Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Give Peas a Chance

"[I]f we think it's hard now, imagine how these guys are going to be thinking six months from now in the middle of election season where they're all up. It's not going to get easier. It's going to get harder. So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band–Aid; eat our peas."

Barack Obama
July 11, 2011

I'll be the first one to admit that the headline on this post is not original. I heard that Rush Limbaugh used it on his radio program (sneeringly, I'm sure), and the Washington Post used it as the headline on its editorial supporting Obama.

And it wouldn't surprise me if some form(s) of it wound up in print elsewhere.

It just seems so right for this topic, no matter which side of the fence you're on — and Limbaugh and the Post are about as far apart as you can get.

I've never been able to resist a really clever play on words. Neither could John Lennon, the guy who wrote "Give Peace a Chance" back during the Vietnam era.

And I think he would have appreciated this one.

I've always respected Obama's gift for public speaking. It's a gift he used far more effectively on the campaign trail than he has in the White House, and I think that is because he still hasn't learned the truth in Mario Cuomo's observation so many years ago about campaigning in poetry and governing in prose.

Obama simply hasn't proven to be nimble enough to manage that tricky transition. He wants to be the eternal outsider cheered on by his adoring supporters. He refuses to accept the fact that he has a record and that he is responsible for the economy now.

Obama rightfully admires past presidents who had a similar gift for the poetry of the campaign trail — guys like Lincoln and the Roosevelts and JFK — but he forgets the crucial role that leadership played in the success of their presidencies — even if that success was not recognized during that president's lifetime.

I think Obama sees himself as being like them in many ways — as he imagines himself to be, he sees them as being smarter than most of the Americans of their time and having used their superior language skills to sway the naysayers.

But he is often bewildered because, while he thinks is doing exactly what they did, he doesn't get the same response from lawmakers and voters — and that can be frustrating as well as bewildering.
"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh, Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

The Animals

There is a reason for that response, and I have been writing about it here since Obama took office.

It is not racism — the all–purpose excuse onto which the president's supporters latch when the results of his policies are disappointing.

This president has some admirable virtues. When he came to office, he was aware of a lot of problems, and his instinct was to deal with all of them.

To me, that suggests someone who deeply loves his country, someone who wants only the best for his country. He wants no flaws — even though such a state of perfection is impossible to achieve. It does not suggest someone who wants to turn the country upside down and inside out, as his political opponents have strongly implied.

But with unemployment as high as it was when Obama took office (and, of course, it is much higher still today, 2½ years down the road), it was obvious to me that, before anything else could be done, it was urgent to put America back to work. It would take money and lots of it to repair schools and highways and power grids, to develop alternative energy sources, to achieve all the things Obama said he wanted to achieve.

That meant that a much larger tax base would be necessary. To achieve that, it was necessary to put people back to work — so they could contribute to the tax revenue again.

For me, it was obvious what needed to be done. The question was how to do it.

In 2008, the poetry of his campaign speeches spoke to people — but too often "yes we can" has become "they won't let us" since Obama took office. The rhetoric rings hollow today. It sure doesn't sound like leadership.

It's easy enough at this point to say that, if the stimulus package had worked as advertised, things would be different. America was told a lot of things about what the stimulus would achieve — and little about what it would not.

If the stimulus had worked the way Obama told the country it would, I think it is likely that there would be no debt ceiling debate today. Oh, perhaps there would be, but the dynamics would certainly be different.

But it did not work as advertised.

For many Americans, especially unemployed Americans, it came as a shock when unemployment continued to post six–digit monthly losses long after the stimulus was passed — and they watched many of the outfits that caused the economic collapse in the first place regain lost ground and post hefty profits while the jobless slid deeper into economic quicksand.

Meanwhile, Obama said little publicly about job creation (frankly, I was shocked when he said not a single word about unemployment on the first Labor Day of his presidency). He spoke instead about his Supreme Court nominations (neither of which ever were in jeopardy), and he spoke a lot about his health care reform package. And he made a controversial speech to the schoolchildren of America.

As far as millions of unemployed Americans are concerned, Obama has been negligent. I've heard some suggest he should be impeached.

It was no secret that Republicans didn't like many of the things the Democrats did in the first couple of years of the Obama presidency, and it is certainly not a novel experience for the minority party to dislike and resist the majority's initiatives, but they were essentially powerless to do anything about them, especially after Al Franken was declared the winner in Minnesota, giving the Democrats a filibuster–proof majority in the Senate.

That was a golden opportunity, but the Democrats squandered it. Since the elections last fall, we've been hearing more from Obama on job creation — it's a welcome change but seems a little late and far too politically motivated. Besides, it comes across as insincere, considering the window he had.

I think most presidents have to learn that their opportunity is limited and they have to take advantage of their chances — and most do learn that by the midterm elections, if not before. Obama is still learning that, even after his party lost its huge majority in the House — and in spectacular fashion.

I suspect he will still be learning it when the debt ceiling crisis is past.

Eat your own damn peas, Mr. President.

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