Obama’s Next Four Years: More Politrix as Usual?

Four years after President Obama’s campaign for “Change” and “Hope” many were left disillusioned, but the POTUS’s second term message was “Forward” so he and his supporters could rev up his original momentum. “Forward” was a fitting theme given how much the Republican platform sought to send us back by restricting women’s rights and voting rights, which Obama tackled in his 2013 State of the Union speech this week. But how realistic is the POTUS’s success given the political discord that has only seemed to get worse over the last four years? On a recent post-Inauguration episode of my online talk show Know This!, my four guests and I discussed this country’s polarized political climate in which it is difficult to get bills like the recently approved Violence Against Women Act passed because of partisan politics. Are politicians arguing with or pandering to crazy people through the Tea Party, the Birthers and other illogical groups? What does our strong facade say to the rest of the world and are we really covering up all of our crazy? And if so, what can we really expect from Obama’s second term?

During Know This!, I mulled over Obama’s pledges in the context of mental health because, while it has been a hot topic in the gun violence conversation, I think our nation could use a mental health assessment. As one of my show’s guests, writer and mental health expert Mychal Denzel Smith said, “Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, you name it, this country has it. Politically, we’re trying to appease really crazy people. The Tea Party is crazy.” Our attempts to compromise or have reasonable conversations with groups like these in good faith have been and will be hopeless in the next four years. That is likely why Obama took on a firmer approach to his speech this year but while his spoke of equality, it wasn’t the tone of compromise Americans heard at 2009’s Inauguration and neither was his State of the Union address. Obama communicated that he would do the work necessary to achieve equality and stand on the right side of history regardless of whether Republicans like John Boehner applaud him or not.

Recently, Republicans and Democrats united to present a comprehensive proposal for bipartisan immigration reform, which was great news given this Congress has been the least productive in history. And when a reporter reminded Senator John McCain of a similar 2009 pledge that went nowhere, and asked why this time was different, the former Maverick replied, “Elections. Elections. The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens.” OK. While it would be nice to hear a politician get behind something because it is the right thing to do, I guess acting right because you are pandering to the Latino vote for party relevancy works too?

On the Democratic side, President Obama delivered a very proactive and progressive 2013 Inaugural address. He promised to address issues including the economy, climate change, gun violence, women and gay rights, voting rights and immigration reform, all of which he echoed during Tuesday’s State of the Union. He even acknowledged the parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton during his delivery this week. Back in January, I was out on the National Mall to witness the President’s speech with a crowd of at least one million people — about half the number that attended in 2009, according to Politico  — and there was an intentional rainbow of representation participating in the ceremony to reflect America’s diversity and the voters who pushed the President into his second term. Another show guest, Erica Williams, cited her friend NPR contributor Gene Demby’s observation that, “There’s a black President, a Latina Supreme Court Justice and a former drug dealer from Marcy Projects sitting up there. And a gay Cuban poet. Let’s recognize how far we’ve come.” The colors alone show a step in the right direction.

But while Obama’s speeches have been inspiring and I see our strides, I still wonder what’s really possible during this second term? How much of Obama’s pledges will actually occur given the state of Congress and our polarized party system?

I think an answer lies in continuing to ask questions like these and put pressure on our political representatives to look inward at the mental health of their politics. I’m not a therapist, but if I were to give my prognosis of the U.S. political culture, it would stem from a recent article in online magazine ElixHer, “A Killer Among Us” by Spoken Pandora on depression in Black women. The piece addresses how the “strong black woman” image leads to suppressing depression and self-medicating any other mental or emotional issues in order to maintain that strong image and remain a pillar for our loved ones. I liken U.S. political culture to this “strong black woman” struggle because the country’s insistence on putting forth this strong, together, “no issue here!” image at the expense of necessary conversations about our history of discrimination and inequality. These broken ideas continue to inform the power and privilege dynamics and prevent contemporary equality. And if you want to ponder that relationship further in that the “strong black woman” archetype dates back to slavery and black women’s role in the building of this nation, well, I’m not sayin’, but I’m sayin’.

Openness and honesty must define this second term as President Obama and we citizens face and engage our issues. We have to not just call all these spades, spades, but repair the brokenness without waiting for politicians who, in turn, wait for issues to become convenient or necessary like the reactionary gun laws resulting from the Newton massacre.

Like Obama reminded us in his Inauguration speech, “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing.” I hope Obama rises to the occasion of his rhetoric, and that Americans rise with him to make sure work gets done.

Last 5 posts by Ariana Proehl