I certainly hope that the President can move forward a health care agenda in his upcoming speech, despite the insane descent of the debate this summer. But it was a bad summer for President Obama. It was not long ago that those of us who love Obama held our breath as he seemed to stumble in August on the way to the end of the election period exactly a year ago. In August he seemed paralyzed before he came roaring back in the Fall to coast to victory. Here we are again with August behind us wondering what has happened to Obama’s capacity to fight for what he believes in. This time, of course, it is about health care, but it is about so much more than that. It is about whether the Right can capitalize on Obama’s soft spots, on the corruption of Washington on both sides of the aisle with regard to the pharmaceutical industry, and the genuine complexity of health care solutions. The great question is will they be able to undermine the future of his presidency and its ‘disastrous’ tilt of American leadership toward the Left?
Arianna Huffington has wisely called out Obama on kumbayesque naiveté, his tendency to want to craft a message and a medium that will be so engaging, so charismatic, that it will bring all sides together in some sort of mystical union through the presence of his unifying personality and heritage. Good for Huffington, and I say this as a passionate Obama enthusiast. It is her role right now to stimulate and pressure for some dramatic increase in Obama’s will to govern, to lead, and to fight when necessary.
There is one piece missing, however, from Huffington’s analysis. Obama really believes his speeches, and when he says the most loving and hopeful things to the American people, and millions appear to respond by calling into question his place of birth, his right to be President, it deeply wounds him. In other words, strange as it seems, he has arrived at the highest office of this strange land of liberals, conservatives, and kooks of all kinds, with a sensitive personality. In other words, the thread of continuity between this August and last August is that his skin is somewhat thin.
I don’t blame him because his sensitivity to our pain and our hopes is at least one reason why those of us how fought for him also love him. We love him for his vision, his faith, his hope, his commitment to all of us regardless of our craziest political beliefs. And we wound him, really wound him. When the lobbyists and opposition respond to his most open gestures by funding insanity at town halls and the vilest form of character assassination he gets wounded.
I think that Obama thought he could escape Bill Clinton’s fate. He knew he didn’t have a problem with women, he knew he had led his life in a much more reasoned, balanced and transparent way, so he figured they would not come after him looking for blood. But they did.
The United States is an extraordinary place in many ways, and its virtues of acceptance of diversity are turning out to be a fabulous global model. But it is also a crazy place with a long history of radical domestic violence. Barak Obama has stimulated massive uncertainty in a population that has been subjected to its worst economic crash since the Depression. Huffington is right that he needs to fight more for what he believes in, that he needs to lead more, but we also must forgive him his thin skin, which is, after all, part of his charm. And he must forgive us our violence, go a little slower in terms of major change regarding our life and death questions of health, make everyone feel safer economically, and then move us forward inch by inch.
Many of us feel that the Bill Clinton era’s endless refrain, “It’s the economy, stupid” still pertains, and we are not sure that Obama has the best team possible to calm the American people down in terms of their finances, to play to their needs around mortgages, loans and so many basic economic needs for safety which are not being attended to by his elitist team. His economic team does not cater to basic human need enough.
Placate the economic terror on Main Street, stand up more to Wall Street and the Lobbyists, explain, explain, explain in inspiring fireside chats, not crazy town halls, and, above all, go slow. As a conflict resolution practitioner and analyst I can say confidently that even the most violent people can change for the better, I have seen it happen in many places in the world. But they need to feel safe, and it is up to great leaders to make them feel safe. So, I am counting on the amazing Barak Obama to swallow the wounds of August, learn the lessons of over-reach and elitism, and then get down to the business of great leadership.© Marc Gopin