Saturday, December 4, 2010

The wizard that wasn't

By Don Klein

During the campaigns of 2008 many of us were lifted to great emotional heights by the words and political wizardry of Barack Obama. We saw in him the antithesis to the dark, unsettling years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

We anticipated, or wished, that from this brilliant light from the heartland would spring forth a bold new vision of progress. We saw a young, articulate leader of intelligence and hope who would make the country well again.

Elegant and eloquent was he. Just what we needed. We saw him as a reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy combined.

We were wrong. As president Obama was a disappointment , a pathetic 21st Century version of failed leadership. We were treated to a massive dose of languor from the Obama White House. He was a reluctant warrior.

To the dismay of the rest of us, it seems the Republican figured out Obama from the beginning. Obama is not a fighter. He is no Lyndon B. Johnson or Harry S. Truman. He is not in the mold of traditional great Democratic presidents. He will not grab an opponent by the lapels and push his ideas to fruition. Rather he is a re-embodiment of Ferdinand the Bull.

We must face the fact that he is wimpish. We need a leader for president not a easy-going guy who seems to put more energy into his basketball playing than governance. The latest betrayal by the GOP (no Senate action until tax cuts are extended) one day after "amicable" talks in the White House demonstrates how brazen his enemies have become.

The GOP has perfected the act of showing disrespect for him and the office he holds. Obama originally invited the Republican leadership to the White House for talks earlier only to be told no thanks. They said reschedule the meeting to their convenience or no soap. It is unheard of to snub an invitation to meet with a head of state on his schedule.

They seem to know they can get away with anything with Obama, especially when it is demeaning. It’s like rubbing a dog’s nose in his own grunge.

The signs were there from almost the start of his administration. His attempts at bipartisanship were a flop because he failed to recognize what everyone else knew –- the GOP was not going to cooperate on anything he proposed. He wasted a filibuster-proof Senate until Senator Ted Kennedy's death ended this advantage.

The result: the GOP emasculated the health care bill by dumping the public option into the trash can with Obama’s approval. They also weakened his financial regulation bill so that it is not much of an improvement over the past. They refused to pass legislation to care for the 9/11 first responders nor extend unemployment insurance for those longtime jobless Americans.

And what did the White House do? An infrequent mention of these events embodied deep within a speech somewhere in the hustings when a fighter would have been shouting these outrages from the rooftops.

Obama supporters are befuddled by his inaction. What happened to their knight in shining armor elected to right the wrongs of previous years?

Did he sacrifice a meaningful health care bill just to be able to brag that he was the first president ever to enact a health bill of any kind? Did his advisers suggest he should look good while not being particularly helpful.

Obama has to wake up. Get his dander up. Get rid of those who have been advising him to failure. He is half way through his initial term and he doesn’t have much time to improve if he expects a second term.

This pussycat has to turn into a tiger or the Republicans will make him look like a dupe.

1. He must hold fast to his commitment not to extend Bush tax cuts to the wealthy even if it means no tax cut for anyone else. If the GOP stands firm on its position to increase the deficit by extending tax cuts, end them all. The president can do it by a simple veto, which the GOP cannot override.
2. To cut the deficit he can do a number of things. First, end the Afghanistan war and cutoff aid to Pakistan. And while he is at it, close US bases in Europe and Asia and bring home troops based there. He must tell the Republicans they will not get their way with his prerogatives as president. Use the veto whenever.
3. He must loudly trumpet all the shifty Republican policies which do not serve the public – like denial of unemployment insurance and health care for first responders.
4. He should be at least as forceful with Congress as he was in the case of the Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. In that instance he stuck his nose where it didn’t belong. In Washington politics his nose belongs in the GOP’s face.

The truth is I don’t think he will do any of these things in the next two years. He looks upon confrontation as bad politics (even though it worked for the GOP in the midterm elections) and will continue fruitlessly to try to work with his political opponents.

In that case I believe, even though it is unlikely under normal circumstances, that there will be a strong attempt to oppose a sitting president in the 2012 party primaries and he could be replaced by a more aggressive potential leader. If Obama doesn’t change his tactics many will find that solution favorable.