Out of the gate, with changes, for the 2012 campaign

By April 8, 2011

When I ask Davisites who supported Obama in the last presidential campaign how they feel about him now, many of them get sad eyes.

When they speak, the first words out of their mouths are usually something about him as a man.

“I still like him,” people say, “and Michelle. I think well of him. A good person. But….”

What comes after the “but” is different for different people but it’s usually about dreams: what we hoped Obama could do and what he has done instead. Those dreams probably say more about each one of us than they do about President Obama.

Take my dream, for example. Predictably for a writer, my dream was about language. I have tremendous respect for Obama’s abilities as a communicator. I devoured both his books, I loved his stump speech, and I admired what he said about race.

My dream was that when he was our president we would sit in our living rooms watching him on TV, and he would say things that would bring Americans together again, help us leapfrog over our ugly partisanship and make us eager to work with each other to solve problems.

I attribute the failure of that dream mostly to myself. How could I have forgotten that TV is no longer a uniting medium? People don’t gather around to watch the same three channels anymore. When the President is on TV, more than half the viewers are watching a reality show, a religious channel or a cooking fight.

Even the most impassioned and moving speech will be seen in its entirety by very few people.

I wish Obama had tried harder on television, but with people still arguing over the birth certificate that was verified three years ago by the Hawaiian Department of Health, I see now that no speech will turn things around.

I’m forced to recognize that words that sound positive and uniting to me (for example: health care for all) don’t even register in other people’s minds or, for reasons I don’t understand, make them hopping mad.

When I ask fellow Obama supporters about their dreams, most don’t talk about him right away. Instead, they describe the situation he faced. How many presidents, they ask, have had to deal with problems like a looming economic meltdown, two wars (now three), the BP oil spill, and, most recently, the dissolution of Middle Eastern politics as we know it?

Reality, harsh reality, forced Obama into a lot of compromises, they say. And that’s normal, they add, there’s always a gap between campaign rhetoric and what is truly possible.

They say this with sad eyes.

My husband, who is in the financial industry, adds, “It took over six years to erode our financial foundation enough to collapse our economy. Yet we expect it to be fixed in less than two years. We’re a texting, multi-tasking, impatient people. Obama’s not the problem; we are.”

This week Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Guantanamo will stay open, and the 9-11 conspirators will be tried there by military tribunals, the complete opposite of Obama’s campaign promise. Another reality-based compromise, of course. Holder’s plan for trials in New York City never sounded plausible, even to me.

Also this week, the 2012 Obama Presidential election campaign opened. On Monday he filed papers with the Federal Election Commission.

Even that has come about differently than I imagined.

I thought that Obama’s decision to run for re-election would not be automatic, that he would stop and consider whether to do it or not. I see no signs of that kind of deliberation. He’s going for it, full bore, with early courting of deep-pocket donors. That’s reality, too.

During the last Obama election I traveled to Nevada to personally help the campaign. I tramped from door to door, speaking with voters, an unfamiliar activity that was not easy for me, but I wanted to give something of myself. I wrote about my effort, thus encouraging other people to do the same thing.

After the election, I wrote about my joy and the joy of hundreds on election night in a small town in Nevada. That happy memory remains. I am still profoundly moved and deeply proud that America elected its first African-American president.

I also think he has done well on our most pressing issue. We’re not in a second depression. At one time, I thought that was a given — I was picturing bread lines snaking down G Street — but it didn’t happen. Unemployment rates are finally dropping. I’ll vote for Obama again; I think he has done a lot of things right.

If during the campaign he gives inspirational speeches, I might become more optimistic, but I doubt I’ll start dreaming again. Nothing is clearer to me now than the reality of our deeply divided country. Obama made me believe that once he was president we could bridge the gap, but that’s over now. I don’t blame him, really.

But if you look into my eyes, you’ll see sadness. Something is lost and it’s not coming back.

— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected] Her column appears Sundays.

Marion Franck

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