The Barack Obama who traded barbs with Republicans in retreat recently, and who "respectfully" admonished the Supreme Court to its face for ignoring "a century of law," was a welcome addition to the many personae who have appeared in his name since his inauguration, and certainly progressives hope that the newcomer will now assume center stage. The most recent Obama demonstrates an ability to think on his feet, to recognize and respect the opinions of those who disagree with him, and to argue, with civility and even gentle humor, that when hypocrisy or ignorance are the controlling motifs of opposing opinions, they must be dismissed with prejudice.
Many of the concerns of progressives have been put to rest by this new iteration of the President. He is not an "empty suit," a glib rhetorician of shallow intellect. Alone in the lion's den, and even given the Neanderthal quality of Republican intellect, he was clearly the smartest man in the room. But he is still a problem for progressives whose disagreements with him are neither hypocritical nor ignorant. To wit: if the essential object of health care reform is, as he has repeatedly said, to increase coverage, control costs, and inhibit abuses of the insurance industry, and if, as he reiterated more than once this week, he is "game" to consider alternate proposals to achieve those objectives, why has expansion of Medicare, an existing institution that exactly exemplifies the goals he wishes to achieve, never been so much as considered by the administration? And, for another example, if the "fat cats" of Wall Street are literally stealing from Main Street, and are unrepentant to boot, where is the outrage and action plan to take them to task?
Obama is perhaps the most capable chief executive in generations with the ability to cut through the miasma of political rhetoric and explain with reason and clarity the true nature of American societal concerns and the risks and rewards of dealing with them. It is frustrating to speculate why the new populist spokesman arrives now, and not six months ago, which would likely have dramatically changed the present political scene, including Democratic occupancy of the Senate seat held so long by the late Senator Kennedy.The answer, I fear, is as obvious as it is pedestrian. Our American democracy has evolved into a system in which incumbency is the product of a schizoid process: our leaders are hired by voters and work for corporations. Getting hired is a consequence of campaigning for voter endorsement, and governing is a consequence of executing corporate directives. Obama's huge problem is that he, more than most, articulated the problem but is failing to resolve it.