|Progressives have become
increasingly bold in expressing disappointment over Obama's midterm record, particularly
the deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, but they must not have been taking
notes during the '08 campaign. If there was a central theme - you could call
it a "centrist theme" - it was this: "We
are not a nation of blue states and red states, we are the United States of America." Candidate
Obama said it a thousand times, pledging, above all else, to reach across the
aisle to find compromise.
What did Obama's supporters see during the campaign? Young people saw a candidate
who spoke their language and was handy with social media. Blacks, Hispanics and
other minorities saw one of their own. Educated Americans from both parties as
well as independents, frustrated by the dumbing-down and harsh rhetoric of politics,
saw a bright, savvy communicator. Caroline Kennedy even declared that she saw
her father, JFK.
Progressives saw in Obama a miracle worker who would wake us from the nightmare
of the Bush years. They envisioned an immediate end to war, rapid rebuilding
of social programs, and a quick escape from the economic recession.
Most unfortunate is that many who campaigned for Obama said they wanted a
fighter, when it turns out what they really wanted was a rabble-rouser. Rage
on the right need not be countered by equal rage from the left - or from the
White House. President Obama's measured approach to digging out from the avalanche
of problems he inherited should have soothed his supporters instead of inciting
Upon his election in 2008, Obama declared: "While the Democratic Party
has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination
to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation
far more divided than ours, 'We are not enemies, but friends - though passion
may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.' And to those Americans
whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I
hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president too."
It took a remarkable coalition of Americans to elect Barack Obama, but it
will require an even more remarkable coalition in government to fix America's
During the last two years many Republicans in Congress have seemed not to
share the goal of building bridges, and since the elections last month have become
even more brazen in challenging virtually all bipartisan proposals. Meanwhile,
from some in his own party, the president now hears whispers of a primary challenge
in 2012, or a third-party candidate emerging on the left.
Against this background, Obama said the other day: "This is a big, diverse
country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people."
Given the makeup of the new Congress, even painful compromise soon will be
even more difficult to achieve, while policy purity will be impossible.
Those who elected Obama are fortunate to have a president capable of dealing
with that, whether they recognized it during the courtship or not.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was orginally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.