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What A Difference A Year Makes

Arianna Huffington ‘s headline in HuffPo Tuesday was “Obama One Year Later: The Audacity of Winning vs The Timidity of Governing.” On Wednesday’s Hardball MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews was pissed: he thought Obama had already become an incumbent insider who plays golf and hangs around with big money guys. He wondered if the President had already lost his vision. Progressive radio and television talk show host Ed Schultz offered himself as the go-to guy for Obama: no one else is telling the President the truth, he says, and he will. And many other progressives and liberal Democrats are starting to feel betrayed by the man they looked to for real change, while the conservatives cheered as though there had been a coup d’état.

Everyone has an opinion about what the election results meant: from gloom and doom to no big deal.

I personally vacillate between telling myself that Rome was neither built nor destroyed in a day and wondering whether the expectations we all had when we worked and voted for the man were unrealistic.

The pundits and news anchors and reporters and talk show hosts are still, days later, spinning so fast that their heads threaten to come unscrewed, while sensible columnist ttp:// Collins seems to have the best take I’ve heard so far and it’s also funny.

Except that part of me just can’t laugh. A year ago, after working my ass off for many months to elect Barack Obama: campaigning door-to-door, phone canvassing and writing a myriad of articles on the candidates and the election, I worked all day at the polls on Election Day. Rising at 4 a.m. and getting to my precinct by 5, I joined my fellow works in preparing everything for what we thought might well be an onslaught of voters. There were even police stationed at my small precinct in Virginia, something that had never happened before. We were told to watch out for arguments and even fisticuffs, for voters trying to vote when they weren’t registered and for people to sneak in with campaign material. None of that happened. When we opened the polls at 6 a.m. there was a line out the door and down into the parking lot, in the cold and dark and rain. But very few people even complained much about it. They stood and waited for up to an hour sometimes. Just to vote. It felt like I was in some sort of third world country where voting really mattered to the people. I met first time voters from eight to eighty eight and people who were quick to tell me that this election was the most important one in their whole lives. By the time the polls closed over 70 percent of our precinct had voted. At the end of the day, none of us workers had had more than a five minute potty break. We ate and drank while crossing off voters and running the machines. We were dead tired but completely exhilarated, no matter what party we were from. The 15 hour day completely flew by.

This past Tuesday I again woke at 4 a.m. and made my way to the precinct by 5. Inside, the mood was very different. One of the workers told us not to expect more than a 30 percent return. We prepared for the opening the same way we had a year ago but it felt like it would be a very long day and as the first voters trickled in at 6 we were already checking the clock.

By the end of this past Tuesday, we were pleasantly surprised to find that nearly 50 percent had turned out. But the day had been long, long and mostly dead boring, punctuated by small surges early in the morning, midday, and after work. Enthusiasm was minimal.

And there was no exhilaration and no surprise… I knew going in that the Republicans were going to take Virginia’s governorship at the least. And they deserved to. As much as I personally liked and respected and Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds and had worked with him when I was a member of the Virginia School Boards Association and he was my representative, as much as I knew he was a native and a decent man and would do the right thing, I knew there was no way he was going to take the state. The reason was obvious: he had lost his integrity in the campaign. Not only did he fight dirty, but he did not support all the issues a good Democrat was expected to. He went for the middle and lost badly. No one I knew was excited by the candidacy at the end: we felt betrayed. At least Bob McDonnell, a hyper-conservative Republican did not stray from the message he had been preaching for years.

I do not however think that two Republican governorships spell doom and gloom for either the Democrats or President Obama in 2010 or 2012,–the Dems did, and after all, pick up two crucial House seats– I do think that this election spells out once again what is wrong with politics and politicians in our country.

None of it works. At all.

Campaign finance reform, which should be the first and foremost issue tackled and solved, is not even being seriously considered. Without that our pols are bought and sold like racehorses, or to use another metaphor borrowed from progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann, they should be required to wear their sponsors on their backs, like race car drivers and their cars. How can anyone expect a Congressman to make a decision based on rational thought when he is being handed money by special interests who have a vested interest in the outcome. They can’t.

In addition, although to expect Obama to have turned the entire country (and the world) around in less than a year is absurd, still he raised expectations so high that most of the country that supported him wanted that to happen anyway. They (we) are sorely disappointed. Some people who have turned against the President might not even realize that he is not some benign despot who can wave a magic wand and make things all better. Or kiss away our boo-boos like mommy did. While I was making phone calls last year I had a person ask me why the president couldn’t just go in and get things done. I took 20 minutes to explain the separation of powers to her: both the good and the bad elements. This was something she had no idea about and was quick to say she would tell her friends and families because they were wondering, too. If part of the population voted for Obama because they really wanted change and they really wanted it quickly, then no wonder they are heading off to vote for a Republican or sitting home and not voting at all.

Truth is: the thrill IS gone.

The man we voted for: that charismatic, intelligent, brilliant speaker, has turned into a man afraid to piss people off. A man who promised he would do what needed to be done no matter what, and then went after conciliation with people who had no desire to even shake his hand.

The media in general has whipped Obama’s whole failure to launch scenario into a frenzy and the right wing nutbags have finally gone completely berserk. As a result, too many people are influenced into thinking that what Obama wants to do is wrong. When most of it is right. If, that is, anything important gets done at all.

The combined result of Congressional corruption, a mean right wing who is way more powerful in its lies than it should be and a populace most of whom have lost interest, is that:

We will NOT have a health care overhaul that means anything, if we have one at all, and we will NOT have new regulations on banks and businesses who helped take us down over a year ago, and we will NOT have any real meaningful legislation we can point to with pride as the accomplishment of the man who we really really believed could finally get it done. Even though a large majority of the American people want health care reform. Even though we all want banks and businesses to stop giving obscene bonuses, even though most of us would like a lot more fairness in society.

We are stuck.

Fairness and thinking about the other guy—you know the one who is poorer than you, and there is always someone poorer than you—is socialism. Capping the amount of money executives whose companies took money directly from the government spells the end of capitalism, when the truth is that the money Goldman Sachs made in the past month could practically pay for health care.

People are starving to death and dying in the richest, freest country in the world and no one really gives a shit. At least no one with any kind of power to do anything about it. Once again it is up to the masses to rally and riot and scream and yell and call their Congressmen and women and agitate and demonstrate and maybe, just maybe, someone will actually pay attention. It is once again all on us. Our government not only does not take care of us, it wants to screw us at any turn. Our representatives, with a few exceptions, do not represent us at all. They do not work for us. They do not care about us. They care about being re-elected so that they can continue to not work for us and not care about us.

And we, like saps, sit and take it. Because the truth is, without a full out revolution in the streets, without a weeklong work stoppage, or something just as drastic, all our writing and calling and pestering makes little difference to those men and women who are paid to be pestered by us.

Jonathan Franzen, in a recent interview about his newest book, talks about a character who spends his life with an “Inexpressible urgency” to search out and find the truth. Franzen says that that man represents the craziness in him and in all of us. I feel that inexpressible craziness myself whenever I think about, read about, or hear about what is going on in this country politically. And I am not sure who the real crazies are. I really believed Obama could make a difference. I believed he would lead Congress to do what was right and important. I believe he might even convert some of the naysayers. I thought that health care, for example, when instituted, would be like Social Security and Welfare, with a rocky start but a firm foundation when it was found to work. I thought our first black president really would get that there are huge numbers of disenfranchised among us and that equality is still an ideal rather than a reality. I thought he would work as hard and as beautifully as he spoke.

When I sat weeping in front of the television that November night a year ago I felt that for the first time in my life the majority of Americans had made a pivotal decision that would change and grow this country from what it is to what it could be. Now that those tears are a memory, I wonder: who was fooled? Obama or us?