Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THE OBAMA ENIGMA: MOMENTS OF ENLIGHTENED LEADERSHIP, MONTHS OF LESS IMPRESSIVE POSTURING

Barack Obama's presidency has been fascinating to observe for the dispassionate viewer, and has triggered strong and highly polarized reactions from the political partisans on both sides of the increasingly divided right-left extremes.  He has greatly disappointed his most loyal original supporters, and totally enraged those who were not inclined to support him at the outset. His brilliant oratory in campaigning, paired with his obvious intelligence and potential, undoubtedly escalated his supporters expectations of his presidency into the unrealistic realms of what was politically possible. And the overtly-declared intent of his political opponents in Congress to oppose and defeat his political endeavors and render his presidency impotent presented almost insurmountable obstacles at the outset.  Yet he has endured, struggled through battles with Congress, won reelection, and fought several battles with considerable class and fortitude. He has persisted in two highly significant endeavors, one at the beginning of his first term, when he was committed to improve health care coverage and did so with his Affordable Care Act. The second he is now engaged in, negotiating the agreement with Iran and our partners to limit, with IAEA verification, Iran's nuclear development during the forthcoming years. Both highly contentious battles, both imperfect solutions to extremely complex, difficult situations, he fought the battles impressively, against considerable odds for success, bowed to the realities of the situations, compromising with what he felt were the realities of the maximum that was possible  in the face of fierce opposition.  He deserves full credit for persisting in these battles, regardless of how much one may have wished for more. 

Obama has shown other moments of inspired, enlightened leadership. His response to the recent shooting at the Charleston Church, the genuine, heartfelt quality of his words when the nation experienced a national tragedy such as this, added to the remarkable response of the church and the Charleston community itself in turning this tragedy into a unifying event for everyone in the nation but the most hateful racists.  He has maintained grace and optimism in the face of personal insults and affronts, to his character as well as to his policies, as well as any individual could ever hope to.  On numerous key issues facing the nation, however, his leadership has fallen well short of what has been needed, and short of what his spoken words suggested he might be willing to fight for, lacking the same degree of commitment he has evidenced on the above-mentioned issues.  These issues deserve enumeration, and recognition as significant concerns that merit serious attention by the chief of state. Without any attempt to rank their importance, as most observers would agree they are all important but vary widely on which are paramount, they include 1) the environmental, human-influenced factors contributing to world-wide climate change, 2) the growing income and wealth disparity in our nation, continuing to weaken our middle and lower classes relative to the most wealthy, influencing quality of education, opportunity, national cohesiveness, and youth alienation, 3) the proliferation of violence in our society, influenced by absence of a sufficient social service and mental health network, ready availability of guns without adequate registration and control, and dwindling opportunities for accepted avenues of social advancement, 4) infrastructure redevelopment, greatly needed to improve quality of transportation, neighborhoods, and life, especially in the more impoverished communities of the country, 5) re-instituting a more fair system of taxation, one that more fully spreads the benefits of our economic system to all levels of society, and re-installing the corporate and financial regulations that have been systematically removed during the last 35 years, like Glass-Steagall, which had been effective in limiting corporate malfeasance, preventing excessive accumulation of wealth in too few hands, and ensuring against occurrences like the financial collapse of 2008, 6) correcting some of the impediments that exist within our democratic system of governance, including infringements on the voting rights of all citizens, the excessive power of money and the media in determining the outcome of elections, and the threat of predatory surveillance and violation of privacy rights, and 7) controlling our nation's reflex tendency, especially among the neocons who are still in our government and their influence over our media and our military, to believe that international disputes can most readily, and best, be resolved by use of our overwhelming military power. The last 12 years in the Middle East should have disproven that belief, but we are still militarily engaged there, with no end in sight, and Obama is proving with Iran how difficult it is to attempt to lead with diplomacy and negotiation rather than relying on threats or use of military force.  This is obviously only a partial list of significant issues. Obama has spoken with some conviction on each of them at times, but only on the health care act and the recent Iran treaty negotiations has he really followed through with sustained, vigorous effort. One is left believing that his heart is in a forward-moving direction, that he may have the audacity of hope, but that his commitment or his energy flagged on some of the key issues he has faced.  He deserves full credit for what he has accomplished, and for the obstacles he has faced with grace and courage. And he leaves his strongest supporters to deal with their feelings about the tasks left unresolved, and for leaders-to-follow to attempt to surmount.