Welcome Back, Barack

Welcome Back, Barack

COMEBACK KID: President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sparred early and often during the second presidential debate on October 16, 2012, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. After an uninspired first debate for President Obama, he came with renewed energy. (Photo: Stan Honda/Newscom)

President Barack Obama leaped back into the presidential campaign Tuesday, aggressively challenging rival Mitt Romney in a tense debate likely to reset the contest as it heads into the final weeks.

Obama was all the things he was not in his first faceoff with Romney — energetic, engaged, quick to defend his record and even quicker to tear into Romney. At points, he even jumped off his seat to challenge Romney.

Eager to score points from the opening minutes to the last, he cast Romney as an elitist who would help the rich, a chameleon who is all but lying to conceal his real agenda, a man whose scorn for the poor and working classes was revealed only in the secretly taped remarks in which Romney derided 47 percent of the country as freeloaders.

Romney gave as good as he got through most of the debate, reminding voters at every opportunity of the weak economy under four years of Obama’s leadership. He stumbled, however, at a turn over the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Libya, an unforced error that allowed Obama to score at what otherwise might have been a moment of vulnerability.

The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., likely helped Obama re-energize Democrats who were discouraged at his lackluster performance in the first debate, and sends the two rivals into their final clash Monday in Florida grappling for a breakout.

Most eyes were on Obama from the onset as he looked for ways stylistic and substantive to show voters he eagerly wants the job, and that Romney should not have it. In that first debate, he was passive at times, looking down at notes rather than making eye contact, and failing to raise such topics as Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent.

Obama worked throughout to tar Romney as a friend to the rich and powerful.

“His plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies,” he said of Romney’s push for more energy production.

He lambasted Romney’s plan to cut taxes, saying they would necessarily force tax increases on the middle class.

“You’re going to be paying for it,” Obama said. “You can’t buy the sales pitch.”

Obama all but called Romney a liar.

“What Gov. Romney said just isn’t true,” he said of Romney’s comments on the auto industry.

“Very little of what Gov. Romney just said is true,” he said of Romney’s comments on energy.

Obama at times sat at the edge of his stool, rising quickly to physically challenge Romney face to face rather than waiting for Romney to finish and be seated.

Challenged by Romney the first time, Obama then walked away and faced the audience to answer a question. The second time Obama stood to confront him, Romney waved him back, “You’ll get your chance in a moment.”

When he wasn’t jumping out of his seat, Obama watched Romney intently.

He wasn’t Joe Biden, laughing or making hand gestures when the other guy was talking, as the vice president did in his debate last week with Republican Paul Ryan.

But Obama kept his eyes on his adversary, a noteworthy change from the first debate when he was often caught on camera looking down at his notes or away, giving voters the impression he was disinterested.

Romney refused to cede the stage, however, standing forward rather than returning to his seat while Obama spoke to the live audience in the town hall-style meeting.

Romney stayed on message most of the evening, hammering away at economic anxiety about lost jobs, rising poverty and shrinking paychecks.

“The president’s policies . . . haven’t put people to work,” he said.

“Middle-income families have been crushed,” he added.

Romney made a misstep, however, on the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Obama stated that he called the attack a terrorist act the next day, brushing aside suggestions that his administration spent weeks giving misleading accounts that instead blamed the attacks on a riotous response to anti-Muslim video.

Romney challenged Obama’s assertion.

“Check the transcript,” Obama interrupted, and moderator Candy Crowley noted that Obama did use the word in his day-after comment. “Say that a little louder, Candy,” a confident Obama said.

Later, during the closing statements, Obama was given the final word and used it to further distinguish the differences between himself and Romney. After touting his record, he went on to finally broach the topic of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks from the secret video footage that had snarled Romney’s campaign weeks earlier. Many chided Obama for not bringing up the topic in the first debate. This time he not only brought it up but saved it as his concluding shot in a match that one suspects will restore his campaign’s mojo.

What did you think of the second debate? Did President Obama redeem himself enough to get back into a close presidential race? Share your comments below.

Story adapted from McClatchy Newspapers, © 2012 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Used by permission of Newscom. Additional reporting by UrbanFaith staff.

The Next Political Awakening

The Next Political Awakening

It’s no secret that the American public is less than pleased with the performance of its national political leaders. As Republicans and Democrats once again threaten to shut down the federal government over budget disagreements, more Americans are becoming fed up. Anecdotes of anger and distrust have been repeated at length from the mouths of journalists across the country. A recent CNN poll joins a string of others that reflect America’s growing uneasiness with the White House and Congress. The findings of these polls are no surprise to those struggling to make financial ends meet, pay for college, or find a decent job.

Only 15 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is managing the economy. Only about 40 percent approve of the job President Obama is doing in leading our country. It’s safe to say Washington politicians don’t possess a good reputation these days.

Common sense, which seems to be increasingly less common, will tell you that reputation is important. Even the reputation of non-breathing entities, like companies, can be broken by a loss of confidence or a reputation for dishonesty (Enron, anyone?). Common sense would also suggest that Congress and the president should begin listening very closely to the desires of those who voted for them.

If the 2008 Obama campaign helped inspire a new movement of young and engaged voters, and the Obama presidency helped stoke the emergence of the fiery Tea Party, then the current economic crisis seems to be fostering a new scrutiny from voters who are demanding less partisan dogmatism and more practical results from Washington. This is the reason why, for instance, President Obama cranked out his ambitious proposal for a new jobs bill and immediately hopped on a bus to tout its benefits to voters across Middle America.

While the Middle East is continuing to wrestle with the negative and positive repercussions of the “Arab Spring,” America is undergoing its own kind of political uprising. The fallout of the debt-ceiling debate, high unemployment, and the global economic breakdown is causing a sharp awareness of just how important politics is to our everyday life. On the swift wings of social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, more Americans are reaching out and connecting with others who share their struggles and their convictions.

Many Americans are beginning to take a long, hard look at what their political parties stand for and are for the first time truly recognizing what lies behind the banners of donkeys and elephants. They are beginning to debate and school themselves on federal programs and legislation that were formerly relegated to Political Science 101 term papers.

Social Security, unemployment benefits, health care, class structure, welfare, immigration reform, tax cuts, abortion, and gay marriage are but a few issues that are forcing Americans, in the wake of Congress’ total disassociation with the public consciousness, to reevaluate what it means to exercise their political voice.

This renewed “awakening” has consequences for those in Washington and those unhappy with it. For some it means kissing reelection goodbye, for others it means confronting personal biases against their fellow Americans to forge common bonds and promote positive changes in their communities.

It means recognizing the true political beliefs of our neighbors and ourselves — beyond the Red State/Blue State trope. It means daring to talk about the deep divides in worldview that may exist inside and outside of party lines. It means rejecting some popular philosophies and embracing others.

It means taking time to read, watch, and listen.

It means talking, debating, and at times arguing.

For Christians it means being more focused and intentional in our prayers.

It also means a yearning for real answers to our problems.

The growing frustration in America, fueled by Washington’s legislative intransigence, is driving a political awakening that is something new for many Americans. It is a painfully personal coming-to-terms with where one stands as an American, regardless of party affiliation. It is a willingness to make tough decisions about the future, and to make short-term sacrifices for the nation’s long-term wellbeing.

It is an awakening driven by the harsh, inescapable realities of our new economic environment.

Our political leaders would do well to turn their eyes and ears toward an American populace more poignantly aware than ever of its political interests and influence.

The members of Congress may be demonstrating that they have lost their will to seek practical solutions, but those that elected them certainly have not.

Change We Didn’t Expect

Change We Didn’t Expect

QUIET STRENGTH: President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

With President Barack Obama’s approval rating sinking to new lows, it appears that many of his supporters may soon go from singing “The Thrill is Gone” to “Hey, hey, hey goodbye” in 2012 given, among other woes, general dissatisfaction with economic recovery efforts.

Calls exist from all sides for the president to do something — something that will finally lead to more jobs at the very least and anything at all to put Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other vocal critics in their places.

He’s obviously working, but what he’s done hasn’t been enough to quell criticisms even from his supporters. And I get it. It’s not that I want to take away my own approval rating points from the president. As much as I can identify the reasons behind why progress in some areas is slow, I just wish he’d take on his loudest detractors toe to toe.

People, figuratively out for blood, want to see muscle, the presidential version of WWE-style flexing. They want to scream “Yeah!” behind their guy as he threatens his rivals. Because there’s one president against many entities of everybody else, it seems like it would be easy beef to toss around. After all, Obama is the president, the big cheese, the one with the power to say a few words to shut everyone up.

Alas, that is not Obama’s approach.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering that in his inaugural address, he reminded us then that “power grows through its prudent use,” and he has continued to demonstrate such usage every step of the way.

He could’ve taken the path of “shock and awe” to go after Osama bin Laden. A massive airstrike, for example, would’ve made an impressive statement, though others could’ve died as a result. Instead, the president sanctioned a more restrained Navy SEAL mission that happened to be successful.

In response to more recent grievances about the economy, the president launched a bus tour in which he listened — not exactly a nuclear-war move. And amid talk of creating new jobs to no evidence of such, Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress Thursday. It would’ve been Wednesday but plans changed presumably to avoid a conflict with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate. This occurred as yet another example of Obama accommodating the very people leading the charge against him.

Seriously? With all due respect, Mr. President, what’s really going on?

More than trying to accomplish a country with a growing economy offering jobs to everyone who wants to work, Obama seems to be grasping at something even greater — a more perfect union between Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes too. But that’s why we elected him: That approach is one of those changes we yearned to believe in.

It’s less noisy, less flashy, and a lot more frustrating to watch. But, if a comparison had to be made, well, it’s probably pretty close to what Jesus would do. That’s not to elevate Obama to deity status; it’s just acknowledging how a follower of Christ would act in trying to be like Him.

Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “The Problem We All Live With” now hangs outside the Oval Office. The painting — which shows U.S. marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as an angry white crowd registers its protest — represents one of our nation’s most powerful moments of racial desegregation. In little Ruby’s simple act of going to school, we see a striking example of quiet strength.

Can we also learn something from President Obama’s repeated gestures of civility and restraint in the face of nasty opposition?

Credit must be given to the president for maintaining a commitment to peace and reconciliation while dodging mud that if one decided to “raise up” would go away so easily. How often have we heard among casual conversations that all Obama needs to do is curse out the GOP one good time to get things done? Not that that would be the holiest approach. We’re called to live holy because Christ is holy. We’re also challenged to hold one another accountable for actions; that’s one of our responsibilities to one another.

Another, as laid out by the prophet Jeremiah, is to avoid boasting in whatever power we have. As president, Obama is a card-carrying member of the bully pulpit, and membership has its privileges. Only, with it comes a certain level of responsibility particularly with the practices of being a Christian.

Nothing represents a firm execution of Christian values more than not exercising the extreme power you might have in a situation in an effort to maintain civility. If it’s a preference on the table, do we want a Christian president who just talks the talk or one who inconveniently walks the walk through hell and high water?

Not only is that change we can believe in; it’s change we already trust as we follow Christ’s example and as we hope our leaders do the same.