Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Fight the Establishment, Mr. President: It’s Why We Elected You

By and large the greatest energy in Barack Obama’s campaign for President came from the simple belief that American government needed a fundamental change. The majority of Americans who flooded to Barack Obama’s rallies and voted for him were fed up. We were fed up with a military industrial complex that poured billions into unnecessary wars and nation building; while disasters like Katrina happened under government negligence. We were fed up with economic policies that propped up fat and lazy corporations while ignoring small business owners and innovators. We were fed up with a faith-based theocracy that used thinking from the middle ages to suppress the rights of women, gays, and science.

Now before I go any further let me say that I’ve loved Barack Obama since his visionary speech at the ’04 Democratic convention; and I still like him a whole lot. I understand that he needs all of us in the trenches to fight the Tea Partiers and the Far Right. But he also must recognize that he owes his supporters something in return.

Frankly, I can’t help but look back on his first year and feel a great sense of disappointment. We continue to pour billions into Iraq and Afghanistan with only vague promises that we might get out in 2011 at the earliest. Obama and his economic team have been thoroughly unconvincing as to how bailing out failing corporations benefits working Americans. The basic right to marriage and military service is still denied to gay and lesbian Americans. And despite a 60 vote supermajority in the Senate, the chance that Democrats will pass a strong public option is slim to say the least.

Some will no doubt right me off as just another disgruntled liberal who doesn’t understand that the President must govern from the center. But I don’t see it that way at all. Obama, remember, was explicitly elected on a campaign of change; and change means changing the Establishment practices in Washington. This is not a liberal or conservative necessity, but an American necessity. And thus far, it seems that Obama has yielded to the Washington Establishment far more than he has challenged it.

To cite one among many examples, look at how much the Democrats have already yielded to the Insurance lobby in the health care debate. Instead of asking what was best for the majority of Americans, Democrats like Max Baucus have prioritized the demands of Big Insurance. Americans are sick to death of corporate lobbyists, yet Democrats continue to take their money and do their bidding.

To be fair, all of this isn’t Obama’s fault. I think it was Bill Maher who said that Obama and the Democrats are like Michael Jordan on a losing team. The Democrats seem to me a Party pathologically ashamed to stand for what they believe in; while simultaneously unsure how to use the power the voters have entrusted them with. There are some Democrats who fight for what they believe in: Anthony Weiner, Brian Schweitzer, Maxine Waters, and Jim Webb come to mind. But no one in the Democratic Leadership seems to have the courage to tell the American people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.

Not only do American voters want to hear that the Washington Establishment is being challenged, but they need to hear it as well. I still have great hopes for President Obama. But if he cannot show the voters that he has brought about the change he promised; the chances of a Pawlenty Presidency and the triumph of the Establishment become frighteningly real.

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