In this Top Ten countdown, David Letterman recently announced Barack Obama's top ten plans for Labor Day weekend. Coming in solidly at #2:
"Pretty much whatever the Republicans tell him he can do."
If a lot truth is said in jest (as Eminem would have it), then the plain truth here is that the public is beginning to accept the perception that Obama is a pushover. If there is cause for Obama's camp to panic (see this related post), it is that even his base is echoing this perception. Cal professor Robert Reich writes that Obama's "idea of negotiating is to give away half the house before he's even asked for the other side of the bathroom sink," and Maureen Dowd does not mince words: "the president is weak." Recent reports even suggest a groundswell of support to nominate Hillary Clinton, precisely because she is not a pushover (though see this blog about how Clinton's gender plays into that perception).
Among the accusations of Obama weakness is that he allows others to define him. Cal professor George Lakoff convincingly argues that this is a larger problem among liberals, and in various outlets (e.g., here and here) summarizes his research on how conservatives tend to be better at making their language stick.
What's tragic now is how much the narrative of Obama as weak is overshadowing the narrative of hope that we elected Obama for in the first place.
But, what does hope have to do with this?
From the start, Obama ran on a platform of working together to better this nation, to listen and value others' opinions-- to change the increasingly hyper-partisan politics of Washington, and indeed, of our neighborhoods. On this he has consistently delivered. His American Jobs Act, for example, specifically contains propoals that have received bi-partisan support in the past. His efforts are being instead assimilated into the Backboneless Barack narrative.
So, while the country blames our president for letting others define him, we need to ask ourselves: are we guilty precisely of allowing others to define our president for us? We are blaming, even scapegoating, Obama for the lack of progress in American politics, precisely when we should be applauding his approach. More instransigent leadership is not going to lead to any more progress- it could, in fact, further exacerbate gridlock where both sides demand all-or-nothing solutions.
Now would be the time for our nation to reclaim the narrative of hope to change the poisonous political climate. Our moral leader in this demension is already there: let's elect others, liberal and conservative, who are also willing to listen and work together. We are at a crucial crossroads in our ability to direct the tenor and tolerance that characterizes our national conversation. Can we influence the civility of our nation through our elected leaders?
Yes, we can.
Copyright 2011 by Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton; all rights reserved. Cross posted from Psychology Today.