Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bad, Sad, Mad

I imagine President Obama isn’t feeling too well tonight.  Since I don’t think he’s delusional, he must know that the insane and protracted debacle that just accompanied the raising of the debt ceiling has ended with a really bad deal.  It pleases no one and may very well kick-start an economic decline that won’t stop until we hit bottom.  This man whom, I believe, genuinely wanted to help make America better – for everyone and everything – must know that he’s made a piss poor job of it, but I don’t think he fully understands how and why he and we got here.  But I’ve got the audacity to think I do understand, so here goes.

Things as they are now really started with the rise of Ronald Reagan and, simultaneously, the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the assassination of John Lennon, all of which occurred in 1980.  What was then called The Silent Majority was very displeased with the events of the 60s and 70s that ushered in a new era of social permissiveness.  They didn’t like what they saw as the success of the civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements.  They didn’t like uppity blacks and hippies and The Pill and the wholesale questioning of the existence of God.  They didn’t like the tough economic times of the 70s, or Jimmy Carter trying to rein them in, he with his sweater in a cold White House and the 55 mph speed limit and the energy crisis and his complete inability to get a whole bunch of American hostages out of Iran.

So, in the leadership of Ronald Reagan they saw a man who had seen the error of his own youthful Democrat, union-supporting, Hollywood-decadent ways and had been born again (as it were) in the sobering waters of Republican conservatism, traditional social and religious values, and unbridled free-market capitalism.  He made them feel comfortable and hopeful and much less afraid.

For their part, the Boomers – most in our 30s, a few in our 40s – were so demoralized by Lennon’s death and the end of his love-and-peace message that many of us allowed ourselves to be seduced by cocaine and unprecedented opportunities to make a lot of money, which seemed like a good idea, because it had turned out that love was not all we needed, and an ambitious younger generation (the Yuppies) were snapping at our heels like Pac Man.

Bill Clinton notwithstanding, things went on in this vein for a couple of decades, including an increasing lack of compassion for the poor, the under-employed, and the in any way vulnerable and needy on virtually everybody’s part.  The Silent Majority and Boomers may have been different in many ways, but they had come to share a love of money and success and feelings of safety.  They had kids and careers and comfort and they wanted to stay that way.  It was during these years that glamour was prized, and people shopped ‘til they dropped for things that were to die for.

Then 9/11 happened and America suddenly realized it was vulnerable in an unsafe world that was changing once again, filled with new kinds of revolutionaries, new kinds of heathens, more people who wanted a slice of the good times pie and we didn’t feel like sharing.  So we kept Bush-43 around for eight years, because he was butch and patriotic and God-fearing, and didn’t back away from a good fight or reckon with no new-fangled ideas.

Then along came Barack Hussein Obama, a clearly dangerous (liberal) black man (!) with a frightening foreign name who was young and handsome and talked real pretty about change and hope.  So the Reagan Democrats and Traditional Republicans and Super-Good Christians organically joined forces and morphed into a revitalized population of über-conservatives (soon to be known as the Tea Party) and radical Christians who eschewed science, common decency and common sense, along with the poetry and parables of the Bible, and chose instead to take everything literally, from the ancient Bible to the 200-year-old Constitution, to the obvious liberal dangers of the new millennium.  They did not see, and still do not see, any reason for rethinking or updating or changing anything, because if they concede to change, the terrible “other” wins.

And when Barack Obama won in 2008 – thanks largely to a whole new generation of uppity blacks and deviant young people – the now not-so-silent majority/minority made it their mission to bring him down even before he could get on his feet.

For his part, President Obama gravely underestimated the toxic level of racism that would be added to an already-vile witch’s brew of philosophical and political opposition.  His chief goal – the one upon which hope and change were firmly tethered – was to make everyone in the Washington power structure play nicely together, understand and respect each other’s differing views, and from the epiphany that would result from this new rapprochement, they would work together to change America for the better.

Maybe it would have worked if Bush-43 hadn’t ratcheted up the debt and deficit, decimated government regulation and oversight of nearly everything, and put two wars on America’s American Express card.  But he did.  And Barack Obama inherited an indescribable mess.  He kept the American (and world) economy from falling over the proverbial edge of the proverbial cliff, but he didn’t get a lot of credit for that, because to most people (like me), economics is math and math is something we don’t understand.

Then the President took the initiative in changing some things he could change on his own, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of credit for that, because modest but meaningful changes are small news and the media didn’t cover it.  Lastly, the President simply would not abandon his “let’s all get along” prime directive, nor did he play hardball with the disparate members of his own party.  It may also be that negotiation just isn’t his strong suit.  In any case, he ended up presenting the country with really crappy versions of change initiatives we wanted, like universal health care and strong financial reform and making the rich & corporations pay up and, now, even raising the debt ceiling came with poorly thought out, never discussed, and damaging laws and protocols that may very well push us over that cliff after all.

The President turns 50 this week and I imagine that even for a president, that’s a rough milestone to reach.  It was a bitch for me.  But it was also the point at which I decided to stop caring about what other people thought of me and just be and accept myself as I am – and let the chips fall where they may.  With any luck, Mr. Obama will have the same impulse and let us know that if we re-elect him in 2012, he’ll be the Obama we voted for last time, rather than the largely ineffectual compromiser he’s been during his first term.  He’s only got one term left and he’s got nothing to lose.  I hope he’ll see it that way – before the rest of us lose everything.

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