President Obama should study the tough political wheeler-dealers, horse-traders, and consummate arm-twisters that preceding him in office: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), and Ronald Wilson Reagan (RWR). They may have been all smiles for public consumption but they were top politicians behind closed doors who left policies and legacies that continue to influence America today.
It’s nice that the President and the First Lady are emulating JFK and Camelot a bit in their personal lives, but with the nation in such a mess, we need him to show some nastiness behind the scenes with both Congressional Democrats and Republicans, along with slamming the big special interests, to accomplish any significant parts of his agenda this year. Without tangible and meaningful legislation, the electorate will have nothing upon which to judge this Administration.
The President cannot expect to pass meaningful legislation without getting down in the trenches and fighting for many of his previously expressed beliefs and goals. Even opponents come to respect such dogged persistence and sheer use of power. If the goals are important, then a President must actually fight for them. Repeating empty shibboleths of “change” and “bi-partisanship” will accomplish nothing in nasty, partisan, lobbyist-drenched Washington DC.
President Obama cannot conduct himself in the aloof and collegial style as he did while Editor of the Harvard Law Review (HLR), balancing between the Left and the Right but not taking a stand on anything. It does not work in the real world of American politics. The HLR is only designed to publish a large number of lengthy articles chock full of footnotes on various legal topics that are read by a select few people. The HLR is not designed to enact national legislation that directly affects the lives of 300 million Americans as is the President’s current job description.
The President inherited a huge economic and fiscal mess. The electorate should be reminded by others in the Administration, the Media or the Democratic Party. The policies of Republicans and Conservatives caused much of the current situation and over 80% of the current Budget deficit. Those facts can be repeated incessantly through the 2010 midterm elections in order to get the base out to vote in big numbers. However, President Obama must publicly assume full responsible for fixing our messes – and explain why it may take time to actually solve things. However, to expect better domestic economic progress after just 5 months in office is completely unreasonable.
President Obama allowed Democrats in Congress too much leeway in drafting a Stimulus Bill which garnered no Republican votes in the House and only 3 in the Senate. It contained so many useless give-a-ways to the opposition that major goals were short-changed. Administration officials danced in at the last minute during the House-Senate Conference Committee to insert a few items but this is not the way major legislation passes in Washington unless you want the huge conflicting pastiche that resulted. FDR and LBJ, and RWR ensured that their Staffs played intimate roles in drafting legislation, never allowing Congress to initiate the principle ideas and thus controlling the end results.
It seems logical that a law professor (even just a Constitutional one) would realize that in any major negotiations, the person who drafts the original document sets the overall tone, agenda, and policies for all subsequent negotiations. From that point on, the other parties merely respond to and essentially argue about details. But the overall mold is already set by the initial document. To allow a myriad of politicians, lobbyists and others stake-holders to simultaneously hash out vastly different documents and then try to mesh them together merely produces a mess or likely no meaningful results whatsoever.
For the President and his aides to try and remain noncommittal and above the fray, floating above as pretty dilatants with wings and magic wands, and intervening only to make suggestions and recommendations while others do the heavy dirty work, is not a sound exercise of Presidential leadership. Having been in office just 5 months with less than a year to pass any meaningful legislation before the political campaign resumes in full for the 2010 Midterms, President Obama needs to be far more aggressive, pushy, and assertive – at least in private.
It is evident from the actions and words of Republicans and Conservatives over the past 5 months, that the President will obtain no bipartisan support whatsoever. Therefore the phony and pointless search for bipartisan consensus on major legislation must be dumped immediately. President Obama is not even fighting Republicans on most issues, because his enemies are the huge corporate lobbyists in finance, healthcare, energy, defense, and every other issue. They give huge campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats. They are the formidable and secret powers in America today.
The President and the Democratic leadership of both houses in Congress only need to find just 51% majorities in both Houses and thus ram their agenda down as they see fit. No efforts should be made to placate or even consider the ideas and feelings of the losers of the past two election cycles. Republicans and errant Democrats will have to fight for crumbs in any future legislation. History favors the bold, not the timid. Giving away important principles and programs to make antagonists “happy” or willing to compromise is a waste of time after 51% of the votes have been secured. Being a careful eater, President Obama knows that if one is full with just one plate, one does not ask for seconds.
Healthcare reform, climate change, new transportation and energy initiatives, taxes, the deficit, education reform, DOMA and gays, and the 2010 Budget all loom large during the next 2 to 10 months. President Obama needs to find and use that iron fist hidden beneath his velvet glove. He needs to be publicly gracious and pleasant while ruthlessly manipulating 51% of the Representatives and Senators to see that his way is their way.
America and President Obama do not have the luxury of time. The administration should continue to exude a sense of urgency. Over the next 12 months, the sheer weight of Presidential power must be coupled with expending his considerable political capital for the good of the nation. We should want and expect a President to be respected and politically effective. His personal likeability factor will ultimately be irrelevant if he can’t get anything accomplished. Just ask his predecessor GWB.
If the President doesn’t completely roll (f**k) over the huge special interests, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in 2009 and 2010, they will destroy his Presidency expeditiously and without any regrets. There is no point hoping they will support some future initiatives in exchange for playing nice and compromising with them now. If he loses now, there will be no future initiatives to discuss – and not just because he front-loaded the agenda.
If the Healthcare and Energy/Climate Bills end up as huge meaningless “reform” packages, essentially hijacked and defanged of real change by the opposition, then President Obama could be a lame-duck thru 2012 and a former President faster than you can say Jimmy Carter.
By Marc Pascal in Phoenix, AZ