It’s mid-term for the Obama administration and The Poet’s Eye sees that it’s a pretty good time for checks and X’s and plusses and minuses, for a report card. When I was in school, the grading period was six weeks long at which time we had to submit the embarrassing document to our parents for their signatures. The marks on this cryptic scorecard were what determined my level of citizenship for the upcoming six weeks. Would my allowance go up or be cancelled? Would curfews be tight or more relaxed? Would my favorite TV shows be available? How about girls? Those letters in their little boxes were more critical to my everyday life as a teen-ager than my credit score is today.
President Obama is getting his report card from the voters on Nov. 2. The numbers of R’s and D’s that appear in the next Congress will determine what his privileges will be for the next two years. Will he have a majority in either house or will he need to be more assertive on behalf of the Executive Branch and bulldog the Congress into any meaningful action? It’s a cinch that any notions of post-partisanship are as yet in the realm of science-fiction. Obama’s accomplishments, for which he claims too little credit, are in danger of de-funding or other obstructionist mayhem should the Republicans gain more legislative leverage.
How would I grade Obama on his rookie season? I begin with a bitter-sweet taste under my tongue. My level of natural elation was dangerously high when Obama was elected. Not only was I drop-dead amazed that only a scant 40 years after King’s dream was dreamed, we had a black man as President, I was just so damned relieved to be finished with the Bush regime and the pitiful picture of America that GW presented to the world. At least now we had a leader who was honestly idealistic and articulate. I felt especially lucky to have a very poetic writer as my President. And there was the heady talk of ‘change’ and ‘post-partisan cooperation,’ that I clearly recognized as campaign poetry and never really expected would happen, yet my expectations were raised by the soaring rhetoric and a hope that this capable and assured young man could by simple force of intelligence and modernity be able to accomplish the new and daring things necessary for our Republic to prosper. I can’t say I was surprised when Obama hit the shit-wall of Washington business as usual, but I was disappointed. All in all, the first two years were less than I had hoped and more than I expected. There was modest progress in insurance reform, not as much as we need but what we need is no private insurance. Financial reform was good for most of us and for fairness. The game is still rigged but some of the egregious abuses were mitigated. The world sees us in a better light. We are making halting progress toward disengaging from the foolish military adventures of the past decade. In different times we would say that Obama deserved good marks.
Of course the stinker is jobs. Despite constant disclaimers that he inherited the economic situation and was not responsible for the bad policies behind the mess, the voters are beginning to ask, quite rightly, What have you done about it? And along with that the question every president hears in an off-year, What have you done for me?….lately. All of this is predictable and understandable. The sad part is that Obama is most likely facing an intractable problem and one which is sure to dog him throughout his presidency even if he is re-elected. Our nostalgic idea of what a healthy job picture looks like, which was fashioned circa 1950, will never again appear in the real world. Technology and globalization have presented us with new rules and realities. Vintage or legacy or old-fashioned jobs will continue to dwindle and disappear until we establish the next paradigm of wealth distribution and re-define the meaning of an American job. Meanwhile, barring some national catharsis on the magnitude of WWII, we can expect double digit unemployment as a baseline.
The Poet’s Eye hasn’t examined a report card recently but as I remember, my report cards had two main sections. There were the more empirical and quantifiable grades in the particular subjects which were based on tests and homework etc., and then on the other side of the card was a more subjective section where the teacher rated social and study skills with little checks and X’s. These had such formal names as ‘respecting the rights of others’ and ‘attentiveness in the classroom’ and ‘ability to work in groups’ etc. The one I always hated was, ‘using time to best advantage,’ which to me always translated as, ‘doing just what I want you to do.’ If I were handing out little checks and X’s, Obama would get an X in ‘fulfilling leadership potential.’ This would be the kind of X that a professor gives to a promising student who is not performing to his expectations.
Where Is the New Deal?
For some reason that remains mysterious to me, Obama, who is so profoundly talented as an orator, has failed to rally this country by giving it a sense of common purpose. He pleads that he took the helm at a time comparable to the start of the Great Depression but where is his New Deal? The absence of a grand national cause with a good brand name has been conspicuous. If Barack Obama used his bully pulpit and put forth a plan of national priority to retool our energy infrastructure and put money and law behind it and asked the American people to take up their shovels and dig, not only would it go a long way toward mitigating our unemployment problem by creating jobs, it would create a sense of national unity and stand our economy in much better stead to compete in the new world economy of the 21st Century.
The Poet’s Eye sees that our young President has earned a few new gray hairs in these two years. Some of these could be from an excess of caution. I believe Obama, while he is taking things in the right direction, is scared to death of taking things too fast. I hate to say this, but I fear that he’s trying to be a credit to his race. As the first African-American president he is obsessively crossing t’s and dotting i’s. Like Jackie Robinson, he’s just trying to touch all the bases and get through the first couple of seasons without starting any fights in the dugout or letting the catcalls from the bigots in the crowd get his goat. He is behaving more like a statesman than a politician, for that he gets a big check mark, but by the time his next report card rolls around I hope he feels loose enough to swing for the bleachers.
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Ev’ry way you look at it, you lose
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away
(Hey, hey, hey…hey, hey, hey)