Barack Obama celebrated his 50th birthday last week, under circumstances far less jovial than he could possibly have imagined.
He had narrowly avoided total economic disaster by signing a debt ceiling increase, which included over $2 trillion dollars in spending cuts just before the country defaulted on its financial obligations. However, with public sentiment largely against the plan, which calls solely for spending cuts without revenue increases (even though in four speeches during the debt-ceiling debate Obama “demanded” that revenues, i.e. tax increases, be included in the package), a plan that can only hurt the already struggling middle class more, Obama is looking more like a “lame duck” than the president of the United States.
The president allowed a small faction of Tea Party members to hijack the debt-ceiling debate, prolong the negotiations longer than they ever should have been (especially considering what the delay would mean to the already volatile market) and get the spending cuts they requested – even though the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending but rather spending that has already been incurred. Had President Obama simply stated the obvious: “Why are we talking about spending cuts when that has nothing to do with the debt ceiling?” He would have put the Tea Party Republicans in a position to expose their ignorance (GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann said failure to raise the ceiling “would not harm the economy”). It would have given Obama some leverage to work a more equitable plan for all sides.
Instead, he gave them what they wanted. There were no revenue increases, even though the GOP lie that spending cuts minus tax increases in a down economy will “stimulate growth” has been disputed by every credible economist who has addressed the subject.
Obama also had to watch as America’s credit rating was downgraded from the highest rating of AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s. This represented the first time in the country’s history that this occurred and it will be an ugly blotch on Obama’s presidential legacy regardless of what he does throughout the rest of his time in office.
For a man whose biggest asset was presumed to be his skilled oratory, he has been unable to articulate a vision for the country, a goal of getting people back to work, or even a spirited rebuttal to many of the proven falsehoods coming from his adversaries.
It was the same thing that occurred during the budget debate last year.
Obama spoke often about letting the “Bush tax cuts,” which have added billions to the debt, expire, only to watch the GOP claim that “taxing anyone during a down economy is a disaster,” basically forcing Obama to extend the cuts through the end of 2012.
Will Obama take the blame for continuing the Bush tax cuts even though it was the GOP who demanded their extension? Of course.
Why would Obama concede such a fundamental issue if he is concerned about the fiscal well-being of the country? Because he lacks the innate ability to strategize effectively and win debates against his political opponents.
As the old adage goes, he’s a lover, not a fighter. But by ascribing to the “No Drama Obama” motif, he is being politically pushed around by congressional bullies who have only a fact-free propaganda at their disposal.
Somehow with the bully pulpit, facts and polling data that suggested support for his positions (over 60 percent of Americans favored a debt deal that included tax increases on the wealthy), Obama still can’t find a way to secure the agenda that he calls for.
He’s either the worst negotiator in the history of politics, the weakest president ever, or simply a hard right-winger at heart while insisting he is a “progressive” because it helps him politically.
It’s hard to say for sure.
But with Obama’s presidency on the edge of imploding, he needs to show that he is willing to fight for the things he says he believes in.
If he does not, it could be a lost presidency for a man who was believed to be a transformative figure.
So far, all that has been transformed is the belief that when he takes to the podium these days, there will be anything more than just rhetoric coming forth.