Bob Franken

Obama’s “Yes we Cancan”-the Same Old Dance


Sometimes strict adherence to a format can be kinda cute. For example, there’s the op-ed template that the Washington Post follows. A case in point is a piece in the Sunday opinion section, “Rebuilding Something Better.”

The writer is Barack Obama. True to form, the identifier after the essay informs us that the contributor “is president of the United States.”

I think I speak for all of us when I say we owe a debt of gratitude to the Post’s editors for making that clear. And a big thank-you to the author we now know to be president for using every platform to reach us — even the dwindling numbers who get their information from newspapers.

Actually, the president’s message can be summed up within the 140-letter limit of that new media paragon Twitter: “Change you can believe in.”

It’s a response to the growing evidence that as the cost and complexities of his ambitious programs become known, they also become changes that fewer people believe in — particularly with a Republican opposition eager to fan those doubts.

To utilize another of the president’s frequent cliches, it’s time to look “forward, not backward” — not at the well-worn arguments in Obama’s Sunday op-ed but at the harsh political realities staring in him the face as he tries to get his programs unstuck.

What has gained traction is the argument that he’s already gone to far — spent outlandish amounts of money with little to show for it. His opponents are getting mileage out of their taunts that the hundreds of billions committed to the economic stimulus have done little to stimulate us out of the quicksand.

The president’s defensive response that a turnaround needs time is wearing thin in a news-cycle atmosphere that demands instant gratification. Anything less gives credence to those adversaries who believe they gain little from the president’s success, no matter how urgent the national need.

So as our leaders slog on with monumental issues, a desperate need for comprehensive change is easily deflected by demagoguery. Anything of such magnitude is easily twisted in an America that is always nervous about the truly new.

Let’s face it, we don’t like change, no matter how obviously it’s needed. As often as not we prefer “the Devil we know.” That would even include our hellish health care system.

This doesn’t take into account that some of the proposals out there are possibly dopey ideas, or that we could end up with a half-baked health care replacement that is worse than the Devil we know, substantively worse.

And that’s just one policy area. As Obama emerges from the shelter of claiming that he “inherited” this sweeping national and international mess, he exposes himself to charges that his programs are the wrong ways out and that his agenda is far too broad and fiscally crippling.

It’s a big week. The drone of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings will provide the main background Newzak as the senators on the Judiciary Committee show how goofy they can be. After so many years of providing great material for satire, it’s fitting that the panel’s newest member, Al Franken, is a direct link to “Saturday Night Live.”

Meanwhile the president will be using every venue at his disposal to try and restore momentum. He’ll address the range of problems we have and try to re-energize the flagging enthusiasm for reversing our downfall. He’s returning to the old theme of “Yes We Can” at a time when more and more people are doubting whether we can. As they say in Sotomayor’s world of jurisprudence, it’s a reasonable doubt.

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