A Tippy-Toe Presidency
IMAGE- CAROLYN CASTER VIA DAILY NEWS
In November of 2008, a 47 year old man, with bright eyes glistening with unadorned appreciation and a youthful face teeming with the abrupt, unconceivable moment felt by all Americans, one that cannot be forgotten in the collective memory of this union. This moment astonished and persevered; broke a norm and revived something latent underneath the American surface. Barack Obama, the soft-eyed, grinning senator from Chicago, wore a dark suit as he stood on stage, addressing the movement alive and emotional before him. Barack Obama had just won the presidential election, and was the first black man, and person, to do so. It is a moment we cannot reject as irrelevant to the crooked, bloodied tapestry of American history. The moment that yes we can shapeshifted into a fragile reality rather than a far-off pipe dream.
The year is now 2016, and we are in an election just as remarkable, but for most of us, in a far more negative way. The majority of Americans are discontent with the two presumable choices for the presidency, hyperpartisanship reigns over compromise and action, and simply put, we all feel like some unknown hell is quickly approaching. Examining the unprecedented nature of this strange, Kafkaesque new American politics begs us to examine what led us here. President Obama is someone who is vital to consider in this narrative. For the past eight years, the President has reconstructed a disillusioned nation, a shaken economy, and revitalized American politics with the fresh, unwavering hue of hope. Obama embodies the ideal Americanism- one that is patriotic but not nationalist, accessible to even the most seemingly unreachable of constituents, bright-eyed with furious ambitions, uniting us rather than splitting us down that tragic middle. Never has a President served with such grace, civility, respect and introspection. Even the most staunch Republicans can admire the temperament of our President. As he prepares to leave the White House, who is he welcoming into this home of eight weary years? Or, rather, what version of America is the welcoming into his home?
Obama could not have foreseen the hurdle of 2016. Yet we are in a fixed system that is built upon division- it is a win-lose situation. One party takes all and the other takes nothing. Hyperpartisanship is politics at its worst and most gruesome, yet it should come as a surprise to no one. Hyperpartisanship is an inevitable result of our two-party structure. What is such a bruising shock to our political culture is the clear truth that Obama cannot save us from what is going to happen in just days. Obama cannot save us from the inevitable disappointment, perhaps violence- unimaginable things- that will occur no matter who wins this election. We have accommodated ourselves to inaction. While governmental stagnancy has become our new norm, this same passivity is a luxury to many of us- tolerable, at least. President Obama is now an adamant campaign star for Hillary Clinton, and in this unrelenting refusal of four years so incredibly different and far more destructive than anything Obama himself could’ve done or catalyzed. Obama is the first step in a long but defiant agenda of the progressive movement, and he himself is nearly running for office alongside Clinton because of his awareness of this. While Obama may have struggled with the unbearable realities of political polarization and Republican inaction, he did lay the foundation ready for Clinton to step right into and get cozy in.
Obama accomplished far more than expected, and has molded an impenetrable leftist legacy, that is ultimately aiming to reshape American politics, shifting its very roots to the left of where it is now. Dan Pfeiffer, one of Obama’s communication advisors, aptly said, “Winning three elections in a row can shift the tectonic plates of the political debate towards the left. Just look at how Reagan and his philosophy came to dominate politics for decades. That doesn’t happen if [Michael] Dukakis wins in ‘88.” Pfeiffer makes a strong argument, and one that we must acknowledge if any of us hope to continue the progressiveness Obama has gradually but effectively instilled into the very fabric of our government. If Clinton wins this presidency, something unprecedented will occur. The public understanding of the power of government, and the fundamental notion that the government draws its power from the consent of the governed, will exist not merely as a quixotic daydream but a slowly-shaped reality. Clinton is but a key player in a larger production, one that is weaving together a tightknit net of progress- of Democratic policy and heart. The Senate, the next Supreme Court Justice, and the House of Representatives are arguably even more critical to regain rather than Clinton’s presidency herself. Without a Democratic monopoly, without Democratic authority, even Bernie Sanders would have an extremely rough time getting things done.
Obama is revealing how crucial this election in in every speech he makes in support of Clinton. Obama is continuing his progress, his legacy, for the American people, and unapologetically. The Affordable Care Act, the Clean Air Act, DACA, and so, so many more effective, working progressive policies that previously seemed chimerical to the oppressed, will not hold their ground if we do not elect a Democratic president this November. A third term for Obama is a wish I make every day that we come closer to November 8th. This cannot be, unfortunately, but expansion of his foreground of progress is in sight. Hillary Clinton has disappointed an enormous number of Democrats, myself included- in fact, the unlikeability ratings of both of the candidates are the historically highest they’ve ever been- yet she is the sole chance we stand at continuing the tiptoe progress made by Obama. It is an incomplete progress. But incompletion is the reality of our political system. Our political structure is a result of bloody, merciless compromise that exploited the many in order to establish a sovereign nation; a quid pro quo between equality and sovereignty, if you will, and while I do not wish to justify this- I am horrified by so much of American history- I will say that a failure to recognize this now will be our ending. Compromise will happen and it must in order to reclaim the dreams Obama re-planted inside of our minds. To reclaim these dreams, we must accustom ourselves to growth- awkward, painful, often revealing the ugliest/least palatable parts of ourselves and country, but necessary to come out taller and more free.