BridgeND | Thursday, September 3, 2015
Whether it’s on Facebook, Yik Yak or day-to-day conversation, the phrase “Thanks Obama,” — and the “it’s Obama’s fault” sentiment that it represents — has become the American public’s knee-jerk reaction to seemingly every political or personal misfortune in recent years. While it has transformed into a half-kidding joke blaming the President for things obviously out of his control, America’s new favorite political mantra is representative of a dangerous trend in U.S. politics.
The “Thanks Obama” catchphrase is our era’s version of what I like to call “The Presidential Blame Game” (PBG). The game is self-explanatory: Whenever something newsworthy goes wrong, the president is to blame, and it’s the public’s role to voice that blame. For recent presidential administrations, the PBG has become more and more commonplace: when ISIS emerged, it was Obama’s fault; when the economy crashed, it was Bush’s fault; when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden expanded their influence under ‘his watch,’ it was Clinton’s fault. Whether it’s something actually in the president’s control such as executive overreach, something out of his control like congressional power-mongering or something out of the government’s control entirely like a major oil spill, Americans tend to respond by pointing fingers at the president.
By constantly blaming the president for everything that goes wrong, even facetiously, we blur the distinction between unwarranted blame and rightful accountability and willingly absolve ourselves of any personal responsibility to make a difference in our country’s trajectory. When something goes wrong in our country and the government is at fault, it is, first and foremost, our duty as Americans to hold the right government officials responsible for their actions — whether that official be POTUS or a member of the local school board. However, our role does not end there. Once we know who is responsible, it is our duty to act. The PBG permits political finger-pointing to replace political action, and thus has put the most powerful force in the game of democratic politics — the people — to the sidelines.
We, the people, must stop assuming the president we elect is going to change the future for us, and then blame that president when the future doesn’t change. We must stop running away from the reality that this country was founded of the people, by the people and for the people, and thus we the people are just as responsible for the successes and failures of our country as our commander-in-chief. Great presidents are nothing without great people. That is something we have forgotten in today’s election cycles. What if Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights leaders had just muttered, “Thanks Johnson,” when he refused to enact a new voter equality bill? What if students and young people across the country had just muttered, “Thanks Kennedy,” when thousands of their fellow Americans were dying during the Vietnam War? What if our Founding Fathers had just muttered, “Thanks King George,” when he imposed virtual representation and unjust taxes on the 13 colonies? I’ll answer for you: This country as we know it would not exist.
We — the American people — have succumbed to a willful ignorance of our civic duty to take action towards positive change in this country. By standing passively on the political sidelines, we have facilitated the emergence of a cycle of governmental corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability to the people it serves. Now, it is our responsibility to reverse that cycle.
Whether it’s writing our representatives, actively participating in local elections, boycotting the Montgomery bus system or throwing English tea off the side of a ship in protest, people taking action in some way, big or small, will bring about more positive change in this country than Jeb Bush or Rand Paul or Hilary Clinton ever will. The only way to make true political change in this country is for Americans to make mentalities like “Thanks Obama” a way of the past and start focusing on what we, the people, can do to make a difference.
Roge Karma is the President of BridgeND, a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.