Thursday, June 17, 2010

Barack Obama – better appreciate him while you can

The inestimable Gail Collins says it best (emphases mine):

…. We are frustrated, too, and it’s possible that Obama may never be able to give the speech that will make us feel better. He may never really lace into the oil companies or issue the kind of call to arms on energy that the environmentalists are yearning for.

That’s because it won’t get him anywhere. Unlike Bush, he has no national consensus to build upon. He’d barely finished his muted remarks on Tuesday before the House minority leader, John Boehner, accused him of exploiting the crisis “to impose a job-killing national energy tax** on struggling families and small business.” Michael Steele, the Republican Party chairman, claimed that the president was “manipulating this tragic national crisis for selfish political gain.” And the ever-popular Representative Michele Bachmann denounced the BP restitution fund as “redistribution of wealth” and “one more gateway for government control.”

As a political leader, Barack Obama seems to know what he’s doing. His unsatisfying call for a new energy policy sounded very much like the rhetoric on health care reform that used to drive Democrats nuts: open to all ideas, can’t afford inaction, if we can put a man on the moon. ... But at the end of that health care slog, he wound up with the groundbreaking law that had eluded his predecessors for decades. The process of wringing it out of Congress was so slow and oblique that even when it was over it was hard to appreciate what he’d won. But win he did.

Ironic. The man we elected because we hoped his feel-good campaign speeches might translate into achievement is actually a guy who is going to achieve, even if his presidential speeches leave us feeling blah.

We live in whitewater times (see Stross - 2008). There’s going to be crisis after crisis for years and decades to come. We can’t freak out every time we have a historic ecological, economic, social, climatic or geological catastrophe*. We need to deal with them, learn from them, try to prevent each class of catastrophe from recurring too soon.

America is entering the rapids in a GOP-vandalized kayak, and much of the nation has tuned out. There’s too much bad news, too much uncertainty. Some are so far gone they’re signing on to whacko political movements. As Collins writes, Obama “has no national consensus to build upon”. He has to find what’s possible.

Today Obama has extracted $20 billion of possible, a Ninja move that has left the GOP stunned and gasping. That counts for a lot more than a speech. Meanwhile the prospect of BP’s annihilation has concentrated minds in in the oil industry more than any amount of words and easily manipulated laws (not that we don’t need the rules and regs, but financial collapse impresses capitalists more).

We’ll never get another President this good. Better appreciate him while you can.

Oh, and the guy needs a vacation. We need to tell him to take a good one.

* Incidentally, I despised Bush and wanted him fired – but not for Katrina. There he showed only average incompetence.

** This is “cap and trade” aka “carbon tax in drag”. The GOP does well in southern states, maybe they figure it’s the temperature that helps.

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