In Defense of the President: Let’s Stick with this Status Quo

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Thomas Friedman’s editorial features drastic implications: true, Obama has accomplished a lot considering how damaged our political system is, from health care to education to financial reform. But, sadly, and not to fault Obama, this is really the best anyone in his position could be expected to do, even though he won the election in a landslide and his party has had control over congress. Such is the case because our country has been dominated by hyper-partisanship and pessimism, and this has manifested itself in both Washington and among the American people. The Republicans have staunchly obstructed nearly every Obama initiative, even those they had supported before the president embraced them, such as a bipartisan budget committee (, and the population at large has become disenfranchised by high unemployment.

As such, Friedman believes that a “revolution” is brewing. No, not the angry tea party revolution, but rather a centrist minded one from which a serious, electable third party will emerge. He makes a compelling case—this has to occur, it seems, because the two party system is damaged beyond repair, and we can’t face the significant challenges of the 21st century with a lame duck government.

Although I’m skeptical that such an outcome will take place, Friedman hits upon a striking popular sentiment. When I read the Audacity of Hope shortly after Obama won the election, I, like many Americans, was drawn to the president’s desire to usher in a post-partisan era. The book mainly consists of an attempt to illustrate how conservatives and liberals have much more in common than they might think. Obama goes through issue by issue and describes how we can all identify our basic problems— such as the need to fight terrorists, a broken health care system, our lagging education apparatus—though we may differ on how to solve them.

The book was written during the latter years of the Bush administration, and Obama took office in the thick of the financial crisis. During that period many centrist and left leaning Americans were taken in by the sentiment that conservatism was about to die, since, after all, it had produced arguably the worst presidency in history and the greatest economic crisis we’ve ever known. Consequently, it was expected that the Republicans would cooperate and revise their outlook on many issues, especially the economy.

But this did not occur. Instead, both the Republican Party and the conservative movement have become even more radically conservative than before. And this trend has almost paralyzed congress, and it is reaching dangerous territory outside Washington with the rise of the tea party and other violent, angry movements.

Friedman’s prediction is optimistic, but I think his theory is based on a flawed assumption, albeit an assumption that almost all Americans love to make. In claiming that the problem really lies in the political system and not in the broader population he seems to imply that we are not responsible for the behavior of our elected officials. But I think that the political arena is and always has been a microcosm of America as a whole. As Plato says in The Republic, elected officials represent and resemble those who put them in power. Our politicians are raised by American families and inculcated with American values. Their conduct, therefore, is not caused by the culture of the nation’s capital. Rather, it reflects who we are as a nation.

People love to say that all politicians are corrupt and selfish. But so are most citizens outside of Washington. A blatant illustration of this is the housing bubble, another disaster that offers metaphorical insight into human nature and the state of American culture, in which financial firms pushed worthless paper to generate excessive short term profits and create an unavoidable long term disaster, and homeowners took up mortgages they could not afford.

All this makes the recent rise of tea party candidates claiming to be different laughable. Leaving aside the well known facts about their hypocritical reliance on government spending, as in the case of Paladino, who has received generous succor from Albany in his real estate dealings (, they cannot possibly improve the system because, at best they’ll merely continue the obstructionism of the establishment Republicans, and at worst they’ll implement more extreme versions of Bush’s failed policies. Besides, the Republicans’ conduct in congress has throughout been a direct reaction to the rantings of the right already, which itself illustrates my point.

As such, it behooves us to support our President during these dire times, in spite of his inability to do the impossible and create a post partisan society. He has governed as the centrist politician he campaigned as, and he has done a remarkable job at chocking off a depression, reforming health care and education, cutting taxes and investing in research and development in science and medicine. We do not need a new party, as Friedman argues, and it is unlikely that such a development would benefit America. In electing Obama, we chose the right man: an impressive thinker who has worldly experience and can maintain his composure in spite of endless provocation.
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A recent graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, I consider myself a student of Melville and Shakespeare. Particularly, my fascination with Moby Dick has sparked a broader interest in many fields such as politics, history, science, economics, etc, since that novel deals with disparate disciplines and issues in an encyclopedic, yet accessible manner.

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