A year ago, who would have predicted that by this time the new administration would have saved the financial system from collapse, saved the US auto industry from liquidation, brought the economy back from the brink of disaster, got the stock market up 50%, stabilized the housing market, committed to close Guantanamo, appointed a progressive judge to the Supreme Court, passed a nearly $1 trillion stimulus bill, ended torture, got the UN Security Council to agree unanimously to reduce nuclear weapons, reached out to the Muslim world and helped empower a counter-revolution in Iran, started bringing the troops home from Iraq and committed more US and NATO forces to Afghanistan, passed health care reform legislation in the House and defeated a filibuster in the Senate, introduced energy legislation, took the US in a different direction in climate change talks, made the United States the most admired country in the world once again, and won the Nobel Peace Prize? Yet President Obama has done all of that and more.
Granted that there is still much to be done, and no one should be expected to support every single one of these accomplishments, but shouldn't we still be thrilled at this tremendous record? Instead, on the left, the loudest voices are crying out with betrayal and anger: Wall Street is making lots of money again. Horrors! Many compromises have to be made in health care legislation to get it through a corrupt and conservative Congress. Shocking! We are sending more troops to Afghanistan. Shades of Vietnam!
On the right, even more anger, fear and hate. The deficit is rising. Disastrous! The government is spending money. Socialism! The president is going around the world making friends with all kinds of governments. Appeasement!
Wasn't the reason we elected Barack Obama last year to reduce all of this hysteria and divisiveness and bitterness and hate? Have people forgotten that it was his message of reconciliation and inclusiveness that people of diverse political views responded to so forcefully last year? The most disappointing failure--perhaps the only failure--of the Obama administration so far, is its failure to achieve any reduction in partisanship and rancor. But is it the president's fault that we are still bitter and hateful? I don't think so. I think we don't have much cause to be disappointed in the new administration, but they might have cause to be disappointed in us. Remember, WE were supposed to be the change we were waiting for. All of us were supposed to try to reduce the level of recriminations and partisanship and corruption in our politics. Instead of looking at politics as blood sport, we were supposed to look at it as a series of problems to be solved by listening respectfully to one another, and trying to accommodate a range of reasonable views. That doesn't mean we have to give up any strongly-held opinions. That doesn't mean we have to agree with one another about everything. It just means we are supposed to try to employ a different spirit to our politics. Sadly, I see little evidence that we have absorbed our own message. So in the spirit of whatever holiday you happen to be celebrating this season, I'd like to propose a toast to good old-fashioned peace on earth and good will toward men. We could use more of that next year.