Andrew Sullivan: Obama ain’t done yet


While I don’t agree with him on everything, I appreciate Andrew Sullivan and his outsider’s (British) perspective on American politics. His essay in the Sunday Times this past weekend, titled “Listen up, the president is not for turning” is no exception. And it has some common sense observations that all of us, conservatives and liberals alike, would do well to digest.

Money quote (for me):

…if you look at the state of American politics, you see Democrats refusing to restrain some of their worst spendthrift instincts and unable to pass an important bill even with the biggest majorities in both houses in years. And you see Republicans who have no economic proposals except cutting more taxes and have actually now begun — like the hapless Tories in the late 1990s — to defend the most expensive parts of the welfare state…

Call it the audacity of nihilism. You begin to wonder if the centre of America truly can hold, or if the passionate intensity of the worst of both extremes is combining to kill it off once and for all.

I can’t say I really agree with Sullivan’s characterization of Democrats as “refusing to restrain some of their worst spendthrift instincts” but he’s spot on in his statement about their inability to pass important legislation, legislation that has, at least until the right wing noise machine distorted it beyond all recognition, support of a majority of Americans.

In his talk to the GOPosaurs last week, the part that really grabbed my attention was when he discussed how disaparate factions have so demonized the other side that they have boxed themselves in, making compromise nearly impossible.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.

And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do…

[W]e’ve got to be careful about what we say about each other sometimes, because it boxes us in in ways that makes it difficult for us to work together, because our constituents start believing us. They don’t know sometimes this is just politics what you guys — or folks on my side do sometimes.

Sullivan characterizes President Obama as “a teacher entering a classroom with spit balls flying and desks crashing”, attempting to find some common ground where the two sides can work together. And it’s not just Republican vs. Democratic members of Congress he’s talking about. It’s the rabid right vs. the lunatic left in general (my words, not his) who have taken things to new extremes.

And he’s right. We have reactionaries on both sides and they drown out those who would find middle ground where we can move the ball down the field — inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard. We have made that process all the more difficult by painting charactures of our opponents, sometimes deserved, sometimes not.

But, at the end of the day, as Sullivan points out, Obama has shown this past week with his State of the Union address and his Q&A with the GOP that he is far from being done. He’s not giving up trying to achieve the things he campaigned on.

I do not know if Americans will respond to Obama’s reasoning, or if the short-term political posturing will dissipate. In the depressed economic climate, where tempers are high and anxiety is endemic, the odds of Obama succeeding seem remote. But what came through last Wednesday night, past the gentle conversational tone, was a determination to stay the course he set out in the campaign. “We don’t quit. I don’t quit” was his version of “the lady’s not for turning”…

[T]hose who think this presidency is over are missing something. It is not just about Obama. It is about America at this particular moment in time. There’s a reason he was elected; and I have a feeling he reminded people of it last week. For all their legitimate anxiety, anger and bolshiness, my bet is they will not forget who is the only one acknowledging the depth of the crisis and proposing a way forward.

I hope and pray Sullivan is right.

I’m just sayin’…