As noted previously, President Obama held a town hall meeting earlier this week where he took unscripted questions from the audience. Some the questions were rather pointed, and he also heard from a woman named Velma Hart who told the president that she was exhausted.
Exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the man for change I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now. I’ve been told that I voted for a man who said he was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I’m one of those people and I’m waiting, sir, I’m waiting. I don’t feel it yet.
She’s not alone, and if the polls are to be believed, it’s showing up as the “enthusiasm gap” between the Democrats and the Republicans in the run-up to the mid-terms. And as Digby says, it’s not really new.
Those of you who went through the 90s will recognize this phenomenon. It’s when the right’s ferocious attacks are so vicious and relentless that they eventually wear down average, common sense people with normal lives to lead — and even scare them a little.
In Clinton’s case it was defending him from the non-stop personal attacks that was so wearying. It took a brave soul with a taste for political combat to keep fighting in the face of that onslaught. It was called Clinton Fatigue, the sense that even people who were sympathetic to the president’s political plight and understood that his enemies were rabid and insane, just wanted it to end. Many analysts think it was the reason why Gore had such a hard time even though the economy was roaring — normally the country would have not wanted to rock that boat. It was the prospect of four or eight more years of wingnuts shrieking and howling that made at least few people say “whatever… give it to them … anything to shut them up.”
In Obama’s case it’s this moribund economy vs the outsized expectations that form the substance of the Democratic base’s complaint. And there’s good reason for people to be disappointed and worried. But the exhaustion at defending him, at least some of it, comes from the same place as that Clinton Fatigue. The right’s non-stop attacks eventually just wear people down, sap them of their enthusiasm, make them question their own judgment, especially in the face of a negative and less than hopeful future. You have to be pretty committed to want to wallow in this toxic mud every day and most people have better things to do with their time.
This is where it gets difficult. It’s not easy fighting the relentless and the trivial; it’s like being pecked to death by ducks. And don’t think for an instant that the attackers don’t know this; it’s the basis of their strategy. Don’t go after the big things like how to rescue the economy or fix healthcare; they’ve shown that not only do they not have any ideas, even if they did they wouldn’t put them out there because that would both raise the argument to the level of a real discussion about things that matter — which is the last thing that they want — and take the attention away from the silly and the insane such as the conspiracy theories about birth certificates and Luo tribal anti-colonialism.
The thing to remember is that this fight cannot be about one person. President Obama or Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich are, in the long term, temporary figures and at some point they will leave the scene, so focusing on them diverts our attention from the ideas, and those are the things that matter. That is why the right wingers label the healthcare reform “Obamacare”; they latch it on to a person and attach all the personal baggage that he brings with it rather than focus on the benefits that healthcare reform brings with it. It’s an old tactic and it works.
Ms. Hart is right when she says she’s exhausted by defending President Obama. But what about the ideas that she believes in that made her vote for him and support him to the point of her exhaustion? Is she ready to give up on them? Is she ready to concede the points of the opposition; that healthcare reform and the stimulus package are socialism and that the president is secretly a Muslim born in Kenya? Forget about Mr. Obama; is she — are we — too exhausted to fight for the things we believe in?
I’m not. I’ve been fighting for what I believe in all my life and I’ve faced some pretty steep and tough obstacles, and I have some scars to prove it. It can be exhausting. But if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be worth fighting for.