By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – In less than a year, Barack Obama no longer will be president of the United States.
For many Americans, that will be cause for rejoicing.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
Most conservatives in this country have seen Obama’s rise to power as little more than an abomination, an ongoing assault on all they hold dear. From the beginning, they have blamed him for every problem, real or perceived, they and this country face.
Many progressives see him as a disappointment, a leader who failed to meet the lofty expectations they had for his presidency because he couldn’t, single-handedly, reverse a half-century-long drift to the right in American politics. They dismissed his successes in the face of unremitting opposition as capitulations, half-measures that hurt rather than help the cause.
In his State of the Union speech a few days ago, Obama expressed regret that he had not been able to do more to bridge the divide separating Americans.
That part of his address met with guffaws on the right and shrugs of dismissal on the left. Then the world moved on. It’s an election year, and the president’s speech was the last stop before the campaigning could kick into top gear.
Lost in the rush to hustle votes was the fact that Obama did try to bridge the chasm separating us.
No presidential candidate in either political party is trying to do that right now.
Elections, admittedly, are about forcing choices. They are designed to make people pick one party or the other, elevate one candidate above a pack.
Still, it’s difficult to argue that 2016’s crop of presidential hopefuls hasn’t escalated the natural electoral politics of division to growling new levels.
On the Republican side, candidates for the nation’s highest office have vied to determine who will build the biggest and most formidable wall along the Mexican – and, at times – the Canadian borders. They’ve blasted immigrants as criminals and thugs and pledged to ban Muslims from the country.
On the Democratic side, the candidates at different times have declared the National Rifle Association and Republicans as the “enemy.” They’ve called for a war on Wall Street and Americans of wealth, attacking all signs of affluence as inherent proof of moral and spiritual corruption.
Nowhere on either side of this divide is there a sense that, regardless of background, faith, social status or other circumstance of birth, we all are part of one country – that we are linked in the sacred work of preserving the world’s oldest self-governing society.
When he ran for president, part of the reason Barack Obama kept his message somewhat vague – Hope and Change – was that he wanted to reserve room to reach across partisan and ideological divides. He talked on the stump of redrawing the political map and ushering in a new era of consensus.
That’s what he attempted to do.
He miscalculated, of course – both in terms of the resistance he would face from the right and the length of the leash the left would allow him.
The health care reform plan that became the signature domestic policy initiative of his presidency drew its inspiration from a concept first developed by a conservative think tank and adopted by a Republican governor, the man who would run against Obama in the 2012 election — Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
That presidential campaign was a wearying, dispiriting affair but it may have proved to be a turning point in American history – the last time, for the foreseeable future, that both presidential candidates tried to claim the political center.
In vain, as it turned out.
The cliché now is to cite William Butler Yeats and lament that the center cannot hold.
True enough, but I find myself these days thinking more and more about a prescient essay the late rock critic Lester Bangs wrote about the death of Elvis Presley. Bangs said we never would agree on a cultural figure again the way we agreed about Elvis. Days of division and fragmentation, he said, stretched before us.
He wrote that, rather than say goodbye to Elvis, we should say goodbye to each other.
Barack Obama will depart office soon, leaving behind an America where citizens snarl at instead of speak to each other.
Instead of saying goodbye to him, perhaps we Americans should say goodbye to each other.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.