Monday, August 8, 2011

Through the Looking Glass: An Open Letter to President Obama

Any compromise on mere fundamentals is surrender. – Mohandas Gandhi

Mr. President, I remember.

I remember serving on your Media Rapid Response Team, and the hours spent pounding out responses to false attacks on you. I remember steering committee meetings on sweltering summer afternoons. I remember the cold October and November nights, when the bands between professor and student dissolved, as we all went door to door hanging campaign paraphernalia. I remember manning the polls, and the endless lines on election day. How can I forget the stream of elderly men and women in wheelchairs voting for the first time, because they believed? I remember hurriedly packing my bags, and driving four hours south later that evening, so that I could watch the election results come in with my father and my brother. I remember the stunned silence, at the midnight hour, when Keith Olbermann announced, “Barack Obama has been elected the 44th President of the United States.” I remember watching the lone tear make its way down my dad’s cheek.

Yes, Mr. President, I remember, and you owe me an explanation. You owe my dad an explanation. You owe ALL of your supporters an explanation.

Mr. President, please understand that I am writing out of character at the moment, because I try to live by the old Japanese credo:

“A man knows when you have done right by him. However, this good should never be raised or spoken of by you, because it is not your job to remind the man of what you have done…it is HIS job NEVER to forget.”

And so here I am, speaking for myself, for my family, and for tens of millions of other people I will never meet, because evidently Mr. President, you have forgotten the blood, sweat, and tears shed by all of us over the course of your 2008 campaign.

Mr. President, you have made one thing clear over your tenure in office: where politics and principle divide, you have consistently chosen what is politically expedient, even at the cost of willingly denouncing things you once enthusiastically accepted. I readily concede that there may be a myriad of top-secret factors that dictate the decisions and compromises you have made, but despite this, your supporters need to hear SOMETHING. Even if that “something” is as simple as: “there are things that I cannot provide details, but trust me when I say that I got the BEST deal possible for the Nation at this point and time”. Mr. President, we need you to tell us…something.

As it stands right now, all we see from you is compromise after compromise. While I fully understand the concept of compromise, I do not subscribe to a philosophy of “compromising unto death”.

President Bush is rightly criticized for ignoring a Daily Brief emblazoned with the title: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.”, and part of the castigation stems from the explicit nature of the warning. Similarly, Mr. President, you have been warned over and over again by Republicans of all ranks, that they want you to fail. Rush Limbaugh pulled no punches: "The dirty little secret ... is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail, but none of them have the guts to say so; I am willing to say it.” Let’s be honest, there is even a television network dedicated to your demise!

Turn the cheek once, Mr. President. Turn it twice, if you must, but there are only so many cheeks to turn. After your enemies have been revealed as such, it becomes your solemn duty to crush and slay them faithfully. Politics is a contact sport, and you cannot have clean hands in this fight. The sad part is, after all these years, I still do not know what you stand for. I rooted so hard for you to succeed, that I allowed myself to be convinced by faithful members of the Democrat base that your capitulations were merely those of a Harvard educated lawyer thinking 10 steps ahead of the curve. Day by day, issue by issue, ground was ceded: Healthcare, Iraq, Afghanistan, Gitmo, Wall Street regulation, cutting funding for heating oil for the poor, cutting funding for graduate education, failure to appoint Elizabeth Warren (or your numerous other nominees) during the congressional recess, the list continues.

For me, the moment of truth came with your compromise on the Bush tax cuts, which were set to expire last December. This was the moment, Mr. President, that YOU (and I do blame you) failed to rescue our country from the fiscal hell spawned by President Bush. By allowing the tax cuts to expire, you could have single handedly saved America a projected $4 trillion in the coming decade, and simultaneously saved us from a tanking stock market, and subsequent AA+ credit downgrade. This was the moment that you could have proved to be the courageous leader America desperately needed.

The use of “courageous” is pivotal, because “courage” has been described as “not the absence of fear, but the strength to do what is right in the face of this fear”. Instead of showing courage, you folded, and now you want to sell us the idea that “Republicans are holding the country hostage, because they won’t agree to revenue increases”. With all due respect, Mr. President, you insult our collective intelligence with that incomplete retelling of events leading to the debt ceiling brinksmanship fiasco. The reason? You were complicit in the hostage crisis, and YOU had the opportunity to shape the narrative with regards to the Bush tax cuts, but you decided to extend them, and thereby entrusted your fate to others. Fast forward a few months, and you effectively negotiated against yourself, with chips that you voluntarily gave to the Republican opposition. The Republicans are guilty of plenty, but they are true to their principles, and they have you as an unwitting, or possibly witting, accomplice.

And so, yes, this economy is now your economy, and unfortunately you will go down in history as the presiding President when America received its first ever credit rating downgrade. You chose to side with Wall Street over Main Street, and Wall Street burned you, while sitting on over $2 trillion that they refuse to spend to lubricate the economy. The wealth gap of African American and Latino families relative to their White counterparts has exploded, and the unemployment rate continues to be astronomical. Your Democrat base is frustrated, the Independents are seeking alternatives, while the Republicans are high-fiving.

Mr. President, you pride yourself on being a historian, and readily embrace the comparisons of Abraham Lincoln. As a fellow fan of history, please allow me to remind you that in fact, Lincoln is not remembered as much of a compromiser. Yes, he was a strong leader and a savior of the United States Government, but by no means was he a great compromiser. You see, in a lot of ways he was the very opposite of yourself. He employed some rhetoric of compromise, but none of the action. He understood that when times get tough, the tough get rough.

Mr. President, your greatest gift is not compromise, rather, it is the ability to move the masses with your oratory flourishes. With the unique bully pulpit of the presidency, and both chambers of Congress, you stood poised to present an agenda and have it swept through the legislative pipeline by sheer power of will, and a healthy dose of strong arming. Instead, you stood on the sideline, and watched your political capital fritter away. Mr. President, I will still vote for you in 2012, because the truth is I see no viable alternative, and I value the symbolism of having a Black face in the White House. But the truth is, you have lost the confidence of the American people, and without the people, you have nothing.

By C. Frank Igwe, PhD

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