I don’t care about the well. I care about what’s next.

Seriously. At this point, we might as well face it – the only way to stanch the flow of oil in the Gulf spill is to drill a relief well. Anything else just delays the inevitable, so we might as well just get on with it. 

But here’s what just alternately infuriates me and depresses me: we should be taking this moment to radically redefine the debate on climate change and energy security.

And we’re not.

Look, I get that Obama has been effective in passing legislation. I’ll totally grant that. Is it perfect legislation? No, but what piece of legislation is, after all? 

More than that, though, Obama and the Democrats have been phenomenally lucky in both their enemies and when those enemies choose to strike. 

  • When everyone thought that the health care reform package was dead and buried, Wellpoint chose that precise moment to jack up their rates outrageously. 
  • When everyone thought that financial reform was dead and buried, bank executives testified before Congress in a manner so contemptuous that it resurrected the bills. 
  • When everyone thought that immigration reform was dead and buried, Arizona passed a law so ludicrously flawed that it’s been plausibly compared to decrees issued by police states. 
  • When everyone thought that climate change legislation was dead and buried, one of the greatest ecological disasters in human history happened. 

You get the picture.

I’m an amateur student of history. I’m a young guy, but even I know that the opportunities in our common history to pass truly meaningful, far-reaching, progressive reforms don’t come very often. 

That’s why Obama’s lack of aggressiveness on this – and so many other issues – alternately infuriates me and depresses me. 

I’m not a yeller. I’m not a shouter. Anyone who knows me knows that I’d much rather work quietly behind closed doors than lead a demonstration. I’m quite likely the textbook image of your young fogey insider type. I’m the guy whose friends turn to to find out who to vote for not just for President, but for county commissioner.

But I’ve had it up to here with the Administration’s mincing, timid, irresolute, spiritless approach to the various crises that afflict this country. And I’m sick and tired of hearing the President’s supporters constantly try to quiet my concerns by asserting – against all proof to the contrary – that he’ll come through, and that I just need to trust his Jedi chess master skills.

I’m not disillusioned, because I was never illusioned to begin with. Nevertheless, I worked tirelessly to elect this man President, precisely because I thought and believed, like so many others, that the combination of a President armed with his formidable intellectual and political talents and a Congress armed with a huge majority would result in some pretty major reforms of our political system.

18 months in, what I’m seeing instead is an opportunity squandered, instead of seized:

  • When Wellpoint raised their premiums, that’s when Obama should’ve moved to re-insert a public option into the health care reform package;
  • When Fabulous Fab held Congress in contempt, that’s when Obama should’ve moved to bust up the financial interests;
  • When Jan Brewer and Russell Pearce deemed it proper to ask me for my papers as a Latino, that’s when Obama should’ve pushed for real, comprehensive immigration reform;
  • When the Gulf spill happened, that’s when Obama should’ve pushed to have clean energy subsidized to the same extent as fossil fuels or nuclear power.

I’m well aware that we have to contend with a Senate that’s as reactionary and obdurate as the House of Bourbon on its worst day. The genius of our Presidency is that the President possesses a bully pulpit that allows him to set the tone of public debate. 

That’s what I’m criticizing Obama for: that bully pulpit stands empty and desolate. Obama says that he’s heartbroken and enraged by what’s happening down in the Gulf. With respect, that’s not good enough. We’re all heartbroken and enraged by what’s taken place; but only one of us is President.

I don’t expect Obama to pound the podium and yell and scream. What I do expect him is to use that podium to set the tone of debate, and if necessary (and it is!) to change it – whether by proposing legislation or announcing changes in executive branch policy.

He hasn’t done that. When all is done, that’s going to be the tragedy of this era.


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