It’s said — by whom I’m not sure — that the best contract is one in which both parties think they got screwed. By that measure, Barack Obama is surely among the best presidents we’ve had. He’s disappointed liberals by opting against single-payer health care, not closing Gitmo, continuing George Bush’s NSA abuses, doing too little to prevent Wall Street excess, letting certain war criminals off the hook, drilling too much, and more. Conservatives (nowadays I use the term advisedly) consider our president a power-mad dictator who’s also an ineffectual coward; a diabolical America-hater whose every action, no matter how moderate or previously advocated, deserves unrestrained, wild-eyed condemnation. Especially when he tries to get things done while they refuse to.
It’s hard to watch Congressional Republicans unfailingly defend corporate interests at the expense of regular citizens, or to see yet another expression of conspiratorial outrage at something President Obama said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. And it’s not because I think people never have a point in criticizing the president. It’s that I see the mainstream anger on the right as carefully orchestrated, ginned-up by the same people who financed the tea party and convinced them to vote against their own interests. How else to get people to look the other way while their party protects tax cuts for the favored while ignoring the present and future needs of everyone else? The faster they take us to plutocracy, the more they misdirect voters to shiny objects. Prestidigitation. Worked for Houdini.
Barack Obama’s presidency has been far from perfect. People say he’s been in office long enough that he should take full responsibility for all outcomes. I don’t entirely disagree. But it’s inarguable that he’s faced unprecedented and unanimous obstruction from the other side. None of George Bush’s initiatives — none — failed to get at least some Democratic votes. Well, you say, that just means he was better at negotiating with Congress. And I might buy it, were it not for the fact that on the first day of Obama’s presidency, before the words of his speech had stopped echoing around the National Mall, even as those embarrassing inaugural balls were still bouncing, Republican leaders were meeting to plot destruction of his agenda before they’d even heard it, whatever it was, no matter the tax cuts he included in the stimulus, or the conservative origins of his health care reform.
But let’s forget that. I can’t, but let’s anyway. Let’s look at what’s going on today. The sad state of those children at our southern border is instructive. The only thing I know for sure is that it’s horrible, and that the solution, if and when it’s found, will involve much more than a bunch of even more horrible people shouting red-faced and righteous at busloads of frightened children; or Rick Perry sending a thousand Guardsmen to repel them; or Republican leaders claiming Obama is deliberately bringing them here, never mind fleeing murder and mayhem, to achieve unspecified but definitely dastardly ends. Marco Rubio says the problem is the order Obama signed delaying deportation of some minors. Does he, does anyone who watches Fox “News” know that the order applied only to those that have been here since 2007? Or that it was George WMD Bush who signed the law preventing immediate deportation of children from non-border countries? How much easier to spin conspiracy theories, to create fear and resentment, than to do the hard work of finding real solutions. (Heroic Sarah Palin bailed on the hard job of governing in favor of more remunerative, consequence — and content-free bloviating and Foxidolitry.) Legislating, including the willingness, birthed in Philadelphia, to compromise for the common good, happens to be the job, much as they’d prefer to ignore it, of those legislators who’d rather rush to Fox “News” cameras than to their desks. Who are readying a vote-shopping lawsuit against President Obama for delaying implementation of a law they’ve voted fifty-some times to repeal, while ignoring the fact that their previous president did that very thing with his health care law. And demanding, without irony, that he not enforce the aforementioned immigration law that other guy signed.
I wonder if Republican voters will ever consider why and by whom they’re being motivated to scream at kids instead of legislators, or to believe there’s no climate change, or to ignore our crumbling infrastructure, to demonize teachers, demand spending on more wars, and who stands to gain from it. Not before it’s too late. Of that I’m certain.
Sid Schwab is a surgeon and former Herald columnist.