After listening to nearly two years of bitter partisan fighting, I thought I was finished with politics. I followed reports of the upcoming mid-elections. I voted early from overseas. But I did not expect my political zeal to kick in again. It is a truly disheartening experience to help elect your new President, and then watch as the country expects that President to fix everything, rapidly spiraling into disillusionment, impatience and anger when issues – namely, the economy – are not resolved in a quick enough manner.
My passion for politics and activism, however, returned with surprising force because of the sentiments and attitudes surrounding the mid-term elections this year. And now, I have a few thoughts to put forward.
The past eighteen months have been difficult for me politically. I vividly recall a moment while visiting friends in New York shortly after Obama’s Inauguration in January 2009. I was walking down a street in Brooklyn and passed by a café. The owner had placed a small sidewalk sign outside his door that proclaimed in bright chalk: “Congratulations Mr. President! Now get to work.” I remember then the trepidation I felt towards the already-growing sentiment of expectation. People were excited, enthusiastic…and impatient for change. It seemed that nobody remembered that President Obama said it would take time, especially when the nation faced one of the worst recessions in our history.
That expectation and impatience only magnified over the past eighteen months. The economy did not miraculously rebound into prosperity. Thousands of people remained unemployed; thousands more lost their jobs. Home foreclosures swept across the country. Banks failed; several financial corporations proved to be unscrupulous, corrupt, and entirely self-serving. Because of this, frustration and anger grew. Understandably so. I have family and friends who are experiencing unemployment. My partner is currently working two minimum-wage jobs just to make ends meet. For countless Americans, survival is the predominant mindset.
I understand this. What angers me is the vicious partisan fighting. Instead of buckling down and working together – using differences as an asset rather than an obstacle – Congress chose to retreat to the far corners of their party lines. Time and time again, Republicans have blocked legislation or delayed discussions just because it was an idea put forward by Democrats. (As an example, here is an excerpt from national editor Todd Purdum’s detailed article “Washington We Have a Problem.” Purdum follows a meeting between the President and the Majority and Minority Speakers of Congress. They are discussing ways in which both parties can work together to write and pass a bill that would regulate Wall Street sans government bailouts:
“The Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and the House minority leader, John Boehner, of Ohio, sharply denounce the pending bill, with McConnell characterizing it as certain to “lead to endless taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street banks.” Oh, they insist that they want bipartisan action. But in the coming weeks McConnell’s party will three times vote against even allowing debate on the matter to proceed in the Senate—all part of a deliberate strategy, openly articulated by McConnell, of forcing the G.O.P. to play “team ball” and vote no on everything Obama proposes, regardless of principle or conviction, in hopes of fielding a “bigger team” after this fall’s midterm elections. Never mind that taxpayer bailouts are precisely what this bill is intended to avoid” (Purdum Vanity Fair).*
I need to commend the Democrats for persevering against such stalwart opposition, yet they are not without blame either. Such gridlock does not serve the American people.
Here is the second issue that angers me: using the current Administration as a scapegoat. Here is where my gloves come off (which I promised to do when creating (edge)wise over two years ago). President Obama is not a magician. Nor is he an economic guru, intellectual genius or Jesus Christ. He is not a savior. That is what Obama is not. Here is what President Obama is: a human being who was elected by the people into one of the most powerful positions in the world. He is a man who faces a dizzying array of issues on a daily basis: climate control, the economy, Middle-East peace talks, health care, nuclear treaties, the war in Afghanistan, support for small businesses, alternative energy sources, federal budget, the federal deficit, job growth, the list goes on. Yes, he surrounds himself with a team, yet there is no question that our President is an exceedingly busy man. I do not envy his job. It must be the most stressful position on this planet.
That being said, I want to share two quotes I read this morning as I went through the election results. The first comes from John Boehner from Ohio, as quoted by Barbara Bradley Hagerty at NPR: ” ‘The American people have sent an unmistakable message’ to President Obama, Boehner said in a late-night speech to wild applause. ‘And that message is: Change course.’”
Why is that exactly, Mr. Boehner? Because of government spending? Because of the perceived lack of action on the Administration – and President’s – part to improve the economy?
The second quote is from an op/ed article in The New Republic by Jonathan Cohn: “Obama and his allies have accomplished an entire term’s worth of legislation in just two years. Financial regulation, direct student lending, the Recovery Act, and health care reform — that’s a record of accomplishment unmatched in recent history.”
Let that sink in. A “record of accomplishment.” And yet Americans were still frustrated and angry enough to oust both old and new incumbents from Congress. If we follow Boehner’s reasoning, this ousting was a message to – not our statesmen and stateswomen – but to President Obama. If the Obama Administration has indeed accomplished so much (and I believe it has), why are Americans still upset? Several analysts and politicians have claimed that the reason is the stubborn, sluggish economy. And people figure, ‘Obama promised change and the economy has not gotten better. We’re in more debt than before. Therefore he’s to blame, as well as all those Democrats who support him. Get ‘em out.’
The cold, hard fact about the economy is that it is a complex, slow-moving beast. There have been several comparisons to the current recession with that of the Great Depression (proportionally-wise). I wish to remind people that the Great Depression lasted far longer than eighteen months. In fact, it has been argued that the Great Depression ended because of World War II. It was not job creation or the New Deal. War broke the back of the depression. Naturally I am not suggesting that we need a war to emerge from this bog of unemployment and foreclosures. I merely wish to point out that economic matters demand time. As intricate as it is, the economy cannot be fixed overnight. Or even in eighteen months.
It is not fair nor – dare I say it? – intelligent to blame the standing President for a slow recovery.
This morning was a saddening and disappointing one for me. I saw my country react out of frustration, anger, and fear. Those emotions are valid, but not when they are fueled by an illogical expectation of swift change. Improvement is coming. Better, more prosperous times will arrive. It will just take longer to achieve this because of the myriad of factors that are playing on the economic field. It isn’t just about job creation; it’s also about home values and consumer spending. It is not just about foreclosures and mortgages but also about regulation of banks and Wall Street. Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this economic mess we are experiencing. Blaming a scapegoat might make us feel better, but it is a futile practice. Because, honestly, the threads of blame most likely stretch back several years, perhaps decades. We need patience; we need not to cast blame and accusations.
Which is exactly what both political parties do with ferocious energy. Now that we have more “extreme” representatives in Congress, I can only hope that party-line divisions do not become even starker. I am anxious tonight. I think many Americans acted rashly Tuesday, and we may have created even more problems for ourselves than before. I am nervous that Congress will be gridlocked for the next two years while serious, important issues will be overlooked, dismissed, or postponed. I will not doom our nation to this, but my apprehension remains.
*Purdum, Todd S. “Washington We Have A Problem,” Vanity Fair, September 2010. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/09/broken-washington-201009?currentPage=1