EASTON, Md, August 4, 2011 — When Democrats, Liberals and Independents swarmed to the polls in 2008, they were riding high on the politics of the possible. Candidate Barack Obama was offering “Change We Can Believe In.”
Three years later, we are asking ourselves: Is this the Change we thought we were voting for? With each deal the President seals with the Republicans, he moves the country further Right. Where is the Liberal idealism that he sold us with his message of Hope?
Is this what the Great Conciliator has wrought? Yes, the debt ceiling is raised and financial chaos is averted, but getting there is only the latest in a long line of bad bargains.
I don’t live in Washington’s Beltway. I live where real America lives. And I no longer hear the question, “What the heck is the President doing?”
Now it’s, “What would Hillary have done?” Talk about buyers’ remorse.
These same folks answer their own question: “She would have called the Republicans’ bluff.” And she would have done it from Day One, they proclaim. No way for us to know now.
But after watching President Obama in action this past month, I saw my fears realized once more. The less faint-hearted had tried to reassure me that this time the President wouldn’t let Lucy pull the football out from under him again, landing him flat on his back. This time he would kick the field goal.
I seriously doubted it.
I started having those doubts back as far as the spring of 2009 when the Stimulus package was diminished, thanks to tax cuts to satisfy the GOP (who else?). That meant there was not enough money to grow jobs and jump start the economy, turning things around. A weak Stimulus package was the result, better than nothing, but look where we are today with unemployment at 9.2%.
True, we’re not as bad as Spain (21%), Greece (15%) and Ireland (14.3%), but that’s scant comfort to those scouring the want ads.
By early summer of 2009, I was horrified, as were most of us on the Left when the President in negotiating Health Care Reform did not start with universal health care or Medicare For All, much less the public option but with the individual mandate. So we were already negotiating from the middle and had nowhere to go but Right.
The result is we now have a watered down, expensive Health Care plan, which the Republicans have branded ObamaCare, as though it were something devised by Nurse Ratched. Again, it’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Then last December, President Obama could have fought to end the Bush tax cuts, but he didn’t, worried that the Republicans would end unemployment insurance.
“Go ahead,” I would have said. “Make my day. Try selling that little package to the American people: the rich over the unemployed.”
But the President folded. And now we are stuck with Bush’s tax cuts, at least until the end of 2012, and they continue to devour our economy.
And guess what? Despite the caterwauling by the Right, the job situation didn’t get better; it got worse.
An Emboldened GOP
This past spring, the Republicans, emboldened by their election victories and knowing just how to make the President surrender to their demands, threatened to shut down the government unless they won fiscal concessions from Obama and his fellow Democrats. And it worked.
Finally, when the debt-ceiling crisis, manufactured by the Tea Party and its Right Wing friends, was ginned up, the handwriting was on the wall. Even though President Obama had a WMD in his arsenal, the 14th Amendment, Section 4, to raise the ceiling without GOP help, he rejected it. Yet the threat of it could have brought about better negotiating terms than we got.
Perhaps even enhanced revenues, better known as tax hikes, would have been on the table for real discussion. But the President ruled out that option early in the discussion, and so once again he played a weak hand.
Hate to admit it, but it’s true: President Obama has too often been “leading from behind,” many times from behind the 8 ball.
Pity the poor Democrats who find themselves there with him no matter how they may differ. While 95 Congressional Democrats refused to vote for the brinkmanship of the GOP game plan, it didn’t matter. The debt ceiling was raised and we are now faced with months more of economic agony as Congress fiddles with our lives.
Even now, yet another Congressional Gang is being formed, six Democrats and six Republicans from each body of Congress. They’re to come up with more ways to trim the deficit. Already the GOP Congressional leadership has sworn not to appoint one Republican to the Gang of 12 who would vote for taxes in any way, shape or form. Where does that leave the Left?
If nothing is accomplished by Thanksgiving, then slash and burn begins on two sacred cows of both parties: Medicare and defense. Wonder who will compromise once again, moving this country even further Right?
I know I sound like Cassandra at the walls of Troy, wailing of its impending destruction, but the Republican Trojan horse has time and again been able to trick the President into believing he is dealing with rational negotiators and not the zealots who are the core of the GOP.
A Small Glimmer of Hope
However, in the midst of all this doom and gloom, there is a bit of hope as the Right Wing, strutting its stuff, drives its agenda even further Right.
Republicans are going to fan out across the country this August recess to sell the Ryan Plan. Yep, you read right. They plan to resurrect it, peddling the snake oil they call Medicare reform, better explained as privatizing Medicare and putting seniors at the mercy of insurance companies.
This proposal met with jeers and sneers this past spring, but the Tea Partiers and their cohorts are feeling their oats and believe they can sell it to America.
Last time around, this strategy bit them on the fanny and they retreated. But each win makes them more audacious. Will these Town Hall meetings generate support as they believe they will or are the zealots captives of their own inner voices?
Saving Medicare is a natural for Democrats and the Left. As are jobs. As is raising taxes on the Billionaires Club. All the polling shows Americans firmly with the Democrats on these issues. But can Democrats do it or will they find themselves once again playing defense on Republican turf?
President Obama is about to head out on a bus tour of America, talking to the people directly. And he is a good talker, no doubt about that. His words are pretty and they lift us to emotional heights, but that is not enough.
His actions must match his words. If they don’t, the Obama grassroots will not be as green as the dollars he has raised at his fundraisers.
Without boots on the ground, without a turnout of the base, and without faith in the head of the Party, President Obama may find his soaring rhetoric is not enough to mend the bridges he burnt in this last round with the Right Wing.
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