Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Politics in 2009: A Review

First, let me apologize for the recent infrequency of blog posts.   No excuses; just apologies.   I will do my best to ramp back up to regular posts, and at the same time look for a larger "home" for Between the Columns so that I have an environment with real deadlines. 

Now, onto a "politics in a nutshell" review of 2009:

  • President Obama was sworn into office, riding the coattails of a nation pinning their hopes on the notion that someone who seemed different would, indeed, be the difference they were looking for.  Result: It's been different, but not nearly as much as his campaign intoned.

  • President Obama took "bold, sweeping" action (a style typified by George W. Bush) in the form of a large stimulus (ahem, reinvestment and recovery act) bill that instantly affixed him to the "big spending liberal" post that was sitting there, waiting for him.   It also probably saved the country from a massive economic depression. 

  • President Obama made a historic speech in Egypt about the Middle East; yet only the technocrats and historians listened and cared.

  • Sarah Palin quit being Governor of Alaska, while calling people who stay in their jobs the real quitters.  Not sure if this was brilliantly stupid or stupidly brilliant.  And that mobius strip of a conundrum is precisely why the media has a high on Palin.  

  • Speaking of the media being stuck on Palin, Sarah becomes the first national political personality who uses Twitter and Facebook as her exclusive press secretary. 

  • A spate of rigged economic bubbles, combined with about eight years of government mismanagement -- surprise! -- left an American public untrusting of big, distant institutions.  Y'know, institutions like that federal government.  The same government that handed billions of tax payer dollars over to other big, distant institutions ranging from investment banks to auto manufacturers.  I'm stunned by the apparent lack of thought in the White House had around the transition to a new administration... that somehow Americans would so quickly begin trusting government to do "big things" like the stimulus and health care reform when it had just come off a run of Big Things Gone Bad. 

  • All of this activity, combined with some latent racism and natural conservatism that occurs when people are under stress, helped launch the Tea Party movement.   This movement has had a high participant-to-impact ratio, as the media became fascinated by this small contingent of loud, angry voices.   This serves as an important reminder that squeaky wheels still do get the grease.  Especially wheels that can are able to squeak through the regular daily squawking.  

  • In case you missed it, the Tea Party gets higher approval ratings than Dems or Pubs in a national poll among independents. 

  • Throughout the year, Dick Cheney grumbles aloud about how Obama doesn't do anything right, and is leading America into an untimely death.  The media doesn't know what to do with a former VP who has become a bizarre caricature of his former self. 

  • Amid the ugliness of a severely depressed economy, President Obama stood up and declared that he was going to fix healthcare.  He then promptly sat down and let the old-school Dems fuss about it in Congress, annoying everyone in the process (including, in the end, his base). 

  • Healthcare (ahem, health insurance) legislation hi-jinks, combined with double-digit unemployment and six-digit bonuses in recently-bailed-out-Wall-Street firms, sap the remaining mojo about of the Obama Presidency.  Although we can see "change" from many different angles, it sure doesn't feel like "change" looking straight at it. 

  • Obama tries a new tactic on handling terrorist attacks -- don't freak out.  Well, apparently, Republicans are demanding that Obama freak out, so he capitulated and did a little freaking out.  Then he got trashed for not freaking out soon enough, and then he got slammed for planning to try the failed terrorist in civilian court vs. military tribunals.    It would be one thing to have a great debate on the pros and cons of trying a terrorist in court or military tribunal, but it's another to make it a political statement vs. a policy statement.  If our parties can no longer talk about policy without embedding partisanship, then I'd have to say that they've overstayed their welcome.  Policy is meat; partisanship is candy.   Our politics and media have holes in their teeth, and are emaciated yet obese. 
Kind of a depressing round-up for 2009, eh?  Yes, this nutshell is reflective of my lens... a lens that had higher hopes for "year 1" of the era of Obama.  A lens that sees the complexities of the issues we're up against, and the seemingly unwillingness of our society to be able to cope with these complexities through meaningful debate and reasonable resolutions, policies and project plans. 

Here are some additional thoughts around why things don't feel so great on a macro scale:

America is depressed because we're letting ourselves down.  Obama said it on the campaign trail -- and he was right:  Change happens from the bottom-up, and each of us needs to make the changes we can in order for true, systemic improvements to occur in our culture.   Yet, as President, I've heard and felt almost none of this sentiment from Obama.  It's not like he's not trying to do the right thing... he certainly is.  But he's doing it in what seems to be the most conventional, conservative approach he could take -- letting Congress drive the politics, and letting the opposition party continue to control the debate and tell the more compelling stories. 

The leadership we need is not the kind that fixes the economy for us.  The leadership we need is the kind that challenges us to fix the economy.  It's our country; our economy; our values; our abilities; our limitations; our creativity; our resourcefulness; our fear; our fearlessness; our resoluteness; our inquisitiveness; our diversity; our conservatism; our liberalism; our tolerance.   We've got a ton of all of it.  We just need to be led to use what we got in more valuable, meaningful ways.  When we do that, we'll feel better individually, and only then, feel better as a society.

So, with that, happy 2010, and here's to hoping that we collectively figure out that improving our society starts with improving ourselves.