Monday, November 9, 2009

Obama and the New Kid on the Block Syndrome

[I posted this article a few weeks ago, but removed it temporarily pending further developments]

It is wonderful that President Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize and the world may become a better place for it. At the same time, when it comes to domestic reforms that would save the American middle class from extinction Obama appears to be stuck. Why? He may be a victim of the New-Kid-on-the-Block Syndrome.

I remember that, when Clinton ran for his first term, I was so impressed when he described his background of poverty where, among other things, he had to stop his drunken stepfather from getting violent. In that same talk, I was moved when he said "I'll never forget where I came from." I took it to mean that he would always keep in mind the needs of people who struggled with poverty. But when he was well into his presidency he appeared to have forgotten that promise, as he permitted changes in laws that made it easier for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

What happened? The Clintons, who started from humble backgrounds, as they increasingly came in contact with the wealthy and powerful came to feel very much at home among those who do not associate with the poor. Once they found themselves to be on the right side of the tracks, they were not at all unhappy to enjoy the satisfaction of being separated from the lesser folk. The rich and powerful now treat them as "friends," and they feel honored. Sharing the sentiments of the wealthy has made the Clintons think and act like the oligarchs with whom they associate, and the interests of old acquaintances from their more humble past have simply become less important.

In terms of social adaptation Obama has followed the Clintons' footsteps. Also born into humble circumstances, like the Clintons he went to an ivy league university and ended up in the White House. As president and holder of the politically most powerful position in the country, he is now much closer to the corporate chiefs and the wealthy than he is to the progressives who helped him win the election. Where he may have been the new kid on the block with ideas for change when he first took office, he is now one of the good ole boys that include the Wall Street and banking elite. 

From his speeches we know that President Obama still means well; it is very likely that the reforms he once promised are still on his mind, but as he now sees the world through the eyes of his old pragmatic advisors and his new "friends," their priorities have become his: the ugly duckling of earlier days is now the adult swan who soars with his peers.


Foro Social - Los Angeles said...

I think it is common in presidents. And in fact many leaders. They are surrounded by advisers that define and limit the decisions they make from then on! They live in a bubble that is composed of a small group of people.

Howard said...

As there seldom is only a single motive for anyone's actions, I am asking myself what Obama's primary motive was in getting elected. Was it really to bring about "change," or was it simply to get to the top to be among the most powerful. Till now I have been giving him the benefit of the doubt that he is going slow on change to avoid creating too much resistance. But at this stage it is beginning to look more and more that he is like the conductor of an orchestra with the same old musicians from previous administrations, and letting them play the same old tunes they are used to playing.
What is needed now is that those who worked so hard to get him elected put forth the same efforts to get him back on course.