With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed. – Abraham Lincoln

Thank you so much for helping to get Obama into office. I didn’t think you could do it and it’s a huge deal. It’s also not nearly enough, and if you stop there I will have to conclude that you just wanted a guy who looks cool in office, or maybe to assuage your White guilt, and didn’t listen to what he was saying.

The president is not a vigilante you send in to fix everything. You have to continue to represent yourself and your movements, to him and to the system he’s operating in. Yes, he represents you, but he also represents hundreds of millions of other Americans, most of whom do not share your opinions. He also has to negotiate with some very, very, very powerful organizations who do not have your best interests at heart.

Consider the current battle for health care reform. You are a stakeholder in the outcome. With you are millions of very confused and apathetic Americans. Against you are several huge, entrenched, and very politically savvy industries—insurance and pharmaceutical, off the top of my head. I say “against you” because these are made up of publicly traded corporations, legally bound to be as profitable as possible, but not legally bound to keep Americans healthy. These companies are already doing great. They don’t need or want reform. Your politicians don’t need it either. You do. So it has to be from you that the political will comes. It can’t be Obama against them. It has to be us against them.

Maybe you don’t care that much about health care. It’s understandable; you’re probably 25 and your healthcare crisis of the year will probably be a sprained ankle or a bad cold. Think about your grandparents—ask them how much of their income they spend on health care, or would if they didn’t have the veterans’ benefits that you will probably not have. Imagine yourself old and dependent. What kind of a system do you want in place then? Everyone ends up disabled eventually, everyone lucky enough to live that long. What happens now may determine your quality of life then.

Maybe you think that health care reform is like the election: The media is making it look like a close call, but Obama is unbeatable. He is not, I promise you. And I also promise you that you don’t want him to go down in flames on this. Ask anyone over 35 what bombing on health care did to Bill Clinton’s presidency, and he could lay that failure on Hillary. Civil rights and immigration reform in the 1960s did not happen because Kennedy was thoughtful, well-spoken, and charismatic. They happened because the Civil-Rights Movement was undeniably strong and insistent. Ask anyone over 60.

Or maybe you’re confused. Perhaps the pseudo-news shows shouting “socialized medicine” in irate and/or scared voices are having their intended effect on you. If so, try talking to a Canadian or, better yet, someone from Finland. They tend to love and be proud of their country’s health care in a way that is alien to someone from the US.  Believe me, Canadians are not pouring across the border to take advantage of our amazing health care system. The Canadians I know make a trip home if they need to see a doctor. Or perhaps you’ve gotten lost in the mundane details. It is a complex issue—a lot more cognitively demanding than whooping for Obama at a rally, or even making phone calls or going door to door—but you can do it! Less than ten generations after the abolition of slavery, you got an African American into the presidency of the United States. You can handle it. And if you did listen to his campaign speeches, continued interest and work is what you signed up for.

Or maybe you are angry at Obama for not taking on your pet issue first. Health care reform is not my pet issue either, so I can sympathize, but don’t believe that he has lost interest in your cause, or decide that he is abandoning his campaign platforms because you disagree with his priorities. I believe he cares about and wants to accomplish all of the ideas he talked about while campaigning, but again, the political urgency and will has to come from you and your movement, not him. And if he goes down on health care, he’ll be that much less able to back you when it’s your turn. I think your best strategy is to back him on this, if you can, and keep your movement strong and insistent.

Please, don’t give up on your man. He needs you now more than he needed you a year ago. Don’t do it because I will look down on you if you don’t—I know, fat chance—do it because Obama is more than just a beautiful, cool guy who speaks well: He is a real chance for systemic, progressive change in this country, and we really need it.

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