Late night comedians have complained that President Obama provides little material for their nightly routines and Republican die-hards are still smarting from what they regard as the kid-glove treatment Obama’s been afforded by the mainstream media. Meanwhile, Obama is riding high in the latest polls and gets a standing ovation when he unexpectedly drops in for a Broadway show in New York on a Saturday night. Is Obama above and beyond criticism? Is the media losing its objectivity? A careful analysis since the first 100 days ended shows there are some cracks forming in the wall of approval for the Obama Administration. There should be no doubt that the honeymoon will eventually end. To Obama‘s credit, he seems to have recognized it.
Outside of the expected Republican opposition, congressional Democrats are starting to assert their independence. Just two weeks ago, they refused to accept a funding request for closing Gitmo. On Meet the Press, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy pointedly indicated that the timeline for confirming Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be his and not Obama’s. Ouch! Add to this that Blue Dog Democrats are getting increasingly antsy about Obama’s spending proposals. The end result is that Obama may be running out of surefire supporters for his proposed healthcare measures. Rising deficits, charges of socialism in the White House, and the transformation of General Motors into “Government Motors” may not be fodder for Letterman, Leno or O’Brien, but they are providing Obama’s critics with plenty of ammunition to criticize his presidency.
What may be more ominous is the increasing opposition from some of his hardcore left-wing supporters. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow presented a scathing editorial against Obama’s Gitmo policy arguing against the apparent unconstitutionality of some parts of it. Another Ouch! Sierra Club president Phil Radford was highly critical of Obama’s recent car emissions policy. Gay activists are increasingly disenchanted with the slow pace of reform on issues affecting the gay community. American civil liberties’ groups are openly defying Obama’s approach on closing Gitmo and dealing with the detainees. Even beyond the borders of the United States, we see Israel rejecting Obama’s approach to Palestine and the settlements in the West Bank. The European Union has complained in recent days about America’s lukewarm commitment to the battle against global warming.
Obama is off to Egypt, Germany and France in the days ahead. He will likely do well by most accounts. But a speech to the Muslim world is sure to attract criticism. Israel will express worry and the Muslim world will be guarded in its reaction. In itself, this will invite criticism. However, I believe this can be a healthy development and may actually contribute to reinforce the transformational character of the Obama presidency.
Change does not come from a good speech or a great personality. It comes from provoking a reaction and forcing many to question motives and goals. It leads to debate, dialogue and maybe consensus. Granted, Obama has seduced many in the media and in circles not necessarily aligned with him. But the criticism is indeed surfacing more and more. In the long run, this can make for a better president and more transformational change.