Hoping on Hope

Not sure you heard, but Barack Obama becomes the nation’s 44th President today. He is the most popular man in the world right now, and to think that one year ago he was just an inexperienced, relatively unknown Junior Senator entering a Democratic race as big a longshot as the Cardinals to win anything, let alone the Presidency, is simply mind-boggling.

Obama has already proven that he can navigate the rough waters of Washington politics if his cabinet is any indication. He neutralized Hillary by making her Secretary of State (ironic given her vote to authorize the war that Obama’s opposition to ultimately is what sank Clinton over the summer). He shut up his critics on foreign policy by keeping Robert Gates defense secretary (an eeeevil Bush appointee). He’s even having a conservative preacher who opposes gay marriage and is a darling of the Republican Party (Rick Warren) to do the invocation at the inauguration.

Wise choices, great political strategy.

As far as policy, he correctly took his taxing the “rich” (definition of rich constantly changed throughout the campaign) idea off the table about 3 minutes after the election. He said he would listen to his generals on the ground (sound familiar?) in regards to Iraq and Afghanistan. And he won’t be meeting with the likes of Kim Jong-Il and Ahmandinnerjacket.

Here’s the short version: He told us what we wanted to hear during the campaign from an idealism perspective. He appealed to our better angels. But when reality set in, he has adopted so many of the Bush policies Obama fans loathe, because, well…they work.

So feel free to email me with poll numbers or the usual angry diatribes after I make the following statement: Thank you, President Bush.


You kept us safe for 7 1/2 years. You enhanced interrogation of terrorists, preventing future attacks (which didn’t get you any poll points for since they never happened). You freed 50 million people in two countries and brought democracy to a part of the world in desperate need of a change in political philosophy. You did (and spent) more to help Africans battle disease (primarily AIDS and malaria, something the media barely reported) than any other President in history.

You, like Clinton before you, gave us six great economic years while in office for eight (four of the last five Presidencies have ended with recessions). No Child Left Behind has vastly improved our education system by introducing a strange concept called accountability. And when everyone told you all was lost, you stuck to your guns (no pun intended) and supported the surge in Iraq. Now a U.S. soldier has a much better chance of being murdered in an American city than he does in Iraq. When looking back on the Iraq decision years from now, historians will finally agree that the war was worth the cost in human lives and in dollars.

Bush also leaves behind a Department of Homeland Security, reorganized intelligence services with newly developed capacities to share information, and a program that grants broader and modernized wiretapping authority. Obama doesn’t seem terribly interested in foreign affairs, but at least he has the mechanism in place to continue what Bush successfully implemented.

Of course, Bush has made his share of mistakes. That is painfully obvious. He never vetoed a spending bill that came across his desk. Not one. The post-war planning in Iraq was nothing short of horrific, which what happens when you try to fight a war on the cheap (too few troops to start allowed the insurgency to grow basically unchecked).

The perception he was apathetic on Katrina was unfair, considering Mississippi and Alabama, two states hit just as hard, did everything correctly on the local and state level and survived the same way Texas did after Hurricane Ike in ’08, while Louisiana and New Orleans was woefully inept in terms of evacuation, resulting in 1300 deaths. All levels of government failed on Katrina, particularly on the local and state level in Louisiana. What no one mentions that thousands were still saved, mainly by the National and Coast Guards. But to point the finger squarely at Bush is as fair as blaming him on creating the hurricane itself.

Same goes for the housing meltdown: Fanny and Freddie Mac came to be in the Clinton Era. They were set up as another front for affirmative action in the banking industry, giving loans to poor people (mostly minorties) who couldn’t afford to pay anything back. But the whole thing still fell apart under GWB’s watch, so ultimately he’s partially responsible.

Now it’s Obama’s turn to turn rhetoric into results. His plan for the economy appears to be to throw money at the problem ($1 trillion in new spending to start). His treasury secretary nominee didn’t pay taxes for four years, but Obama still stands by him (an ominous sign of ego winning out over fixing government). And if we’re basing him on his actions already, his Inauguration is much more expensive than Bush’s, which was treated this way in 2005 by the Associated Press:

“President Bush’s second inauguration will cost tens of millions of dollars ? $40 million alone in private donations for the balls, parade and other invitation-only parties. With that kind of money, what could you buy?

¦ 200 armored Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq. ¦ Vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami. ¦ A down payment on the nation’s deficit, which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year….

The questions have come from Bush supporters and opponents: Do we need to spend this money on what seems so extravagant?”

Fast forward to 2009:

The nation is still at war (two wars, in fact), and now also faces the prospect of a severe recession and federal budget deficits topping $1 trillion as far as the eye can see. With Barack Obama’s inauguration estimated to cost $48 million (not counting the millions more that government will have to pay for security), is the Associated Press once again tsk-tsking the high dollar cost?

Nope. Here’s the headline:

“For inaugural balls, go for glitz, forget economy”

And here’s the lead:

“So you’re attending an inaugural ball saluting the historic election of Barack Obama in the worst economic climate in three generations. Can you get away with glitzing it up and still be appropriate, not to mention comfortable and financially viable?

To quote the man of the hour: Yes, you can.”

And that’s a microcosm of my whole issue with the next four years: The media coverage has been nothing short of revolting and as hypocritical as Mike Golic (Explanation: ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” co-host once simultaneously did endorsements for both NutriSystem and Pizza Hut). It could be the same exact issue, and Bush is portrayed as Madoff while Obama is Messiah. When Bush spends, it’s payback to his rich oil buddies. When Obama spends, it’s an infrastructure stimulus.

Journalism has become a business, and when you have an articulate minority running the country, it’s good for business to jump in the tank for him and conjure up the image of a savior. Someone above the fray. A hero like Captain Sully Sullenberger. Just ask the people who run MSNBC.

Still, Obama has all the tools to inspire the country. He certainly has the intelligence…no one would despite that. He can define his arguments better than Bush could even dream of (thereby turning perception into reality) And he has a Congress — whose approval ratings are 12 points lower than Bush — that appears to finally wants to work together. They really have little choice.

Now if something could only be done about these insane hikes in Hoboken taxes…

Some accuse me of being a blind ideologue. That I’ll vote Republican no matter what. But if Obama can accomplish even 40% of his lofty promises while continuing to keep the country safe, he has my vote in 2012.

Good luck, Mr. President.