So much for the afterglow. Scarcely a month has gone by since Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, and all that talk about the progress we've made and the need for national unity in the face of adversity seems like ancient history.

When Obama made history on that frigid day in January, there was a palpable sense of possibility and promise. Now, it seems, any prospect for consensus, collaboration and bipartisan leadership is gone with the wind.

Partisan politics reasserted itself within days of the inauguration. The talk of the town in Washington turned on a dime from self-congratulation and genuine social progress to the "business as usual" brinksmanship and political maneuvering that breeds gridlock and corruption.

"Last week's inflammatory New York Post editorial cartoon is just the tip of the iceberg."

The House Republicans were the first ones out of the gate when they walked the party line and refused to support the new president's stimulus package. To cover their tracks, they pulled out a few Reagan-era chestnuts: fiscal responsibility, an aversion to big government and tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

A handful of Senate Republicans broke ranks and voted in favor of the stimulus bill -- but not before key aspects of the legislation, like education spending, was drastically reduced and the nuclear power industry received a dose of corporate welfare.

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Throughout the first weeks of the Obama administration, the mainstream media dutifully echoed the Republican's talking points -- the president's stimulus package won't create jobs; the president failed to live up to his pledge for bi-partisanship; the president is an old school "tax and spend liberal" -- but provided little in the way of substantive analysis of the bill's merits and shortcomings.

"Throughout the first weeks of the Obama administration, the mainstream media dutifully echoed the Republican's talking points."

Then there was talk radio. Days before Obama took office, Rush Limbaugh infamously declared: "I hope he fails." As ludicrous -- and decidedly un-American -- as that remark is, it appears that the Republican Party has adopted this as their mantra for the next four years. It's a sad commentary on the state of the GOP when pinhead pundits like Limbaugh are dictating Republican campaign strategy for 2010 and 2012.

It makes you wonder: in the wake of eight years of failed economic, military and foreign policy, this is the best the Republicans can offer? But, as the saying goes, "desperate times call for desperate measures," so we better get ready for four years of obstructionism and demagoguery. Last week's inflammatory New York Post editorial cartoon is just the tip of the iceberg.

None of which is to suggest that Obama hasn't made any errors. For instance, Obama undermined his credibility when he allowed key appointees to get by with "waivers" to his much-heralded ethics reform measures, despite their problematic ties to lobbyists and industry insiders.

Likewise, President Obama's declaration that "no one is above the law" rings hollow in light of his reluctance to support an independent investigation into Bush Administration crimes. In doing so, Obama is at odds with prominent members of his own party, and a growing majority of the American people.

Then there are Obama's troubling decisions regarding the war in Afghanistan. Last Tuesday, as the administration celebrated its first legislative victory, Obama announced that he would send an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer. This decision, coupled with an escalation in the use of predator drones in the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan, is likely to inflame anti-American sentiments and further destabilize the region.

Indeed, as Joe Volk, executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation argued in a letter to the president: "Bombing civilians and wielding the barrel of a gun will only help extremists recruit more fighters. It failed in Iraq, and it will fail in Afghanistan. What we need is diplomacy, development, and cooperation with China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, India, and other important regional actors."

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For a leader with such a keen intellect, it is a terrible disappointment that Obama seems to miss the lessons of history -- or the writing on the wall for that matter. Nowhere is this more evident than in the administration's unnerving silence on the dire situation in Gaza. While the fighting has subsided, for the time being, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates into a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

"It makes you wonder: in the wake of eight years of failed economic, military and foreign policy, this is the best the Republicans can offer?"

All of which is to say that now's the time for progressives to step up. The Republican's have tipped their hand -- and it's a lousy one at that. The GOP is betting everything on Obama flaming out in his first term. We can't let that happen, of course. But as author Michael Lux recently observed, "We can't afford to play small-ball," either.

Rather than retreat into what Lux describes as the "culture of caution" that has crippled the Democratic Party for decades, we ought to push Obama and his Democratic majority to take up a bold, principled agenda: one committed to economic justice, the rule of law, and peace and security.

Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at khowley@depauw.edu.