Sunday in the New York Times columnist Frank Rich added his voice to the growing number of analysts seeing little substantial change in the way politics is doing business since Barack Obama took office last January. Rich's particular concern, like that of Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal last week, is the way in which lobbyists continue to run the table, using old boy connections (and lots of cash) to kill or maim legislation that could affect their big business clients, to the detriment of the American people.
While Rich and others directly or indirectly set this issue at the feet of the President, I wonder if the real problem is -- to use a religious term -- a lack of proper conversion on the part of the Democratic party. While Obama, who came into the national spotlight from the outside of federal politics, preached change and a new way, most of the Democrats around him, many of whom had spent far, far longer in national office, had watched the Republican leadership shut them out at virtually every turn, and -- no small point -- supported party warrior Hillary Clinton, arrived at January 20, 2009 with a different momentum and trajectory. To say they were simply eager for "their turn" -- at the trough, at getting their way and at getting in their licks -- would seem an oversimplification. Yet, consider their actions very long and this theme does emerge.
In the religious life, the awareness of one's own resistance and sinfulness is a major step on the path of conversion. But that's not to say it comes easy. Denial, as they say, ain't just a river in Egypt.Over and over on the campaign trail, President Obama said that the path he was proposing would not be an easy one. Everyone clapped and cheered; but now, as the challenges of that path become clearer, his party's willingness to face them seems shaky, at best.
For the last 8 months pundits have talked often, whether positively or negatively, about the president's willingness to reach across the aisle to Republicans. But if real change is to happen, his most immediate task may not be winning the hearts of his opponents, but harrowing the hearts of his own.
Jim McDermott, SJ