My friend Frank Schaeffer is a passionate advocate for challenging the current state of conservative politics in the United States, and an even more passionate advocate for President Obama. I admire deeply his personal courage in speaking up, and offering a critique of the movement he helped found. This has come at a significant personal cost. I’m posting below in full his most recent article, which offers a corrective to both those on the right who would denounce Obama, and those on the left who feel let down. I think that Frank’s words below, and John Dear’s comments about Obama’s role in American empire, posted here recently both offer helpful, contrasting lenses through which to interpret this new era in American history. I’m grateful for Frank’s reminders of Obama’s significant achievements; and I’m grateful for John’s reminders that we should not trust in princes. Both perspectives deserve serious attention. I’m looking forward to reading more of both of these important voices in the year to come. (BTW – Frank’s new book ‘Patience with God’ is fantastic – one of the most illuminating reading experiences of the past year.)
‘Obama Will Triumph – So Will America’, by Frank Schaeffer (Original post here)
Before he’d served even one year President Obama lost the support of the easily distracted left and engendered the white hot rage of the hate-filled right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds — including this white, straight, 57-year-old, former religious right wing agitator, now progressive writer and (given my background as the son of a famous evangelical leader) this unlikely Obama supporter — are sticking with our President. Why?– because he is succeeding. We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us. Obama’s steady supporters will be proved right. Obama’s critics will be remembered as easily panicked and prematurely discouraged at best and shriveled hate mongers at worst.
The Context of the Obama Presidency.
Not since the days of the rise of fascism in Europe, the Second World War and the Depression has any president faced more adversity. Not since the Civil War has any president led a more bitterly divided country. Not since the introduction of racial integration has any president faced a more consistently short-sighted and willfully ignorant opposition – from both the right and left. As the President’s poll numbers have fallen so has his support from some on the left that were hailing him as a Messiah not long ago; all those lefty websites and commentators that were falling all over themselves on behalf of our first black president during the 2008 election. The left’s lack of faith has become a self-fulfilling “prophecy”– snipe at the President and then watch the poll numbers fall and then pretend you didn’t have anything to do with it!
Here is what Obama faced when he took office– none of which was his fault:
# An ideologically divided country to the point that America was really two countries
# Two wars; one that was mishandled from the start, the other that was unnecessary and immoral
# The worst economic crisis since the depression
# America’s standing in the world at the lowest point in history
# A country that had been misled into accepting the use of torture of prisoners of war
# A health care system in free fall
# An educational system in free fall
# A global environmental crisis of history-altering proportions (about which the Bush administration and the Republicans had done nothing)
# An impasse between culture warriors from the right and left
# A huge financial deficit inherited from the terminally irresponsible Bush administration…
And those were only some of the problems sitting on the President’s desk! “Help” from the Right? What did the Republicans and the religious right, libertarians and half-baked conspiracy theorists — that is what the Republicans were reduced to by the time Obama took office — do to “help” our new president (and our country) succeed? They claimed that he wasn’t a real American, didn’t have an American birth certificate, wasn’t born here, was secretly a Muslim, was white-hating “racist”, was secretly a communist, was actually the Anti-Christ, (!) and was a reincarnation of Hitler and wanted “death panels” to kill the elderly! They not-so-subtly called for his assassination through the not-so-subtle use of vile signs held at their rallies and even a bumper sticker quoting Psalm 109:8. They organized “tea parties” to sound off against imagined insults and all government in general and gathered to howl at the moon. They were led by insurance industry lobbyists and deranged (but well financed) “commentators” from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh. The utterly discredited Roman Catholic bishops teamed up with the utterly discredited evangelical leaders to denounce a president who was trying to actually do something about the poor, the environment, to diminish the number of abortions through compassionate programs to help women and to care for the sick! And in Congress the Republican leadership only knew one word: “No!” In other words the reactionary white, rube, uneducated, crazy American far right,combined with the educated but obtuse neoconservative war mongers, religious right shills for big business, libertarian Fed Reserve-hating gold bug, gun-loving crazies, child-molesting acquiescent “bishops”, frontier loons and evangelical gay-hating flakes found one thing to briefly unite them: their desire to stop an uppity black man from succeeding at all costs!
“Help” from the Left? What did the left do to help their newly elected president? Some of them excoriated the President because they disagreed with the bad choices he was being forced to make regarding a war in Afghanistan that he’d inherited from the worst president in modern history! Others stood up and bravely proclaimed that the President’s economic policies had “failed” before the President even instituted them! Others said that since all gay rights battles had not been fully won within virtually minuets of the President taking office, they’d been “betrayed”! (Never mind that Obama’s vocal support to the gay community is stronger than any other president’s has been. Never that mind he signed a new hate crimes law!) Those that had stood in transfixed legions weeping with beatific emotion on election night turned into an angry mob saying how “disappointed” they were that they’d not all immediately been translated to heaven the moment Obama stepped into the White House! Where was the “change”? Contrary to their expectations they were still mere mortals! And the legion of young new supporters was too busy texting to pay attention for longer than a nanosecond… “Governing”?! What the hell does that world, uh, like mean?”
The President’s critics left and right all had one thing in common: impatience laced with little-to-no sense of history (let alone reality) thrown in for good measure. Then of course there were the white, snide know-it-all commentators/talking heads who just couldn’t imagine that maybe, just maybe they weren’t as smart as they thought they were and certainly not as smart as their president. He hadn’t consulted them, had he? So he must be wrong! The Obama critics’ ideological ideas defined their idea of reality rather than reality defining their ideas—say, about what is possible in one year in office after the hand that the President had been dealt by fate, or to be exact by the American idiot nation that voted Bush into office… twice!
Meanwhile back in the reality-based community – in just 12 short months — President Obama: #Continued the draw down the misbegotten war in Iraq (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Thoughtfully and decisively picked the best of several bad choices regarding the war in Afghanistan (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Gave a major precedent-setting speech supporting gay rights (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Restored America’s image around the globe (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Banned torture of American prisoners (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Stopped the free fall of the American economy (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Put the USA squarely back in the bilateral international community (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Put the USA squarely into the middle of the international effort to halt global warming (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics) #Stood up for educational reform (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Won a Nobel peace prize (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Moved the trial of terrorists back into the American judicial system of checks and balances (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Did what had to be done to start the slow, torturous and almost impossible process of health care reform that 7 presidents had failed to even begin (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Responded to hatred from the right and left with measured good humor and patience (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics) #Stopped the free fall of job losses (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Showed immense personal courage in the face of an armed and dangerous far right opposition that included the sort of disgusting people that show up at public meetings carrying loaded weapons and carrying Timothy McVeigh-inspired signs about the “blood of tyrants” needing to “water the tree of liberty”… (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
#Showed that he could not only make the tough military choices but explain and defend them brilliantly (But that wasn’t good enough for his critics)
Other than those “disappointing” accomplishments — IN ONE YEAR — President Obama “failed”! Other than that he didn’t “live up to expectations”! Who actually has failed… …are the Americans that can’t see the beginning of a miracle of national rebirth right under their jaded noses. Who failed are the smart ass ideologues of the left and right who began rooting for this President to fail so that they could be proved right in their dire and morbid predictions. Who failed are the movers and shakers behind our obscenely dumb news cycles that have turned “news” into just more stupid entertainment for an entertainment-besotted infantile country.
Here’s the good news: President Obama is succeeding without the help of his lefty “supporters” or hate-filled Republican detractors! The Future Looks Good After Obama has served two full terms, (and he will), after his wisdom in moving deliberately and cautiously with great subtlety on all fronts — with a canny and calculating eye to the possible succeeds, (it will), after the economy is booming and new industries are burgeoning, (they will be), after the doomsayers are all proved not just wrong but silly: let the record show that not all Americans were panicked into thinking the sky was falling. Just because we didn’t get everything we wanted in the first short and fraught year Obama was in office not all of us gave up. Some of us stayed the course. And we will be proved right. Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays, depending on your point of view) to everyone! PS. if you agree that Obama is shaping up to be a great president please pass this on and hang in there!