Ladies and gentlemen, here he is, “your boy,” that “tar baby,” the president of the United States, Barack Obama:
The first title was bestowed upon Obama by political commentator Patrick Buchanan on Tuesday, the second by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn on the Friday before last, the third by the American electorate in November 2008. If the first two seem to cancel out the third, well, that’s the point. One hopes they will help the president understand something he has thus far refused to grasp about his political opposition.
Namely, these people don’t want to be friends. They don’t want to compromise for the greater good. They don’t want to solve problems unless by problems you mean his continued tenancy in that mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue.
They have not been coy about this. Rush Limbaugh said it (“I hope he fails”) when Mrs. Obama was still picking out a dress for the inauguration. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in November that, in a time of war and recession, his No. 1 goal is to deny Obama a second term.
Yet somehow, the Obama brain trust, a term herein used advisedly, always seems caught off guard by the ferocity, velocity and fury of the response to him. They were surprised at the verbal and physical violence of the health-care debate, surprised at the hardiness of the birther nonsense, surprised by the stiff defense of the Bush-era tax cuts.
Now, they are surprised the GOP would rather see the U.S. economy go off a cliff than surrender the aforementioned tax cuts for rich folks. So the debt ceiling gets raised in exchange for cuts to services for the poor, who shortsightedly failed to hire lobbyists.
It is time Obama quit being surprised by the predictable, time he understood this is not politics as usual, not Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill snarling at one another by day and having drinks by night, like that old cartoon where the sheepdog and the coyote punch a time clock to signal the beginning and end of their hostilities. It is not Bill Clinton living in a state of permanent investigation, nor even George W. Bush being called incompetent all day every day.
No, this is a new thing, repulsion at a visceral, indeed, mitochondrial level. Obama’s denigrators are appalled by the newness of him, the liberality of him, the exoticness of him and, yes, the blackness of him.
“Your boy?” Really?
Sure. Why not. Didn’t Rep. Lynn Westmoreland call him “uppity”? Didn’t the ex-mayor of Los Alamitos, Calif., send out an email showing the White House with a watermelon patch?
See, here’s the thing: If, as is frequently said, Obama represents America’s future, what do they represent?
You know the answer. Worse, they do, too.
Still, what matters here are neither their feelings nor his. No, what matters is homeowners dispossessed of their homes, workers who can’t find work, sick people who can’t afford health insurance, American soldiers on patrol in hostile places.
The president is a basketball fan, so surely he knows it is sometimes necessary to throw an elbow on your way to the goal. This is one of those times. His instinct to compromise, to work with the opposition to solve problems, is admirable.
But Obama needs to understand: as far as they are concerned, they have no problem bigger than him.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)