The sum total of Obama’s Administration can become a prelude to the future, or just as easily a simple blip or diversion sandwiched between the more powerful forces of American racism and anti-‘elite’ fears – forces of darkness once represented by George W Bush and now about to be continued by Donald Trump.
For the first seven plus years of his presidency, Barack Obama suffered from what I called “Obsessional bi-partisan Disorder.” (see Obama on the Couch, Simon & Schuster 2011). It was only during the heated 2016 campaign between Trump and Hillary Clinton that Obama finally became stridently critical of the GOP.
The wisdom Obama received from his father was that knowledge and logic would pave the way for new ideas and social change. He felt that if we could listen to one another we could productively resolve our differences. Sadly that has not happened, and now Americans are as divided from one another as they were in those pitched battles over civil rights and Vietnam in the 1960s. Red and blue never turned into purple.
Now we approach January 3, 2017 – the only day that this president has left to legally make recess appointments to high government positions. And some say he only has a five-minute window at that – between adjourning the old Senate and swearing in the new.
Many presidents, starting first with our first President, made what are called “recess appointments” – and often these appointments were Supreme Court Justices. Washington was the first to do that, and Dwight D Eisenhower was the most active, as he made three recess appointments to the Court: Associate Justice William J Brennan (Ike wanted to appoint a north-eastern Catholic to help his chances for re-election in1956), Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Associate Justice Potter Stewart.
President Obama, in his first seven years, made less than one-fifth the recess appointments made by George W Bush, and less than one-fourth of those made either by Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush.
His efforts to fill the Supreme court seat vacated by Associate Justice Scalia’s death have been completely blocked by the McConnell-led Senate, so much so that Merrick Garland – Obama’s choice who had once been praised by Senators from both sides of the aisle – didn’t even get a Senate Committee hearing. That has never happened in our nation’s history.
Tomorrow, Obama has a chance to work on his long-standing neurosis – displaced from a profound desire to repair his parents’ broken marriage by wearing purple colored glasses. He could never realize that dream, as Senator McConnell peremptorily blocked any effort he made to work together.
Will President Obama finally realize that reason fails when met by someone who won’t listen or even think? For him to shuck his neurotic preconception that shared values will triumph over unilateral obstruction will require a major shift in his psyche. He always had difficult recognizing hate, and rarely even used the word.
To take such bold action he needs to mourn that long-held dream of uniting his incompatible parents. Only then can he step outside his comfort zone. Otherwise he will leave behind a Supreme Court dedicated to strengthening Citizens United while overthrowing numerous individual freedoms, among which is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
He needs to see that appointing Garland – despite it’s activating loud cries of “foul” – might paradoxically do more to unite our country than another repetition of his bi-partisan mantra. I am even willing to speculate that if Garland joins the Court, his appointment will eventually be ratified. After all, Republicans – enough of them anyway – should be able to see that an intelligent and thoughtful Associate Justice is preferable to a knee-jerk reactionary alternative. The Supreme Court is supposed to specialize in dealing with complex issues, Garland would further that tradition no matter who makes the appointment.
It is abundantly clear that Barack Obama must accept the impossibility of uniting those parents who continue to live separately in his heart and mind. By changing his inner world, appointing Merrick Garland to Associate Justice could help America become more of a community than it has been for years.