Sunday, April 22, 2018

Still Waiting For The Transformation

Responding on the overtime segment of Real Time with Bill Maher to a question about President Obama's legacy, the former Missouri Secretary of State and failed Democratic nominee for US Senator stated

I would argue that President Obama's legacy is also wider than his policy achievements. You look at the way the millenial generation, my generation, generation Z is stepping up. I think you can trace that directly back to a transformative leader who told us, you know, we're the ones we've been waiting for.  And I think that ultimately our salvation will come not from- it will come from his legacy which made a lot of people, which includes my generation, believe you can do that.

And I would argue that it takes two blacks (writing well before Jason Kander's remarks) to explain (indirectly) how utterly naive and ridiculous that is. Last October, Joy-Ann  Reid observed

As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out in his brilliant Atlantic essay, “The First White President,” for Trump’s supporters, his election was itself the point. Putting a human wrecking ball against political correctness, feminism, multiculturalism and even decency was the ballgame.

Kander should have noticed that Barack Obama's presidency was immediately succeeded by Donald Trump's presidency, and should realize that the latter never would have been anywhere near materializing without the first. Reid explains that once Henry Louis Gates had his famous confrontation with a white police officer outside of Boston

the pleasant fiction of a “post-racial America” exploded. Police groups and Republican lawmakers pounced. Obama’s approval rating with white Americans dropped 8 points immediately, according to a Pew Research Center poll, from 53 percent to 46 percent. (Though his overall approval held steady at 54 percent.) It never recovered. Not even after a hastily staged “beer summit,” at which Vice President Joe Biden, Obama’s white working-class whisperer, played peacemaker.

Obama’s reaction to the incident dominated race-related discussions that summer, both in the mainstream media and, especially, right-wing talk radio. It joined health-care reform as a topic of intense racial polarization. And the decline in Obama’s popularity was particularly acute among working-class whites.

Lest you protest that he was reelected with the help of the whitish, heartland states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, recall that

Three year’s later, Obama was re-elected despite being crushed by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney among every white American demographic. As Ron Brownstein explained in an election analysis for The Atlantic the following September:

“In 2012, Obama won a smaller share of white Catholics than any Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1980; lost groups ranging from white seniors to white women to white married and blue-collar men by the widest margin of any Democrat since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984; and even lost among Democratic-leaning college-educated women by the widest margin since Michael Dukakis in 1988.”

Obama's victory in 2012, Reid adds

demonstrated the power of a non-white constituency to do the once-impossible: deliver the White House, twice.

Embedded in Obama’s political resilience, however, was a growing racial polarization that would make the heady 2016 predictions of Democratic inevitability in the White House inoperable. With Obama’s double victories, the seeds of a backlash were sown.

The evidence of our divided racial self was all over the Obama presidency from the beginning: from the shouts of “you lie” from the well of Congress as he spoke to a joint session, to the unprecedented spectacle of American conservatives rooting against their own country being awarded the Olympic Games.

Nowhere was the acidity more evident than each time the black man in the White House talked about race — whether empathizing with a dead black teenager, Trayvon Martin, or elaborating on our often cruel racial history in his eulogies for nine slain slain Emanuel AME Church parishioners in South Carolina or five slain police officers in Dallas.

President Obama's first term had been reasonably successful and Chief Justice Roberts, joining the four liberals on the court, broke the back of the GOP's main argument in campaign 2012 by finding the Affordable Care Act constitutional.  The incumbent's victory masked the racial tension which, in Reid's telling, had re-emerged with the incident in Cambridge.

In 2016, another minority- this time a gender minority- stepped up to try to break her own glass ceiling and discovered that a huge swath of America believed the glass ceiling already had been broken and was not in the mood to cast aside its doubts in order to accomodate the yearning of the other America to "make history" again.

President Obama spent eight years as less the "transformative leader" Jason Kander imagines than as one who avoided making the country worse. Kim Jong-un did not invade South Korea nor launch any missiles toward the American mainland.  Israel is still an independent Jewish nation while hope of a Palestinian state remains.  There was not another financial crisis, though Wall Street scoundrels avoided the federal penitentiary they deserved.

It's questionable whether young people really believe "we are the ones we've been waiting for" when cynicism about the ability of government- or even society- to make necessary change appears to have risen, not declined. (It's even more questionable whether encouraging the narcissism inherent in the self-congratulatory "we are the ones we've been waiting for" would even be a positive development.)  And it looks increasingly unlikely that the idealism Kander believes Obama inspired in young people will result in effective gun safety legislation on the federal level.

Without a President Obama, there is no President Trump.  That is through no fault of Barack Obama, but is still an evident truth that the center and the left don't understand, and most glaringly the white segment of that electorate.

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