Obama’s eulogy for the slain in Charleston, South Carolina exemplifies what I find so wonderful and so terrible about President Obama. He has such soul, and such a beautiful intellect coupled with faith that can touch people in such an amazing way. He lifts me up with his rhetoric and elevates me to a higher level beyond hate and I love him for it, but then I look at so many of the policies he has promoted as president of the US and I fall into a deep well of cynicism–the TPP, the “free” trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and S. Korea, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and now its ugly stepsister, the Freedom Act, the persecution of government whistle-blowers, the illegal drone assassinations in half a dozen countries, the continuation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the failure to pass meaningful regulation of Wall Street, and the failure to fight for our agenda and defend it in public.
The decision to get health care reform by calling for a secret meeting with the health insurance executives and working out a backroom deal at the beginning of his presidency without first fighting for a public, single-payer option set the tone for the rest of the Obama presidency. Getting in bed with the financial sector and governing on their behalf, while hoodwinking the rest of us with sly slogans about ‘change you can believe in’, leaves me feeling so demoralized and betrayed. I’m sorry, but I can’t listen to an Obama speech that should touch my heart without first thinking in my head that it is all a spectacle meant to distract us and fool us into thinking that something meaningful is happening.
Obama could have been a great president like FDR who both stirred our souls and matched his rhetoric with actions that helped millions of Americans and set the nation on a new and better path, but he threw away the Democratic majorities in the house and the senate and his mandate for change by refusing to fight for a progressive agenda. After seeing that Obama really meant more of the same with a different and suaver face than Bush, the public stayed home in the next election and the Democrats lost congress.
The only thing positive I can say about Obama is that 7 years of his presidency has so enured us to pretty rhetoric, that we are now ready to listen to blunt, plain-speaking leaders like Bernie Sanders, who don’t look pretty on stage and don’t stir our souls with sweeping rhetoric, but who do speak honestly about the policies they plan to implement. Obama has taught us that words are cheap and concrete proposals matter far more than calls for hope and spiritual uplift. Obama’s protestant theology that we are saved by faith needs to be replaced by a more Catholic theology that we are saved by our works. Most importantly, Obama has taught us that we will not be saved by divine intervention on high, but rather we need to save ourselves from the grassroots up. We must mobilize by the millions to take back our country from the plutocrats who are turning our country into an oligarchy.