We are approaching the decision point in our country and we are going to have to make a choice about the future. We re-elect the Republicans in Congress (and maybe the Presidency) and either stayed mired in going nowhere, or head off in a direction of austerity and reduced hope for the middle class. Or we change the nature of the Congress and move forward really addressing our problems, maybe not with the right solutions, but at least attempts. Now, my conservative friends will say, wait a minute, what makes you think Republicans won’t address our problems? And all you have to do with this one is say, so what are their plans? Health care? Energy? The Economy? They just want to do more of what we have been doing only faster. It is amazing to me that the election could even be close, but then I think about Obama.
Don’t get me wrong, it is Obama or assured mutual destruction. But as a few really revealing stories about his political moves have indicated, he does not seem to have a rudder, or know where the North Star is. By that I mean that he has a different idea of policies that will work than many of us do. His definition of will work is politically defined. Many liberals and progressives have given him a pass on this one, after all, shouldn’t he be trying to do things that are at least politically viable? Well, yes and no. If politically viable moves the ship even marginally toward the goal. then yes. But if the assumption is that any movement of the ship (bipartisanship) is good, then the answer is no when that bipartisan solution moves the ship away from home port and toward the rocks.
What is truly disturbing about Obama is the story of the “Grand Bargain” and how it fell apart during the negotiations with the Republicans over extending the debt. The story, in great detail, was laid out in the following article that originally appeared in the Washington Post: Behind the Grand Bargain on the Debt. While the writers from the Washington Post have an agenda to show that President Obama ruined the deal when he saw the Senate Gang of Six with a better deal and supported it, the real disturbing issue is in the deal itself. Note as Arianna Huffington and Johnathan Chait pointed out in their reviews on this article, the writers claim that it was all Obama’s fault is not supported by their own facts (Remember that Dean Baker likes to refer to the Washington Post as Fox on 15th Street). But that is not the really disturbing thing, and that was how far Obama went to sell out liberal ideas for a solution that was a total capitulation to conservative austerity and balancing the budget on the least able to afford it.
The real crash of the negotiations were caused by the fact that even the minimal, and some think illusionary, revenues in the plan (taxes) were not acceptable to the right. Basically when all was said and done, the Republicans had the deal of the century and it fell apart because they don’t negotiate taxes. That in itself should be a lesson for those looking for bipartisanship in the future. The only solutions possible will be on the Rights terms of no new taxes (on the wealthy). But to be truthful, they saved us. Had Obama gone through with what apparently he desperately wanted, a Grand Bargain, he would has set back progressive and liberal ideas 100 years. He seemed so eager for a deal that he did not care that the deal was destructive to our future. Or more likely, maybe he has no North Star and was oblivious to it.
Now I don’t care what the apologist say, this is not what we thought we got in 2008 when he preached change and then showed us the worst of business as usual. As Arianna put it, “Campaign Obama came to Washington promising to change the way the system works, but in many instances he let himself become captive to the most destructive and entrenched Washington shibboleths.“ More importantly and demonstrating his lack of a real understanding of the direction we need to be moving in (my North Star metaphor) is this from Arianna:
“Why did the administration prioritize debt reduction in the first place? The answer is found in this excerpt from David Corn’s new book, Showdown: “Plouffe was concerned that voter unease about the deficit could become unease about the president. The budget issue was easy to understand; you shouldn’t spend more money than you have.”
But in fact, unlike a family, the government doesn’t have to tighten its belt in lean times. Indeed, the government can create demand by expanding when families are forced to contract — and by growing the economy, it can help reduce the deficit. This isn’t that hard to understand (though much of Washington and the media don’t seem to), but Obama never trusted the American people enough to even try to make that case. Instead, his reaction to the midterm disaster was to pivot to the worst sort of Washington dogmas. Rather than double down on his own message, he adopted 80 percent of the other side’s. “The depth of political malpractice here is just mind-blowing,” writes Paul Krugman of the Plouffe excerpt. “It’s the economy, stupid, not the deficit.“
It is a scary tale, but with maybe some real guidance for the rest of us. Obama is who he is, and on his own is not a good enough leader (well he may be a good leader, but doesn’t know the direction he should be leading us in) to keep us moving forward. Time after time we have seen him compromise away real change for the sake of compromise. Soon his grand accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, will be struck down because he did not understand what really needed to get done. The only way forward is to re-elect him and a Congress strong enough to force him to stay on course. He just doesn’t seem to be able to find the North Star by himself.
One other thought about group think. Here we have a White House working 24/7 trying to solve our problems, but they got so wrapped up in making the deal that they could not step back and see that the deal stunk. It was the intransigence of the Right that saved us from disaster and probably setting back the economy for many years. Maybe some of those guys ought to work less and remember what we are fighting for. My favorite description of the difference between managing and leadership came from Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People). He tells a story of a group of managers who are hacking their way through the jungle. They are making good time as they came up with a system of trading off who hacked the limbs in front of them while passing the debris back behind them. They were making real progress when on of the mangers asked them to stop. They all complained that they were making real progress now and did not want to stop. He want to climb a tree and see where they were actually headed. You can guess which one was the leader.