It has occurred to me that perhaps President Obama should take a tip from Virginia Woolf. Woolf promoted the idea that women could achieve literary success if they had the same opportunities as men, especially in terms of financial security and privacy. Woolf talked specifically of literature, but her arguments are generally taken as a feminist text that also promotes the value of equal opportunity for women.
Instead of literature, let’s think of Virginia Woolf’s argument in a political context. Can one make the argument that perhaps Barak Obama is smothered by the discourse of the political right?
Even with ill-advised leaks of Obama’s Thursday night speech — a poor strategic movement, in my opinion — all the talk this week has been about the GOP presidential candidate wannabe debate. More importantly, Obama always appears to be reacting, rather than leading, when addressing economic and jobs issues. He isn’t laying out a plan that is his own and aggressively selling it. Instead he is making fruitless efforts to appear deliberate and bipartisan in a reckless and partisan world. He doesn’t have his space…a space of his own.
Just as Woolf argues that women are capable of producing meaningful literature, ideas, and success of their own, I believe Obama — and Democrats generally — are able to do the same. The problem is simple, however; Democrats follow more than they lead. Too often Democrats work in a political environment framed by the Republicans. Rather than propose bold ideas, they try to fit Democratic goals into a Republican agenda. More than ever, that’s like trying to push a square peg into a round hole.
Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson certainly had rooms of their own. They had the luxury of ideological space. Granted, a lot of that space came from the people who chose them as leaders, but they also fought a bitter opposition, especially in the case of FDR, and still managed to succeed. It is about more than just appealing to your base, it is about putting yourself on equal footing with your opposition and overcoming your opposition. Obama hasn’t been at that level…he’s too much of what a Democrat is today.
Let’s see how things go tonight.