“We gave a glamour to the task
That he encountered and saw through,
But little of us did he ask,
And little did we ever do.
And what appears if we review
The season when we railed and chaffed?
It is the face of one who knew
That we were learning while we laughed.”
— Edwin Arlington Robinson, from “The Master”
E.A. Robinson’s poem was written shortly after the Civil War from the perspective of those who opposed President Lincoln, and I think it beautifully echoes the current political climate in America. The Republican Party reflects such vitriolic opposition to President Obama’s health care reform, and they criticize his seemingly indecisive attitude toward increasing troops in Afghanistan, while conveniently offering nothing themselves.
Most of the right’s opposition stems from pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and from leaders in the House and Senate, like Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell. And they’re very good at being glamorous in their opposition.
Michelle Bachmann never fails to make headlines when she opens her mouth. Just last week she made a statement on the House floor that if public option health care is passed, tax dollars will be funneled into “sex clinics,” where teenage girls will be able to get abortions without notifying parents.
That’s an absolutely false claim — but it didn’t cause her to be ostracized from serious national news organizations; instead, she made an appearance on Larry King Live Tuesday night, where she said, “people go where they think they’re going to hear the truth.” She went on to insinuate that Limbaugh and Glenn Beck speak the truth.
“If you look for a critical mass, that’s the movement, that’s the direction that the critical mass is going. And the American people are very smart people,” she continued.
Bachmann essentially believes that the loyal Republican supporters (“the critical mass”) are associating their ideology with Beck and Limbaugh. But that’s simply a fantasy of the right. As King quickly pointed out on that episode, only about two percent of the population tune into pundits like Limbaugh and Beck. That’s hardly a movement.
America is moving toward reform, and that’s where we’ve been headed since we elected Obama. It may seem as though he isn’t accomplishing what he promised on the campaign trail, like shutting down Guantanamo Bay, getting our troops out of Iraq, and allowing the Patriot Act to sunset — as Saturday Night Live noted last weekend.
But there’s a reason we didn’t choose a swaggering, overly confident, impulsive man to be president. Lest we forget, the Bush presidency is responsible for every situation the Obama administration is trying to improve today. And I think there’s a case to be made that a lack of rumination and thoughtfulness is behind many of President Bush’s mistakes.
I appreciate that, according to the NY Times, Obama gathered lawmakers at the White House Tuesday to discuss troop options in Afghanistan, and he told them, “No one feels more urgency to get this right than I do.” And the NY Times also reports that he told lawmakers “he wanted to ‘dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan.’”
He’s proving that he doesn’t think in terms of false dichotomies, and we’re not accustomed to this sort of decision-making in the White House. He’s more interested in solutions that will actually solve our problems than making sloppy adjustments. And while he appears to be indecisive, he is simply weighing his options and choosing not to be reactive but responsive.
As long as Democratic Senators and Congressmen push through the legislation for which they were elected, such as health care reform and protecting jobs, the middle class, and the poor, they will come out on top in the 2010 election.
And what Robinson said of President Lincoln’s detractors will be said of President Obama’s. When they pause to reflect on this worn path they’re walking, where they “railed and chaffed” against the President’s plans, they will see the face of President Obama, who was schooling them all along.