President Barack Obama in his speech honoring Dr. Martin Luther King signified that he might be returning to themes that secured his election in 2008. Instead of empty gestures to achieve elusive bipartisanship, he pointed to the many trials endured by King before the first fruits of success. Indeed, Obama emphasized the persistence of struggle before any progress can be made. For once Obama's oratory was sharp, perceptive and on point. Despite a brutal three months, Obama has rediscovered his political sea legs. He reminds people that not only did he inherit a difficult situation, but that even if he had not, the road to a more equitable America would have been hard. Finally, Obama let his supporters in on a secret, that he was committed to his original goals all along, but had to adjust to meet resistance to his program. The spirit of '08 was evoked and the message that the struggle continued into 2012.
Obama's defeat on the job's bill was a victory politically. Again Republicans made it quite clear that no price was too heavy to secure Obama's defeat. High unemployment, dead markets, all seemingly were necessary to return them to power. This is nothing new, in the early 1950s Republicans either engaged in or passively stood by as GOP orators accused every third Democrat of being a Communist sympathizer. Once they regained power, some Republicans helped to dispose of Joseph McCarthy. He was a useful attack dog who was put to sleep once power had been attained. In late 1999, the GOP placed the republic in a state of gratuitous peril to press a farcical impeachment of Bill Clinton. No tactic was too outrageous to pursue, the goal was to win, good government be damned.
But events are slowly heading Obama's direction. Retail sales are up, apparel, autos and general consumer demand are thriving. The dreaded double-dip recession is less a possibility. Indeed, the arrow is heading in a different direction, up. Also the Wall Street protest is showing that there is another voice other than the tea party. Perhaps a reminder of social turmoil will allow the investment bankers to rediscover a sense of responsibility. Dr. King's message of non-violent protest remains alive. Obama suddenly seems a lot better to the financial sector when the specter of activism appears.
Even in the realm of foreign policy, Obama may be coming to his senses. He has let it be known that the last combat brigade will leave Iraq in December 2011. Like Richard Nixon in 1971 with Vietnam, Obama is greatly accelerating withdrawals. If he's smart he will bid adieu to the Afghan adventure. By all appearances, Obama is clearing the decks in his campaign for re-election. The self-imposed barriers between him and his supporters are being removed and the threat of an intra-party challenge is growing remote. For the first time after a long period, Obama seems like a plausible candidate for re-election.
Moreover, the Republican race is marked by monthly phenoms who flame out as fast as they appear. But in the meantime, the GOP seems like the party appears tied to another era. Debates over whether or not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent a "cult" are a staple. Herman Cain's 9-9-9 proposal represents the most Draconian assault on the poor and middle class ever. A 9 percent sales tax more than wipes out whatever the 9 percent tax savings is. It is medieval religious discussion combined with the worst Dickensian poverty and inequality. The only thing they haven't considered is the viability of talking lawn gnomes. Surreal is a proper term to describe the GOP debate and they never disappoint.
But even an off-message Republican Party will not save Obama if he fails to connect with the public.
However, the president is back with a message, and with a little luck, he will stay focused. With a little inspiration from Dr. King, a few sneakers on Wall Street and an improving economy, Obama may be able to, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson puts it, "keep hope alive."