In 2007 and 2008, Democrats assured one another, "Anyone would be better than Bush." Now you hear the Republican version: "Anyone would be better than Obama."
Such talk raises impossible expectations. "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek," Barack Obama proclaimed in 2008. Very inspirational, but it left Democrats disillusioned and flat-footed when President Obama took his oath of office and the seas did not part.
The war in Iraq didn't just stop. The Afghanistan War didn't get easier after Obama sent more troops. The Muslim world did not cozy up to Washington. Wall Street did not become more ethical. There are still too many corporate behemoths too big to fail -- and if they do, taxpayers likely will be saddled with the damage. The housing bubble continues to poison the economy. The deficit keeps growing. High unemployment persists.
Such talk paints a party into a corner. Remember all those Democrats who groused about President George W. Bush's excessive use of executive power -- warrantless wiretapping, Guantanamo Bay and military tribunals for terrorists -- and the outrage when Saddam Hussein's executioners took his photo? Now you barely hear a peep out of them. Sure, they'll toss out the occasional statement in support of their erstwhile causes, but their hearts aren't in it. They have no moral authority.
Such talk ignores the many things beyond Washington's control -- such as events in the Middle East, Europe's financial woes, and pledges made by the ghosts of Washington past. You can't just erase everything the other party did.
Such talk fails to recognize the nearly Sisyphean effort needed to reform entrenched institutions. Obama is a smart man, and he saw the 2008 financial tsunami coming -- but he has discovered the chasm between seeing it and fixing it.
Now, I happen to think that John McCain would have been a better president than Obama. McCain would not have passed a universal health care package that scared employers silly and convinced big corporations they'd be better off hoarding their cash than expanding U.S. operations. But I never thought McCain was the change America had been waiting for.
Nor do I believe that if voters simply oust Obama, everything will change for the better.
As a Republican, I am panicking. The best GOP candidates stayed out of the race. Now we're stuck with a flock of salesmen who keep assuring voters that their platforms would be easy-peasy. The season's low point occurred during an August debate when all the candidates raised their hands to attest that they would reject a deficit reduction deal that included $1 in tax increases for every $10 of spending cuts.
Obama is no better. He could have chosen to push for tax reform -- lower rates, no loopholes -- to attract bipartisan support and kick-start the economy. Instead, he apparently decided that he has a better chance at winning re-election by failing to pass a jobs package -- with a bill-killing millionaire surtax -- and then blaming the state of the economy on naysaying Republicans. Finger-pointing won the White House in 2008, so he's sticking with the formula.
I'd like to see a GOP nominee who could do better. I would like a Republican who also could govern.
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