As we've witnessed in the last two years plus, politics is one very dirty game. Depressingly dirtier than most of the games the rest of us play to earn our daily bread.
Barack Obama is one of the more elegant, almost regal Presidents we've ever had. His high style and rhetorical mastery begs on bended knee comparison with John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
But, "Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer."
The President has mysteriously become a leader more in the mold of a Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge, and to many eyes and ears, appears cold, aloof, slightly supercilious and often tone deaf. The wisp of shallowness that appeared during the presidential campaign is now a full blown smoking stack.
Where are the ringing speeches, the great aspirations, the appeals to hope over fear? Gone, as far as we can tell. What happened?
There is no other place to lay the blame but to a kind of moral cowardice.
It seems Obama doesn't really believe in the Progressive vision. Was embracing it merely an election strategy? Either government is a constructive, positive force in our common life or it's a bystander.
No other developed country (and very few developing or so-called emerging countries) argue over this point. For instance, France is rated by the World Health Organization as having the best health care system in the entire world. Japan and even Brazil rank above us in the quality of their national mass transit systems. Our real literacy rate, which one approached 99% is now hovering around 85%.
Obama seems to forget that there are tangible problems that need government intervention and financing regardless of what any of the dangerous right wing fanatics shout. While he should be nailing his own 95 Theses to the door of Congress, he appears content to fiddle and adjust and essentially cower. Remember - he is the most powerful single person in the world, and even if a Progressive agenda doesn't pass legislative muster, simply using the bully pulpit will serve as a countervailing force against the reactionaries.
Presidents like FDR, Ronald Reagan, and the sadly sidetracked Lyndon Johnson had strong beliefs in a core set of values. Whether you agreed with them or not, one can easily summarize the three president's major stands, and we admire them for their courage if not the ultimate effects their beliefs had upon us.
So, advisory number one to the President: "Define your core principles, your ultimate philosophies, and sell them. Hard and often."
Another side of the President that is lacking is quite a bit more concrete.
He seems to consider himself above the ribbon cutting, baby kissing, the complimenting of the mayor's wife's new hat, walking the streets with a state senator who feels her district is slipping backward, or showing appreciation for the small business owner's dedication to achievement and her/his family. God is in the details, Mr. President. As the pundits put it, he gets an F in "the stagecraft of the Presidency."
His bumbling, half-baked touch was most evident during the oil catastrophe in the Gulf. He could not have plugged the leak himself, but he could have sent Joe Biden or a couple of Rear Admirals to set up a permanent base camp in New Orleans in order to "show the flag."
There have been literally thousands of stimulus bill projects around the country, yet we seem not to sense the President's, and therefore the Democrats', stamp on them. Everything seems theoretical under Obama's leadership. It keeps smelling as if he doesn't believe in his own actions.
But it goes beyond that. One of the most important accomplishments of his 20-month tenure thus far is the winding down of the war in Iraq. It will save lives and save trainloads of money. Yet the initial announcement and his nationally-televised speech seemed lethargic, lacking ardor. We should be dancing in the streets and the President should have been leading the band music. But we saw a ghost of passionate, intense candidate Obama.
As Yeats wrote in "The Second Coming," The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."
Second advisory to Mr. Obama, coming from the left, for now a still-friendly if disquieted quarter: "Learn how to get your hands dirty." You can't glide above it all for much longer without completely losing the gains of the last few years.