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Want to figure out the dynamics of today’s national politics? Watch the Vikings

All you need to do to understand national politics today is to watch the Minnesota Vikings. Specifically: Watch Adrian Peterson.
Peterson is an extraordinarily gifted running back who often seems to out-run and overpower whole defenses. Of course he doesn’t do it alone, and almost every time he does something great there is a key block to spring him loose. On those times when he is left to do it by himself, on those runs when his teammates have so much confidence in him that they get lulled into not throwing those key blocks, Peterson usually gets trapped behind the line. At those moments he seems very human, and the Monday Morning Quarterbacks don’t hesitate to question whether Adrian has lost his edge.
What does that have to do with national politics? Well, think about Barack Obama as Adrian Peterson.

Our president is one of the most gifted leaders we have ever seen: He has remarkable intellect and razor-sharp judgment, and he is a great speaker. We have become accustomed to watching him — like Peterson — seemingly do it alone. That’s how it often looked at those mass rallies in his overwhelming election victory.

A movement of millions
But anyone who knew about that improbable victory knew it was about much more than Barack. Team Obama was a mass movement of literally millions of members, each giving more time and money than they ever expected as they did the extraordinary blocking and tackling it took to win the presidency.
The Obama we often hear about these days sounds a lot like the Adrian Peterson criticized after one of those runs that doesn’t go anywhere: Has Obama lost his edge? Why can’t he connect with voters? What will his impact be on the midterm elections?

R.T. Rybak
R.T. Rybak

Each of those questions is fair, and it’s clear not everything has gone perfectly in the first two years. But it’s also equally important to step back from the personality-obsessed national media coverage to remember that all this does not sit solely on the shoulders of the president. Those millions who were part of the movement that swept George Bush and his cronies out of office should never assume bringing widespread change happens with just one election.
Instead of sitting on the couch listening to another group of pundits pontificate about whether Obama is or is not getting his message across, it’s time for each of us to help him do just that. We can stand back and let Glenn Beck tell the story about these past two years, but I prefer the truth:
Before they even took office, Obama and the new Congress were leading the country through the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.
Long list of first-term accomplishments
They started by passing groundbreaking legislation to finally protect equal pay for women, and then passed an economic-recovery package that put millions to work — police officers, firefighters, teachers, construction workers, thousands of people in new clean energy jobs.

They also:

• Secured health care coverage for 30 million Americans.

• Led groundbreaking school reforms that finally, after decades of neglect, take the tough actions we need to address a shameful achievement gap.

• Saved the American auto industry. If they hadn’t acted it’s likely not a single person would be making a car in America in 10 years. Period.

• Made college more affordable by expanding loans, cut out middlemen who made loans more expensive and let students pay off loans with services in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

• Began rebuilding deeply battered partnerships after inheriting two wars and a world enraged by the Bush administration’s blunders.

There has been much more — like regulating Wall Street, enacting middle-class tax cuts, lifting the ban on stem cell research … the list goes on.

Our president could have sat back, relied on his sky-high approval ratings, and only tackled issues that he knew would make him popular. Instead, he set about making the kind of tough changes that our country hasn’t seen in years.

All this was done in spite of the fact that from the moment Obama was elected the Republicans in Washington voted for literally nothing the president supported. And while that was happening Obama displayed extraordinary dignity in handling the ongoing indignity of having to repeatedly answer absurdly misinformed questions about his religion and where he was born.

Ground is laid for more change
That’s a lot to accomplish in remarkably difficult circumstances, and the good news is that the ground has been laid for even better things to come. The catch is Obama didn’t do all this by himself, and he can’t do more alone either. He would be the first to say so, and I know that from personal experience:

Four years ago, well before Obama announced his candidacy, I was part of Draft Obama, a loose-knit group of volunteers around the country trying to persuade him to run. One day I wrote a post on a national blog that said something like: “Barack Obama is a great man, but this election is not about him. It’s about launching a national movement that brings millions of disenfranchised people off the couch and back into changing politics as usual.” The next day, to my great surprise, I got a call from Obama himself. He told me that the post said what he was thinking, that he wasn’t interested in a cult of personality but would run if he saw that he was in the best position to get people who had given up to get involved again.
I’ve thought about his words a lot since then, especially on those times when this remarkably gifted man seems highly fallible as he struggles to bring about change against extraordinary and unrelenting odds. He is, in fact, a great man, but this never has been and never will be only about him. He may have been a community organizer, but now that work is up to us.

Obama, like Peterson, is a superstar. But neither can carry the ball all by himself. If we first tune out the skeptics and those who never wanted him to succeed, and then get out there and work to change politics as usual, we can ensure that the best change is yet to come.

R.T. Rybak is the mayor of Minneapolis.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 10/11/2010 - 03:17 am.

    Right on, RT. Obama’s incompetent predecessor dug us a hole as difficult to get out of as from one of those stellar black holes.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/11/2010 - 08:23 am.

    If we really can’t comprehend where we were headed after eight years of the Cheney/Bush regime (and where the world was headed),…

    if we don’t comprehend how close we came to a total financial meltdown and a second Great Depression which would have eclipsed the first,…

    if we really don’t realize how much has been done to reverse our downward spiral (despite the Republican’s failure to offer even a single idea unless it was for the purposes of pretending to compromise while slowing down any progress and/or negotiating weakened legislation which they wouldn’t vote for anyway…

    (by the way – here’s a clue for the Democrats in the Senate – your Republican colleagues in leadership in the Senate are NOT your friends. They don’t want to get along with you. They don’t want to meet you in the middle. They want to destroy you. The fact that you’re capable of compassion and empathy (which they are NOT), a capability that’s demonstrated in your concern for the poor and middle class, bumps them up against their psychological dysfunctions and, thus, ENRAGES THEM. They secretly hate you for it, but they also use it against you, appealing to your compassion and empathy toward them to take advantage of you. They’ve been playing you for fools, and your desire to be liked by them and get along with them has enabled them to do it. There’s no way to cooperate with them because, regardless of appearances, they’re NOT cooperating with you.)

    But for the rest of us, if we want to start heading back down the road of “stripping the poor and middle class of their healthcare, their incomes and their assets, in order to further enrich the already fabulously wealthy,” we can just act like spoiled children, continue to be upset that politics doesn’t provide the INSTANT change we mistakenly thought it would, stay at home, and let those same, psychologically dysfunctional types take over the US House (and the senate?) again.

    If we do so, all progress at repairing the damage done to our governmental, economic, and private business infrastructures by Bushco will begin to be stripped away. Bushco’s dysfunctional and damaging approaches will take hold, once again, and we will find ourselves sliding back down the slippery slope toward the economic/political abyss.

    Of course our richest friends, like a band of locusts, can just move off shore with everything they’ve stolen from us (all the unjustified and unjustifiable income extracted from the same investments of our money that they told us weren’t producing any increase and profits from businesses they told us “couldn’t afford” to hire us or pay us decent wages), but the rest of us, those of us still living here, will be suffering in considerably reduced circumstances for the rest of our lives.

    So, if you want to watch your standard of living, your health care, any prospect of a well-paying job with decent benefits and any possibility of a comfortable retirement head off shore with the members of the human race’s own version of the extra terrestrial invaders from the old movie “Independence Day,” just stay at home on November 2nd (or vote Republican).

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/11/2010 - 10:05 am.

    Melendez: Ain’t you the preacher?

    RT: Used to be. Not no more. I lost the call. But, boy–I sure used to have it. Why, I used to get a union hall so squirming full of
    repented Democrats I pretty near lost half of ’em! But not no more. I lost the

    Melendez: Why, I remember you preachin’ a whole sermon at the gay pride parade, divin’ off floats inta the crowd an’ shoutin’ your head off.

    RT: Yeah, I remember. Went pretty good that way.
    But no more.

    Keep the sperit, RT.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/11/2010 - 10:19 am.

    The Democrats won majorities in Congress by recruiting centrists to run in what had been Republican states. Those centrists won because they were able to run against George Bush, but they also won because they promised not to be traditional bicoastal left wing Democrats. But the people chairing the committees, the senior Democratic leadership, are the same bicoastal socialist liberals who lost in 1994. So the Democrats, by recruiting representatives and senatorial candidates far from their own views, created a party riven with internal dissent. The new recruits had to choose between being the centrists which they had promised to be, or supporting their president and congressional leaders. The leadership made no effort to shift their agenda to protect those new centrist members of congress. And now those congressmen and senators have to face an angry electorate who didn’t get the centrist agenda they were promised.

    The tea party and the actions of the Republicans matter little. This election, like most elections, is a referendum on incumbents. If the Democrats had taken the long view, they would have focused on job creation and financial reform (a good centrist thing to do in a recession), leaving liberal reforms for a second Obama term. Instead they acted like they needed to hurry before it all fell apart, which became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

  5. Submitted by Bobby Kahn on 10/11/2010 - 10:54 am.

    I notice one glaring omission from this piece….the fumbles!!

    Like Peterson, Obama has plenty of them under his belt. I know this is a stump for Obama but it’s hard to take it seriously when it’s so one sided.

    Wall Street Reform is one perfect example of this. It is listed as a positive in this article, and while it certainly might help, by and large the main causes of the financial system meltdown are still alive, well, and largely unaffected by the legislation.

    The next meltdown will expose these new regulations as too soft and inefficient. Let’s just hope the next one happens after 2012!

  6. Submitted by Hal Sanders on 10/11/2010 - 01:19 pm.

    Here we go again; another political screed bought and paid for with your “charitable giving” to the Twin Cities United Way. Doesn’t either MinnPost or United Way have any shame?

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/12/2010 - 04:13 pm.

    Though not a fan of sports analogies, this one might work. At the end of the game last night, the washed-up leader throws it away, leaving all his supporters in utter despair.

  8. Submitted by Grant Abbott on 10/13/2010 - 04:31 pm.

    I believe it was F.D.R. who told a group of labor leaders with whom he agreed they needed to go out and organize to make him do what they want him to do. Without teammates blocking in front of him Adrien Peterson will be tackled before he begins to run.

    I think it was Jerry Brown during his first term as California governor that said to his followers, “I only have as much room to accomplish goals as the public gives me.” Open a big hole in the defensive line and block out the linebacker and Adrien Peterson will gain some big yards.

    So far the opposition has played better defense than the Democrats have played offense, despite the gains the President has made. Mayor Rybek is right; the President could use more supporters out there opening up running room into which he can lead.

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