No More Susie Sunshine

Anyone who has read my columns over the years knows I am a resolute optimist. My general theme is something along the lines of  “Yes, this bad thing or that has happened, but overall, look at the progress America is making.” And it’s true—over the long haul, we have seen progress in the general culture, at least when it comes to issues like women’s rights, gay rights, same-sex marriage, religious tolerance, etc.

 But to be honest, I’m checking out of the “look on the bright side” brigade. I’ve had it.

 During the Bush Administration, I was hysterical on a daily basis. We had this goofus in the White House who clearly had never read the constitution, had a very tenuous grasp of public policy and political philosophy—not to mention the English language—and was obviously being manipulated by Dick Cheney aka Darth Vader. As he dug the nation into an ever-deeper hole, fiscally and morally, I became more and more morose.

 Then, during the Obama campaign, I saw what I thought was a redemptive wave of political activism. Young people, in particular, came out to work for a candidate who didn’t pander to the haters, who spoke in complete sentences, and who promised a new dedication to the old principles of transparency and accountability in government. And that candidate won! An African-American intellectual actually won. Maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought!

 And then came the backlash.

 Anyone who is minimally fair recognizes that the government Obama inherited last January was a huge mess.  Even those who supported the Bush Administration, those who didn’t give a rat’s ass about civil liberties violations or gay rights or international condemnation, admitted that Bush’s policies created a fiscal nightmare. Not only did this new administration face financial meltdown, two “hot” wars, and a near-depression, it also faced a Republican party whose only goal was to see to it that nothing the new President wanted would get through Congress.

 Am I happy with everything that the administration has done? No, of course not. On civil liberties issues, this Administration has too often retained Bush policies—on State Secrets, detention, executive privilege, etc. On issues that matter to the gay community, Obama may not have been able to get DOMA repeal through a Senate paralyzed by GOP threats of filibusters, but he could have overturned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell through Executive Order. He hasn’t. But how many of the pundits and wingers and other self-righteous critics could have handled what he walked into?

 I have been absolutely appalled by the immaturity of the loudest voices on both the right and left. The crazy right-wingers and Tea Party wackos—many of whom are clearly animated by racism—insist that Obama is Hitler, or at the very least a socialist trying to destroy The American Way of Life. (How dare he try to give everyone access to healthcare! How unutterably evil!) For their part, the ideological left is hysterically charging Obama with being a sell-out. The healthcare bill doesn’t go far enough, he spent too much to bail out the evil banksters (so what if there was a real risk of world financial system collapse) and not enough to bail out the auto industry. He didn’t put out a contract on Joe Lieberman. (Okay, I’ll give them that one.) And on and on.

 Meanwhile, the general public is just generally mad. Granted, they really aren’t too sure what they are mad about, or who’s to blame for whatever they are mad about. They just know things suck and they want to take it out on someone.

 All in all, it’s ugly. And unutterably dispiriting.

 It’s one thing to have good-faith disagreements about what ought to be done. It’s another to go off the deep end—to engage in fact-free fulmination, to lash out in the fashion of cranky four-year-olds everywhere. This country is facing huge, huge problems. One man—I don’t care how well-meaning or talented—isn’t going to fix all of those problems overnight, or in a year, or even in eight years.

 So Susie Sunshine here is checking out.

 Until the American public shows some sign of growing up, of understanding our own role in digging this hole, of giving some sign of a willingness to assume responsibility and help turn things around, I’ll be locked in my office, without newspapers, blogs, or television—and I’ll be in a very bad mood.

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