyway?  Damn right I do.