My younger brother Ezra was diagnosed with autism when I was five years old. Because the neurological disorder puts a damper on socialization, I’ve actively searched for ways to connect with him on an interpersonal level since I was little. Trough trial and error, research, and experience, my family learned about a technique for building relationships with special needs kids called the “floortime” method. It’s the idea that, in order to connect with a child, you have to “meet the child where he’s at.”
Over the past few days, President Obama’s proposed budget has incurred some tough criticism from the left – and justifiably so.
The budget suggests rolling back half of a $700 million community service grant program, cutting a significant portion of funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (which, according to the Program’s mission statement, is intended “to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs”), and upping interest rates on students’ college loans.
This budget (or at least its discrepancy with past budgets proposed by Democratic administrations) has been portrayed as an unprecendented onslaught of policies that sympathize with neo-conservative ideals. Liberal pundits have expressed disgust. Members of the president’s own party have pinned him as a Judas-esque figure – a traitor to both his political allies and his own personal narrative.
Through lenses of morality and ideology, they all seem right. This proposal doesn’t align with Obama’s past promises, nor is it in tune with the song of his über-publicized family history that he’s been singing for so many years. But to fully understand the gravity of this budget’s implications, it’s important to recognize one principal idea: he’s trying to win reelection.
Barack Obama is me, America is my little brother Ezra, and this moment is floortime.
The president has identified where Americans are “at” – economically, socially, and culturally – and he’s attempting to meet us there.
From a strictly political perspective, Obama is trying to court conservative democrats, liberal republicans, and middle-of-the-road independents who have been alienated by the dominant party system as a result of America’s polarizing political culture. With a increasingly rapid rate of voters registering as independents, it is clear to the president that he must not associate himself with the country’s already-inflamed political dichotomy, but rather must make an ostensible effort to support compromise.
From a strictly retaliatory perspective, Obama is trying to uncover the nature of the right’s inherent hypocrisy. The proposal is a dare for the Republicans to blink: look, he’s telling them, I’m cutting the programs that you have deemed superfluous. Obama is showing the American electorate that even when he heeds the Republicans’ demands, they still reject his proposals. He’s trying to expose their conscious obstruction of progress.
And from a strictly symbolic perspective, Obama is trying to plead and reason with the American voter. He’s trying to show the average voter that everyone is hurting – and, therefore, he must sacrifice causes that he knows are important – programs that he personally benefited from. There a lot that’s wrong with this method of association, but the president is making it look as though he’s bringing the White House some proletariat anguish.
The president is gauging America’s interests and responding accordingly, though sometimes overly-politically. It’s okay to disagree with his decisions (I do) and it’s healthy to doubt his motives (I do that, too), but amidst any questions of morality we may have, we must remember: Barack Obama is trying to get reelected.