About two weeks ago, the White House released a list of 45 works that are on loan to the Obama family from several Washington museums. Among them is one pictured to the left, entitled “I think I’ll…” by California artist Ed Ruscha. Set against a fiery red sunset are several phrases, including “On Second Thought…” and “Maybe…No,” all playing on the theme of indecision.
Just ten months ago, the selection of this painting for decoration in the White House would have seemed incongruous with Obama’s presidential modus operandi. On his second day in office, he issued executive orders banning torture and closing secret prisons run by the CIA. Within his first 100 days in office, he had moved with impressive speed to focus on the recession and collapsing financial industry. He arranged massive bailouts for the auto industry and failing banks and won approval for a $787 billion economic stimulus package. Obama was no vacillator—he was, in fact, using the Presidency as his bully pulpit.
Initially, his fans, including yours truly, saw no sign of indecision on the part of Mr. President. Rather, they praised his willingness to listen to criticism and his thoughtfulness—indecision’s better brother. His team approach to management contrasted sharply with that of the previous administration. Many welcomed the perceived change in how things were being conducted in Washington.
Lately, however, Obama’s honeymoon appears to have ended. A bad summer of vicious town-halls and the uncertainty surrounding America’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan have contributed to the meme of Obama as passive and, dare I say, indecisive. But in regards to the most critical issue on his very full plate, health care reform, indecisive he is not. Obama has been keen to point out that health care reform is not only a moral imperative, but also a fiscal one, and has tirelessly campaigned across the nation to garner support for it.
In order to see health care reform pass at all costs, Obama—along with other moderate Democrats—has taken the road of compromise, stating that he will not insist on the public option. But compromise has come at a substantial price. For instance, the Senate Finance bill, though perhaps more palatable to conservative Democrats and deficit hawks, is said to do more for insurance companies than for the American people.
So, on both sides of the aisle, reform-minded folk dream on. Progressives hope for a Scandinavian health care system for America that never will be, while conservatives lament the free-market health care system that never was. Our cover story writer Jacqueline Mauro, on the other hand, takes a look in her own backyard—her hometown of San Francisco—where everyone is, astonishingly, happy with their health care (p. 8). Nevertheless, she argues that San Francisco’s universal health care system would never be politically or administratively viable on a national scale. Even so, this rare instance of government functioning close to the ideal inspires even the most cynical among us to hope for a more uncompromised system of governance.
On the East Coast, Jimmy Dahroug—even though his bids for a New York State Senate seat were unsuccessful—offers advice to those political hopefuls on campus who may want to try their hand at that whole “idealism” thing (p. 14). Ross Bruck searches for the conservative soul and discusses how the Republican party might envision a cohesive future for America (p. 23). Across the Pacific, Yurina Ko considers whether the recent Japanese elections—which resulted in the first “regime change” in half a century—will yield meaningful progress or is simply change for change’s sake (p. 20).
While these visions of progress differ widely and may sometimes even be ideologically at odds, at the heart of each of them is a belief that the future might just be a little better than the present. Without a map, politicians and average citizens are tackling the problems of our age—not knowing if “our” way is the right way. Thus, we proceed with trepidation but not without conviction. So when I look at that painting again, my eye gravitates towards Ruscha’s optimism rather than his equivocations: “Maybe… Yes.”