So I have begun volunteering for the Obama re-election campaign. I am what is called a "Fall Fellow" for Organizing for America. My "turf" is my own neighborhood in North Berkeley.
One of my tasks, as a Fall Fellow, is to defend the administration against its critics.
In most parts of the country this would mean defending President Obama against Republicans, Tea Partiers, Libertarians and reactionaries of all stripes. Not in Berkeley, though. Here it means defending this administration against the criticisms leveled at it by the Left.
I call potential volunteers and supporters on the phone. I nearly lose it. I have to pace the room, take some deep breaths, just to collect myself.
Our politics are very similar. Our perspectives are drastically different.
The common complaint on the left is that President Obama needs to be more forceful. That he compromises, or "caves," to the Republicans too early. I'm sorry, but this complaint pisses me off. Of course I can't say that over the phone, but it does.
Let's just review the facts. In the first year and a half of his term, President Obama passed the stimulus bill over Republican objections, fought for universal health care and achieved it with the Affordable Care Act, signed a new treaty with Russia reducing and securing nuclear stockpiles, signed financial reform, credit card reform, dealt with the BP oil spill, and generally demonstrated nerves of steel at every step of the way. Then the midterm elections, in November of 2010, sent many Democratic representatives in the House and Senate home; the ones who stayed ran for cover. He was forced to temporarily extend the Bush tax cuts in order to extend payroll tax cuts to the middle class and extend unemployment benefits. The winds have been against him ever since, with the Republicans playing with nothing less than the full faith and credit of the United States in order to score political points.
This is a President who is being pummeled by charlatans who want above all to see him defeated. And yet he has persisted, at every opportunity, to fight for the interests of the American people. He has refused to take the easy path and demonize and antagonize further his opponents. Instead he has spoken constantly, unceasingly, in the language of democracy, the language of civility and shared sacrifice and the common good. This takes enormous strength. To call President Obama weak is to fundamentally misread the situation.
What it really comes down to is that many of the people I speak with in Berkeley want him to pound the podium, call the Republicans on their imbecility and mendacity, announce to one and all that he will never waver, never buckle, never crack, never give an inch.
Well, I'm here to tell you, that kind of bluster would accomplish nothing. I would rather have a President who has the country in mind and does everything in his power to help his fellow Americans during this difficult time, including taking a beating and refusing to stoop as low as his opponents.
Faced with economic uncertainty and fear, many people want emotional release. Hell, I want emotional release. President Obama, though? He wants tangible results.