The framed Obama “hope” poster is no longer on the wall in my house. We took it down late last year, supposedly because, according to my wife, it was “wrinkly” and didn’t look very nice. But it’s more than that. There used to be a point when aesthetics didn’t matter, when wearing our Obama T-shirts in public didn’t make us feel self-conscious, when we looked forward to hosting Obama house parties.
Not anymore. We haven’t hosted a house party since June, the shirts are tucked away in a drawer, and Obama isn’t mentioned much in our house, if at all. I’ve gone from giddily hopeful to downright cynical before the man’s term is even a quarter finished.
Some might say Jeez, it’s only been a year! Give the guy some time! But how many of those same people lost their jobs in the last year? Their homes? Were unable to afford health care? Show of hands? Didn’t think so.
On the eve of his State of the Union last week, I headed out to a MoveOn.org demonstration in front of the Lloyd George Courthouse to talk to a few supporters. The scene was sparse—51 signed on, but only about 24 showed up, most of them senior citizens. As head coordinator Karen Benzer pointed out, “Some of the people who signed up had to go out looking for work today.” Still, despite the occasional “Obama sucks!” shouted from passing vehicles, Benzer says the faithful do this every two weeks. And even with the diminishing crowds—last September, the group gathered 300 at a UMC vigil—Benzer said she doesn’t feel a sense of hopelessness from anyone. “We haven’t given up at all. Actually, we’re getting stronger.”
Uh, okay. Well, what about Obama’s failure to accomplish anything in his first term, aside from a bailout that many see as less than successful? “He actually tried to unite the parties; that was his mistake. He needs to forget bipartisanship and get down to what he promised. He put hope into the world, and it’s stronger now.”
But what about the loss of the super majority? Benzer was unfazed: “We never had the super majority,” she asserted. “We have Democrats who are either conservative or worried about keeping their seats, so we never had a 60-40 vote. The only bipartisanship we had was when a Democrat voted for a Republican bill. Just because you’re the president doesn’t mean there aren’t checks and balances.”
So what did she hope Obama would hit hard in his State of the Union? “The public option,” she replied, and even predicted that health-care reform will happen in two or three months. (The next night, Obama didn’t mention the public option. In fact, health care was behind financial reform, jobs, education and more affordable mortgages on his list. Reached by phone afterward, Benzer shook it off: “The ‘public option’ word has been so taboo that if you even use it, no one knows what it means.” As to it not heading the priority list: “They had to change direction, and I’m cool with that,” she says. “I was very happy with the speech. I thought it was a home run.”
I found a married couple holding pro-health-care-reform posters. Barry Clayton, 50, has worked as a lab technician at UMC for more than 20 years, and his wife, Linda, is a teacher—and they have a son who just got back from Iraq. Barry candidly admitted that he expected more to have been accomplished by this time. “The progressives really fell asleep last year. We’re disappointed with the escalation in Afghanistan; we should just be out right now. Thank God our son came out alive.”
But back, quickly, came the spirit of hope. “I still support Obama,” Barry says. “I still think he’s brought a different attitude to the world.”
So what has he done that Barry is satisfied with? A long pause ensues. “He’s pushing for the right things. It just takes time.”
Next came the State of the Union address, Obama’s first and a real chance to inspire people. But while there was no booing, cutaways to the faces of GOP leaders told the story: It changed nothing. If anything, the divide between the parties never felt greater, and Obama even managed to piss off the Supreme Court in the process. Worst of all, I really didn’t buy it when he led off his speech with “The worst of the storm has passed.” Until our economy recovers and thousands get their jobs back, how can we take that seriously?
I realize I’m deeply offending Conan O’Brien, whose parting words upon leaving NBC were, “Don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism.” Obama, in his State of the Union, listed cynicism as a logical byproduct of CEOs getting raises, lobbyists working to defeat needed reform and bankers filling their pockets while duped homebuyers go into foreclosure. But with the state our country is in, coupled with an entire year of a new presidency, backed by a Democratic majority that has managed to get almost nothing done, there are only two reactions possible: The blind hope that things will, in fact, get better; or cynicism.
Let’s face it: Hope would cease to be meaningful without cynicism to give it perspective. And while I’m not happy with my cynical condition, at least it is my own. No political party chose it for me, and no lobbyist or CEO is going to profit by it. I still support Obama—but his poster remains in storage. Sorry, I just need a little time.