Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Weight of Expectations

I remember when I found out my father was a philanderer. I was twenty-eight. He had just died. I thought: Not cool, but there was a lot of good in him, and he was my father and I was both better off and worse off for it, but mostly, I thought, better off.

I did not have sex with that woman.
If one of my children takes a wrong turn, I think of it as that, a wrong turn, not a character failure. He or she is still the person I know to be thoughtful and kind and to share the values I have about how we should treat one another in this life. I know that if they have made a mistake they are feeling the pain of it more acutely than I, so I offer encouragement. I don’t say: Man, you really let me down on that. Why didn’t you do better?

President Obama feels like one of my children to me. As best I can tell, he thinks the way I would have raised him to think (even better, no doubt) and feels the pain of others the way I would have encouraged around the dinner table. He is the kind of man I would be proud to call a son. Or father. He is the kind of man I would be proud to be myself.

So—I just have to say this—I’m tired of hearing people in our national political family carping about him. He didn’t do enough to sell his message, they say. He wasn’t tough enough in dealing with Republican intransigence. He was naïve.

Well of course he was naïve. Who could know what being president in a time of national and global crisis would be like? And you don’t have to be Pollyanna to have nurtured the hope, the expectation, that in those dark days it would be possible to sit down with the opposition and make a plan together to get the country back on its feet. Only the most deeply cynical could have predicted Mitch McConnell’s single-minded commitment to making Mr. Obama’s a one-term presidency, even at great cost to the country---or, as some suspect, even hoping for great cost to the country that could be blamed on the president.

When Bill Clinton was caught cavorting with a long list of women both in and out of the Oval Office, I thought: Too bad about his uncontrollable libido, but it's not that relevant to how well he governed. I looked at it the same way I (and perhaps most others) did Kennedy’s womanizing and Franklin Roosevelt’s affair. These are men, not more. They have flaws. The question is not whether they are paradigms, but whether their policies are good for the country.

It doesn’t seem likely that we are going to find anyone other than Michele in Barack Obama’s bed. But he shares a vanity with Clinton, Kennedy and Roosevelt: an abiding belief that he can bend the world to his thinking. He can’t always. They couldn’t either. Remember Clinton’s 1994 Congressional mid-term slaughter? Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs? Roosevelt’s failed attempt to pack the Supreme Court?

We elect a man (and, one day, a woman) to the presidency. Not a saint. Not a sorcerer. We elect a person no more perfect or effective than our parents or our children. Sure, we have high hopes for him. Yes, we are disappointed when he stumbles. But that is exactly the moment when he needs our support, not our scolding. If we believe that President Obama is smart and empathetic, that he will continue to do his best to achieve the things we believe in, that he has likely learned a little something about being president after four years, this is most certainly not the time to abandon him.


  1. I for one don't think Obama's a bad man. Just ineffective, naive, and unlike Clinton, not very analytical, nor willing to compromise.
    Romney is actually much more like Clinton in executive style and business pragmatism.
    We need a guy right now who can wear the green eyeshade. Obama can't, even if he wanted to.

  2. I think you mean paragon rather than paradigm...

    And I agree with Anonymous. And you are way better than Obama. You are willing to consider alternative points of view.

    Obama is intransigent, which is why the Republicans in Congress were labeled the party of "No" by the liberals. He, Pelosi & Reid didn't care what anybody else thought, effectively alienating everybody who had a different opinion or point of view, or buying them off (remember the "Louisiana Purchase" and the "Cornhusker Kickback?").

    Remember this bit of Obama oration: "We don’t mind the Republicans joining us. They can come for the ride, but they gotta sit in back.”? Would you want to work with somebody having that attitude?

    I suspect that you raised your sons to do better than that.

  3. Well, Pat, I guess I succeeded in raising them to be independent-minded anyway. One of the older ones, to my horror, is voting for Romney.

  4. Well raised, and smart, no less! Who knew?