I just finished reading Drew Westen's op-ed in today's New York Times, and I cannot recall feeling more uncomfortable as I reached a closing paragraph. Westen articulated beautifully the sentiment I felt on January 20, 2009, as I watched the Inauguration: I was left wanting at the end of President Obama's Inaugural Address. I fully recognized that we were in one of those rare historical moments at that point, and I am not talking about Obama being bi-racial. No, I recognized that Obama had an opportunity to re-shape a nation that was in dire need of significant and substantive change. And though I know that his term is not over, I feel that President Obama wasted that rare opportunity.
The historical examples that Westen elected to highlight, specifically the presidential legacies of the two Roosevelts, echo almost entirely my thoughts on what President Obama might have been capable of achieving. There was a fearlessness in both Roosevelts (imperfect men though they were), and their fearlessness, their confidence, and their passion was felt by millions of Americans. Our country benefited mightily from their time in office. They were unafraid to call out those who harmed broad American interests. Yet, as Westen points out in one example after another, Obama fails to provide that narrative to help all of us understand plainly his policy aims. There are too many times when he has "led from behind," when he needed to be wielding the proverbial "big stick" from his bully pulpit. And I am not saying that I wanted Obama to go out there with "scare all the white people" anger. Not even close. As Westen notes, no one seems to know where President Obama's passions lie (derisively some might say in capitulation).
Following the debt ceiling madness, and now the lowering of our credit rating by S&P, I wasn't sure how I wanted to approach my next blog post. Westen's op-ed has helped a great deal, because he provided a useful analysis of many of the thoughts coursing through my mind. Westen's will be one of those op-eds that will be read by many, many Obama supporters, and I bet many of them, if they are honest, will be as uncomfortable at the conclusion as I was.
UPDATE: I knew, without a doubt, that Andrew Sullivan would pounce on Westen's op-ed; it was just a matter of when (though the dismissive tone seems a bit much). I disagree with Sullivan's claim that Westen was seeking a "Democratic version of George W. Bush," because I don't see the former POTUS as a Republican version of FDR or LBJ. Nor do I think that the hopes of Obama supporters like Westen, or myself, were not reflective of the 21st century realities that we now face. I certainly called for a 21st century version of a CCC or WPA, with an emphasis on "a 21st century version. Just take a look.