My last post about the President being merely mediocre as opposed to a total failure elicited familiar comments about the threat posed by President Obama as the Democrats who will eviscerate Social Security and Medicare. I tend to think it's a testament to his mediocrity that something the President hasn't even done continues to be the biggest concern about his Presidency - as bad as he is... most likely he'll get worse.
In a remarkably scandal-free August, the President has spent the past week or so touring the Midwest on a bus run of three states, largely unsuccessfully trying to reverse generally negative assessments of his recent handling of the economy. His latest threat is to offer some sort of "jobs proposal" next month, a near perfect encapsulation of all that is wrong with his Presidency: more speeches, less doing, no real attempt to offer practical solutions to problems real people face, and doing next month what arguably should have been done yesterday, or months ago.
Is it any wonder then that even the President's most ardent supporters are reduced to making the weak argument that the President deserves reelection because the Presidency is ineffectual?
I've been a big fan of "VastLeft" over at Corrente and his(?) darkly funny cartoon dialogue between Obama supporters and Obama skeptics. Recently, this cartoon has become part of a duel between Glenn Greenwald and Scott Lemieux over just how ineffectual Obama has been and whether it's a function of the person, or the nature of the Presidency.
At the risk of shocking some regular readers, and in an attempt to reclaim some "true left" cred, I'd just like to say I'm pretty much with Greenwald (and Armando over at TalkLeft) on this one: it's Obama who's ineffective, not the Presidency. The bigger problem - and why the cartoon is so depressingly prescient - is that in a choice between Mr. Ineffective and some rabid right wing Republican... I'll still pick the ineffective Obama.
This goes back to a point I've been trying to make about the problem with reelecting Obama; as it stands, it seems entirely likely to me that Democrats, and some independents, will turn out strongly to reelect the President, despite the fact that a significant portion of the President's base of support is less than thrilled with him. Grimly reelecting a mediocre, ineffective President may be enough for the President's team (they already seem curiously detached from the very real frustrations of many true lefties), but it's going to make for a dismal few years of the President most likely pleasing no one. And then we face the prospect of trying to reconstitute left wing politics in time for 2016.
It's not that I'm worried, as so many still are, about how "dangerous" President Obama is to Social Security and Medicare; as I said last time, I don't think the angry left is giving enough credit to the President's actual successes in staving off the very worst of what the right has to offer (including especially lousy ideas like privatization of entitlement programs). But this President's mediocrity is dangerous because he's been so ineffectual on the crucial issues that probably matter most in solving our economic woes: sorting out the mortgage mess, reasserting some control over the banking and finance industries, dealing with health care costs rather than providing health insurance, and on and on.
If President Obama is no President Bush - forcing through damaging, dreadful policies until the country simply can't take anymore - that's probably been more a saving grace than an absolute disaster. Yes, it's dismal to watch things like last December, where the President negotiated with himself on some "middle ground" position on the Bush tax cuts, rather than simply letting all of them expire. It's not the Presidency that's ineffective, it's this President.
Even so, the problem of this President not being the liberal anyone seems to want him to be isn't all his fault; it's the confluence of how Obama was sold to the public in 2007 and 8, along with considerable disarray within the left, and the lack of a clear sense of purpose and direction as to what we're trying to accomplish. The coming election is shaping up to be a depressing rehash of the same old arguments in part because there's no real organized effort from the left to challenge the incumbent President. That's not something that can entirely be blamed on the President. If he's giving the left nothing to believe in... there's no real search for the "something" that would be better than nothing.
And that's the thing: as bad as he is, Barack Obama is a preferable alternative to anything Republicans are likely to offer up - surely better than the prospects offered by Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, and now Rick Perry or even Paul Ryan. It's that grim choice, and those lousy alternatives that define the shape of the coming election, how bad it will be, how dismal we will feel after all is said and done. He's the mediocre option we're apparently stuck with. And next to nothing... is about as good as it gets.