The Skinny On Barack Obama: Campaigns Brilliantly, Governs Badly

From almost the first days after Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Republicans had the measure of the man. They saw he didn’t feel strongly about core Democratic economic principles. Even more important from their perspective, he was easily rolled. All Republicans need do was take hard stands, show an unwillingness to give ground, and President Obama would cave.

Running for reelection in 2012 Mr. Obama went to great lengths to try and assure his own party that he had learned his lesson in this regard. He would set out strong positions and stick with them if reelected.

He was reelected, with a huge electoral and a very solid percentage victory over the protect-the-interests-of-the-rich candidacy of Mitt Romney.

The stage was set for a new Barack Obama. A Fighter-in-Chief. A man who would say: “I won on a certain platform. The people want me to keep my promises, govern in a way that accommodates the wishes they clearly expressed with their votes. And what they clearly wanted was to reduce wealth inequality in this country through tax policies that tapped the richest among us who have been getting excessive tax breaks for decades.”

A single easily recognizable number summed up this promise: He would fight for a total increase on top 2 percenters’ income — capital gains and dividend taxes, plus do away with some deductions only employed by these people — and such changes would total $1.6 trillion over 10 years.

That $1.6 trillion over 10 years tax increase on the very rich was in fact Mr. Obama’s first negotiating position coming out of the 2012 election. House Speaker John Boehner then laid out his own first negotiating position — revenue increases of $800 billion over 10 years. The negotiations began.

The negotiations ended yesterday with Congress approving the deal Mr. Obama worked out with the Senate Republicans. It has revenue increases of $600 billion over 10 years, $200 billion less than Speaker Boehner’s first offer.

In essence, the election desires expressed by voters in 2012 were nullified by President Obama’s waffling-cum-caving negotiation style. Beyond this blown opportunity for really meaningful tax changes, Democratic positions on entitlement programs that will be decided in coming months have been seriously, perhaps terminally, undermined by a Democratic president that a defeated-at-the-polls Republican Party know will always roll if seriously challenged.

Mr. Obama has said often and very publicly that he will not give in on Social Security and Medicare “reforms” that Republicans want. Yeah, right. And of course there will be those changes to the tax code that lower rates for big business by doing away with so-called “loopholes.” Will Mr. Obama be rolled on these? Do you really have to ask?

On matters that aren’t economy-based, will Mr. Obama also buckle? Like whether to appoint Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary when neocons and the Israeli lobby oppose the former senator. Our Buckler-in-Chief will cave on this one, too. And anywhere else the GOP decides to fight really hard.

It’s better for the country and the world, of course, that Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney last year. If that thought gives you comfort, fine. But…

We needed a strong leader at a very critical time, economically and politically, on both domestic and foreign policy issues. We got instead a great campaigner who speaks well but lacks a mighty vision — even a discernible vision of any kind — for the country, and the strength of character to bring it about.

As an American I hope the guy in the White House for the next few years shows at least enough gumption not to make it totally impossible for his successor to reverse the damages he has fostered, abetted, or simply allowed to happen. That’s what I hope. I ain’t betting on it.

(My two most recent novels are: Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan and The Bellman’s Revenge.)

11 Comments

  1. In my eyes President Obama is just one of the symptoms in a larger problem. Namely the absolute child-like immaturity and self-defeating ways of our Federal Government. It’s all about scoring cool points with segments that talk loud and slobber incessantly. I understand your point Michael and the focus on President Obama. But I just see one big blob of confusion, nastiness, and horizontal thinking (aka NO VISION and WILL) regarding government.

  2. I don’t think Obama is a total failure in this regard nearly as much as I think the opposition from the GOP is unprecedented. How would we know if Obama was good? If the other guys want to hold their breath and throw a tantrum until they get their way, even at the expense of the American people, what do you do? Bush had a compliant Congress in the democrats. Time and again the Dems show they can work with a GOP president, but the GOP shows they simply won’t budge on ANYTHING unless they have a gun to THEIR heads, not the American people’s. Certainly Obama is no LBJ or FDR. If he was maybe, MAYBE, things might be different. But when you are dealing with a group of people so stubborn and stupid as to hold up the debt ceiling process, what are you doing to do? If the GOP really wanted to show us how bad Obama’s ideas are, they should let him pass some of them and actually implement them. If they work, yea things get better, if they don’t, the GOP can campaign on the much more valid “We told you so” platform. Instead, they will stonewall. Which gives me, and so many other voters, an excuse to still think Obama knows what he is doing if only the GOP would stop their obstructionism.

    You see, I know the GOP plans don’t work. Not because the Dems told me so in their talking points, but because they actually got implemented last decade and the results were awful. So when I say I don’t want a return to them, I have some evidence to stand on concerning that decision. The GOP wants to convince me Obama’s plans are crap, they should do the same. The fact they won’t leads me to believe they in fact know they will work.

  3. From the beginning of his time as a community organizer in poor neighborhoods of Chicago, Obama has believed in and, shown, his skill at compromising—as well as his belief that compromise is the proper goal in a Democracy. I don’t hold any of this against him, since he has already discovered that the GOP (currently puppets to the tea party) can, and will, go to any lengths to get their ill-conceived wishes. If Obama has granted them any unmerited concessions, perhaps it is because, as a President who really cares about supporting the middle class, he is also mindful of any potential harm done to members of that class. And, judging from the GOP’s performance on the last debt ceiling debacle the President probably has reason to believe that, without getting SOME of their ways, the Republicans would very likely persist in holding out until real damage has been done to our economy and to the world’s.

    In the last year of his first term, Obama has already taken off the gloves and engaged in some very effective tactics designed to show the pubic that Republicans really do NOT care for the plight of ALL taxpayers—as they would have us all believe. He has often held them up for ridicule by publicising the fact that they will vote against measures which even they had previously supported—just because he also supports them! One might also point out that, part of the reason for his successful Presidential campaign, had to do with the effective way he revealed Republicans as NOT really caring about everyone’s taxes, but only, those of the UPPER classes.

    Achieving increased tax revenues of only 600 billion in the next decade, may not have been optimal, but at least it is a start. Additionally Obama has publicly stated that any future cuts will have to be matched with increased revenues—a statement that definitely would not be made by a pushover.

    If Congress had lingered too long after going over the cliff, it could, not only have brought on a new recession, but also seriously endangered the economy of the world. So, perhaps because the President realizes that he is not dealing with sane people, he decided to accept the present deal, instead of jeopardizing the country itself by not taking the fanatic ideology of the Tea Party, as a serious threat.

    I guess the true measure of Obama’s leadership will be revealed in how closely he adheres to the insistence that, making cuts, without also adding increased revenues, is indeed, fundamentally unfair. We should also consider that, if the fiscal cliff had not been averted (even to the lesser extent that it has) by making some concessions, the well being of 2 million people who would certainly lose their unemployment checks, would viscerally threaten theirs, and also, all of our well beings.

    I am going to pay a lot of attention to how Obama handles the coming debt ceiling challenge, as well as negotiating over how much by, and which, programs will be cut. He already holds a trump card in the fact that, he may actually propose larger amounts in cuts than the GOP is willing to endorse since, obviously, If Republicans really claim to be the only party interested in reducing the debt, than why don’t they support what may possibly be the bolder proposals made by Obama? I’m sure that if Republicans balk in this way, they will only increase their unpopularity with the public—jeopardizing their success in future elections. So, It should be REALLY interesting to see what Obama does and, what will actually happen.

  4. I’ll admit to having low expectations for the first 3 years or so, but Obama has performed much better than I thought he would. I think he gets unfair criticism because most people don’t understand the disaster of an economy he inherited nor do the fully comprehend the insanity of the tea party. Liberals hate that he compromises and conservatives don’t believe they getting compromises. He is in a lose lose situation, in a hyper partisan atmosphere, fueled by poisonous 24 hour media.

  5. Hi All,

    Here’s how things should be decided in a democracy…with elections. We actually had one of those this past November. And though great efforts were made to disguise the true issues, they came through very clearly to most voters: Do you want to further enrich the rich with more tax breaks so some trickles down, or maintain middle class tax breaks while at the same time taking a sizable bite from the rich in the form of higher taxes — with “rich” clearly and endlessly defined as incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filing families.

    We all know who won that election. So does the winner come out fighting and pound the losers into a compromise close to what the people voted for? Or come out hot to “negotiate” away the fruits of electoral victory.

    Well here’s the scorecard. Any worker making less than $50,000 will now see an increase in his/her taxes because the Payroll Tax again went up from 4.2 to 6.2 percent. And no one with under a $500,000 income will see any net tax increase.

    What is there about this outcome that should win praise for the ostensible presidential winner of the election? That he wasn’t totally beaten down by a fringe group on the far right even increasingly disliked by other Republicans?

    Really, folks, it’s time to stop acting as apologists for this president if you voted Democratic as I did. We elected him. He was elected to serve our interests. Not to stand above the fray and govern as he pleases.

  6. I guess progressives would have preferred to go over the cliff.

  7. Hi Shannon,

    No, progressives like me simply want people we elect — and are elected by a large majority of all American voters — to do what they promised to do when running for office. To come out fighting, not come out hot to negotiate on whatever terms a radical right demands.

  8. MS, I agree with most of what you said. Obama won in 2008, as a not-Bush candidate with Elmer Gantry charm, but without the cunning.
    Although, I thought back then: “anyone but HC”, I was wrong. The person in the WH should have been more like a Johnson than a Carter.
    Perhaps in better times, Obama could have done better also, but hey the Reps have done everything in their ineptitude to help him do better. :-)

  9. MS, how do you negotiate with Charles Mason? Cantor et al do not care about America. Ideology first, because a liberal America is not a real America. The constitution was written to protect the minority. Now those protections are being abused to keep a minority in power. Obama is playing against a stacked deck of jokers.

  10. Hi Shannon,

    I’m sure your views here are the ones held by Mr. Obama, himself. He’s a guy who wins the presidency twice, the second time around with a big margin, has a Democratic Senate, and is facing a fractured opposition party that is eating itself up from the insides. But our President still thinks he’s up against a stacked deck.

    Here’s another way to look at it. The presidency has enormous powers, even beyond the formal ones. The power to go to the people and do a bully pulpit number, to really lay into nasty obstructionists. It ain’t polite. But it’s sometimes the way to get the job done. Ah, but that isn’t the Obama style, is it?

    You refer to a stacked deck. A card reference. Well here’s a bit of poker lore. If you haven’t spotted the fish at the table after five minutes, you’re the fish. Mr. Obama is the fish. The one you can bluff or beat down every time. Always.

    And if you think he won’t cave really big time on spending for entitlements in coming months, you haven’t been watching the man closely for the past four-plus years.

  11. I understand you Michael, but the House members blocking Obama have nothing to lose. Obama can’t bully members from districts that hate Obama. If anything, the bullying would strengthen their reelection chances.
    Could he bully the party? Sure, but we saw how effective Rep leadership in the House has been. They had to go to the Senate to get movement and they need a super mega majority in the Senate to protect the House.
    It is too bad that Obama had to go through his teething period during the same time he had both houses.

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