There is a great danger, when researching a story, for the research to seem to be more important that the story itself. Research can be a heady experience. You can get access to places you would never normally be allowed to get near, you have interesting and exciting experiences, and – with a bit of luck – you get to meet some extraordinary people. Mind you, I probably should not have used the word “extraordinary.”
Most people, when you get right down to it, are no more than people. Seen up close, over a period of time, even people in high places are remarkably ordinary. Time is the great revealer. They get tired, they get nervous, they get testy, and few are brilliant conversationalists. Many, surprisingly enough, are not even particularly bright. Going along to get along is a faster ticket to promotion than raw talent. In short, they are no more than human.
Yet somehow, we humans have an aching need for leadership – for a magically empowered leader to spring forth and meet all our needs. We seek a champion to save the day. We seek someone to say things, and think things, and do things which we are just not prepared to. In short, our craving for leadership reflects – at least to some extent – an abdication of responsibility. We don’t like to dwell on such a concept, of course, but it remains true nonetheless.
Inevitably, that champion disappoints, and within a few years – or sometimes even sooner – we are looking for a replacement. And so this crazy cycle of disillusionment continues.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that leadership is not important – clearly, it is. What I am seeing that we need to become vastly more realistic about what a leader can and cannot be expected to do; and to appreciate that in most situations of any size, a leader needs a supporting structure to be effective. No one achieves success alone. There is always someone – frequently unknown – who aids the process.
The supreme irony is that the U.S. president tends to get blamed (or praised) for matters he (or she) does not control. The economy is a case in point. President Obama is currently being blamed for a poor economy in a situation where he inherited an economic disaster, has been obstructed by the Republicans from the very beginning, yet where the economic tide is visibly – albeit slowly - turning. In addition, corporations have never been more profitable, and the stock market is booming.
Has he done everything right? Certainly not. However, he has accomplished a great deal including winding up two wars which, if the Military Industrial Congressional Complex had its way, would drag on indefinitely. As for Healthcare, at least he has done something which is more than can be said for previous administrations. Further, I suspect that Obamacare constitutes only one step towards what has to be drastic reform. The current system is a disaster. Our Healthcare system costs up to twice as much as other developed countries and delivers inferior results. The populations of most other developed nations live longer than we do – Canadians about two years longer – and do not have to endure the misery of economic stress resulting from medical costs which many Americans experience.
What I fail to understand is the visceral hatred so many Republicans seen to have for Obama. Racism undoubtedly plays a role, but many of the other elements that make up this unhealthy stew of anger, loathing and bigotry are based upon little more than a tissue of lies compounded by ignorance; and a deliberate unwillingness to judge the issues based upon the facts. We are not talking about normal political differences here. Darker emotions are in play which do not bode well for this country.
The two major charges against Obama are that he failed to bring down unemployment sufficiently, and that he has put the country more heavily into debt. Both charges are superficially valid if you assume that Obama took over the presidency when the economy was normal, and that the Republicans were focused on job creation. Such was not the case in either situation.
Instead , it is a simple fact that Obama took over just as the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression had started, and the Republicans took the view that blocking Obama’s every action in order to make him a one term president was more important that working for the good of the American people. The phrase ‘despicable behavior’ comes to mind. The appalling ratings that the public give Congress would seem to suggest that others share such views – though why Congress as a whole should be blamed for what has predominantly been Republican intransigence escapes me.
I write this as someone who has never been an Obama fan. But, I do think it is helpful to look at the facts every now and then.