Stirring speeches were once the stuff that President Obama’s dreams were made of. But Obama recently squandered his chance to deliver a bold address at the Democratic National Convention that acknowledged his administration’s failures, provide an audacious view of his next term, and rise above the partisan squabbling. In four years, Obama has moved on from “Change” to a tired, unenthusiastic drive “Forward,” even if we are headed in the wrong direction.
The charisma that once captured the heart of the nation and world has receded to tepid capitulations under waves of harsh realities, economic sluggishness, and Republican obstinacy. The one-time constitutional law professor no longer argues his case to America. In lieu of direct appeals to the citizenry, we are treated to outsourced sermons through his proxies: Joe Biden tells us that Obama is courageous, the First Lady assures that he is compassionate, and Bill Clinton explains that the president isn’t clueless. From the president himself, America only receives ambiguous declarations, anti-Romney bromides, and vague pleas.
Both candidates seem intent on playing the safe and narrow game: eschewing the bold for the benign in order to capture 51 percent of the vote. Romney and Ryan, reticent as ever on the actual details of their “plan” to resuscitate the drowning economy, are more content with crucifying Obama’s straw men to pander to party hardliners. Meanwhile, Obama blames his lapses of leadership on debt crises, healthcare, and stimulus bills onto admittedly disgusting Congressional partisanship. Yet it seems that our president would rather keep his head above the fray and have his lackeys argue on his behalf than get his hands dirty in enumerating his grievances to the American people. Right-wing hyperpartisanship and left-wing spinelessness are collectively bankrupting American faith in a crumbling political system.
But both campaigns are bankrolled by the unlimited, anonymous legalized bribes flowing through super PACs. Extremely wealthy donors on both sides of the aisle have crowded out the voices of average American voters in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Both parties, rather than express horror at the Frankensteinian transformation of our democracy into a de facto plutocracy, have been content to accept the tainted funds quietly. The political structure is much more beholden to special interest groups than to the interests of average citizens, many of whom, rightly nihilistic about the significance of their voices, simply choose political apathy. This dispirited political climate will likely depress the Democratic turnout, making it possible for a popular president to lose to his awkward challenger.
After all, the modern Republican Party, with its current mass exodus to the fringe of the political spectrum, is simply unelectable in the long run. Its hard-line positions on gay marriage and abortion are too theological for a modern America. Its inexplicable reliance on tax cuts and trickle-down theories, almost always beneficial to wealthy people and corporations (or are they both just the same now?), reeks of cronyism. The radicalization of the Republican Party, if it continues at the current rate, will eventually result in self-ostracism and political irrelevancy. But Obama will still lose to Romney if he is incapable of motivating the traditionally low-turnout demographics that fueled his landslide win in 2008.
Rather than the banal “lesser of two evils” campaign philosophy that the Obama campaign seems to have adopted, the president’s campaign should focus its money on reinvigorating a dejected base. The DNC brought a few welcome sparks to the table with its fiery speeches from Massachusetts governor Deval L. Patrick '78 and former Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm. But the fire won’t catch if the president keeps his silence.
Instead of sheepishly staking his electoral bid on a shaky unemployment rate and praying that the ticking time bomb of the European sovereign debt crisis explodes sometime after November 6, Obama can and should explain the shortcomings of his term. Explain that a watered-down stimulus dulls any effect on the economy, that cutting taxes in the middle of a recession would cripple us further, that extremely profitable corporations paying negative taxes and receiving huge federal subsidies are the true “welfare queens” who are menacing our society. Perhaps he can point out that advocating the accelerated bloating of the military-industrial complex while cutting social welfare and entitlement programs isn’t fiscal conservatism—it’s fiscal hypocrisy. Or Obama can just cross his fingers in the oval office, hoping to eke out another four years.
Idrees Kahloon ’16 lives in Weld Hall. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays