Sitting on the Fence

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on January 21, 2010
Posted Under: Environment,Health Care,Obama,US Politics

Massachusetts was not won by the Republicans, it was lost by Obama

Yesterday’s big news from the far side of the Atlantic was the loss of one of the safest Democratic seats to Scott Brown, a man who represents possibly everything that should make us very worried about the Republicans. In Ted Kennedy’s former seat, which has been blue since 1952, it was the Democrats’ to lose. And they lost it.

They didn’t lose because their opponent drives a truck, because his daughters were available or because it was, after all, the people’s seat and not Ted Kennedy’s as was far too confidently assumed. By all accounts, it was not the number of Republicans voting which swung it, but the number of independents backing Brown and the number of Democrats staying at home. It might be tempting for observers this side of the pond to blame the unerring potential for American political stupidity in falling behind a resurgent GOP just one year after the worst president in living memory retired to Crawford. Obama’s ratings are now lower than any president since Eisenhower at the same stage. But for all the fire and spittle and mad dog hysteria thrown at him by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, the largest part of the blame has to lie with himself.

He is perhaps a victim of the power of his own voice. Obama could probably recount what he had on his toast this morning and turn it into a dazzling charismatic performance that lifts the spirits of the world. But the problem with hot rhetoric is that it does not sit too well with cold pragmatism. Only a fool would have thought Obama’s election meant a fundamental change in the nature of American politics. But he has played too close to the centre to truly capitalise on the yearning for ‘yes we can’. He was never going to appeal to the right in America. But with his lukewarm proposals for reform failing to match up to his lofty words, as speechcraft gets bogged down in statecraft, he is increasingly alienating his left-wing base.

It’s a tragedy for the poor in America that Scott Brown will likely derail even the tiniest table scraps of health care reform that are being thrown to them from Washington. It is a greater tragedy for the poor across the rest of the planet that Obama’s meagre proposals for emissions cuts will fall flat. But it’s a tragedy that Obama has brought on himself. There’s no guarantee that a left-ward swing will prevent him from becoming a one-term president. But at least he could say he tried. At least he could say ‘yes I did’. Because one thing’s for sure. If you sit on the fence, you get splinters.

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Reader Comments

Roland M

Great article Sal. You are right about Obama alienating his base there is certainly a lot of anger about the bailouts, continuing unemployment, Afghanistan, the empty rhetoric of change. A pretty strong anti-healthcare reform vote also featured in the race with the Republicans bombarding”Americans with false but effective talk of death panels and a government takeover of their doctors’ offices.” I think that the healthcare issue shows that if Obama moves any more to the left, there is a risk that we end up with Sarah Palin winning in 2012 or someone of that ideological ilk. But I guess at the same time instead of bailing out the banks, Obama should have used the economic crisis to dramatically alter American society to help make an impact on the issues that matter. Instead as you say he bailed out the banks and then sat on the fence. Whether he would be able to move much to the left is another matter. The healthcare issue has shown how impotent and hamstrung a US President is under their political system. Sadly there is a strong risk that Obama’s presidency will be remembered as one of lost opportunity, empty rhetoric and the failure to bring about any real change.

Written By Roland M on January 21st, 2010 @ 2:50 am

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