Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Perversity of Hope Deferred

Obama came into the White House riding on the Audacity of Hope. Millions were ready to see a change in America's mission at home and abroad, a change in how the Executive Branch operated, and a change in the attitude of government toward its responsibilities.

What Obama encountered was an entrenched bureaucracy unwilling to change for anyone. Obama, willing to listen to all sides -- a good trait, by the way! -- was quickly taken in by the bureaucratic "experts" who convinced him that "going slowly" was the best course of action.

Obama thus has delayed action on reform of the treatment of gays in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" is still as entrenched as ever. And while Obama delays taking actions that his authority as President allows him to take, the enemies of change are emboldened and the proponents of change are disheartened.

Similarly, Obama has been roped into long-term commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan -- obligating us to ruinously costly wars in an area where the culture and religion are inhospitable to systemic change. He has been convinced of this by the military establishment, of course, which has had a long time to justify anything it is doing, whether it is justifiable or not. When Obama was taking the broad view of the situation on the campaign trail and promising disengagement, he was on the right track. He has been buffaloed by bull-____ , derailed by details, and managed by minutia. He has surrounded himself with experts -- but the wrong ones, time and again.

Similarly, the reform of the banking system has been systemically weakened by its opponents because Obama has trusted the Insiders who have been a part of the problem. Corruption cannot reform corruption, it seems, and Obama would have been wiser to rely less on insider experience than on the ability to learn and root out the problems.

Health care has been another place where "hope deferred makes the heart sick." Obama chose not to lead, not to "name and shame," but to strike deals with the pharmaceutical industry and to trust the insurance industry to do better at keeping costs in line. Again, it makes no sense to put the wolves in charge of guarding the sheep.

Obama has failed in this first year, not because he deliberately meant to fail, but because when he came into office he trusted the wrong people and delayed keeping his promises.

I hope this new year will be a year of lessons learned, of new resolve and a willingness to right wrongs, even in the face of stiff opposition.

But I don't have much hope for it now. Obama is a genuinely nice person, but much too manageable by people dedicated to the status quo. Had he become President during the civil rights struggle, civil rights legislation would never have been passed. It took a stubborn leader to make it happen.

Still, miracles can happen. I wish Obama the best this year. Because if he doesn't clean house, right wrongs, keep promises, and rein in the financial slavemakers he will have wrestled defeat out of the jaws of victory. May God forgive us if such opportunity is lost.

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