Obama to Dems: 'Guys, wake up here.'
Okay, so maybe calling Democrats "weak-willed" and "whiners" in my last post was a little over-the-top. Perhaps the adjective I should have used is "unfocused." In an interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama makes a good case for what his administration has accomplished in just two years. He also holds the mirror up to his party's cranky progressive wing, which often seems perfectly fine making the perfect the enemy of the good.
The key question from Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner to Obama was, "What do you say to those people who have developed a sense of frustration -- your base -- who feel that you need to fight harder?" You can read the entire interview here. But below are the paragraphs that should focus Democrats on what the president has achieved and hopefully make them realize that governing is different from campaigning and that being president is not the same as being king.
Some of it, also, has to do with -- and I joke about it -- that there's a turn of mind among Democrats and progressives where a lot of times we see the glass as half-empty. It's like, "Well, gosh, we've got this historic health care legislation that we've been trying to get for 100 years, but it didn't have every bell and whistle that we wanted right now, so let's focus on what we didn't get instead of what we got." That self-critical element of the progressive mind is probably a healthy thing, but it can also be debilitating.
When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, "Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable." I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars....
After listing his accomplishment, Obama said:
You look at all this, and you say, "Folks, that's what you elected me to do." I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we've probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do -- and by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we've accomplished....
What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done.
I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health-care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn't have a bill. You've got to make a set of decisions in terms of "What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?" I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I'm going to go ahead and take it.....
If we can't take pleasure and satisfaction in concretely helping middle-class families and working-class families save money, get a college education, get health care -- if that's not what we're about, then we shouldn't be in the business of politics. Then we're no better than the other side, because all we're thinking about is whether or not we're in power.
Not all Democrats are whining, weak-willed or unfocused. My ultimate Obama-barometer is my ex-partner Giuseppe. Sure, he's in the bubble of New York City. But I have plenty of New York friends who have fallen off of the Obama bandwagon. So, a defection by Giuseppe would be the clearest sign of the president's failure to get his message through. "What [Obama] is trying to do is so #@%*ing hard" after years of Republican rule of the White House and Congress, he said, "and in a society that is sooooooo spoiled."
On that last point, I have nothing more to say than "Amen!"
| September 28, 2010; 4:22 PM ET
Categories: Capehart | Tags: Jonathan Capehart
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