Misreading the Signs: Early Regrets in the Age of Obama

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 3:20 AM

It started off as an “I’m sorry” I offered to a friend the other day. He asked what I was sorry about; I simply said, “the November election.” Regular readers will recall my endorsement and defense of then-Sen. Barack Obama during that election cycle.

He laughed and said, “I told you so.”

I do regret that President Obama is charting an uncompromising progressive course – they have never deserved the label “liberal,” mind you – but as I sit here thinking on the matter, I do not regret Obama, nor specifically choosing him. What is the alternative? I could never muster the required fawning over the career, accomplishments, and alleged independence of John McCain. To what set of principles, what ideas, does John McCain tether himself? Do you or I honestly know?

True, we could tick off particular issues of concern: taxes, guns, war, spending, and the like. And those are important questions. I am continuously stunned how many people I meet who cannot even deliver that list with any sort of competence. But don’t you feel a deeper sort of hunger? It is the hunger that you feel when a politician states a position, and in your mind and heart, you hear one word: Why?

It’s not that you or I do not have particular opinions on all sorts of things, because we most certainly do. But how a person answers that little one-word question tells one all sorts of things, from how intelligent he thinks his audience is, to what conflicting goods are in tension, to how he or she reads the Constitution.

Can you even remember a time when anyone provided that information? Can you remember a time when we the people demanded it? What if we found our elected leaders too dumb to do such a thing? What if we find ourselves too dumb to ask?

Part of the reason I don’t want to issue a mea culpa on Obama is that it could be viewed as an endorsement of his opponents. Forgive me if the only thing I gather from Republicans is that they dislike, and want to defeat, Democrats. Why don’t we just let the Red Sox and Yankees run the political system? At least they have the decency to admit that they have no real reason to hate the other, but the label is enough.

Every so often in a political debate or speech, you will hear one say, “We just have a fundamental difference of opinion” followed by either a non sequitur or an ad hominem attack. The process repeats. All the while, the audience has no idea what’s so fundamental about this particular difference of opinion.

We accept it, and don’t demand better. Maybe things will get better if we start demanding from our leaders the answer to the question “Why?” Maybe our discussions would be more fruitful if we did the same with one another.

Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor of Open for Business.