I've never been more disappointed in President Barack Obama.
Obama's choice to not mount any fight against eliminating former President George W. Bush's
tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans was yet another "new low point" for me. The tax cuts are due to expire Dec. 31st, but, it now looks like the both the U.S. Senate and House will approve the compromise Obama ironed out with Republican leaders to keep tax cuts for all, including the richest.
Yeah, I've heard Obama's arguments about why he had to go along with this to protect keeping a tax cut for the rest of us, along with another round of unemployment benefits and so on....but, come on! Obama had pledged repeatedly to eliminate this tax cut for the richest income brackets. If a Democratic president chooses to not even put up a fight against this most glaring inequity, what does that say about him? Or, the state of our politics?
I have not wanted to face just how little Obama has fought for his convictions for most of his first two years. He keeps getting pushed around. He doesn't draw a line in the sand on big issues. He fails to identify the largest, key issues from the smaller ones. He doesn't seem to have issues that he simply will not give in on.
In fact, I have to ask: what are Obama's convictions? I've recently realized more deeply that he just might remain a centrist compromiser who lacks a clear, strong ideology.
It's true that when he came into office, he already had a reputation as a pragmatic conciliator - a leader who liked to work out compromises in the middle. However, I thought he'd advocate for basic Democratic Party principles fairly well. I thought I could count on that. I still think he believes in ideas I care about, but, to my surprise, he has seemed unwilling and uncomfortable about stating, boldly, what he stands for.
Obama seems to have fallen into a very familiar "trap" that catches other new Presidents. After speaking out more candidly and refreshingly during a long campaign, he got into office and suddenly pulled the reigns in on all his views, feelings and public positioning. He stopped speaking from the heart - with spontaneity and conviction - and, instead, got caught up in the Washington DC whirlwind of day-to-day crisis management, including coping with conflict-oriented news media cycles and responding to critics and polls.
This phenomenon has impacted most Presidents. I recall Jimmy Carter got swallowed up by Washington. Bill Clinton's first year became a nightmare - as the media heaped coverage on every little mistake he made. It's interesting; I think it's tougher for Democratic presidents because, when they start off, they've usually promised to change a few things. Republicans often have pledged to "lower taxes" and "keep defense spending high" -- not exactly courageous principles. In any event, the larger point is that new Presidents often have trouble remaining true to themselves and sticking their necks out on issues. They're new in this biggest job in the world and they tend to want to please everyone.
Well, two years have passed and I'm still waiting to find out what Obama is FOR. I know he tried hard during his first year to keep the economy from falling into a depression. I thought he offered good leadership during a stressful, traumatic national crisis that included the need to pass and push for an unprecedented stimulus package, the failure of the auto industry, bank failures, a foreclosure crisis and on and on. But, that period required "crisis management" and Obama was able to stay in his (comfortable) "middle" much of the time.
Then, he chose to initiate a major effort at health care reform, but, during this battle, Obama showed some of his weaker tendencies; he cut ill-advised deals with players such as the pharmaceutical industry presumably to smooth the way for a bill to get passed, but, by the time the bill emerged, it was - by most accounts - incredibly watered down and didn't force change and sacrifice on the health care industry's dominant players.
So, during the health care debate, we saw Obama fail to take strong stands; in fact, he waffled so much that even his Democratic base, the key allies in the fight, grew dissatisfied with his
vagueness and refusal to dig in his heels. This was illustrated when Obama chose to not support the so-called "public option" even though he had shown support for it during the buildup to the debate.
Yet, despite my disappointment with the health care bill, I tried to focus on the positive: Obama had managed to at least get some good components approved such as much greater protection of coverage of people's pre-existing conditions.
Then, Obama, after holding lengthy deliberations over his Adminstration's policy on Afghanistan, the President emerged with a proposal to increase troops by 30,000 while insisting he'd initiate a withdrawal of those troops in the middle of 2o11. People questioned if he'd be able to stick to his plan for early withdrawal, but Obama insisted he would. Now, in recent weeks, Obama and his team are indicating they're reconsidering the goal for withdrawal, and, insteady, feel it'll probably be necessary to keep American troops in Afghanistan much longer.
That reversal, if it comes true, disgusts me. I'm opposed to American military intervention in Afghanistan altogether, but, I'm so bothered tha Obama, appareantly, can be that cynical toward the public that he advertised this "early withdrawal date" and now thinks he can reverse himself and no one will care?
I followed Obama's handling of the tax cut closely. While I tried to cut him slack initially, the more I heard mention of the unnecessary "waste" of spending that'd help the richest, I grew very disenchanted. It all hit home for me one night as I watched Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show, "The Last Word" one night. O'Donnell had several excellent guests on to comment on the Obama tax cut topic. One guest was Ralph Nader. I've grown increasingly impatient with Nader in recent years, but, he was on the money this night. Nader commented that Obama has acted like the Republicans had the majority the past two years rather than seizing on the Democratic majority he has. Nader said that Obama was "conflict-averse." He said that Obama should have taken the lead on some issues by saying "Here's what we're going to do..." (meaning, or, "Here's what I want to do and here's why you should follow me")
I watched and cringed: I agreed completely with Nader. Why the hell have we all heard so much about John Boehner and Mitch McConnell the past two years? Hell, they haven't even said anything compelling. All they've done is attack Obama and oppose virtually everything he proposes. Why hasn't Obama challenged these leaders and other Republicans to argue the merits of far more issues? I'm convinced that Obama would win most debates. He's superb at arguing his points -- once he has a position, that is!
I think Nader is, at least partly, correct about Obama's conflict-avoidance. There is no reason Obama couldn't attempt more forceful persuasion about issues he cares the most about. Obama doesn't seem to "get it" that the American people like to gain "a sense" about their President's identity, his personality and passions. Look at the unique appeal of Ronald Reagan. No matter what one's view of him was, he always spoke naturally about his ideological convictions - which, conveniently, were supported by most Americans. (reduce the federal government, boost defense spending, etc.)
Obama seems constitutionally unable to articulate what he cares the most about vs. what he is willing to compromise on. I'd love to hear him identify a few things that he'll fight for no matter what -- no matter what the opposition, no matter the impact on his political fortunes.
I'm still waiting for that. Instead, he projects that he cares about everything and every issue in sort of the same voice, context and perspective.
Obama has made matters much worse by making far, far too many appearances on television. He's badly, badly overexposed and many people, I think, are predisposed to tune him out now, automatically, as a result. Sometimes, Obama comes off as another, self-absorbed, narcissistic leader who cares more about being in the limelight than the issues he's supposedly addressing.
Another discouraging example: I had thought Obama and his administration were acting a bit tougher toward Israel by prodding that Israel should really halt all construction of new settlements in designated areas, but, now, the Administration has dropped this precondition. Why? I had hoped Obama was willing to tolerate criticism and resistance on the Middle East - which would have been praiseworthy. Now, I fear that he's "wimping out" on this topic too by avoiding further conflict with Israel.
I'll tell you. After Obama's inspirational 2008 presidential campaign, he at least sounded like he'd try to change a few things in Washington. He was such a gifted orator. He could shine in debates with his opponents. He appeared like someone who could use his strengths to lead by persuasion. Now, halfway through his first term, he's appearing to be "just another President," who cannot overcome the waves of outside influence.
I hope he can rediscover his voice in the next two years. Or, perhaps, to put it more accurately: That he can learn how to articulate and fight for his own convictions more than he has so far in his public life.
I post opinions at least once a week here. Often I write about politics or media coverage of politics -- two subjects I have followed closely for more than 30 years.