America Needs the Obama They Voted For, Not the One They Got


Why is it that we don’t have that?

The headlines of the past summer are tragic, but they are also centered around issues that play to the strengths voters were looking for when they chose Barack Obama.

At Veterans Administration hospitals,  40 United States Armed Forces veterans died waiting for care while 120,000 more wasted away nationwide. But Barack Obama was supposed to be a health care guy — a true believer in government-provided health care who wants to expand a VA-style system to all of us.

The present ordered U.S. military action in Iraq after a precipitous, ill-advised abandonment of the country by U.S. forces left the nation in political ruin. But Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is supposed to be a world-class expert on making peace.

Days of racial violence erupted in St. Louis, after an officer shot and killed a young black man.  But Barack Obama is a genuinely inspiring story of the triumph of racial tolerance in America.

What would a health-care, peace and civil-rights leader president do when faced with these crises on his watch?  We are left to wonder, and guess.

We can joke about what his predecessors would have done. Clinton would have announced “the end of VA healthcare as we know it,” sent U.N. peacekeepers to Iraq and bit his bottom lip in a press conference on the streets of Ferguson. George W. Bush would have visited the VA hospitals, sent the Marines into Iraq and flown over Ferguson in a helicopter.

Actually, there is some truth to that. Clinton was a consummate politician and George Bush was a ham-handed man of principle. They would have acted in character as the kind of president we knew them to be.

So … what did Obama do in each case and what kind of president is he?

In the case of the VA Hospital scandal, he ordered an investigation. The investigation implicated several bureaucrats in the scandal and the Administration did … just about nothing with the information.

In the case of Iraq, Obama watched the persecution of Christians and ignored calls to act. Only when the Yazidis were also attacked did he order the humanitarian help both groups deserve.

In the case of the protests, riots and the robo-cop response in Ferguson, Obama’s (so far) single heartfelt statement from Martha’s Vineyard left black commentators feeling unsatisfied.

So what kind of president is he?

I have always had a hard time buying the view that Obama intentionally wants to mess up America any way he can in a “creative destruction” exercise. Yes, Obama is Chicago politician who wants no crisis to go to waste, but the crises he was cooking up this summer were the border crisis and the “impeachment” crisis. I don’t think he wanted crises in government hospitals, Iraq or urban America.

The Music Man asks, “How can there be any sin in sincere?” but I think Obama is sincere in his desire for the ends of universal healthcare, peace, and racial harmony. He is just pursuing those noble ends through rotten, unworkable means.

Obama’s summer should teach us that to try to deliver healthcare through bureaucracy will only leave people neglected, sick and suffering. His failed strategy in Iraq should teach us that peace is not the automatic state of humanity, but the result of hard-won justice and real fraternity (and that the way you end wars can be unjust, too — not just the way you enter them). The mess in Ferguson should teach us that it is not enough to speak out about the inner cities from afar; it is time to actually address the problems that are endemic there.

In short, it should teach us that when we size up presidential candidates, we should look at the things they have done, and not just the things they have said.

Ultimately, for the many idealistic voters who truly believed in Obama, his term might teach a valuable lesson. They will learn that you need more than a sincere desire for hope and change and a great story to lead in tough times. You need experience actually getting the hard work of hope and change done.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.

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