This past month has been a case study in how President Obama’s steady and measured approach to upheavals is exactly the right one to navigate through sticky issues both in our nation’s foreign policy and in our domestic scene, as well.
In Egypt, the Obama administration received not-unexpected criticism from both sides. One group claimed he was acting too aloof, too distant when he should have taken a far more proactive role in showing overt USA support for the protesters in these countries. Others would have had him stay out of the internal politics of other countries entirely. This latter group, I would suggest, were those that were searching desperately for anything to criticize the President about and this was all they could offer.
In the face-off between the public employees and teachers in Wisconsin against their tea party-controlled governor, Scott Walker, many are criticizing the President for not standing arm-in-arm with union members, walking the picket line with them and demanding any number of responses by the Walker administration. On the other side of the debate, he’s being criticized for saying anything at all; for butting into a states’ rights issue that he has no business commenting on at all. The involvement of Organizing for America in helping to bring more people in to support the protesting union members has been caustically attacked by right-wing pundits and even the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. I actually saw one person refer to OFA volunteers as “Obama wraiths”.
In the meantime, President Obama has walked the fine line between the extreme positions on both sides. In Egypt, he positioned the USA as supportive but not intrusive. Unlike with most previous political revolutions of this sort, the signs demonizing America as the Great Satan who supports dictators as well as accusations of the uprising being promoted by America are noticeably absent. Rather, the protesters felt supported while the tyrannical government could not legitimately accuse the USA of meddling. It’s not an accident that the social media tools of Twitter and Facebook are American creations. Our impact on the ability for nascent opposition groups to effectively organize has not gone unnoticed. And it has not required a heavy hand from our President.
In Wisconsin, the President has expressed his dismay that Governor Walker is stepping on the long-accepted rights of workers to bargain collectively on their own behalf, appropriately describing it as an “assault”. He also has reframed the discussion in an important way. Conservatives loosely throw around terms like “union goons” and “greedy union bosses” as if union members were out to destroy our country for their own benefit. The President reminded the country that these are not evil, greedy people. Rather, they are our neighbors, our friends, the people we see and interact with every day. “I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends,” he told us. And he is right.
Many self-described “true progressives” deride the President’s “centrism” as a fault; a political sin. The conservatives will characterize absolutely everything he does as being too liberal for America. And down the middle of the aisle, the President strides confidently, showing grace, understanding, patience and foresight. While everyone around him are losing their cool, Barack Obama dials down the Drama-O-Meter and, in almost every instance, emerges looking, once again, like the smartest, most far-sighted guy in the room.
Happy President’s Day, everyone.
I’m just sayin’…