Michelle Obama Keeps Her Promise
Hope-and-change moves on.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

‘Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.”

Michelle Obama told us that on the campaign trail in 2008, and it is fair to say that her campaign promise has been kept.

It’s not just Republicans whose lives, and views of Barack Obama, have changed. Independents and Obama voters are feeling the effects of change as Obama prescribes it — change that rejects feedback, as has been clearly demonstrated by the dynamic we have seen from the White House and Congress in the last two years. In town hall after town hall, then tea party after tea party, and poll after poll, Americans would urge Obama to hit the brake on his General Motors–bailout car toward transformation, and we all know how the Democratic party responded. And that’s why everyone but the most ardent Democratic spinmeisters is expecting the other party to win big in November.

A commercial currently running titled “Mourning in America” — a twist on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” ads — captures where many voters are: “There’s mourning in America. Today, 15 million men and women won’t have the opportunity to go to work. Businesses shuttered. Twenty-nine hundred families will have their homes foreclosed by nightfall. This afternoon 6,000 men and women will be married, each of their children to be born with a $30,000 share of the runaway national debt. Our government is now taking over the choices we once made in life.”

The commercial goes on to explain: “Under the leadership of President Obama, our country is fading, and weaker, and worse off. His policies were a grand experiment, policies that failed. This November, let’s choose a smaller, more caring government, one that remembers us.”

That government will be one that is responsive to citizens in a whole new way, if everyone who has been voicing concern stays — as the first lady would say — involved and informed.

There is more than a month to go, and no one should be measuring his drapes. But the tea party is moving into its next phase, one not dependent on all of its candidates’ winning. It’s the governing phase.

And that’s where the Pledge to America comes in. House Republicans released their governing agenda with less fanfare, but more humility and urgency, than the 1994 Contract with America. (I still have a Capitol-steps paperweight from that September in my office.) This time, Republicans went to a small business in Virginia to unveil the fruits of a months-long listening exercise.

The Pledge isn’t everything everyone wanted it to be. But it is a lot of good things. Ambitious things, even. And John Boehner, the presumptive speaker of the House, believes it is better because of the grassroots tea-party movement: “The Pledge to America was built by listening to the people, and that certainly includes the millions of Americans who are involved in the tea-party movement. I said earlier this year that Republicans wouldn’t try to co-opt the tea-party movement, but that we were going to listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them. I’ve been to a number of tea-party events around the country, and frankly I think the movement has been an incredibly healthy thing for our democracy.”

Doug Schoen, a Democrat and co-author of the book Mad as Hell, sees the tea party as “a third force in American politics. It is not organized . . . but it is as powerful as any third party could possibly be at this point in time.” He also doesn’t believe it’s going away. And Representative Boehner seems to agree: He may not be measuring the drapes, but he has the welcome mat out. Right after the unveiling of the Pledge, Boehner stopped by a tea party and said: “If the American people stay engaged, Congress will do exactly what you demand.”


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