New York Times Magazine contributing writer Rebecca Traister pens a terrific piece in this Sunday’s edition that I want every current and former supporter of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to read. Traister dives into the buyer’s remorse question being asked in disillusioned Democratic circles: “What would Hillary Clinton have done?”
Traister’s response to this is just superb. “I find myself wanting the revisionist Hillary fantasists — Clintonites and reformed Obamamaniacs alike — to just shut up already,” she writes. Amen! But here is my favorite paragraph.
Alternate-universe President Hillary Clinton would have been competing with a dream. But in a funny way, Obama is, too.
We forget, sometimes, that our government was designed to limit the powers of the president. Barack Obama walked into the White House in January 2009 with his own set of structural and strategic challenges: an economy in free fall; a 24-hour cable-news and talk-radio-fed culture eager to blare “crisis!” headlines every 12 minutes, making long-view evaluations of a presidency impossible; and most important, an obstinate Congress. On every major vote, from the stimulus to uncompromised health care reform, Obama needed 60 (not the historically customary 50) to get anything moving, a practical impossibility, thanks both to Republicans, whose stated goal was not to fix things but to keep the president from fixing anything, and to conservative Democrats, who made the party’s majority a false promise to begin with.
This is the clear-eyed view of what Obama has been and is up against that I have been making in one form or another with “reformed Obamamaniacs” since before day 100 of the Obama administration. To ignore the reality, particularly in Obama’s first two years, laid out by Traister is to wallow in disappointment. There is always a chasm between campaigning and governing. Many promises made on the trail give way to the harsh reality of legislating right quick.
By agreeing with Traister, though, I’m not giving Obama a pass on some of the anger and frustration the base has with him. The president has made mistakes. He pursued priorities that I believe will be judge kindly by history but are being judged negatively right now by the American people. And Obama hasn’t been as effective weaving the narrative of his administration as he was at reminding us of who we were as a country at the 2004 Democratic Convention.
The president needs to do a better job of focusing on the near-term priorities the American people have been clamoring for and the long-term issues that will leave this country better than he found it, fighting for those issues and story-telling. With Obama trying out themes on his bus tour that we’re bound to hear in the fall, delivering those themes with a snap in his voice that surely thrilled his supporters hungry for him to fight and leaking news of a post-Labor Day speech on jobs and the deficit, it appears he has already begun.