No, I'm talking about the FISA bill. It was Obama's first true test as the leader of both a party and a movement, and let's be blunt: He flunked it. Badly.
The Democratic Party is a decidedly mediocre commodity, and though I am a Democrat myself I have no illusion that my party -- as an institution -- is somehow immune to the corruption that so bedevils today's GOP.
In 2006 I was willing to accept a certain amount of hypocrisy and corruption from my Democratic candidates: Democrats simply had to win the mid-terms to prevent a Constitutional crisis. But two things have changed since then:
- The Bush administration is a dead bee: It can't move, but it's still got a sting;
- A coalition of interests OUTSIDE OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S INNER CIRCLE combined forces to nominate a dark horse candidate (and no, that's not a "black" pun) who was strong on ethics reform.
Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate, but what excites me most about Obama are the qualities I see in his supporters. Yes, his campaign has been managed skillfully, but skillful management doesn't win you principled, committed, energetic supporters: It simply qualifies you to receive them.
Obama's supporters are the people from the center-left who understand that the whole system -- not just the Republican side of it -- has been corrupted. They flocked to Obama because he offered a message very similar to Larry Lessig's CHANGE CONGRESS talk: A corrupt government is like an alcoholic father. Though an alcoholic has more pressing issues (unemployment, divorce, homelessness) , until he fixes his addiction problem, nothing else can get better.
Whatever his personal qualities, it's important to remember that Barack Obama is just a man, subject to all the frailties to which our species is heir. As president he will face not just opposition from other men, but from historic forces. If he has no source but the office of the presidency from which to draw power, then Obama's legacy will be one of bitter disappointment.
But Obama does have an another source of power: The people who carried him this far. If he draws on that source -- the vast, untapped reserves of good will and optimism within the hearts of the Americans who made his candidacy viable -- then Obama will have the power to do amazing things. Because we'll fight beside him so long as he is fighting the good fight.
Only here's the rub: You can't bottle that power, and you can't use it for leverage in corrupt compromises.
I'm voting for Obama, but what I'm really voting for is our movement. If he continues to abandon us as he did on the FISA bill last week -- supporting a corrupt compromise that pisses all over the values he has espoused on the campaign trail -- then all the energy that made him so strong this spring will simply dissipate.