Monday, November 05, 2012

Second Term for Obama

Four years ago The Political Heretic enthusiastically cast his ballot for Barack Hussein Obama, a one-term senator from the state of ILlinois who first won the attention of the press while speaking at the Democratic National Convention for Senator John Kerry in 2004. His calm demeanor, souring rhetoric, and his deep critical thinking skills which he developed at Harvard impressed the Political Heretic immensely. Ultimately, it led him to believe that Obama had the potential to be a great president. That enthusiasm is gone. The Political Heretic believes Obama's days are largely behind him, and the chance that he can accomplish anything substantially important to this nation is diminishing day by day for reasons that are and are not of the pesident's own making. Since the Tea Party backed-Republicans regained control in the House of Representatives two years ago, the president has seen business that is routinely passed, alone specific policy proposals, voted down. The Tea Party backed Republicans stopped House Speaker John Boehner, himself a conservative Republican, and President Barack Obama from reaching a deal on the this nation's mounting debt. They blocked the president's proposed second round of stimulus to reboost the economy and they played chicken on of all things, the routine vote to increase the debt ceiling required for our government to function. Republicans are keen to remind us of the first two years when Obama's party "controlled" both parties in Congress, conviently forgetting that the rules in the Senate allow a minority of 40 to block any legislation they want, for whatever reason without having to state a reason, for blocking an up or down votee. A president that wants to get anything meaningful through has to negotiate with enough senators to forestall such a blockade. Legislation that could be more narrowly tailored for its stated purpose is filled with pork designed to win the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. Obama's predecessors had to deal with this before and they have been able to reach those compromises, which is why the president has to share in some of the blame. The word on the street, from congressional aides on both sides of the political aisle and duly noted by the Washington Press corps from time to time, is that Obama doesn't like to negotiate with the congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill. He is policy wonk, who digs into the details of good policy proposals but not a schmoozer who can win him that senator or congressman's loyalty or support. The nitty-gritty of deal-making is beneath him. Hence, his propensity to let Congress work out the details, rather than guide him along the better path that he sees in front of him - whether it be on the stimulus, tax policy, deficit reduction or health care reform. Obama's Accomplishments Earn Him a Second Term He isn't a failure. President Obama has, in spite of this, accomplished some noteworthy achievements in spite of this opposition and in spite of his deep reluctance to negotiate with the legislative branch. Preserving these accomplishments lead the Political Heretic, to cast his vote President Obama's re-election. His stimulus bill that, no matter how mis-focused in its set of priorities, stopped the economic hemorrhaging. It provided the aid to states that allowed it to keep more policemen, firemen and teachers at their jobs at a time when this country was headed towards a second Depression. The distinction between non-government and government-workers raised by the Republicans at the time was a false one. Any job that helps a worker pay the mortgage or rent and provide food and clothing for themselves and/or their family (if they have one) is a job. Lay them off and more families would be under water and more houses would have foreclosure signs on them. Included within the stimulus was a payroll tax cut to the average worker bee and some investments on green energy production. President Obama also rescued the auto industry which was on the verge of collapse, providing them with the necessary funds they would need to sustain themselves as they restructured and renegotiated their pension plan deals with their workers. The Affordable Care Act which Republicans derisively refer to as "ObamaCare" will ban insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans with pre-existing coverage. It allows young adults who are too busy studying in college to get a good full-time job to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26 years old. It will create market insurance pools that will allow small business owners the chance to collectively purchase health insurance at a reasonable rate for their employees. And it closes the donut hole in prescription drug coverage. The Dodd-Frank bill will impose some much-needed restrictions on how Wall STreet conducts its business practices. The derivative market that no one but the money-makers on Wall Street knows about was overdue for some oversight. He furthered the cause for equal rights from day one. He got Congress to pass the Lillyledbetter Act, increasing the statute of limitations so that women can sue their employers for being denied equal pay. He also singed into law a hate crimes enhancement statute that covers gay people and eliminated "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," thereby allowing able-bodied well-fit service personnel serve their country with the honor that is their due. Overseas, where the president isn't tied down by Congress (much to our Founding Father's dismay), the president has been far more effective. He quickly dispatched of the Somali pirates that took Americans hostage. He ordered the successful raid on al Qaeda's leading mass murderer, Osama bin Laden, overuling the advice of those within his inner circle who thought it would be too risky. He imposed economically-crippling sanctions on Iran with the aid and cooperation of our Western allies, Russia, China and the Arab states and he successfully navigated our way through the Arab Spring uprisings without losing American prestige in the processs, first by calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to go and then by participating in the successful uprising against Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. In the meantime, he withdrew our ground forces from the war in Iraq and slowly (perhaps too slowly), extricating ourselves from the war in Afghanistan. No good would can result from our stay in either country. The governments in both of those countries will either flourish or collapse on their own, sooner rather than later. A Good President When We Need A Great President Nevertheless, a president who was willing to negotiate with Congress and take his case to the public each and every time he met resistance from Congress might have forced them to do more. A president who went before Congress, and the American people, with a list of roads and bridges in need of repair, and the jobs that it might afford to those who were out of work, might have won himm more votes in Congress and a faster recovery. And a president who spoke about the costs associated with the out-of-control banks that nearly brought the rest of the global economy with it might have been given the opportunity to break of the banks. A president who spoke with Congressmen and women every day might have shortened the debate time. The president let the public option debate consume too much of his time. If he set his terms for negotiation early with the key senators time squandered on that might have been time devoted elsewhere. This ability to sell a vision of the country was missing during Obama's first term. Aside from a press conference here and a press conference there, the president has locked himself in the White House. He never travelled around the country. He never hit the campaign trail to fight for the stimulus plan. He never got the press to film the broken down bridges the stimulus should have been designed to fix. He never got the press to film those who were denied health insurance because they had pre-existing conditions because he never went out to meet with them. He never went to Wall Street to point or point to the disparity in treatment between failures at the top (who get golden parachutes) and failures at the bottom (he merely get 2 weeks notice, if that). Politics is about campaigning, and it is about negotiating. The oil spill in the gulf? Not once did the president use that as a teachable moment for why the government imposes such things as safety regulations. or why we don't want to see the oil dripping along our shores. Not once. Hence, the disappointment. A perfectly teachable moment squandered by a college professor. And it why the Political Heretic believes he will go down in history as a good but alas, not a great president. Good presidents set themselves out to achieve a limited set of plans with the limited set of hands they are given. They make for good business administrators or crises managers and that is what Barack Obama, like George H.W. Bush, has been - a good crises manager. But he hasn't told us where he wants to take the country and he hasn't up to now, given us any reason to believe he can lead us in that direction. Great presidents inspire. They set themselves out to do great things within the limited time they are given and they use all of the powers within their grasp to accomplish it. They don't just let the realities of the day govern them; they try to shape them, to stretch the boundaries, to move the country along with them towards that vision which they see beyond the horizon. Obama hasn't done that. One who would find the votes to rebuild this country's transportation infrastructure. One that would rebuild this nation'sinfrastructure because he would find the votes to invest in high-speed rail, and our crumbling roads and bridges because he wouldmake the case for it. One that would break up the banks so that we would never have to bail out a "too big to fail" bank" for irresponsible decisions of its corporate board's own making because he would have made the case for it. And it is why the Political Heretic has been so disappointed with the election campaign to date. Here we have a man who had the potential for being a great president, behaving as if he were merely a good president, at a moment in this country's history when the people needed a great president. Republicans Offer No Good Alternative Sadly, the REpublicans have not responded to that call. Their primary was filled with hate mongerers, nutjobs and ultimately, the cynical panderer who has done everything since he won his party's primary to suggest he believes in government for the plutocrats, by the plutocrats and of the plutocrats. Mitt Romney, a one-term governor of Massachusetts, has flip-flopped on every issue he has addressed. He was for the health insurance mandate before he was against it. He was for amnesty for illegal immigrants before he was against it. He was for abortion rights before he was against it. He was for gay rights (he even said he would outdo Senator Ted Kennedy) before he was against them. He was for the assault weapons ban before he was against it. He was for the a tax cut for the wealthy who now says the rich won't pay less even when he lowers the rates. The man who, behind closed door said 47% of the population is too lazy to work says he will create 12 million jobs, lower taxes for everbody, increase defense spending and still somehow do so without adding to the nation's debt. 1 + 1 + 1 = 0. That's Republican arithemetic for you. Kindof like Republican science. It doesn't add up. Oh and we shouldn't have left Iraq and Afghanistan so soon since they didn't add to the nation's debt either. so 1 + 1 + 1 cannot = 0 since 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 0. Until it does. Mitt Romney, after all, now agrees with the troop withdrawals. He won't say if he would gut charitable deductions or mortgate deductions to make his plan deficit neutral. He won't say what is on the chopping block to pay for the tax cuts that overwhelmingly help the rich. Mitt Romney says he will "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. He does not guarantee that his replacement will protect those with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage. He would convert Medicare, a program most senior citizens have come to rely upon for their retirement income (and one that younger people are now contributing toward) into a voucher program whereby the government will give out checks that may or may not be indexed to the cost of health care services. And he vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank, the one thing standing in the way of the banks that are funding his campaign and the corporate practices that led to the stock market collapse of 08. Mitt Romney's has cynicaly adopted the president's campaign for "change." If you look at what he is proposing however, the Republican challenger is calling for the change towards the very policies we were running away from four years ago. Four years ago this country repudiated the policies enacted by George W. Bush by electing Barack Obama to the White House. We saw how they have devasted our economy. How, if Wall Street was left unregulated, its mistakes can bring the entire economy to the ground, wiping out pensions, retirement plans, the housing market and ultimately, small businesses across America. We saw how trickle-down economics didn't work. The money didn't find itsway to the bottom. The wealthier got wealthier and the middle class got poorer. President Obama has been a disasspointment because he did not behave like the great president that we needed at the moment we were dealing with a crisis. Tragic it would be for this nation however, if we ousted him four years later for a candidate who vows to undo everything which the president had done and replace it with the system that led to this country's economic morass in the first place. I