Caring Might Not Be Enough
Yesterday, Washington Post published an opinion piece by Richard Cohen, highlighting how President Obama seemed to be a man without passion for the issues he pursued throughout his first term. According to Cohen, the president spent significant political capital on passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), but that was never his crusade, and he spent very little time speaking passionately in favor of it. After a comparison with Robert F. Kennedy, Cohen concludes that “Obama never espoused a cause bigger than his political survival.”
The article is worth a read, but I have a fundamental disagreement with Cohen on what Obama could have possibly done in terms of espousing those causes that are bigger than his political survival. By nearly any measure, President Obama ran a centrist, if not right of center, administration and still came up against unparalleled resistance from opposition that outright vowed to make him a one-term president. If Mr. Obama came armed with huge liberal causes, that resistance would not only come from the Republicans in Congress, but many moderate Democrats. The country is just that right of center at present. Considering he was also greeted by a flailing and volatile economy on his first day in office, there was just too much that required immediate attention to ‘care’ too much about the bigger issues. I am not making excuses for the president; I feel strange every time I take it on myself to defend the ACA, which is inadequate compared to actual universal health care, but it was easily the best of two viable options and lays the groundwork for the future.
As I alluded to in my earlier, I do not believe the American public is ready to support (with their votes) something they may even appreciate. That is not disparagement of the voting public; it is appreciation for the power of interests that convince voters to vote against their own interests. Many people appreciate the lifesaving benefits of the ACA’s individual clauses, but opt to run with the narrative they are inundated with: it is a big government takeover, freedom, etc. Any grand effort on by the president would be up against these interests.
The kind of gambit that Mr. Obama could have taken with any number of issues would have been unlikely to go into effect, and even if they did, would have gone largely unappreciated. However, Mr. Obama’s presidency has quietly led us left from the far right where the Bush Administration left us, if not quite as far enough for liberals, progressives, and people who bought into the 2008 campaign rhetoric with no cynicism for what one man can do in four years. I personally take issue with the administration’s treatment of human rights, but it’s not as if a vote for any other candidate that has a shot would change that situation for the better. Given another four years, I believe that the Obama administration will continue to move America back towards a true, moderate center and make those sweeping causes more palatable to the American public. If the will of the nation is behind positive changes, it will be far more sustainable than the will of one man.