Your wish for Barack Obama may become his thought

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, I was quite disappointed that he had virtually no substantive written material about his campaign to provide to voters.  The policy positions that he made available on his campaign web site were extremely general and minimally informative.  It was a campaign that in many ways was based primarily on slogans, and it worked quite well that way.  At the very least it worked well enough for him to win the election, and that’s a big part of what he wanted to accomplish.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about the two types of followers that a politician has: (a) political hacks who are primarily concerned about winning elections, and (b) policy wonks who want to see implemented the policies that they support.  During a campaign, the wonks and near-wonks are looking for whatever information they can get in order to provide some clarity and certainty as to what candidate stands for.

In 2008 I found very little information from the Obama campaign that helped me determine what his views were on certain issues and what his style of governance would be.  However, I had enough confidence in him to try to engage in some “educated speculation,” or at least “hopeful wishing” as to who he really was.  I chose to put my contribution to his campaign into a special account that I established.  It was not legally connected with the “Obama for America” campaign organization.  It was essentially a one-person PAC.

I created a flyer that spelled out the key wishes that I had; had over 6,000 of them printed; and had them mailed to households in swing districts in St. Louis County, MO. You can see a somewhat unclear copy of the flyer by clicking here for Side A and here for Side B (unfortunately I did not keep track of the digital copy from which the prints were made).

Five years later, we can look back on my “wonky wishes” and examine how well Barack Obama satisfied this particular progressive.  Here is a list of the stated wishes in the flyer and an assessment of how well the President has fulfilled them:

  1. “I hope that he is still an idealist with a primary concern for those less fortunate.
    1. I would give him a ‘B-.’  He could have done more with less obstinacy from the Republicans.  He also has been cozier to the bankers than I would like, but he could have his reasons that will eventually work to the benefit of the less poor.
  2. “I hope that Barack Obama bases his decision-making on logic and compassion.”
    1. I would give him an “A” on this.
  3. “I hope that Barack Obama favors the strictest possible gun control laws.”
    1. I give him a “B” on gun control.  It sure took him a while; it would have been great if he could have started this campaign in Tucson after Gabby Giffords was shot.  But the timing was probably better with Newtown and once he embraced the issue, he became a relentless fighter.
  4. “I hope that despite what he has said, Barack Obama opposes the death penalty.”
    1. “D-.”  It’s been very disappointing to not hear the president say a word about abolishing the death penalty.  It’s particularly difficult to hear his almost glee when he talks about killing terrorists.  However, his position is probably politically wise.  I’m holding out hope that when he writes his memoirs he will express significant reservations about the death penalty.
  5. “I hope that Barack Obama is genuinely committed to providing an effective economic and social safety net for disadvantaged or disenfranchised citizens – in fact for all of us.”
    1. “B. “ With Barack Obama, it’s no longer just the suffering middle class; it’s also the poor amongst us.  He has not turned his back on those with whom he worked when he was a community organizer.  However, we do have to wonder about what he is willing to sacrifice in Social Security and Medicare.  I’ m hoping that’s just a talking point with him.
  6. I hope that Barack Obama could mock himself; the office that he occupies; and the absurd nature of the political game – much as Robert Redford did in the movie The Candidate.
    1. “A.”  Just watch one of his White House Correspondents’ dinners.
  7. “Have a ‘B.S.’ detector similar to Jon Stewart’s on the Daily Show.
    1. “A-.” It took him a while to learn that “Boehner-talk” and “McConnell-talk” were B.S., but once he learned it in late 2010, he has not forgotten it.

Overall I am quite satisfied with the job that President Barack Obama has done.  Most of what I wanted that he has not accomplished is because of the recalcitrance of the Republicans and the ugly influence of money in politics.  But he’s doing about as well as can be expected.  I’ll give him a B+.  This is not the average of the grades above, but I have to give him extra credit because he has had to deal with the political realities and I need to modify some of my wishes because of those same realities.

I have already taken the liberty to express my advance wishes for what President Obama writes in his memoirs to truly clarify his progressive ideas.  You can read them here.

About Arthur Lieber:
Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.