Here’s the reason this, President Barack Obama’s permission structure, is so disheartening for so many Democrats and those on the left. He appears to be bending over backward and willing to sacrifice longstanding Democratic principals to cut a deal, instead of fighting for those longstanding Democratic principals. But, and it’s taken me a long time to get to this place, that’s really what Obama believes is best for our country. He’s willing to sacrifice Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and on and on…for a deal with the GOP.
And what has happened is that too many of us haven’t tried hard enough to force him in a different direction. There’s been an incredible amount of writing on how Obama has not done what the left or Democrats wanted or thought he would do as President. But one that I remember (not sure from where) was that Obama was sort of a blank canvas and that many Democrats projected their views onto Obama. Too many of us, myself included, just assumed he would do what we thought a Democratic president (FDR, LBJ) would, given the opportunity he had. Well, he didn’t.
Because of his great oration during the 2008 campaign it was thought that he could rally the people to his side. But Obama has never talked to the people enough and tried to rally their support. If he has it was when he was in a bind, he never really tried from the start. Whether it would have worked, may be up for discussion, but it should have been tried. But it was likely the only way he could have beat back the GOP obstructionsim, to take it on from the start of his Presidency.
To embrace what Rick Perlstein calls the Rules of Liberal Political Success. It could have been so easy. Bush left the economy in ruins and our foreign policy in a shambles. Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize on credit, and he’s done little to live up to that since then, (see drones and Gitmo). The people were ready, they just weren’t engaged.
While Obama was right to urge graduates over the weekend to greater citizenship his definition was striking for it’s lack of passion. (Maybe why Stevenson never won the Presidency?)
I think about how we might perpetuate this notion of citizenship in a way that another politician from my home state of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson, once described patriotism not as “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” That’s what patriotism is. That’s what citizenship is. (Applause.)
And the quotes President Woodrow Wilson on change.
But participation, your civic duty, is more than just voting. You don’t have to run for office yourself — but I hope many of you do, at all levels, because our democracy needs you. And I promise you, it will give you a tough skin. I know a little bit about this. (Laughter.) President Wilson once said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
While Obama made enemies on health care, and continuing the bank bailouts that Bush started, it could have turned out different. Obama’s overriding principal is compromise, that’s how he starts his negotiations with the GOP, by laying out a compromise. His healthcare plan was, and he started by alienating much of his base by taking single-payer off the table from the start. And to fully investigate and reform Wall Street, was a huge missed opportunity. Which are just a couple of things that infuriate many Democrats and the left.
Here’s how E.J. Dionne put it recently, Obama needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient.
But the president also needs to ask himself why even his supporters are growing impatient. His whole budget strategy, after all, is directed almost entirely toward gently coaxing Republicans his way, without any concern as to whether what he is doing is demobilizing the very people he needs on his side now.
When, in pursuit of tax reform, he explicitly offered a compromise to change the index that determines Social Security benefits as part of his budget, he did so against the advice of many of his most loyal backers in Congress. That includes Democrats who would be willing to vote for that cut to Social Security benefits as part of a serious budget deal. But they insist that such a major step toward the Republicans should be taken only in return for concrete concessions from them on the need for more revenue.
If Obama wants to underscore that his problem is Republican obstruction, he should tell those GOP senators he likes to dine with that they need to come up with revenue very soon or else he’ll withdraw that “chained CPI” offer he claims not to like much anyway. Put up or shut up is a cliche, but a useful one.
Similarly, it’s worth asking why so many of Obama’s initiatives have dropped out of public view. Obama has called for raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Many Democrats in Congress think, correctly, that it should be set at $10. Would it be so hard for Obama to come out fighting for the minimum-wage increase — and for other steps to bolster the incomes of those stuck at the bottom of the economy? Why not expose that none of this is happening because of GOP opposition?
Obama wants to provide universal pre-K education. That ought to be a bipartisan idea. Many Republican governors have embraced the concept in their states. Shouldn’t the president be pushing harder to get it on the media’s radar by way of forcing a debate in Congress?
The president believes we need to spend more on our infrastructure to boost job creation now and to make us competitive for the long run. He’s right. But he needs to make clear it is something that’s genuinely important to him.
It’s true that Obama spoke about both his investment agenda and preschool plans at last week’s much-maligned news conference. And the White House announced on Sunday that he would embark on a series of “middle class jobs and opportunity tours.” These should be shaped by a consistent, driving theme: that the stakes in this debate are larger than the day-to-day drone of partisan invective suggests.
Remember the Mark Twain line that Wagner’s music was better than it sounded? Obama’s program has more to do with growth and opportunity than he usually lets on. If he wants to rally us, he might want to change that.
While movements are what have really changed things throughout history, the hope was that a movement tied to a dynamic leader were going to bring transformational change. While I’ve done much to critique Obama in this post there’s also critiquing of us, the citizenship, in here too. We’ve been far too passive, standing by, and letting our government do little if anything in these past 5 years.
It’s also not to be taken as Obama-bashing. It’s about the realization of who Obama is (a compromiser first) and is not (the next great liberal Democratic president). Along with the realization that the Democratic Party decided to embrace oligarchy 30 years ago, And Tip was no bargain, either. And the only thing that can change that is a movement of the people