Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Statement of Political Depression

For the first time in my 43 years of life, I actually find politics depressing.

This is a hard thing for me to admit, because I've been a political junkie for as long as I can remember. Whether in my liberal Democratic days or my swing voter days or my current Republican-leaning days, that was the one constant. I loved the nuts and bolts of it, the strategies, and even a good spin. And though I often found myself angry, or confused, or inspired, or in the opposition, or defending a policy the administration at the time did a lousy job of defending, I still had a love for the process. I still soaked it in. I still craved to read and know and watch everything political that I could.

My first post on this blog was making a statement about "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and McCain voters not giving Obama the chance that he'd earned. And I've given him even more benefit of the doubt since then than I ever thought I had in me. I've admitted that his appointments and actions during the transition were better than I had a right to expect, all things considered. I was hopeful that once he took that oath, that once he actually sat in that chair, that when the weight of his responsibilities truly made themselves felt on his shoulders, well, I was hopeful that he would rise to the office and be the president that we need.

Instead, in less than a month, Barack Obama has lost me. And more completely than I would have thought possible.

I could overlook the inept press secretary. I could look past the roster of Cabinet nominees who were tax cheats. I could get beyond his overly apologetic for America and misreading of history interview on al-Arabiya. I could overlook (though with some real effort) all his other historical examples that actually made the opposite point of the one that he was trying for. I could suspend my disbelief at his apparent view that we've had no discussions or contacts or communication with Iran over the last several years. I could even grit my teeth and ignore the latest inanity and international incident in the making from the mouth of Vice President Joe Biden. I was willing to be proved wrong not just about the Obama administration, but also about my former party, which I had left somewhere around the middle of the Clinton administration.

The stimulus bill has shown me the error of my ways.

During that near-endless campaign that eventually delivered the Oval Office to Barack Obama, I remember sitting in Canada and talking with a man who might as well be my father-in-law. He told me how the Republicans simply were not equipped to deal with all the problems America faces. I agreed with him, too, and I said so. But I also said, "The real killer is, the Democrats are even less equipped to deal with those problems than the Republicans are."

I didn't want to be proved right about that. I really, really didn't.

But a president who truly wants to change the level of discourse in Washington, who honestly wants to bring this country together, simply does not let Nancy Pelosi be in charge of writing the largest spending bill in the history of mankind. He doesn't say one moment how he hopes the bill can be improved, then accuse those who point out flaws in that same bill of wanting to "do nothing." He doesn't highlight the problem of deficits and then more than double what's already the largest single deficit in American history. He doesn't preach shared sacrifice, then hold a partisan pep rally at a luxury resort on the taxpayer's dime.

I could go on, but there are so many things to list, and so little time.

I'm used to hypocrisy from politicians, of course, and especially from presidents. Some amount of hypocrisy is a grim necessity not just of political life, but of real life as well. But I honestly cannot remember ever seeing such a stark chasm between what a president said he would do and be and what a president actually does and is. Or ever seeing such a stark chasm so quickly.

It took me years to reach this point with Bill Clinton. Barack Obama brought me here in only weeks.

I wasn't expecting him to always agree with me. I wasn't expecting him to be the president I thought McCain would have been, or the president I would have wanted. I came into this with relatively low expectations for President Obama, and with a lot of benefit of the doubt on offer. I should have been the easiest of the "opposition" to keep somewhere near his corner.

It wouldn't have taken much, either. Just an acknowledgement that opponents of the stimulus package, however wrong President Obama thinks they might be, are acting out of honestly held beliefs and good faith. Just a notch less fear- and catastrophe-mongering from the Oval Office. Just a few more days for the representatives and senators actually voting on the bill to actually read the bill. Just some indication, however small, that it was President Obama, not Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, who was really running this show.

I still wouldn't have liked the outcome, I grant you. I still would have thought the stimulus bill is a trillion-dollar mistake our grandchildren will be paying for (on top of all the other mistakes we've made that they'll be paying for). But I would have come out of this liking and respecting the man occupying the White House much more than I do now. And with four years left to go, he's going to need that good will and acknowledgement of his good faith from the other side, if we're going to deal with all the other problems that also face us right now. But instead, he's managed to poison the well, right at the start.

And for the first time in my life, I actually find politics depressing. And the optimism I've always had is becoming harder and harder to find.

Hope and change, indeed...