Laments on current politics

It's never a good sign if our two major political parties are using pure, unabashed rhetoric when attacking the rhetoric of the opposing party.

It's also a bad sign that a politician, who has been---probably---consciously avoiding slogans and the counter-productive slogan-worship that is so prevalent in today's politics in favor of complex thought and deliberation, has his State of the Union address reduced by his own people to a not-very-good slogan, "win the future".

It's an even worse sign that one of the most thoughtful and reflective TV host/pundit-guys derided the bit of the State of the Union address in which our current president compared the present day to the time that President Kennedy challenged Americans to beat the Russians to the moon. It is "our generation's Sputnik moment," President Obama said, and listed several of current goals. Jon Stewart's reaction was that the goals were not big enough, or exciting enough, or inspiring enough, or some such. [See the video here; you can skip to about 2:55.] Why do our goals have to be exciting? Even in Kennedy's time, health care, energy, the economy, general scientific research, balancing the budget, and public transportation were much more important than getting to the moon, however inspiring the latter may be. Why can't we focus on and set reasonable, achievable goals for the boring problems? Those are the ones that will affect the most people in the biggest way.

I knew at the end of 2008 that Barack Obama's approval ratings would plummet within the year. He simply wasn't the Superman his election backers wanted him to be, but I never expected to arrive in the U.S. in the fall of 2010 and see many commercials trying to attack Democratic candidates for Congress or for governor for merely being associated with Obama. This would have been reasonable if instead of Obama, the commercials had featured Bernie Madoff, Osama Bin Laden, or anyone proven to be involved in lying, cheating, or stealing. But, no, President Obama had been vilified mainly for not fulfilling his promises, or---from the mouths of many conservatives---for fulfilling his promises. However amusing it may be, this Canadian commercial is not that far in spirit from many of the serious political attacks I've seen.

In a related matter, why is it that so many people are saying that President Obama hasn't accomplished much? Maybe these are just his opponents, people who never wanted him in office and simply don't like what he has accomplished. Maybe not, but certainly there are more people saying more loudly that Obama hasn't accomplished much than people saying that Obama is a thoughtful, effective leader. The latter is what we heard throughout 2008, but those voices have mysteriously disappeared. Has no one read articles like this or this? Or books like this? They say that, by any reasonable measure, President Obama has already accomplished---halfway though his term---most of what he said he would do. And, more importantly, they say that he has accomplished more than any president since Lyndon Johnson or Franklin D. Roosevelt. This, of course, ignores the issue of whether you agree with what he has done or how he has done it, but the fact remains that he has made progress in the direction he promised. What is wrong with that? If you need more convincing and you have an aversion to the long-ish articles and book linked above, here's a quippy website that can break it down into bite-sized pieces for you: whattheheckhasobamadonesofar.com .

Based on the political commercials I saw, politicized comments I see even among my friends, and general political dialogue, I now agree whole-heartedly with a quote from Bill Press in the second article linked above:

...there remains this huge disconnect between Obama's reputation and record, as reflected in the latest Washington Post–ABC poll – where 58 percent of Americans say they've lost faith in Obama. To me, that says more about us than it does about him. It says we are impatient, expecting miracles overnight. It says we are unrealistic, demanding a level of perfection no politician can deliver. And it says we are like spoiled children, not happy with just one piece of candy. We want the whole box. Now.

Keep in mind that I'm what many people call a "swing voter". I'm staunchly nothing, unless there's a party whose number one priority is critical thinking. The statement above is true regardless of your political opinions, yet fully 11% of Americans (47% voted for McCain in 2008) went from enchanted to disenchanted with Barack Obama despite superlative execution of his promises. Many Republicans even ran their 2010 elections on the same buzzword that Obama owned only two years before: "change". Is our collective memory that short?

I'm not telling you to like President Obama, or to vote for him, and I'm not even saying he's a great president. I am saying, though, that we should give credit where credit is due. He's doing his job, and he's doing it well.


the kris said...

interesting. i started to wonder, a few years ago, if it was just us (americans), or is everyone like this. do people from other countries react to buzz words and scare tactics more readily than to logic and reason? i think that for the most part, americans are silly, lazy people both physically and mentally. but i wonder if that isn't human nature more than something inherent to us as a nation. i mean, slogans seem to work everywhere... few countries haven't had a leader who came to power through sowing fear and discord. it seems to me that humans react more strongly and to fear than to reason. obviously this isn't any kind of new idea, but i think it is often overlooked.

that said, i find the current political rhetoric to be disappointing at best. be glad that you aren't here getting bombarded with it on a daily basis. i find myself paying less and less attention.

fbg said...

I think all people are pretty susceptible, but it's more obvious in the U.S. George Soros says that it's because the U.S. is one of the only developed countries whose mainstream media is mainly private. Italy or somewhere might be the same, but austria and germany have a big public component in the media that mitigates extremist behavior. Then again, the austrian political party that has gain the most votes in the last few years is basically the nationalist neo-nazi party, and they thrive on taglines and finger-pointing.