I heard it was a great speech. Many of my progressive friends are jazzed up again, ready to take the fight back to the Republicans in what promises to be a spirited and bloody 2012 campaign. Issues that Obama has largely ignored – such as immigration and growing wealth disparity – were finally addressed. The Old Obama is back, they say, and it’s time to recapture the magic of 2008.
Color me uninterested. Not in Obama, but in his speeches. Unless an unexpected third-party candidate emerges, I will vote for him again - lesser of two evils, as usual. But I’ve stopped listening to a word that comes out of the man’s mouth.
The straw that broke this camel’s back was the speech Obama gave to justify the increase of troops in Afghanistan. It wasn’t the actual decision that galled me. It had been a campaign promise, after all. But the language Obama used to justify the decision could have been lifted straight from a George Bush speech from a few years earlier. We’re out of Iraq, but the drumbeats of war continue to pound - now in the direction of Pakistan and Iran – and our neo-conservative foreign policy lives.
In many areas, Obama has continued the same policies often detested in Bush – expansion of executive power, destruction of civil liberties, ignoring climate change, and tax cuts for the wealthy. Sure, he has fulfilled some of his campaign promises, but his first three years have made it clear that he is not an agent of change – not even close. He is simply another politician with a rare gift for public speaking, doing and saying whatever he thinks will win him the next election.
“But wait,” I can hear my progressive friends protesting. “You should have heard the State of the Union. Obama made some very bold statements about the growing income gap and a lot of other things you’d love. He really is going to change things. His second term will be better.”
Here’s the rub: Obama’s second term, should he get one, might very well be different. He might finally begin standing up to the Republican bullies in Congress. He might finally push for climate change legislation. And he might get serious about helping Americans who are struggling economically.
But if and when he does, it will not be because of some inner transformation that happens in his heart, or because he suddenly remembers what he promised back in 2008. It will be because the people – because you and I – stand up and shout and remind him on a daily basis what he needs to be doing.
The only reason Obama’s economic tone has shifted from debt reduction to wealth disparity in the last six months is because of the Occupy protests. Like them or not, those brave souls camping in city parks across the nation have changed the national discourse.
So let’s not listen to any more speeches, from Obama or from any politician. Let’s speak to them. They’re listening.