Saturday, November 8, 2008

Thoughts on President Obama

As I anticipated it would, Obama's election gives me very mixed feelings. I am, without a doubt, ecstatic that 1. the reign of terror that comes with a Republican president is finally over, and 2. the nation was finally able to elect a black man to its highest office. Both of these events are reasons to be incredibly happy, particularly the latter. Presidents come and go from both parties, but the first of anything by definition only happens once, and it's exciting to be around to see it.

What makes the victory especially gratifying is that it was by a large margin and accompanied by Democratic pickups in the Congress as well. The American people indisputably rejected conservatism, especially the neocon variety, as a governing ideology for the country. Despite the right-wing nuts claiming that the landslide election of a man they portrayed as a radical Marxist mandates that he govern from the center, it is clear that America is ready for change. For progress, even.

However, I've always had mixed feelings about Barack Obama the man, rather than Barack Obama the symbol. This is already being borne out in his early selections for his cabinet. Rahm Emanuel is acknowledged by virtually all as an asshole, and the fact that Larry "I love deregulation, women are stupid, export pollution to Africa where they die young anyway" Summers and Robert F. "vaccines cause autism" Kennedy Jr were even on the shortlists for Treasury and EPA do not inspire confidence in the bold, progressive changes promised by Obama. In fact, they portend more of the same things we've been dealing with for decades.

But this is not a surprise. Obama was never the progressive dream candidate his supporters thought he was. That he will surround himself with ex-Clintonites and centrists will shock only the ignorant. It is our job, as those who are interested in change and progress, to not stand by and watch idly, but to continuously criticize these moves and put as much pressure as we can bring to bear on Obama and the Democratic Congress to make the moves we want.

One thing I do think Obama is capable of is responding to public pressure. He has never been an ideologue, and while he will also never be the savior his fevered followers believed him to be, we can use these two, four, eight years to demand some of the things we've always hoped for with an actual chance of some of them coming to pass. But this will never happen if, in our shock and delight at the genuine accomplishment of the first black president, we sit back and assume he will do the right thing.

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