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The Nowhere Man

President Barack Obama records his weekly address from a UPS customer center as part of the new public-private Green Fleet Partnership, April 1, 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House Photo)


The Nowhere Man

President Barack Obama records his weekly address from a UPS customer center as part of the new public-private Green Fleet Partnership, April 1, 2011. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House Photo)

So, yeah, Obama is in. The President of the United States officially threw his hat into the 2012 election ring on Monday morning, and the nation reacted with a resounding, “Oh.”

What a mess.

It wasn't even two and a half years ago. Can you believe it? Two and a half years ago, there was a detonation of optimism that echoed across the country once the returns were in on that November night. People took to the streets here in Boston, literally banging pots and pans together as they danced and shouted in celebration. The scene was repeated in city after city and town after town, and even the “mainstream” media gushed from election night to Inauguration Day about the spectacular moment in American history we were all witnessing together.

Hindsight, however, tells us today that much of that optimism was wildly misplaced. The long shadow of George W. Bush still hung low and dark over the land, as it does even now. That was part of it, of course, part of the sense of expiation and purgation so many felt once the deal went down; on that November night, the national nightmare of Mr. Bush's presidency was writing its final pages, and then came January, and he was gone. Despite all the failures and disappointments that have since come, those were two very good days.

And there have been disappointments. A great, great many of them. The words we heard were beautiful back then, soaring and sure, and many believed. How could they not? Here was this new president who could sing the birds down from the trees, who was introduced to the country in 2004 by way of a convention keynote address that blew the roof off the joint. Some years later, along the jagged, wending path of a brutal primary campaign, candidate Obama was carried to the nomination by the power of his words, and yes, many believed, even in spite of themselves.

But then he won it all, and two and a half years later, many of his most ardent supporters now hear his words and taste ashes in their mouths. You campaign in poetry, someone once said, but you govern in prose. The poetry was magnificent. The prose, in far too many ways, has been dreck, and those who believed now find themselves more demoralized than they can easily describe.

He and his fellow Democrats all but folded on health care, leaving us with less than half a loaf. He backtracked on Guantanamo, and doubled down on Afghanistan. He promised to erase Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and broke his oath shamelessly, to his party's great lament in 2010. Wall Street stands unmolested at the center of his counsel, while Main Street withers on the vine. He is flipping missiles into Libya while flipping off the American people by racing to “compromise” with brigands and thieves on the matter of how many billions to cut. He has, to be sure, had his share of victories, but in so many critical ways, he has been the Nowhere Man, the absence of what was so seemingly present when he was elevated to his current station.

What galls the most, what infuriates and confounds, is the brazen clarity of the situation at hand. Mr. Obama has not been losing policy arguments to reasonable people. He has been losing policy arguments to people who are, in many instances, absolutely and unabashedly barking mad. He is losing policy arguments to people who sought elected office in government in order to denude and destroy that very government. Listen to them talk and the matter is plain: they got the job to destroy the job, and are so blinded by the fervor of their political catechism that they cannot be reasoned with under any circumstances. They are destroyers and usurpers, but Mr. Obama has time and again bared his neck to them, and we have all suffered with their sundry victories, and his sundry defeats.

They cannot be reasoned with, but can only be defeated, and after two and a half years, it is the President of the United States alone who appears to have not received the memo. Now he's running for re-election – not that anyone suspected he would do otherwise – and the machinery of campaign war is grinding to life in Chicago and Washington DC. Last time around, Mr. Obama's vast campaign war chest was filled with donations from millions of regular folks all across the country. The Obama campaign took money from the big boys, too; lots and lots of money. But what ultimately brought him to victory came from average Americans who could not afford to give but did. That, as much as anything else, was part of that sense of optimism felt by so many at the beginning.


Well, now is a different story. A great many of those who gave willingly the last time are two and a half years older today, two and a half years poorer, and two and a half years wiser. They will not be as quick to reach for their wallets and checkbooks when the piper calls them to campaign charity with his well-worn cadence. The Obama 2012 brain trust seems to know this, and are preparing a financial strategy far more dependent on big money than last time. They aim to raise a billion dollars this time. Thus, the political DNA of campaigner Obama and President Obama will even more closely resemble the CEOs and bankers that tore this nation to shreds and tatters.

The feeble fiction of the Democrats vs. Republicans paradigm has been falling to dust for a long time now, inexorably being replaced by a simple truth. There is but one paradigm in this reality, one core fact to be reckoned with: the struggle in America is between the Have's and the Have Not's, between towering wealth , towering greed and everyone else. It is about a class struggle that has been three centuries in the making, and even those who are today moderately comfortable will not be able to escape calamity. When it comes down, it will come down on all of us…all, of course, except the fortunate few who caused it all in the first place.

But who knows? Mr. Obama could choose to steer back into the wind, challenge his demented opposition with a will, and prevail in a way that inspires those who have waited all this time for the man they gave to and voted for to show up. The odds of re-election favor him in any case; it is hard to defeat an incumbent, and when considering the ludicrous carnival of nonsense that is the presumed Republican field, Mr. Obama's chances only improve. In many battlefield states, demographics favor the president in ways the GOP is not prepared to deal with. The 2012 election campaign promises, above all else and with absolute certainty, to be one of the most deranged political affairs to be seen since time out of mind.

It is tempting to comfort oneself with the notion that there are worse things in the world than a second Obama term, and there is a fat, cynical dollop of truth in that. After all, given the array of challenges this administration has faced since taking office, it is daunting to imagine the sorry condition we would be in under a President McCain. Now imagine watching Vice President Michele Bachmann, tapped by the Republican nominee in two years to shore up the Tea Party vote, taking the oath a heartbeat shy of the biggest chair in the country. Think it can't happen that way? Want to bet on it?

I don't.

Two and a half years ago, it was all about hope and change. Remember that? I am, personally, waiting with bated breath for the next battery of slogans to be deployed by the Obama campaign. No, seriously, I am. Nowhere Man 2012: Because Everyone Else Is Worse. That'll send them racing to the polls.

Yup. Here we go.


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