What DID you expect from Obama?

My friend wrote: “So is he in any respect the President people supporting him in 2008 and 2012 expected? What did you expect from O’B in 2008 and 2012?”

I am not sure how to answer these questions.

I expect that change comes slowly, incrementally, and because of many of us working hard, anonymously, untiringly for a better tomorrow. My hope is in that incremental, painfully slow change that happens while we are working and that sometimes we  see only decades later, looking back and measuring the difference from the starting point.

My friend has worn a button for universal, single payer health care ever since I met him more than 25 years ago. We still don’t have it. He’s not giving up and neither am I. What we do have — now — is a health care plan that allows me to keep my kids covered until age 26, that will soon make premiums almost affordable, and that does a lot of other good things, even if it does leave the rapacious insurance companies in place. That’s not what I want, but it’s better than what we had eight years ago.

In a long article in The Progressive back in 2009, John Nichols talked about what to expect from an Obama presidency and what we progressives would need to do. He looked back to the Roosevelt era for an example:

“After his election in 1932, FDR met with Sidney Hillman and other labor leaders, many of them active Socialists with whom he had worked over the past decade or more. Hillman and his allies arrived with plans they wanted the new President to implement. Roosevelt told them: ‘I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.'”

Make the president do it. That’s not an easy job. FDR, the quintessential Democratic president, the author of the New Deal and Social Security and so much more, was also the president of internment camps for Japanese Americans and wartime abridgement of constitutional liberties.

Make the president do it. Nichols quotes Senator Obama, responding to challengers who accused him of moving to the center back in his first presidential campaign:

“I am somebody who is no doubt progressive. I believe in a tax code that we need to make more fair. I believe in universal health care. I believe in making college affordable. I believe in paying our teachers more money. I believe in early childhood education. I believe in a whole lot of things that make me progressive.”

We need to make the president do it. Make Congress do it. Make the country move — on health care, on economic justice, on racial equality, on education, on jobs for all, on saying no to torture and closing Guantanamo and getting out of the war business.

I don’t believe that presidents do it. I believe we do it, whether by writing letters or pressuring politicians or getting out the vote or marching or convincing our nieces and nephews and next door neighbors.

I have hope because I have seen  change. Two examples:

Fifty years ago, segregation was legal in many states and race-based discrimination in housing and employment and public accommodations was legal. Now segregation and racial discrimination are illegal. We still have a long way to go to reach racial equality, but we have come a long way, and that means we can keep on moving.

When I first looked for a job, newspapers had separate sections: “Help Wanted – Men” and “Help Wanted – Women.” Now women have legal rights to equal employment. We have a long way to go to reach equal pay, but we have come a long way, and that means we can keep on moving.

In the words of Curtis Mayfield:

I’ve got to keep on pushing
I can’t stop now
Move up a little higher
Someway or somehow …
Now, maybe some day
I’ll reach that higher goal
I know I can make it.

What do I expect from Obama? That’s not the right question for me. What matters for me is what I will do, and what you will do.

Make the president do it. Make Congress do it. Make the country move.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “What DID you expect from Obama?

  1. Ron Salzberger

    Clever of Roosevelt, but what sort of moral position did he take up when he challenged people to “make me do it?” He agreed it should be done; he agreed that it was the right thing to do. What else was necessary, what else should have been necessary, to get him to move on it? Seems like a disingenuous reply.

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