Is Obama to Blame?

As we brace ourselves for the Trump inauguration, I don’t know anyone who is happy about what is going on in US politics. Not even trump supporters. Grumpy and nasty are the descriptors that come to mind for just about everyone.

It is a bit sad to contrast that with the temperament of the outgoing president, Barrack Obama. Whatever one might say about Obama, he is dignified and intelligent. You may not agree with him, but he acts like an adult. So why was he not able to change politics, as he hoped to do back in 2008?

Howard Fineman explores that interesting question, and suggests that Obama was the wrong man for the job — too  self-absorbed to play hard ball politics with Congress.

I think this is too harsh. True, Obama over-estimated his ability to deal with the red meat republicans in his first term.  If he had fought fire with fire from day one, the democrats might have avoided their 2010 shellacking at the polls. That was a big tactical mistake.  And Obama was too absorbed in demonstrating that he could make government work to see where  this would lead when the opposition party was investing in not making it work. Obama was trying to stop a gun fight with a handshake.

At the same time, Obama is not to blame for the public mood that empowered and still empowers red meat republicans. He was the victim of their ire, but not the cause. Their contempt for civility and compromise goes much further back in time. And it is rooted in a problem that American culture has yet to confront — its arrogance. That arrogance leads to an “I know better” style of thinking and talking that bristles at reasoned discussion, policy analysis and even science.

In my view, this is what opened the door for a figure like Donald Trump to ascend to power. His superficiality is less obvious to people who are used to superficial analysis. His arrogance is accepted as ok when arrogance is the norm.

And arrogance may explain why Hilary Clinton failed to see why Trump caught on with certain voter groups. She dominated in all policy discussions. But she ignored the one issue that voters apparently cared about – corruption. Voters were saying “I know better. The system is corrupt.” And Trump fed that frenzy. Clinton’s gang were too invested in the idea that better policy can make government work to see that Clinton might not be trusted because she ignored what voters were most interested in. Arrogance?  Tone deaf and arrogant! It is also ironic because corruption was and is the issue that Trump is weakest on! I think Bernie saw this more clearly.

Am I being overly harsh? Perhaps. At the same time, how else does one explain how we got to where we are today? And how do we develop better strategy? These are important questions. Stay tuned to see if we develop reasonable answers to them.

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