After hope and change, what’s next?

September 5, 2012


— In Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” the narrator is conveyed to the gates of hell, upon which he finds a sign: “Abandon hope, ye who enter here.”

This city is not hell. But a case can be made, as the Democratic Party convenes here to nominate Barack Obama to a second term, that the same admonition applies. Abandon hope.

And change.

Hope and change, of course, were the promises by which Obama swept into office four years ago, heralding a “post partisan” era in which Republicans and Democrats would work together in solving the nation’s problems. We all know how that turned out. The GOP lurched further to the right, driven by a “tea party” that scorned compromise, the ordinary horse trading that defines politics, as traitorous and weak.

There was an element of fanaticism there that one watched with a kind of awestruck horror, unable to believe that what you were seeing was really real. But it was. They actually did take the economy hostage, actually did vote down their own major bill because the president supported it. They actually did declare war on objective fact, bow to a ludicrously rigid anti-tax pledge, abridge the religious freedoms of Muslims, commit acts of voter suppression, require Latinos to show their papers. The great Clint Eastwood actually did stumble through a dialogue with an empty chair that was supposed to represent the president. And yes, they actually did call that president “uppity,” a “boy,” and a “secret Muslim,” actually did question his birthplace and academic credentials, actually did accuse him of being a radical socialist out to destroy America.

They actually did.

Three years ago, a distraught woman at a health-care protest cried out, “I want my country back!” Better she should demand her party back. The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan doesn’t seem like a party at all anymore, but a cult.

Yes, that’s just the sort of observation you’d expect from a liberal hack, Democratic Party shill and assorted other epithets by which GOP true believers routinely ward off questions about their true belief. But let them note that similar concerns are being voiced by GOP stalwarts like former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Indeed Barack Obama seems to have been the last person in America to understand how things have changed, to realize that there can be no bipartisan problem solving because the GOP has decided it has no problem bigger than him: black, funny name, center-left leaning him, and all that his elevation to the presidency portends for a changing nation and for a political party that, in that changing nation, remains whiter than polar bears in snow.

So we don’t hear so much about hope and change anymore. The president has lately been more prone to unilateral action and has taken the wood to Mitt Romney in attacks as negative and misleading as those that are leveled against him.

It is always gratifying to see the bullied kid finally stand up for himself.

But what happens then?

That is the question Obama and his party must answer this week. This is not an election about big government versus small or more taxes versus less, but, rather, about reason versus unreason, coherence versus incoherence, tomorrow versus a yesterday that never really was, that exists only in sepia-colored GOP fictions.

To win the election, Obama needs 270 electoral votes. But to deserve to win it, he needs to articulate a tough-minded new vision about how to shepherd America into a challenging future some of us plainly fear. The sweet platitudes of four years ago will not do. Instead, Obama must answer a stark and simple question:

What now? What do you do after hope and change have failed?

— Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wedneday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


jaywalker 5 years, 8 months ago

"There was an element of fanaticism there that one watched with a kind of awestruck horror"

Can't disagree w/ the majority of this piece, and the above line is certainly legit. I just wish when opinion-sharers choose to paint w/ wide brushes and use things like the communal "they", the "they" in question isn't actually a singular instance or person, as in the Eastwood, 'uppity', and 'boy' references. A Pulitzer winner should know better.

Here's to wishing we could all wake up from the "tea party" nightmare, take a hot shower, and be forever rid of the fanatical rigidity and intellectual void that's caused those cold, night sweats for the last 5 years.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 8 months ago

Good column. Sometimes Obama is as tone deaf as GW Bush used to be.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

I generally like this column, but I'm not so fond of Obama's use of misleading advertising.

It's fine to "stand up for oneself" against bullies, but I'd prefer it be done with integrity and facts, rather than by stooping to the level of the lies of one's opponents.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree but we are way beyond that point.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Only if we give up on the idea.

Nothing stopped Obama from running ads with facts and integrity, right?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm just guessing, but I suspect that he had some very astute political operatives telling him that if he takes the high road, he will lose the election. And I suspect Romney is getting the same advice.

Politics is a dirty business. Politicians learn that lesson before they ever run for the State House of Reps. but is reinforced when the run for the State Senate. It's reinforced again when the run for the U.S. House, Senate or the Governorship. By the time they run for President, it's as much a part of who they are as their DNA. Those that took the high road and ran clean campaigns are home now watching these conventions from the comfort of their own living rooms.

jaywalker 5 years, 8 months ago

On the one hand, I agree w/ you jhawk. And I thought about pointing out Obama's switch to the "dark side" when I first read the column. But I'd personally prefer one of these candidates to treat the electorate like grown-ups who can tell the difference. I guess the problem is there are too many who gobble the McNuggets and that's where their discernment ends.

jonas_opines 5 years, 8 months ago

"But I'd personally prefer one of these candidates to treat the electorate like grown-ups who can tell the difference."

As a totality, unfortunately, that doesn't appear to actually describe the electorate.

We get the leaders we deserve, if not necessarily the ones that we need.

jaywalker 5 years, 8 months ago

Yes, I'm sure you're correct. McNuggets for most, I reckon.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm not suggesting they just "play nice" - I'm suggesting that vigorous debate and discussion ensue, including "attacking" the opponent, but only for what they've actually said and done, rather than making it up.

Nellane Laney Croan Stussie 5 years, 8 months ago

"Obama swept into office four years ago, heralding a “post partisan” era in which Republicans and Democrats would work together in solving the nation’s problems"

So much BS!

For the first 2 years of his presidency, there was a Democatic majority in both houses ... Republicans were not even invited to meeting! Obama established several bi-partisan committees, then completely ignored their findings and recommendations.

You upset with the Teaparty Pitts? You dems built it in response to your lack of cooperation.

If Obama and company buy enough votes to get a second term, it will be 30 years before a Democrat is back in the White House and 40 years before a person of color gets that job again!

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

The D had a filibuster proof majority for a couple of months here and a couple of months there in the 1st 2 years.

Ryan was on the debt commission, voted against it, and then proceeded to criticize Obama for not acting on it. Also, by the time their ideas were formulated, R had enough votes to filibuster in Congress.

You must have missed the part where, almost immediately, R leaders pledged to oppose Obama at every turn, I guess.

And, of course, your comment that R weren't invited to meetings conflicts with the bi-partisan committees that were established.

gbulldog 5 years, 8 months ago

Pray that the 1973 Movie "Soylent Green" does not become reality. Movie takes place in 2022. Only 10 years away!

Flap Doodle 5 years, 8 months ago

Things will start looking up in January when the Mope is sent back to his mob-financed Chicago mansion to stay.

Windemere 5 years, 8 months ago

Predict Obama will win, not slink back to Chicago. Sadly, he will bribe people with more goodies, dodge the question of how to keep our bloated entitlements from crashing and burning. While far from ideal and totally honest, at least Romney/Ryan speak some uncomfortable truths. That we're headed for a financial crisis a la Greece and with no serious reform of big entitlements, everyone will suffer (especially the poor & aged).

As for Mr. Pitts column, seems he likes to believe that the Tea Partiers dislike Ombama because of his skin color. For a very small number, this may be true. Vast majority see him as a tax and spend, big-govt liberal and that's why they don't like him.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

"Sadly, he will bribe people with more goodies, dodge the question of how to keep our bloated entitlements from crashing and burning."

You certainly know how to repeat the fear mongering and disinformation about entitlements-- maybe you could use a little bit of a primer on where those words come from, and what they really mean.


With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement'

Windemere 5 years, 8 months ago

Don't see that your link adds anything meaningful to the discussion. Do you think SS and Medicare/Medicaid are on a sustainable track? Aren't the problems of countries like Greece attributable to a large degree on unsustainable financial policies?

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Greece's problems, like our own, are a combination of high spending with low revenue.

The solution can only be a combination of more revenue and lower spending.

voevoda 5 years, 8 months ago

Greece's financial problems are not the result of providing workers with a living wage and health and pension benefits. Greece's financial problems are the result of massive tax evasion by the wealthy.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

In all likelihood, like our problems, Greece's problems are a combination of what you mention and high spending.

Peacemaker452 5 years, 8 months ago

While tax evasion appears to be pretty severe, it is not a new problem for Greece. If they planned their national budget thinking that suddenly all that tax money would start flowing in then they are fools. They have a spending problem, just like the US. No matter what you consider the cause for low income, or how you feel about certain policies, you can't spend more than you take in without creating additional debt.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

The problem is twofold: Spending and income.

Last time the budget was balanced, both were about 18% of GDP - Spending is currently higher, at about 23%, and tax revenue is lower, at about 14%.

That means that we need to both increase revenue and lower spending to get back to balance, by virtually the same amount.

I don't understand why people on all sides want to simplify this in either direction.

Peacemaker452 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't consider it a simplification to say that cutting spending can balance the budget and create a surplus to pay down the debt. It is a simple fact.

I really don't think we are getting our money's worth with what the government is currently collecting and I hate throwing good money after bad.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Of course it's a simplification.

We need both lower spending and higher revenue, as we had with Clinton, when the budget was balanced.

Unless you want to gut the government, as the Norquist people prefer.

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree with jafs. If 50% of American pay income tax, then every person with an income should pay income taxes. End EIC now.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Please don't present that as my position, you know it's not.

I see no reason to slam the poor with taxes, if they're struggling to survive - that seems more in line with your values, as expressed on here.

Peacemaker452 5 years, 8 months ago

Of course it is not a simplification. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t make it a simplification.

As far as going back to the Clinton years, I couldn’t agree more. Here are the numbers from the OMB:

All numbers in billions of dollars

Average federal revenue during Clinton’s terms $1795

Peak federal revenue during Clinton’s terms $2025

2011 federal revenue $2303

Percent increase from average 28%

Percent increase from peak 14%

Average federal spending during Clinton’s terms $1810

Peak federal spending during Clinton’s terms $1862

2011 federal spending $3603

Percent increase from average 99%

Percent increase from peak 94%

So as soon as you can drive spending down to the same % increase as revenue I would consider a revenue increase. Until then, we are just p…ing money into the wind.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

Again, it's an obvious simplification.

If revenue is lower than when the budget was last balanced, and spending is higher, then we need higher revenue and lower spending to get back to that point.

Your idea would have us lower spending by an amount to get down to 14% of GDP, a much lower percentage than when the budget was last balanced (and the only time that's happened in the last 30-40 years).

The fact is that some are strongly ideologically opposed to any tax increases, while both sides have pet spending they really don't want to cut. D would prefer to cut Defense, while R prefer to cut Medicare/SS/Social programs.

What would you cut?

Would you be willing to cut spending that benefits you either directly or indirectly? If not, how do you expect others to do the same?

Peacemaker452 5 years, 8 months ago

You need to come up with a new word; “simplification” is getting tiresome, especially since it is not true.

I did not say to lower spending to 14% of GDP, you said that. I said to lower spending so that its growth is no higher that the growth in revenue.

As for what I would cut, the list is too long to put on here, but it would include all of the programs that you mentioned and more. There is so much waste in the federal government that it would not be hard for me to balance the budget, of course you are correct in the fact that both parties in congress would protect their pet spending and little would get done.

Two of my recent favorites: The EPA spent several years and multiple millions of dollars coming up with the recent Cross-state Air Pollution rules. These rules were recently struck down by a federal court because the EPA did not even follow their own guidelines in developing and implementing the rules. Why are we paying so much for an agency that cannot even follow the rules that they create.

The Justice Dept. just spent several million tax dollars investigating and taking to trial 4 members of a family in a western state for aiding the smuggling of weapons into Mexico. The family owned a gun store. You can look up the details, but after an intense and costly investigation by the ATF, FBI and Federal Marshals, including the “civil” seizure of most of the family’s assets, the 20 plus charges led to a conviction on only one charge; false statements to officials during the investigation. By the way, this was all happening while the ATF actually was aiding in the smuggling of weapons into Mexico. Funny thing is, none of them are on trial, and in fact they are all still collecting their government paychecks.

I am done talking about the government needing more revenue while they pour money down the drain in almost everything they do.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

I'm trying to understand what that would mean.

Let's assume revenue stays constant, at where it is now - then spending would also stay constant, and we'd continue to have a huge imbalance, right? We'd continue to have 14%/GDP revenue combined with 23%/GDP spending. And, if revenue and spending increase or decrease by the same amounts, we still have the mismatch, and thus deficits each year, and an increasing national debt.

So it hardly solves the problem, as far as I can tell.

That's why we need both increased revenue and decreased spending to get out of the mess.

I agree about waste, that's where I'd start as well. We should be able to stop wasting money.

But, here's the tricky part - are you willing to have spending that benefits you cut?

Carol Bowen 5 years, 8 months ago

Greece relied on hedge funds to pay off debt quickly. It didn't work.

voevoda 5 years, 8 months ago

“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt. 5:22)

MarcoPogo 5 years, 8 months ago


Barf out. Gag me with a spoon...

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 8 months ago

Luke 12:34: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

What is Mitt Romney hiding in his tax returns? Why won't he release them? Might we find out where his treasure, and his heart, really are?

shadowlady 5 years, 8 months ago

Your worried about Romney's tax return?? Why did it take so long for the BO to produce his birth certificate, then I believe with all my heart, that it was a fake. Why doesn't BO want to produce his college transcripts?? Alot of questions unanswered where BO is concerned, he always side steps everything, or makes a smart-elec(sp) response.

voevoda 5 years, 8 months ago

People who think Obama's birth certificates are fake aren't facing the compelling external evidence. Obama's birth was noted in the usual newspaper column listing births in Honolulu hospitals at the time it occurred in 1961. Nobody went back in time and planted those listings in all extant old newspapers. So, shadowlady, if you choose to believe with all your heart that his birth certificates are fake, you are revealing a tendency to think in irrational ways. That undercuts the cogency of your support for any position you may care to endorse.

gbulldog 5 years, 8 months ago

As to Luke 12:34: What does the Koran say? Do you think that Obama is happy in his heart about what is happening in his adopted hometown? He appears to be very happy blaming, but not taking reposnsibility!

voevoda 5 years, 8 months ago

Since you asked about the Quran: Sura 92 [92:5] As for him who gives to charity and maintains righteousness.

[92:6] And upholds the scripture.

[92:7] We will direct him towards happiness.

[92:8] But he who is stingy, though he is rich.

[92:9] And disbelieves in the scripture.

[92:10] We will direct him towards misery.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 8 months ago

Can we keep the fairy tales out of this discussion?

Armstrong 5 years, 8 months ago

Just for the record yourworstnightmare is still OCD about Mitt's tax returns

notaubermime 5 years, 8 months ago

What do you do when hope for change is gone? You turn to politics. You spend every waking moment talking, cajoling, and schmoozing anyone you have to in order to get the votes you need. Obama has admitted that he hasn't spent anywhere near as much time as Clinton did engaging in those activities. Obama will tell you that the reason he doesn't do as much of this aspect of his job is because he is taking time to spend with his family. That may make him a good dad, but it doesn't make him a good president.

The sad fact of the matter is that the presidency requires one to place the needs of the country before one's own personal needs.

Liberty275 5 years, 8 months ago

"After hope and change, what’s next?"

Buyer's remorse.

Armstrong 5 years, 8 months ago

After "Hope and change" - Romney Ryan

Mike Ford 5 years, 8 months ago

change was stifled by the fearful make up stuff gop and tea partiers who want 1910 back. Why don't you go back to prohibition, lynching, no women voting, and gop politicians in kansas who went to the brothels that existed in topeka all around the statehouse and be as blind and fervent as carry nation.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 months ago

The events that happened during the Bush era have shaped the events today. There is no way any president could have improved our conditions by a greater extent. What Obama or even McCain if he won, would have inherited was way beyond what we really know and the road back to economic equity was long and hard. So, we are faced with a dicotomy of answers. One from each candidate. I am afraid for the New elected America president in either case without a change in congress and a change in loyalty. The Norquist promise is killing our recovery because now there is no compromise, no thought of working together on the problems we Americans want solved. We are at a deadlock and it will continue if there is no change in congress. Obama sees this, I believe, and he knows that his job is futile if there is no bipartisanship. I laude those who throw out party affiliation to help move the American republic forward. So tell me, who do we turn to? Romney, the rich, out of touch with the middle class, secretive of his plan (if he has one) or Obama who is "what you see is what you get"? No, I agree that Obama's promises have not been kept, but not because he didn't try. It was others who didn't want to see him succeed that kept them from fruition. This is the problem. Let him govern and let him succeed because, then, we all succeed.

Armstrong 5 years, 8 months ago

Sam has seemed to do pretty well with the defecit Kathy left us. Before Barry tapped her to be HHS we were several million in the hole. Barry would be a much greater help if he watched from the sidelines, which he will in Nov

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