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Could Obama’s hands not only be dirty, but also empty?

September 29, 2010

Today in discussion we identified the three main aspects of political power that lead to dirty hands, the first being that “political power is inherently representative”.  We can explain this reason by referencing back to the text, that a politician doesn’t “merely cater to our interests; he acts on our behalf, even in our name” (Walzer 162).  While we believe any politician’s actions somewhat represent his own individual opinions and needs, he fully needs to take in consideration what the group wants in order to have the power and control to lead it. This New York Times, titled “In Iowa, a Skeptical Audience Greets Obama”, does a good job with relating the responsibilities of a leader to those in our present day society.

When President Obama ran for office in the 2008, his main campaign was “change” and that “yes we can” as a group, solve our financial, social, and political problems.  Obama had emphasized his determination to represent the needs of Americans by specifically drawing on his actions to solve the problems of tax cuts, health care, and the war in Iraq, among other issues.  On September 29, 2010, Obama returned to Iowa, the state that put him on the map during his campaign, to meet with some local citizens.

After two years of being in office, in which his main job has been to serve the “greater good”, a registered poll was taken in Iowa to measure the public’s reaction to how well the politician has performed.  The New York Times article states that the poll showed that “more than half of likely Iowa voters disapproved of his performance as president” and that 59% of Iowans said they were unhappy with his efforts with the economy.  A few members of his audience discussed their views on the politician’s efforts, one woman concerned about the health care bill, while another complained about her 24-year-old son who was unemployed, despite his previous confidence in the 2008 campaign.  A small-businessman spoke of his frustration towards Obama’s tax plan, which Obama countered saying he had ‘signed eight small business tax cuts’’ since the election.  While all of these issues raised different concerns, they all follow under the actions of one leader.

These are only a few examples of ways in which a leader has to take control of the needs of not just the individual, but also the group. The politician “has purposes in mind, causes and projects that require the supposed and redound to the benefit, not of each of us individually, but of all of us together” (162-163). When the leader is put in a position that requires him to choose between two wrongs, sometimes his results are not what the general public agrees with.  In some cases, “he takes chances for our greater good that put us, or some of us, in danger” and then there are other experiences, like this one, where he does not live up to the standards that we have expected of him (163).   In both cases, and as shown through Walzer’s work, politicians are merely individuals like ourselves put in positions where they have to make rash and difficult decisions and deal with harsh consequences.  At the end of his visit, Obama ensured the distraught community that together they’ve been through bad times, and they will get through these too, indicating that that he may not be the perfect Machiavellian prince, and instead is just an individual trying to satisfy his people’s needs.

One Comment
  1. Jake Zunamon permalink
    September 30, 2010 11:12 PM

    I liked this post because it made me think about Obama in a way I had not before. I guess it raised a lot of questions for me and especially your closing left me wondering as to what you were exactly trying to say. Do you feel that Obama is not the “perfect prince” because he is unwilling to get his hands dirty? Your argument seems to be that Obama is not the perfect prince because he is trying to satisfy the needs of everyone instead of the majority. Therefore, he is unwilling to make the unpopular decisions that could ostracize him from some, while bringing him closer to others, instead choosing to try to connect with all people. This seems to be a good point, but I am not sure if it is completely true given what Obama has done. I think Obama may not be the perfect prince in the things he says because he always seems to be promoting the union of the two parties and stresses the importance of working together. However, he has not pulled the troops out of Iraq, he drastically changed health care and did not do a great job dealing with the oil spill. He has definitely dirtied his hands in my opinion. However, I do agree with you on the fact that with or without dirty hands, he has not been the perfect prince.

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