In the suburbs: A year later, the man behind the rhetoric
Published 1:03 am, Friday, January 29, 2010
Just over a year ago, a hopeful, energized electorate, galvanized by our first African-American president, Barack Obama, looked to this man to lead us out of the depths of the worst recession since the great depression, off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan; toward the first, real national health care reform and down the road to a host of other accomplishments.
As we watched the inaugural parade, the galas and the glitz, my wife and I sincerely hoped that all these things would happen and we wouldn't wake up some morning to find that this new era of "change" was all smoke and mirrors. A year later, some of our hopes for the president's initiatives to succeed have been altered, just as many of those initiatives haven't become realities.
More than 10,000 Americans are still jobless and the numbers seem to be climbing and not falling. The stimulus hasn't quite stimulated with the results we were expecting. Many of the supposed new jobs created haven't seemed all that visible to the common man.
Guantanemo didn't close ... yet. A lot of troops came home from Iraq and a lot went to Afghanistan. Iran dared to challenge us even more.
The banks learned to behave differently, whether they wanted to or not and we watched major auto-makers heading to bankruptcy because they couldn't turn their companies around. On the one hand, many applauded the president's tough measures, while others saw the end of what they considered their American Dream. After all, if the banks and auto companies can't get it right, how can we?
Health care reform has become the thorn in the president's side that just won't seem to go away. With threats of an unrecoverable additional deficit, worries about an unworkable public option for the plan and frantic constituents storming their representatives and senators in heated town meetings, the reform bill was near death for awhile before slowly turning a corner.
On all of his initiatives, the president has stuck to his guns and his beliefs, often digging in his heels and creating bipartisan tension with a lot of anger on both sides of the aisle. And unfortunately, health care reform truly displaced the economy as the president's top priority and, similar to what happened in the first term of former Pres. Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (then first lady), an angry electorate and Congress drove the president's ratings to a new low.
Even as the health care reform bill came closer to passing, rumblings were underway from all over the that the president had really abandoned his quest for turning around the economy and, according to some reporters and experts, he really had accomplished nothing that he promised to do in his challenging first year. While not all together true, the administration was clearly on the fence and reporters were asking, "Who is the real Barack Obama?"
I have to confess that his rhetoric and speeches are always so eloquent that I continued to be caught up in the Barack Obama fog and believed that things were better than they really were. But, by the end of the year, with not a lot of traction behind his major initiatives, the president was hardly being lauded as any kind of change agent. And many critics wondered who the real Barack Obama even is. I certainly did.
Then came the first State of the Union address this past Wednesday and I was pleased to see that the president had made good on what a lot of reporters were hoping to see -- a president getting back on track and focusing on the economy. He had recaptured jobs as his priority and was clearly determined to. "I have never been more hopeful about the future than I am tonight," he said.
He called for a new jobs bill with tentacles reaching deep into the remote places of middle America. He reinforced that the engine of jobs creation will continue to be turned by American businesses of all sizes. "We need to invest in the skills and education of our people," the president said.
Focusing on the enormous budget deficit, Obama urged Congress to pass serious financial reform. He called for a three-year moratorium on spending for non-essential programs and said it wouldn't begin until 2011 to give the economic recovery a chance to continue and strengthen.
And it wasn't until nearly the end of his speech on the state of the union before he turned to the health care reform bill, asking again for a more collaborative approach with both sides of the aisle. The president made a point of asking Republicans to please give him any new ideas, and I believe he took responsibility for not communicating the health care reform challenge to the American people as carefully as he should have.
While he didn't chastise Congress for not getting the health care reform bill passed, he reinforced that the American people cannot continue to be burdened by skyrocketing insurance costs and, in so many words, this bill has to happen.
Obama pledged to bring the troops home by the end of this summer and reminded us that we have an obligation to treat our troops with dignity and support them when they return.
He wrapped up his speech well, I thought, by saying that "in the end, it's our ideals and our values that have forged our nation. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people is messy, noisy. But generations of Americans weren't afraid to what's hard."
In that speech, I heard a lot of rhetoric, but I also heard a recommitment on the part of the president to get the economy really moving in 2010. Do I believe that will happen? I'll have to wait and see.
But what I am hoping for during the first half of the year, at least, is a return to the inspirational president we thought we elected in November 2008. And I am hoping for a more decisive, risk-taking Barack Obama going forward. I want the man behind the pretty words, not the smoke and mirrors.
And my sense is that the American electorate wants that, too. Right now, there are millions of people out there wondering why they voted for this man and can he really get the job done.
After the State of the Union address, I was starting to be hopeful again. I don't want to lose that. I need the president to be in my corner not out in left field.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at email@example.com.