Wednesday, November 4, 2009

one year ago...

My friend Ben started a great thread today asking our friend group (pictured above minus our live updater, Adam) to reflect on the historic night we experienced last November 4.
Seems a lot longer then a year since we witnessed history (Or were tweeting about it). 

 To set the mood.

Any reflections over the past year? Are we where we thought we would be? Does that night still give you the chills?

To answer Ben's easy question first -- YES, of course that night still gives me chills! Looking back, it's almost surreal. I will truly remember that night for the rest of my life and it's something I'll tell the neighborhood kids about when I'm a crotchety old spinster (after I yell at them to get off my lawn).
I never thought Obama was going to fix everything in a year. I learned at a young age that the Mary Poppins "snapping your fingers and everything returns to place" trick doesn't actually work. This administration clearly had a LOT of cleaning up to do. Screw health care reform, they haven't even gotten around to reversing the tariffs on Roquefort cheese.
That said, despite the unbelievable obstacles to mass change, I think an educated and informed person can point to several initiatives they've begun to dig us out of the pile of sh*t that Bush left the world:
  • At least begun public debate on health care reform. Regardless of all the ridiculous opinions flying around out there, at least people are discussing it. The end solution is going to be political, but at the very least I think all sides are beginning to agree that pre-existing conditions are morally reprehensible.
  • Increasing transparency in government. The White House blog! The podcasts! The videos! Even some of the cabinet blogs (I'm a fan of Ray LaHood's Fast Lane blog, oh yeah, Transportation!) I feel engaged in the process and like these very important people are accessible. I really do believe that social media is the great leveler. (Socialist!)
  • A shift in the mood toward public transportation. Let's just say, when I'm feeling lonely, I drink some wine, put on some Sade, and look at the High Speed Rail map. Okay, kidding! Although our local transit funding is still dire, the stimulus funds will help immensely. Also, there's an upbeat tone nationwide. The transportation industry newsletters have been so optimistic--talking about new projects and services, compared to the previous years of "and the Bush administration cut this again or made this logisitical nightmare of a change so that a handful of private industry players could profit."
  • Emphasizing the importance of healthy eating. This may be the most solid healthcare reform that the administration has done (word to my girl Michelle). It goes beyond the White House garden. She's made it hip to grow your own food, eat sustainably and go to farmer's markets. (Well, actually I made it hip, but that's neither here nor thing you know they'll be having an indie rock concert on the White House lawn).
  • Oh yeah, and there's that whole reducing troop levels in Iraq thing too...
I'm not living in a bubble of joy. I recognize there have been some really boneheaded decisions. I recognize that some programs were hastily thrown together to soothe political pressure:
  • Auto Industry "Reforms" -- hooray for new fuel efficient vehicles on the road through Cash for Clunkers, but what happens to all the clunkers? Couldn't we have mandated public transit reform? Can't GM rebuild all the infrastructure they tore out in the '50s?
  • Increased troops in Afghanistan -- I am very pleased that the focus is back to y'know, where it should've been eight years ago. I don't agree with an increased military strategy however. Why not build schools? Improve infrastructure? I agree we do need a presence though. If you've ever read The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, you know that the Taliban are bad, bad, bad people
  • Obama's choice at the beer summit. Bud Light? Really. That totally takes away your hip cred. You could've at least had a PBR.
This exercise has made me feel a lot better after watching the conservative circle jerk on Twitter last night. We also have to remember that there's three years in this term and hopefully four more years after that--lots of time to get things done. On a personal level, I still feel incredibly inspired by Obama himself. I don't know if I would have attended The White House Project Go Run training a couple of weeks ago with the same motivation, had it not been for that glorious November night.
After emailing the group, I realized some thoughts had been left out and others had more reflections. Below are the unedited essays.

While I agree with most of what Meghan said, I do want to draw a point on Afghanistan. Much like Iraq, what Bush failed to do here was to employ a strategy to hunt Al Qaeda (even though I can't imagine that this would be an easy thing to do). The other thing that Bush didn't do in Afghanistan was completely dismantle the government of this country. The reason they were able to actually get to work stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq was because they installed a coalition government and trained them on how to run the country. Afghanistan still has a nut job with delusions of grandeur who has now declared himself the winner of a rigged election TWICE.

Not to mention, if there's no buy-in from the existing government and you're left with a rash of suicide bombings and that makes it pretty hard to build a school or two. As much as I hate to admit it, I think we need a troop increase (and the accompanying STRATEGY, which I'm sure exists but the media never seems to get around to telling us about) to stabilize the region. To simply pull out would be a horrible idea, cuz Al Qaeda would see that as an open invitation to wreak havoc not only on the region, but on countries like ours as well.

Just my 2 cents.... I'm glad the media is being critical of Obama but I'm extremely disappointed in the Republicans for not even trying to work with the Dems, and I'm also sort of disappointed in the Dems for just giving up on bipartisanship altogether and pushing their agenda. On the other hand, I don't really blame the Dems for cutting their losses (at least they DID try) and actually getting stuff done. And props on adding sexual orientation to the hate crimes bill!
Yeah, Lilly Ledbetter got me through more than one argument about the Nobel prize. (It's a pretty easy answer to the claim "He hasn't done anything!")

I guess looking back, I feel a bit disappointed in that it seems like democrats in general have wasted a great opportunity. With the White House, momentum and congressional majorities, people on the right were stockpiling and hugging their guns, while people on the left were looking for retail space for "Osama's homo-abortion-pot-and-commie-jizzporium". Of course, it's no shock that Obama smacked into the brick-wall called "the reality of modern politics and bureaucracy" which tended to slow things down a bit, and make those easy to repeat campaign promises magically transform into briefing books, memos, and weird congressional parlimentary procedures (reconciliation! woo-hoo?).

I can understand wanting to use whatever advantage a new president has in the first 6 months or so to get things done. And in that mindset, it makes sense to tackle the hardest issues first, like healthcare reform. But now we're about 10 months in, and it seems that no amount of perceived political capital can just gloss over all of the crap that has to go into an overhaul this big. It doesn't matter how popular Obama is, Olympia Snowe will still want attention, Joe Liberman will be a jerk, and Max Bacaus will still have no spine.

So, instead of taking on something so huge, I wish they would have tried to win more of the small battles that are doable. There are a lot of areas where Obama can affect major change, and it's hard to see all of the rest of them fall away as we tackle healthcare. It's certainly one of the most important issues facing us as a country currently; it's just not THE one most important.

I also think Obama is learning what it takes to get things done in a position of this much power. It was clear in both the stimulus and the inital healthcare bills in committee that he put too much faith in the congressional committee leaders to iron out the details, while making overarching statements that didn't touch on the sticky small stuff. I think going forward, he'll be better about clearly outlining exactly what he's looking for in legislation. Although, he's still only saying things like "yeah, sure, I'd like a public option" as if a waiter offered him some extra mayonnaise. (I just like the idea of slim mcgoo eating anything with that much fat in it.)

Maybe he'll learn to be more forcefull in other ways too. While I've heard a bunch about how hard he was courting Snowe in committee, I'm surprised that Liberman and a number of other Dems have gone to the press to say they won't vote to stop the fillibuster of healthcare with a public option. Obama really should be taking responsibility for this, whipping people into shape, and doing what it takes to get this to pass. Maybe crazy Joe (who it seems just really really really likes the insurance companies for some reason, now that Dodd has distanced himself from them) is beyond help, but I thought Rahm's job was to kick ass on the hill to get their priorities accomplished.

I know none of this fits into the world Obama described during the campaign. (Or even earlier.) While we may not be separated into a red America and a blue America, we definitely have a majority pary and an opposition party. And while I'm dissapointed in the dems, I'm just completely exasperated by the Republicans (and not just McConnell's stupid press releases). I guess I'm like Jon Stewart, in that I'm a hopelss optimist when it comes to this kind of thing, and I assume that when someone is sent to Washington to help fix our country that they would much rather be part of the process, as opposed to willing to sit it out until they get a majority again. I don't think the the Republican's strategy of immediately opposing Obama on anything is working, at least not in a way that helps them.

By just saying no to everything, it allows the fringes in the Democratic party to get more of a say. Both Ben Nelson and Jay Rockefeller get much more attention, which leads to more party in-fighting. What results is a watered-down, more useless bill that still gets passed, which has none of the reforms the GOP actually wanted, since they weren't part of the process. If the Republicans are looking to actually get their own issues and concerned addressed, they are totally failing. If their only goal is to destroy the Democrats then they're succeeding.

So, where do we go from here? I'd like to see Obama stand strong on key issues, and make congress accomodate his concrete plans. I don't know what you do to get the Republicans to engage in actual debate on key issues (more self-tanner for Boehner?), but until that happens, you need to pass things through with the situation you've got, instead of hoping that things improve.

Oh, and with Afghanistan I'm actually starting to agree more with Matthew Hoh. I really liked his point about how al-Qaida isn't looking for a safe haven in Afghanistan anymore. He feels that they have enough places like Somalia and Yemen to hide in, and that we can't keep treating this like a war against one country, that exists only in a single country. I would also add to Meghan's list this book too to read about the situation in the region.

What are your thoughts and reflections on that historic night and the last year? On a highly personal level, I shudder to think what I would have done with myself had we lost. My three-year relationship was crumbling, I was at the heaviest I've ever been (due in part to the crumbling relationship) and in massive debt. Working on the campaign truly did fill me with hope, and I'm pleased to say I rode that hope throughout 2009. I've lost almost 30 pounds, digging my way out of debt and am (not always, but mostly) happily single.


  1. hahahahaha. I'm rejoicing that a year ago Palin was NOT elected. Now THERE'S a conservative circle jerk.

  2. Excellent post. You summarized some impressions and opinions I share. Obama was here in Madison yesterday and delivered a truly excellent speech on education. I marvel. (And I wish I would've spotted Air Force One, but I didn't).


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