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President Concession: Obama’s Conviction Deficit

| July 17, 2011

president obama surrenders compromise

AWOL. (White House)

By Donald Kaul

I’m starting to worry about Barack Obama.

I didn’t worry about him before. I thought he was the best Democrat running in the 2008 primaries, and I thought he was far superior to John McCain in the general election. I still think that. (By the way, did you hear the latest on McCain? He blamed the forest fires consuming the southwest on undocumented immigrants. When he opens his mouth these days, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

I’ve defended Obama against his right-wing enemies (that was easy because their charges were ludicrous), and I’ve defended him against many of his allies on the left (people who yearn for a Ralph Nader-Dennis Kucinich presidential ticket).

My argument has been essentially this: “Yeah, his health care plan wasn’t good enough, and his stimulus package wasn’t big enough, and he’s slow to get out of wars he’s promised to get out of, but let’s cut the guy some slack. He was handed a terrible situation, with a collapsing economy, two wars raging, and a toxic political opposition dedicated to his failure. He’s done reasonably well in difficult circumstances.”

But I’m starting to have my doubts.

Donald Kaul

I find his unwavering attempts to find bipartisan solutions to controversial problems uplifting and all. Inspiring even. But there’s such a thing as carrying moderation too far.

Every time he tries to make nice with the Republicans he gets hit in the face with a cream pie. That’s not leadership; that’s masochism.

Which, of course, is exactly what my progressive friends have been arguing for the past 18 months. Why doesn’t he articulate what he believes in and stand up for it, they keep asking.

I’m running out of answers to that question.

What, is he afraid he’ll make conservatives mad? You can’t make conservatives madder than they already are. They wake up mad in the morning and spend the rest of the day getting really ticked off.

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If he fears alienating potential voters he should consider this: People like leaders who aren’t walking around with whipped cream on their faces all the time.

I’m particularly worried about the upcoming battle in Congress over raising the debt ceiling. The Republicans have vowed not to raise the ceiling unless the president agrees to cut the federal budget to the bone, then remove the bone.

Obama in turn has vowed — I don’t know, to negotiate, or something. He ignores the fact that the current Republican model doesn’t differentiate between negotiation and total surrender.

I’m afraid that Obama and his Democratic colleagues are going to cave in to Republican demands, thus setting the tone for the next two-and-a-half years.

My idea of a sensible negotiation is for the Democrats to give in on cuts to the budget and the Republicans to let go of the Bush tax cuts for rich people. That’s pretty much the formula neutral observers come up with when they discuss deficit cuts.

Another thing neutral observers agree on is that not raising the debt ceiling would be a disaster of enormous proportions.

But I’m not sure Republicans see it that way.

They seem to be willing to let the economy go smash if they don’t get their way, which consists of continuing to build a society of great private wealth and equally great public poverty: a society with rotten public schools, pathetic public transportation, and crummy infrastructure.

Those are the stakes in the debt ceiling battle. You would think that a president of Obama’s rhetorical skill could convince the public that the Republicans were razing the nation’s future in favor of lining the pockets of a few fat-cat political donors.

But he can’t do it unless he tries, and I’m not sure he’s up for the game. Which is why I’m worried.

Donald Kaul worked some 30 years as a syndicated Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register before retiring at the dawn of the new century. He is a columnist for Other Words. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Reach him by email.

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4 Responses for “President Concession: Obama’s Conviction Deficit”

  1. Jack Cowardin says:

    If in a week, next Monday the 25th, we are mired in the same inconclusive, stalemated condition of non-agreement in simply raising the debt ceiling, without mutually aligned sacrifices offered by both sides, the animus in Washington will tsunami into a global shakedown of bedrock confidences in the United States. There are already cracks in the foundation, cracks in the financial system the world really has no firm grip on. We are losing face, both in the eyes of those that hold our debt, use our dollars, and look to our government as stouthearted. We are also losing faith in each other, especially our leaders where no clear champion of righteous government is known.

    I’m not worried about President Obama. I’m worried about the country. Very worried.

  2. Sam says:

    Time has RUN OUT. The damage has already taken place in America. You and I know there is NO FIX thats going to bring America back to its once mighty strength. I don’t know exactly what is about to take place but I fear its not going to be good for anyone in this country or over seas. Everyone I know are now in survival mode. Trying to keep their families head above water, but the storm is getting worse and the tide is gaining in height. God Bless America !

  3. Yogi says:

    No question about where the writer of this article stands, very clear to me. It just doesn’t make sense to do more of what caused the problem in the first place. Eventually the credit markets will turn on the U.S. no matter what. Then we will be forced into a situation we will have no control over. That doesn’t seem like a viable option to me.

  4. NortonSmitty says:

    Yogi, what caused the problem in the first place was unprecedented wartime tax cuts for the rich while financing and fighting a war, wait two wars, no wait, three with counting Libya! What’s that? Yemen, Somalia? Hell, didn’t we used to Poo-Poo that “Terrorist Propaganda” the Arab media spread a few years ago about us declaring war against the entire Muslim world (Except our Saudi friends)? That would be silly. Nobody on the planet would benefit from that, except maybe Israel.

    Not only that, but it seems all of the Arab states who were Israels traditional enemies bordering Israel or the Mediterranean all seem to have just spontaneously combusted and are in chaos, inflamed suddenly by stories they heard on the Internet and the world media. They’re all disorganized now and rebuilding, thanks to an unprecedented uprising of the people. All at once. You’d think it was co-ordinated it cascaded from country to country so sequenced and all.

    And to top it off, the TV tells me we have built permanent bases in Iraq to support and supply up to 500,000 American troops for the next fifty years! Wow! Right between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and flanking Syria. What a coincidence, if any Muslim in the world wanted to attack Israel, they would have to come through our boys to do it.

    You know, maybe they are truly the Chosen People, because they sure seem to be uncommonly lucky for all of this to happen. And it only bankrupted our country and put us in debt for the next fifty years. To who? International Bankers, an uninvolved party for sure. Fortune does favor the bold!

    And Donald, if your years of education to be a journalist didn’t include any ancient history, go read the story of the Trojan Horse. Disguised to look like a gift to the people, it was slipped through the gates and served their enemies. I don’t recall the color the horse was then. Just like today, it really doesn’t matter as long as it did it’s job.

    Starting to like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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