southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Is Obama In Troubled Waters?

After spending valuable family time vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard and staying ahead of the destructive Irene, Barack Obama returns to Washington, DC this week amidst a campaign for his job that has long begun.  With little over a year until voters decide his fate regarding a second-term, it is high time that Obama join the fight.  Wounded by a stubborn economy, a gyrating stock market and high unemployment, Obama has lost his swagger, that typical lift in his voice.  Not surprisingly, I have read several recent columns that suggest President Obama has virtually no chance of winning re-election.  This assessment may well be accurate unless Obama can clearly and coherently delineate to the American people his impressive successes – contrary to popular belief, there have been many – along with a cogent plan to resuscitate the flailing economy and bring down unemployment.  By doing this, I believe that Obama can all but assure himself of a second-term.

President Obama – and his communications team – should focus on two things with respect to his messaging plan during the upcoming campaign.  First, Obama should portray himself as an executive whose policies, with few exceptions, are supported by a majority of the American public, and are only opposed by Republicans who are beholden to the Tea Party and other fringe elements.  I often read that Obama is a radical and – even more outlandishly – the most liberal president America has ever seen.  For any objective observer, of course, this is ridiculous non-sense.  Many Republican presidents have led a more left-leaning government than has Obama – Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt not the least of which among them.  As president, he’s been a sober, cautious, tongue-shackled realist — a moderate Republican of the pre-Tea Party era.  As such, Obama’s policies have pretty much split the center.

When the Obama Administration reached a debt deal with Congress recently to make a dent in the national deficit, this was only the beginning of a much broader effort because only a small dent in the deficit does this deal make.  Consequently, President Obama has continued to suggest that revenues should be sought by closing tax loopholes coupled with returning the wealthy to Clinton and Reagan-era tax rates.  In fact, he has suggested extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class.  Tax cuts for wage-earners, but not for millionaires and billionaires, have deep, bipartisan support across the land, sensibly and eloquently articulated by billionaire investor Warren Buffet recently in the New York Times, who pointed to the absurdity of his secretary paying a higher tax rate than he.  If Obama can communicate this issue smartly and deftly, the Republicans running for president who collectively said that they would raise taxes under no circumstances even given $10 in spending cuts to every $1 in revenue will wish they had never made such a rigid pledge to extremism.  Take the fight to them, Mr. President, and make the Republicans defend the politics of gross  economic inequality.

Another fallacy that seems to haunt the Obama Administration is the assertion that the health care bill is a radical one.  Let’s be clear: it is not, and not by a long shot.  It falls far short of being a government-controlled program in the mold of most other civilized nations.  If they so choose, most Americans can keep their trusted private coverage.  The so-called individual mandate — requiring everyone to have at least some coverage — grew out of Republican think tanks, and, of course, was famously institutionalized in Massachusetts by Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  Again, Obama should take this fight directly to the Republicans who so readily criticize him for having the audacity to do something about the dire health care situation.   Approximately 50 million Americans live with no health care at all.  If that’s the status quo that Republicans are willing to accept, then Obama should make them own the injustice, highlighting Republican candidate Rick Perry’s Texas, where one in four citizens are without this basic human right, which the rest of the industrial world enjoys.

President Obama should also speak with clarity about his significant successes in foreign policy which have far surpassed those of President Bush.  The obvious success to which the president can point is his resolute determination to bring Osama bin Laden to justice; and incidentally, his brave decision to authorize the stealth attack which took the life of the world’s most wanted terrorist.  Now comes the news today that on August 22 a drone attack killed al Qaeda’s #2 in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.  Those same drone attacks for which Obama has been so roundly criticized from both the left and the right.  According to the Washington Post, al- Rahman was bin Laden’s channel to the world.  They talked about everything including strategy, personnel, operations and political setbacks.  Whatever thread still held al-Qaeda together passed from bin Laden through to Rahman.  President Obama has arguably made more progress against al-Qaeda in his short time in office than President Bush in his eight years. 

Perhaps President Obama has been most criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike regarding his policy toward Libya.  Liberals were disappointed that Obama was engaging America in yet another military engagement at all.  Republicans chided the president for not utilizing the full force of the American military to dispose of Qaddafi.  Instead, Obama decided to encourage the rebels in their revolutionary efforts and provided unwavering support for NATO intervention in Libya.  But most importantly from a strategic standpoint, Obama took care not to make America the face of the intervention (the bombings), thus the operation garnered broad world support including from other Arab nations.  As a result, the Libyan rebels were made to be the heroes and America wasn’t viewed as the enemy by the world at large.  This was the brilliance of the Obama strategy and the key difference between the Bush Doctrine and that of Obama.  

The Republicans, however, were in no mood to give the president any credit whatsoever for the major success in Libya.  Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina penned a letter last week in which they say the following:  “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”  I suppose Senator McCain and Senator Graham have already forgotten how utterly ineffective this same approach proved to be in Iraq and Afghanistan.  An amnesia diagnosis is unlikely; I, on the other hand, detect a really bad case of sour grapes.  Either way, Obama should take this success directly to the American people and allow them to decide the preferable approach in foreign policy.  For me, it’s simple: it’s hard to argue with success.

The second tack for the Obama campaign is a simple one – highlight the lunacy of the opposition.  I will not use this space to once again argue against Republican policies that are, at least on some level, defensible.  I can understand that Republicans want smaller government (even if it means worse government) and lower taxes (even if it means an unequal tax structure).  Of course President Obama will differentiate himself from the Republicans from a policy standpoint on these issues.  But he should also address with the American people the issues by which the Republicans are simply fanatical.  For instance, the leading Republicans who are vying to take Obama’s job continually deny the existence of basic science, scoffing at everything from evolution to the global consensus on climate change.  Will they take on gravity next?   In the same week that scientists announced the discovery of fossils 3.4 billion years old, evidence of explosive growth of early life through evolution, Rick Perry referred to evolution as “a theory that’s out there.”  A theory?  Perhaps he still believes the Earth is flat and is the center of the universe.  Those were theories.

On social issues, most of the Republican candidates want to amend the constitution to take away rights from gays and pregnant women.  What’s more, in his book Rick Perry suggests that we eliminate the seventeenth amendment which grants American citizens the right to directly elect their senators.  And, of course, Perry famously suggested that the state he serves as governor, Texas, secede from the Union.   Furthermore, sensible business leaders are working with the Federal Reserve to help cure what ills a sick global economy.  Yet one leading Republican candidate, Ron Paul, wants to abolish the central bank.  Another, my favorite (as you know by now) Rick Perry, has threatened physical harm of some vague sort against the chairman, Ben Bernanke.  These types of irrational, irresponsible and somewhat strange positions should be used by the Obama campaign to their advantage.  I doubt the majority of the American people are going to give much credence to a candidate that can’t tell fact from fiction.

Undoubtedly, President Obama will face an incredibly difficult fight for his job over the next year and change.  And maybe I’m more optimistic about his chances than most, but I truly believe that the empirical evidence points to substantive successes for the Obama campaign to tout.  Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton attempted to comprehensively reform our dysfunctional health care system.  Obama did it.  President Reagan tried to oust Qaddafi as Libya’s cruel dictator.  Obama did it.  President Bush claimed that he wanted to capture Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.”  Obama did it.  Obama repealed the archaic “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy, appointed two female Supreme Court justices, passed an important financial reform bill, a stimulus bill and compromised with Republicans to reduce the deficit.  Yes, admittedly, he has made mistakes and should focus intensely on job creation.  Yet given the circumstances present when he assumed office, President Obama deserves a second-term and he will get it if he can communicate his successes to the American people while highlighting the rigid ideology and irrationality of his Republican contenders.  The president, in my view, has all the cards.  The question now is how effectively he can play his hand.

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August 29, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Libya, Obama, Politics, Republican Party, Rick Perry | , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The War Powers Act….again

The unresolved debate surrounding the War Powers Act – which surfaces on each occasion the United States Military is involved in a conflict – reared its persistent head again this week with respect to the U. S. involvement in NATO’s mission in Libya.  The law was passed in 1973 after the U. S. fought the Korean and Vietnam wars without actual war declarations.  From the outset, the law has been controversial with every president from both parties arguing that it is unconstitutional and an unnecessary infringement upon the president’s authority as Commander-in-Chief. 

I understand that it is not prudent for a president of the United States to be constrained by Congress during a potential national crisis.  I further recognize that a military conflict shouldn’t be micromanaged by 535 Members of Congress.  Having said that, the president is only required to seek the approval of Congress after 60 to 90 days following commencement of the conflict.  It is not as if the president has to approach the legislative branch during the immediate stages of a crisis.  If our democracy is based on the notion that Members of Congress represent the people, shouldn’t the people be consulted on a matter of national urgency such as war?  In my view, the answer is a resounding yes.

The debate this week has centered around Speaker of the House John Boehner’s letter to President Obama chastising him for not approaching Congress to authorize the use of force in Libya.  Unfortunately, it is hard for me to take the Speaker seriously considering Politico has reported that Speaker Boehner voted in 1995 to repeal the War Powers Act.  Further, in 1999 during the debate regarding Kosovo, Speaker Boehner labeled the act “constitutionally suspect” and worried that it could tie “the hands of future presidents.” 

In response to Speaker Boehner’s letter, President Obama has argued that the hostilities in Libya have not risen to the level of hostilities covered by the War Powers Act.  That muddled, non-sensical response is like saying that a fist fight between two people which doesn’t result in broken bones does not rise to the level of actual fighting.  President Obama could have preempted the issue and acted like the transparent, law-abiding president I expected him to be by simply going to Congress and, almost certainly, getting the resolution.

What is more interesting to me, however, is the fact that this debate has further illuminated the cameleon-like ability of our political leaders to change stripes depending upon who has power.  While I recognize that the Republicans have made it their purpose in life to disagree with every proposal that President Obama offers, how can the Republican Party act as if it is appalled by the humanitarian intervention in Libya after they brought us the great Iraq debacle in virtually complete unanimity?  In the Republican debate Monday night, Mitt Romney submitted that President Obama should withdraw troops from Afghanistan “as soon as we possibly can.”  When did Mitt Romney and many of his Republican friends become doves after years of hawkishness?  How did Republican foreign policy go from being stridently interventionist to almost uniformly isolationist virtually overnight?  The answer: when a Democratic president was elected and became responsible for the execution of these wars.

The Democrats, unfortunately, are just as complicit.  Why were most Democrats completely on board with President Obama when he chose to expand and strengthen our presence in Afghanistan and get involved in Libya?  Would these same Democrats have been as supportive of President Bush under the same circumstances? 

That’s why I was heartened this week by Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, and Walter Jones, a Republican from my home state of North Carolina, as they teamed up to sue the Obama Administration for not seeking authorization from Congress to intervene in Libya under the War Powers Act.  To their credit, Kucinich and Jones have remained absolutely consistent in arguing vehemently and adamantly against American intervention in both Iraq and Libya irrespective of party politics.  Apparently, there are still a few national leaders who do not change their positions and principles as the winds of political change blow.  And that is certainly a breath of fresh air.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Libya, Obama, Politics, War Powers Act | , , , | Leave a comment