Then Barack Obama Came to Iowa

Progressives are criticized for supporting President Obama. From conservatives, we hear the fear that Democrats are trying to engineer society through the government so that people would be deprived of their liberties and compelled to do horrible things: like drink lattes made from organic coffee beans and soy milk until they too embrace secular humanism. From liberals, we hear “I’ve had it with Obama,” on topics ranging from our wars to the deficit, and his relationships with Wall Street, militarism, corporatism, the nuclear power industry, and others. What this progressive believes is there are few politicians better able to lead us through these rocky times than Barack Obama.

Obama’s first foray into Iowa politics was at the 2006 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola. To prepare for the event, I had listened to his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention when Obama said if we felt like he did, “this country will reclaim its promise. And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.” That was pretty good, we did feel like he did.

Going into the Harkin Steak Fry, I had hope of an equally good speech. While Obama framed the case against then President George W. Bush and the Republican controlled congress, the speech fell a little flat. It seemed too much the typical politician, an echo of Ted Kennedy and others who used the question “Had enough?” to explain where we were as a party. That’s my observation from being there, but make up your own mind by viewing the speech here.

We met Obama in the rope line, and he seemed genuine, connected and friendly. He also seemed just a guy. He was the first person I met who became president and returning to this brief moment grounds me in the fact that he is just a guy.

So why do I think Barack Obama is capable to lead us through these rocky times? He is today what he was on that Iowa field in 2006. What you see is what you get with Barack Obama. To borrow from the early computer days, he may be our first WYSIWYG President.

For my conservative friends, especially those in the TEA Party, I am confident that at some point in the not too distant future, the scales will fall from your eyes and it will become evident that you are a genome away from being Democrats. You won’t have to drink any lattes unless you want to.

For my disheartened liberal colleagues, look at history.

A group of shirt tail relatives traced our family tree back to the 14th Century. In a genealogist way, they said our ancestor John Lovelace’s first child was born around 1380 AD in Kent, England. This was the time of the Peasant’s Revolt, one of the better documented of Middle Ages rebellions against the monarchy and by some accounts Kent was in full revolt at this time.

What were the issues? The poll tax to finance King Richard II’s wars, disparity of rates of taxation leading to an outcry of injustice, unpopular men heading the government and corrupt officials, both in the church and laity. Sound familiar? Actually it sounds a lot like today and that’s my point.

If the Peasant’s Revolt could move the upper classes to reform feudalism and its associated miseries, such change has not been permanent, or sustainable over 600 years: we continue to have a growing underclass.

When we criticize President Obama for getting too cozy with Wall Street and the corporate masters of the universe, my liberal colleagues forget that power resides in the people and as Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

If we feel like we are returning to a form of modern day feudalism where the middle class is diminished, and our social institutions are infested with corruption the way termites get into the wet framework of a home, that feeling may be valid. But we are better than to accept a fatalistic outlook that it has to be that way. Better to have as president, someone who is honest with the American people and working in our interests. Better that than repeat the imperial presidencies of the past, or worse, concede defeat of our ideals and give the 2012 election to people who would further suppress them. The key is what Obama has said repeatedly over time, we must seek out what we have in common. That also means having hope.

No worries about the criticism progressives get. We have thick skin and when so much is at stake, we will never give up.

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul Deaton

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