Scott Cawelti Photo
  • "What Went Wrong?"--Assessing Obama's Legacy

    • Posted on Aug 18, 2015
    This appeared in Sunday's (8-16) Waterloo Courier, and probably is the first of two installments, as you'll see if you read to the end.  Yes, Obama didn't do what he might have done, but. . . 

    *************************
    Now that the end of President Obama’s second term looms, pundits of all persuasions have begun to ponder his presidency.  How good is/was he? 

     Did he fix problems?  Did he create new ones?  In what ways has he been good and bad for the country?  Did he forsake more promises then he fulfilled?    

     Granted, answers to these questions will no doubt change over the years. Presidents’ reputations rise and fall depending on unpredictable events and issues.  So current assessments of Barack Obama’s presidency are tentative at best. 

     Still, pundits need to work, and Presidents’ policies and personalities provide it, nonstop.  This applies especially to Obama, our first Black president, and a man whose actions have been endlessly scrutinized by a deeply hostile opposition.   

     The latest and most interesting assessment comes from David Bromwich, a Yale English Professor and political commentator.  His essay in the June Harper’s magazine,  “What Went Wrong?” offers a critical analysis of Obama, and deserves reading, especially for the President’s longtime supporters. 


     
    Bromwich is no hard left or right ideologue, as so many political commentators seem to be.  He offers a balanced, serious, and important analysis of Obama’s “centrist” approach to issues and problems.  

    Very likely, “What Went Wrong” will serve as a reference point for future historians looking to assess Obama’s legacy.  

    Essentially, Bromwich measures the President against an implied ideal leader—and Obama inevitably falls short.   For Bromwich, events since 2008 called for a decisive personality with no fear of conflict and political manipulation.  

    The ideal Obama would have handled an obstructionist GOP immediately, raised hackles to the skies, and proceeded through political mayhem to get a single payer health care system, closing down Guantanamo, and would have avoided getting bogged down Afghanistan.   

    That’s the powerful, decisive Obama who never appeared, insists Bromwich.  
    Instead, his unshakeable belief in working from consensus and agreement led to paralysis and indecision with too little follow-through, which would have taken serious political courage. 

     Issues like gun control and climate change have gone by the wayside because of vicious and organized political opposition that he might have confronted, especially during his first two years, when Democrats controlled both houses.   

     Bromwich ends his analysis with the damning assertion that . . .”Much as
    one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.”

    Because Bromwich compares Obama to what so many voters expected and wanted, rather than what we got, he falls short, and this frustrates supporters as much as detractors. 

    Yet there’s another way to measure him, and that has to do with comparing him to what he actually did accomplish.   That comparison yields a different result. 

     As an example of comparing ideal vs. real, consider measuring America by its ideals—its rebellion against an oppressive regime and founding documents based on enlightenment ideas of freedom, rights, equality, and justice. A shining city on a hill indeed.  

     But measured by how it actually treated indigenous peoples, slaves, women, and non-propertied citizens, it’s no better than any other country, and in some ways worse. 

    Ideal vs. real always yields such different results.   So too with Obama.   

     In fact, Bromwich himself asserts at beginning of “What Went Wrong?”   “His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.”

     So compared to recent past and near-future Presidents, Obama stands tall. 
    Indeed, I would hope for another article soon from another pundit, “What Went Right?”  

    Plenty did, in spite of a shamelessly hostile GOP.  






     
    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • Personalities
    • Politics
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • What Really Matters?

    • Posted on Jun 21, 2015
    This morning's (Sunday 6-21) Courier column--about what really matters.   Not 
    an easy subject, given the shock we've suffered this week--and I'm in Charleston (my second home city) right now, struggling with the unvarnished reality of race hatred that led to the cold-blooded murders of nine Charlestonians in their church.    

    Still, the idea that there's a larger reality that really matters is what's helping people get through that hatred and move toward healing.   


    +++++++++++++++++++
    Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, wrote Gershwin.  It’s true, at least 
    when summer vacations roll around and beaches and mountains loom.   
    Time for a change of scene, for easy relaxing and pondering.  

     Ponder what, you ask?   

    What really matters, that’s what.  It’s the best all-around question to ponder during those days without deadlines and pressures. 

     Everyone will answer it differently.  

     Winning matters hugely for some, meaning being first and best at everything.  The competitors, we might call them.  

     Others spend serious time finding and nurturing a soul-mate, a love of their life, and that’s what matters most to them.  They’re romantics, bless their moonstricken hearts.   

     Fame, for others, so that everyone notices them, seeks them out, makes them the center of attention.   “Look at me!” their lives seem to say, and cameras beckon to them like moths to flame.  They’re narcissists, and they’re everywhere these days. 

     Wealth, for still others, so that they never have to deny themselves a new Luxemobile, a granite-countered house, a fast boat, a perfect vacation.  They’re high-enders who seek big bucks.  

     For still others, friendships, near and far, supportive and intimate. They spend hours cultivating friendships, lunching, writing, catching up on social media.

     They delight in lending a hand or shoulder to those they’ve gotten to know, love to be
    counted upon for favors, and seek to maintain old friendships.  They’re our friends, and thank heavens for them. 

     We all belong to some of these groups, and derive satisfaction from the undeniable benefits that each provides. 

     So, is that all?  Once you’re winning, famous, rich, soul-mated, and surrounded by friends, have you found everything that matters?  Does your happiness at that point know no bounds? 

     Alas, no. We all know such seemingly fulfilled people who still rely on therapists and happy pills to calm their frayed nerves.  They’re still seeking something that really matters.   

     And what might that be?    

     Dylan’s 1979 song “You gotta Serve Somebody” points toward it:  
    "You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You're gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

     As Trish, the character who tries to commit suicide in that great film “Educating Rita” laments, “I’m not enough.”   

     If you live for furthering yourself and meeting your needs only, you’re headed for disappointment and suffering.   Truth be told, none of us are the complete center of anything.  Our egos don’t really matter. 

     Realizing this amounts to growing up, and the sooner the better.  

     This is not easy, especially with our little digital screens tempting us to believe that we are the center of everything. 

     Granted, a strong, confident self does help you succeed. But that’s not what really matters.   

     Religious folks get at what really matters through worship, faith in some supernatural power, and prayer.  

     Non-religious folks do it through wonder, curiosity, contemplation, and seeking enlightenment through in-depth awareness.  

     I’m among the non-religious, and have found what really matters is a spiritual path that’s stimulating, endlessly challenging, and ultimately satisfying. 

     If you like pondering what really matters this summer, and you’re leaning toward the non-religious, let me suggest two books I’ve found helpful:  Tara Brach’s 2005 “Radical Acceptance” and her more recent “True Refuge.”  She’s a clinical psychologist and an American Buddhist teacher who has been pondering what matters for 35 years.   

     If you’re curious and open to new approaches, these books make perfect summer reading. 

     I can’t imagine a summer without spending daily time seeking and pondering.  
    That’s what really matters. 


    3 Comments
    Posted in
    • Hot Button Issues
    • Crime
    • Death
    • Religiosity
    • Conservatives/Liberals
Contact Scott Header
Contact Scott Photo
Brothers Blood Book
James Hearst
Landscape Iowa CD