By Cash Michaels
“…the audacity of winning has given away to the timidity of governing.”
November 3, 2009
As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver a major address on Sept. 8th before a joint session of Congress on how he hopes to improve the faltering US economy and generate more jobs, a dark, looming question remains.
Is he willing to fight for what he proposes?
“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard,” Pres. Obama once said upon accepting the Nobel Peace prize in December 2009.
The operative word here is “fight,” because many of his critics, and ironically many of his supporters - especially in his own party - question the president’s threshold of gravitas, and willingness to confront political adversaries not only to defend his governing principles, but advance his public policy positions.
To fight for those issues voters overwhelmingly determine are of primary importance, win or lose, is the mandate of most publicly elected officials, especially the most powerful of them all - the president of the United States. The American political process, by design, is a tug-of-war between conflicting electoral mandates, usually resulting in a hard fought compromise where both sides have given some ground in order to attain a reasonable result for all..
The Barack Obama who ran for president in 2008 promised voters he would “fight” for health care reform, more jobs and improvements to education, and they elected him.
“If we think that we can secure our country by just talking tough without acting tough and smart, then we will misunderstand this moment and miss its opportunities,” said candidate Obama on August 19, 2008.
“…[T]he campaign team, and the candidate, not only had the audacity to win but was able to keep that audacity alive, day in and day out over the long nearly-two-year slog of the campaign …,” Arianna Huffington of the online The Huffington Post, wrote in 2009, later adding that by doing so, the campaign had also, “…shown the Obama White House the way forward.”
But the Barack Obama who took over the White House in 2009, in an effort to pacify recalcitrant conservative Republicans hellbent on destroying his historic presidency, tried to conquer Washington with a peaceful personality and penchant for pragmatism, instead of raw political power when needed.
“President Obama is a leader,” White House adviser David Plouffe, who managed Obama’s 2008 campaign, told The Huffington Post. “He did not run to occupy the Oval Office but to lead from it, and many times that means playing a bad hand as effectively as possible.”
However, critics counter, whatever “bad hand” the president has had to play, was the direct result of his reluctance to fight for a stronger hand in the first place. In his dealings with the Republicans on the debt ceiling crisis or the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts(which he opposed, yet yielded on), the GOP always essentially walked away with “98 percent,” according to GOP House Speaker John Boehner, of what they ultimately wanted, seemingly laughing all the way to the bank while the president made excuses for what he was left with.
The result - today, one year away from would should be an assured re-election, a struggling President Obama is at his weakest ever. A frustrated American public - increasingly disenchanted with dysfunctional government and a spiraling economy - is demanding a new direction for the nation, and partially blames the president for a lack of leadership.
Critics, based on the president’s track record thus far, are even more blunt. They say Obama doesn’t know how to really lead, because he doesn’t know how to fight as a leader.
Indeed, there is evidence, they say, that Obama doesn’t want to fight at all, which is why he ultimately settles for much, much less than he, himself, has promised.
It’s something those who have been following Barack Obama long before he ever announced for president in 2007 had been saying, and warning anyone who would listen, about.
“We haven't yet seen what a Barack Obama would fight for in a public debate, and it's something I'd like to see,” once wrote liberal Democratic strategist Matt Stoller, a constant critic of Barack Obama. “I'd like to see him enter the contest, and in all likelihood get crushed for being a go-along-get-along politician.”
“Only then can he become a great Senator or President, after he realizes that it's not about being liked by everyone, it's about being a principled human being.”
Stoller wrote that about Obama in 2006 in an online piece titled, “Why Barack Obama Should Run for President.” It was one of many pieces accusing the then promising politician of always seeking the path of least resistance.
Something that few people realized when a fiery, young, oratorically brilliant Barack Obama took to the campaign trail in 2008, with crowd-pleasing phrases such as, “We’re fired up and ready to go,” and “I will fight for you.”
"I feel such an obligation to [my supporters]," Obama is quoted as once telling manager David Plouffe during the campaign. "They believe in me. In us. In themselves. What keeps me going day after day? Besides a clear sense of why I am running for president, it's them, our volunteers. It is a special thing we've built here and I don't want to let them down."
The question is, as President Obama slowly becomes candidate Obama again for the 2012 re-election bid, will he continue to promise voters that he will fight for them, even though he's prone to do the opposite?
And more importantly, now that the president has a record of doing anything but, will they believe him, and re-elect him?
Obama’s fellow Democrats opine about his reluctance to stand strong against the Tea Party Republicans on issues like raising the debt ceiling and protecting entitlement programs such as Medicare. True, of late, Obama took a tour through the Midwest recently, chiding the powerful right-wing faction of Congress for blocking any budget compromises that didn’t cut federal spending to their liking.
But the president urged citizens to punish Tea Partiers for their stubbornness - ironically citizens who overwhelming elected the Tea Party to Congress in the first place last November - instead of also saying that he will take them on from this point forward.
And the Congressional Black Caucus has now gone viral and very vocal with its criticisms of the president’s seeming unwillingness to directly address chronic unemployment in the African-American community, which, at almost 17 percent officially, is virtually twice the national average.
The White House counters that the president is sensitive to the plight of his strongest base of support, but must be sensitive to the plight of all Americans equally, lest history’s first African-American president be accused of playing favorites in times of crisis.
There is no question that President Obama has accomplished more in the first two years of his presidency than most commander-in-chiefs get done in an entire four-year term. But he had Democratic control of Congress from 2009 to 2011, and even so, willingly compromised strong positions on federal stimulus and health care reform just to attract bipartisan support with the Republicans.
For instance, despite consistent urgings from top economists to make his $787 billion stimulus package even bigger in order to properly jumpstart the sinking economy when he took office in 2009, Pres. Obama further weakened the package by making a third of it tax cuts, not only to appease opposing Republican Congressional leaders, but hopefully win their support.
They still refused.
And after pushing hard during his historic 2008 presidential campaign for a public option as the centerpiece of his revolutionary health care reform initiative, Obama willingly bargained it away for the prospect of getting support from the major pharmaceutical companies.
The same “Big Pharma” industry candidate Obama blasted in 2008 for previously cutting deals with Republican George W. Bush’s White House to protect its massive profits.
There are many who allege that one of the reasons why Obama seems “weak” or “indecisive” to some, and isn’t willing to fight for core liberal Democratic principles, is because he, in fact, is not a liberal.
There is no question that the Harvard University trained Barack Obama is not a weak or indecisive man, having come up in the legendarily tough Chicago political machine as a state senator, and then Illinois US senator. And certainly the 2008 presidential campaign proved Obama’s resilience when he had to defeat an evercharging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
But, as Connexion, an online alternative lifestyle publication posited last December, Obama is actually more centrist in his politics, more concerned with attracting moderates of both parties, plus as many independents as he can get.
Connexion wrote - This does not mean that President Obama is a Republican, or anything close to a Republican. The Republican Party is not conservative, it is extremist. But as the Republican Party has drifted farther and farther to the fringe, much of the establishment Democratic Party has intrepidly moved into the ideological space the Republican Party abandoned. The Republicans lead this movement to the right, and the Democrats follow, taking the political center with them and leaving the traditional left ever more disenfranchised, disenchanted, and politically alienated. The problem with Barack Obama isn't that he is worse than establishment Village Democrats, the problem is that he is one of them. He didn't change Washington, but he is changing what some who consider themselves liberal or progressive are willing to tolerate, accept, and even support.
Indeed, long before Obama took office, the Democratic Party had been long accused of bowing to the whims of the feisty Republicans by the progressive/liberal faction. Thanks to President Bill Clinton, the party moved further center during his eight years as president, in an effort to reclaim the Congress and the White House.
Obama’s “hope and change” campaign after eight years of Republican President George Bush seemed fresh and new to voters who were hungry for change. Obama promised to “fight for the middle-class,” but interestingly, said very little about fighting for poorer communities, even though his candidacy, because of his unique biracial background and experience growing up poor, implied that he knew their needs.
What was not known was the tension between candidate Obama, and traditional black leadership, many of whom harkened from the 1960’s civil rights movement.
Obama did not want to fight the old “black versus white” battles that still permeated the political landscape, even within the Democratic Party. He wanted to rise above it, bring together powerful coalitions of young, old, grassroots, business, university-educated and multi-cultural communities, add on a plethora of people who had never voted before, and win the presidency on a platform of positive change.
And he did just that.
Observers still laud the brilliance of perhaps the most successful political campaign in American history, but also counter that running a campaign, and governing a nation, are two totally different challenges.
President Obama, almost three years into his first term, has found that out, having tried mightily to negotiate his way through unyielding Republican opposition to his policies.
So now that summer is over, and the political season is back in bloom next week when the president addresses Congress about creating more jobs, will Barack Obama now forcefully challenge Republicans to work with him or else, as candidate Obama once promised?
Or will President Obama plead with a GOP leadership that has already declared their goal of destroying his presidency, even if it further brings the nation down?
The time for Barack Obama to fight, observers say, for the nation, and himself, is now.