Tuesday, August 25, 2009

If going green is hard, passing green bills is harder

David Roberts really is wonderful.

I have been seeing - and deliberately not reading - dozens of op-eds, analysis pieces and blog posts about all the ways that President Obama is messing up the health-care fight. They all follow exactly the same pattern: if Obama would only do (or, if you think the battle's lost, had only done) what I say he should, we would have a health-care bill.

Well, maybe. But, though I'm struck breathless by some of the lies that are being told about the health-care plan, I have also been watching this country freak out over anything that could be painted as socialized medicine for almost as long as I've been alive. So it never occurred to me that Obama could wave a magic wand, or even give a brilliant speech, and hey, presto, the nation would see the light.

And yesterday on Grist, David Roberts nailed it: "Barack Obama is not our magic negro. He’s not Bagger Vance. He hasn’t come along to teach the ornery white folk the error of their ways. He’s just the president, a centrist Democrat embedded in a power structure replete with roadblocks and constraints."

We all know - when we stop to think about it - that pushing health-care reform, or a climate bill that will actually make a difference, through the US Congress will take sweat, and determination, and a whole lot of people making phone calls, writing their congressmen, and all the other boring labor that goes into political organizing. But what we feel is that we got this man elected, and now it's his job. As the New York Times reported a few days ago, the activists who campaigned so enthusiastically for him are feeling politicked out. They support the president wholeheartedly, the Times reported, but they are "taking a break from politics."

One activist who's got it straight is Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, who - to judge from his Twitter posts - seems to be on the road and around the world virtually full-time. organizing massive global demonstrations for next October 24 to influence the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks in December. McKibben - who could get his byline into any paper in the country - isn't spending his time (at least not much of it) sitting around writing articles about what Obama should be doing about climate change, though I'm sure he has some pretty strong opinions. But he also recognizes that politicians do not do, and (with rare exceptions) never have done, what is right. They do what is politic. And it is our job, not Obama's, to put so much pressure on them that the right thing to do becomes also the politic thing to do.

Obama isn't going to save us. He can't. It will take a whole lot more than one man - even if if he's the president of the United States - to bring us universal healthcare and a serious climate bill.

Well, we've got a whole lot more - we've got ourselves. The question is, do we have the fortitude to give up the luxury of complaint, turn around, and just keep on keeping on until we get where we need to be?

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