06 December 2010


I voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential Election. Here was a man who spoke clearly and eloquently, a man with a clear set of humanist values, a man who had already shown his intellectual mettle in books he had written -- The Audacity of Hope (2006) provided both a window into Obama's thoughts and beliefs, and also an indicator that his values appeared to be consistent over time.

I am now one of those Obama supporters who sometimes thinks that he has morphed into a Republican in Democratic clothing. One of his trademarks as a legislator, and before that as a community organizer and professor of Constitutional law, was the ability to mediate, to gather together disparate points of view and facilitate a consensus. In the rabidly partisan atmosphere of Washington, his consensus-building has been only minimally effective. The Presidency is no place for wimps. When the loyal opposition becomes intransigent, even bullying, as Republicans have done for the past two years, then a strong leader must make assertive choices according to the guiding lights of his/her philosophy -- always with the best interests of the nation in mind.

Obama has not done that sufficiently. He has had several notable successes, but on the whole his mediation has too often detriorated into capitulation. Republicans, sensing blood, have held Obama (and America) hostage to their regressive and obstructionist tactics for two years. With all due respect to Obama the man, Obama the President needs to step up and take on the opposition. There is no better battle ground for doing so than the current debate over extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The tax cuts were intended to be a superficial, temporary band-aid for our financial woes, but have turned into a windfall for the wealthy, something Republicans would dearly love to see made permanent. The tax cuts have done our nation no favors. Rather, they have deprived us of essential revenues, thus plunging us ever deeper into national debt. In his article Let's Not Make a Deal, Paul Krugman makes this very point, with more factual background than I am supplying here. Krugman's analysis is trenchant and accurate -- he explains what is at stake for the individual taxpayer, and for the nation as a whole.

Frank Rich (see All the President's Captors) compares Obama's dilemma to that of a hostage, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Rich similarly sees the tax cut debate as critical in defining the Obama Presidency. In his words, "The cliche criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naive centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he is so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for 'the good side' of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL .... people want a leader with a strong voice, even if only to argue with it."

I submit that Democrats and Republicans need to call a cease-fire in the fractious, polarizing partisan battles over sensationalist issues, and get on with the business of the country. No one has proclaimed this more forcefully than Senator Bernie Sanders (I - Vermont) in an impassioned address to the Senate chamber. The video should be required viewing by members of both political parties, as well as those who (like myself) identify with neither. Our future, our children's future, and the future of the planet hang in the balance.

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