No coming of age happened in 2008

With due apologies, I will say again, how paradoxical it is that the very event — Barack Obama’s election as president — that many a pundit characterized as America’s true coming of age, has in fact turned out to be affirmation of the country’s racist core being nowhere near declining as one of its defining markers. The “feel good” spin on Obama’s elevation some commentators offered, that such a revolutionary happening had gifted the U.S. an opportunity to expel its enduring sense of guilt, began losing plausibility early in the president’s tenure, to the extent of looking today little more than a fanciful indulgence by some of those “better angels” Lincoln hoped to see in the American spirit.

As we know, from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill on down, just about everyone used to assuming a position right of center made it clear early in Obama’s first term, that their overriding objective was ensuring there would be no second term. Again, whoever among us figured on some innate goodness on the other side, guaranteeing a more collegial narrative, no such luck. It’s been an incessant din of non-cooperation, antagonism and worst, blatant disrespect directed toward this president, the venom unprecedented. Leading to the kind of toxic language recently arising from the opposition ranks, the likes of impeaching or suing the president.

What’s been remarkable is the across-the-board nature of the attack regimen. Joining in the rally cry to stymie and/or kill all things Obama have been Republicans in Congress, Republicans in state and local government and even members of the judiciary. Chief Justice John Roberts surprised lots of folk, perhaps even including himself, when his was the deciding vote that allowed a challenge to the very premise of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be defeated. Undeterred, opponents of this legislation have been relentless in their attempts to drive a Sherman tank through the president’s signature legislative achievement. In the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision at the end of June, the court’s conservative wing signed off on an assault on the ACA’s mandate that contraception be included in the health insurance employers provided for workers. The ruling exempting certain family-owned businesses from the requirement, on religious grounds, was seen as clearing the way for a veritable bull rush of similar filings.

More recently, a lower court ruling that the federal government cannot subsidize insurance purchased through the ACA’s insurance marketplace threatens to create havoc, if allowed to stand by the high court, for millions who have availed themselves of a health insurance opportunity, a benefit they never previously enjoyed. Seemingly of no concern in the determination to eviscerate the ACA are the consequences for the more disadvantaged folk for whom the ACA made affordable insurance a necessity no longer denied.

There’s more than a hint that Republicans’ vile behavior toward the office of this president is driven by a conviction among at least some of them that Obama simply has no business being there. One gets the impression that their majority status in the House is primarily seen by them as a vehicle for frustrating (God forbid, complementing) any initiative originating from the president. In this sick game of demeaning the president nothing, it appears, is sacred. They jumped all over the people at the V.A. the other day, for example, over the apparently thorough mess that agency had gotten to be. Nary a Republican passed up the opportunity to sound off on how much of a betrayal this was to service men and women. But strong vocal support for the vets didn’t translate into sparing no effort, funding-wise, to address the problem. House Republicans again relishing an opening to stick it to the president, authorized an appropriation that was patronizingly small relative to what the administration calculated as needed.

What a contrast the Obama experience has been with that of his predecessor. George W. Bush came into office under the cloud of having, in the view of many, arrived via the machinations of high court conservatives. But it’s probably fair to say that as of the 9/11 occurrence, even Americans formerly reticent about according him legitimacy were prepared to acknowledge him as leader of a nation newly consumed with an altogether different style war footing. Obama, coming into office in cataclysmic economic times, has managed the recovery well enough to have been largely credited for his stewardship. Instead, the ongoing efforts to essentially nullify the Obama presidency, to have this White House “interregnum” asterisked for posterity, outline for us some cold commentary about the road we’ve traveled.

Insufferable as it already is, with Republicans in control of one legislative chamber on Capitol Hill, one is loath to contemplate what more unseemly depths of ugly could come to define governance of the country, should the Senate’s complexion undergo radical change following November’s midterms. Already we’re well past knowing that any notion of coming of age in ’08 was all myth. Surely, this president at the mercy of Capitol Hill under full GOP grip would be a statecraft lesson I don’t think we need.

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