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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 28, 2013

 
The Obama Presidency is adrift. It's his own fault. And it can be fixed.

by David Atkins

The President has has made a recent pivot to talk about jobs and economic growth rather than cuts. This is welcome, and the rhetoric has been good.

Yet some of it leaves one to scratch one's head. Consider this:

In an interview with The New York Times, Obama said the overwhelming focus on cutting spending and trimming the deficit has been a "damaging framework in Washington," and that there needs to be ample attention given to ensuring upward mobility for all Americans.

"If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise,” he said. "That’s not a future that we should accept."
Cutting spending and trimming the deficit has been a "damaging framework"? If that is so, why did he spend so much time legitimizing it?

The President's defenders often state that he does the best he can with intransigent Republican opposition. Those same people often state that rhetoric doesn't matter--that only votes matter, and that votes are a product of local, economic and institutional factors, not Presidential persuasion. But if that's the case, why bother with a rhetorical pivot to jobs?

If rhetoric and framing do matter, why would the President state that cutting spending and reducing deficits is a bad framework when he himself has done so much to promote that framework through a Grand Bargain?

This is precisely the sort of thing that is making his Presidency seem adrift. It is adrift. That, of course, is largely the fault of Republican extremism preventing the country from accomplishing anything and attempting to nullify his presidency. But that alone doesn't explain the lack of focus.

The President could take a stand, forcing passage of what small improvements might be possible while cursing the GOP for not doing more. Nothing is getting done anyway.

If nothing is going to get done, why not use the intervening time to damage the House Republicans who stand in the way of progress? Why not demand message bill after message bill, sponsor them through the Senate and watch the GOP filibuster every one? Why not then call for reform of the filibuster? Spend every day listing the things the House Republicans will not do? Go to the media and ask why the Republicans refuse to give the President a bill to increase the minimum wage? Why do they refuse to send him an infrastructure bill to create jobs? Why do they refuse to send him a gun control bill?

If I were President, I would go on camera and say:

"You know, I want what the American people want. Like you, I want to increase the minimum wage. I want to boost jobs, increase incomes for middle class Americans, and fix our decaying infrastructure. I want to do something to stop the epidemic of gun deaths in this country. I want to invest in green jobs, move away from the old fuels that fund our enemies, slow down and stop climate change and make America the leader in the technologies of the 21st century. I want to invest in our children's education and stop students from taking on a lifetime of debt just to go to college.

Like you, I want to do all these things. But I'm not a king. I can't force Congress to put these bills on my desk. They have to bring them to me, and Republicans in Congress refuse to do so. I'm asking them directly: give me these bills. The American people want them. I got elected by a significant margin in order to get these things done that I talked about on the campaign trail.

I'm as aware as the American People that nothing is getting done in Washington. It's all bickering and no action. But that doesn't mean everyone is equally to blame. I'm trying to get these things done to bring relief to my fellow Americans. Most of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate are trying to do the same. But the House of Representatives is refusing to do its job. In fact, they're planning on taking America hostage--again!--refusing to pay the bills we've racked up unless we slash even more jobs and hurt our economy even worse than they hurt it already.

Enough is enough. I'm waiting for the House to act, and for Republicans in the Senate to stop filibustering every bill we put forward to help the American people. The Republican Senate Minority has already blocked twice as many bills during my Presidency than in any other Presidency. I've tried compromising, I've tried threatening, I've tried pleading. Nothing works. There's nothing to trade. The Republicans are so invested in trying to make my Presidency fail that they're will to let American go down with it.

They don't want to raise the minimum wage. They want to cut taxes for the rich. They don't want to invest in green jobs and infrastructure: they want to cut jobs and privatize our roads and bridges. They don't want to reduce the number of guns on our streets and in our schools; they want to increase them. They'd rather regulate women's bodies than regulate corporations that evade taxes and pollute our air and water. There's no compromise to be had there. Trust me, I've tried--though the press often pretends I haven't, I've tried as hard as anyone can. They just don't want the same things the American people do.

My message to the American People is this: you elected me to do a job and make your lives better. I'm doing all I can, but I can't do it alone. I need Congress--and Republicans in Congress especially--to do
their jobs rather than cater to the interests of a few big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Everything I can do alone, I'm doing. But I can't do the big things without some help. If you want change as much as I do, if you want to realize your and my hope for a better future, call up and email your members of Congress and tell them to do their jobs and send these bills to my desk."

Would that be a divisive speech? Of course it would. But it's not as if the government is functional now, or as if partisan sniping could get more acrimonious than it is now.

Such a speech might not accomplish too much. But it wouldn't be the speech of a Presidency adrift. It would be the speech of a Presidency on point. It would highlight precisely why the President was taking executive action to go around Congress when possible. It would highlight who was causing problems. It would be difficult for a fractured Republican caucus to effectively respond. And it might even mobilize Democratic and progressive activists to do the seemingly impossible and retake the House in 2014.

The current approach will accomplish no more legislatively, while failing badly politically. If the Presidency is adrift, it's time for the American people to learn why straight from the horse's mouth.

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