Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Obama's Deficit, cont.

A reader writes in response to my previous post:

Unemployment is still at an all time high and nobody wants to wait. Besides, all this legislation pushed through leaves a bad taste for john q public and bi partisianship is no where to be seen. Let's see what this election yields.
That Americans are impatient for results is no surprise. That Americans don't like "legislation pushed through" is arguable -- Americans did not organize Tea Party-style rallies over the Patriot Act, the authorization to use military force against Iraq, or the revisions to the FISA laws that made it easier for the government to spy on us. Those who claim to be for smaller government were cheering Bush on the sidelines when he raped our civil liberties while pretending to make America safer.

And why does it fall to the party in power to be bipartisan? It's typical that the minority party be a loyal opposition, not be obstructionist, belligerent, and utterly without useful ideas that can contribute to bipartisanship. Instead, Republicans attempt to push through retreads of Bush/Cheney economic and foreign policy, and when that gets rejected by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, suddenly it's the Democrats who are being partisan. Bullshit. Republicans in power did not court Democratic input on any legislation pushed through unless national security demanded it, or when the legislation was repugnant enough even to Republicans that Democrats could put the legislation over the top.

I'm not a champion of the Democrats in Congress, by any stretch. I think Harry Reid has a jaw made of Jell-O and I think he handed his balls to the Mormon church. Plus he might lose his seat next month. Nancy Pelosi is tough as nails, but she's going to lose her job next year, so she's of no help. So Obama is left to be the only voice of strength on the Democratic side. And he has played the middle so religiously that both progressives and conservative Dems are annoyed with him.

Obama campaigned on "Change We Can Believe In." He promised to change "our politics." What that meant to me at the time was that he was going to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to get legislation passed. I am sure he anticipated how much the GOP would sit on its hands and force Obama to go it alone, how childish they would be, and how brazenly they would challenge the president at every turn. So, in very subtle ways, he has simply co-opted GOP ideas into legislation, gladly accommodated their unreasonable changes to health-care reform, financial reform, in an effort to get things passed. He's a former Senator; he's aware of the balance of power and he wants the Legislative Branch to be an equal partner, even though it's the most dysfunctional branch of government we have. So, to me, he's lived up to his promise to change politics. (How many Democrats were in Bush's cabinet? How many Democrats did he appoint to the federal bench or to U.S. Attorney jobs?) Obama's characterization of GOP politics as "more of the same" during the campaign was spot-on accurate.

Where he has failed is in enrolling Americans in his vision. With a conservative press arrayed against him, with Tea Partiers toting guns to their rallies and painting swastikas across his likeness, and with citizen and Congressional inertia to overcome, Obama needed to keep campaigning, to stay out of the weeds, and to let all the dirty work be done by his chief advisors. He needed to co-opt FDR's fireside chats, and upload videos to Facebook (not just Twitter sized status updates) and YouTube every week, with much fanfare and without much assistance from the mainstream press, explaining every move, and getting the attention of younger voters to stay connected to what he is doing. When he veered to the right on foreign policy, he needed to do a better job of explaining it, to do a better job acknowledging that he was doing something that ran counter to his campaign rhetoric and why he was doing it. He did say that his administration was going to make mistakes. He needed to call attention to them better. And -- most of all -- he needed to characterize his political opponents as the immature brats that they were.

I know this has little to do with the deficit, per se, but the fact that the deficit is lower now than during Bush's final year says a lot. And he's not saying enough to show the public that he has made things better.

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