Not the Right Guy

Former Democratic Senator and all-around good-guy progressive Russ Feingold gave what sounds like a very compelling keynote speech at the Netroots Nation conference yesterday. It's no secret that corporate personhood is a particular bailiwick of mine, and Feingold speaks clearly, compellingly, and passionately on the issue. One of the most bitter ironies I have ever had to regretfully report in this space was Feingold's loss during the last election, as one of the authors of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation was defeated by a Republican opponent on whose behalf outside groups spent nearly $3 million, after the dreadful Citizens United decision.

Anyway, this excerpt from Feingold's speech, in which he "ripped Priorities USA, a super political action committee started last spring by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton," was of particular interest to me:
"I think it's a mistake for us to take the argument that they like to make that, 'Well, what we're going to do now is, we're going to take the corporate money like the Republicans do and then after we win, we'll change it.' When's the last time anyone did that? Most people don't change the rules after they win by them. It doesn't usually happen. It never happens," Feingold said. "You know what? I think we'll lose anyway if we do this. We'll lose our soul when it comes to the issue of corporate domination. People will see us as weak. People will see us as corporate-lite. We'll gut our message. I think it's not just wrong, I think it's a dumb strategy. It's dumb because people will not believe us if we do this, so I strongly disagree with those who are trying to create these PACs. I know people want to win. I understand that. I like to win, too. And I know that today's Republican party has found more ways to play dirty, so I empathize with the desire to fight fire with fire, but Democrats should just never be in the business of taking unlimited corporate contributions. It's dancing with the devil and it's a game that we will never win."

"It's not just campaigns and contributions," Feingold noted. "We have to say to the president, 'Mr. President, Jeff Immelt is not the right guy – the CEO of GE is not the right guy to be running your Jobs & Competitiveness Council, not when your company doubled its profits, increased his compensation, and asked its workers to take huge pay and benefits cuts.'"
Needless to say, I agree.

But as I read Feingold's words—not the right guy—a not fully formed thought that has been hanging around the edges of my consciousness suddenly came sharply into focus: Obama is not the right guy.

It's not (just) that his policies are insufficiently progressive, or even insufficiently Democratic, and it's not (just) the arrogance, the hippie-punching, the bipartisan blah blah, the 12-dimensional chess, and it's not (just) his tepid, half-assed, pusillanimous governance and his catastrophic ally fail. All of these things are just symptoms of this basic truth: Obama's not up to the job.

I don't mean he's not up the job of being president; I mean he's not up to the job of being president right now. I'm sure he'd have made a fine president some other time, some decade of relative peace and prosperity, where the biggest demand on his capacity was "don't fuck it up."

But that is not the time in which we live.

We live in a time of crumbling empire and crumbling sidewalks, of failed wars and a failing economy, of social conservatives versus social justice, of a race between the middle class and the ozone layer to oblivion. We balance precariously on the brink of America and America 2.0, where hard decisions must be made about whether we are going to use our resources to keep giving gold-plated bootstraps to the already-privileged or start reinvesting in our fraying social safety net and brittle bridges.

We don't need a steward; we need a leader. Not just any leader, either. We need the second coming of FDR. And Obama just isn't the right guy.

I don't pretend to know who the right guy, or gal, is—but I know with a clarity that rings like churchbells that it ain't Obama.

And, you know, I kind of think Obama knows that, too.

He doesn't speak about the presidency, about this presidency at this time, with the sort of comprehensive urgency that the state of the union currently demands. I don't believe Obama to be a stupid man nor a callous one, and so I can only conclude that the void of visionary, risky, and bold leadership so desperately needed by this nation is owed, simply, to his inability to deliver it.

This is what I always feared about Obama—that he could conjure sweeping rhetoric, but not the grand leadership that needed to follow. He is failing to deliver us from our predicament, our many predicaments.

It's not even a criticism, really. There's no shame in not being the mortal equivalent of a superhero, in only being a competent president of the world's most influential nation. It's just an observation: Obama's not the right guy.

What criticism I do have, however, is this: He had to know he was not up to this task when he was running, and, if he didn't, he has to know now. But he's the guy with the job, and there are only two ways to get where we need to be—he either steps aside to let the right one in, or he steps up to be the right one.

Neither one's going to happen.

We're stuck with the wrong guy (or if he loses, an even worse guy), who keeps filling his administration with more wrong guys, and playing the foolish and short-sighted corporate-cozy game of wrong guys, and we're going to wrong guy our way right into catastrophe.

Because the wrong guy with the job now is more interested in getting reelected than he is about making sure the right gal/guy gets elected someday.

I can forgive Obama for failing to live up to the extraordinary requirements of what we need of our president right now. I cannot forgive him for overseeing, for abetting out of self-interest, the corporate coup that will allow Big Business to make sure, once and for all, that the Right Person, the one we need, will never be elected in this country, never again.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus