I felt cautiously optimistic after listening to the President’s speech about the upcoming 2012 budget yesterday, which I didn’t hear during the day but was able to watch in its entirety last night on the White House Web site (where it’s still up). In that speech, President Obama refuted Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s inhumane (and insane) budget proposal, saying that he will not maintain the Bush tax cuts for the rich after they expire at the end of 2012 (it would have been preferable if he’d said he would revoke them at the start of 2012), nor would he allow Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be dismantled, and, that he would not allow education and the environment to suffer in the name of so-called fiscal responsibility.
It was heartening to hear the President say these things, although his delivery was very low key (a little high-pitched indignation would have been appreciated) and the fact that it was part of a speech (commencement?) at George Washington University in the middle of a weekday did not signal the sense of urgency or determination this situation requires. Today, he held what I hear was an equally encouraging press conference, but I haven’t seen that yet.
As much as I want to believe what the President is saying now, I have doubts and fears. My friend LK, an avid Obama supporter and indefatigable news junkie, said she couldn’t listen to the whole speech, because she just doesn’t believe him – and I share a lot of that sentiment. All the dreams of hope and change we bought into seemed to fall away once he won the election, and since he’s now running for election again, one can’t help but ask: are these empty promises, temporary bravado – or will he use his second and final term to do the things he said he’d do from the start?
Those of us who supported the President from the beginning, whether we jumped on his bandwagon after Clinton conceded the nomination or before, truly believed that he would bring forth a brand new day in progressive policy. Everything he said during the campaign gave us every reason to believe that. And it was this vision that brought millions of young, first-time voters into the fold of civic participation that they might otherwise have ignored as pointless and nothing that would improve their lives. Now feeling betrayed, will those folks go back to the polls this fall – or will they just stay home feeling helpless?
Since Mr. Obama took office, we political veterans who continue to advocate the antithesis of everything the Republicans and Conservatives advocate, have essentially stood by the President, recognizing that his bold plans were eviscerated by the fiscal crisis he was thrown into, one that was far worse than the outgoing administration let on. And, rightly or wrongly, he chose to immediately focus on health care reform instead of employment and economic recovery, a decision for which he has been pilloried by the Republicans.
It has been most unfortunate that in the President’s efforts to be civil and conciliatory, to bring opposing sides together in bipartisan cooperation, he allowed a bloated, poorly structured health care reform plan to be the final program put into law; that he approved toothless financial regulation; and that, in general, he has made so many concessions on so many issues he has seemed more like Republican Light than Progressive Super.
Of course, it hasn’t helped that the opposition has been devoted to undermining him at every turn and in every way possible. And whether it’s their attitude toward the President or the pressure of Michele Bachmann’s Mad Hatter Tea Party, they’ve certainly ratcheted up their rich loving/poor hating agenda. I can’t remember who said this recently, but some dufus Congressman said that cutting back on Medicaid would be good for poor people, because it would “teach them how to do more with less.” Oh how I wish these people would go back to whatever planet they came from!
Now, it’s time for President Obama to accept the fact that his foes will never be his friends and he must cater to those who support him rather than oppose him. He must put forth progressive policy, rather than settle for mediocre (or damaging) policy in the name of bipartisanship; he will never achieve bipartisanship with this crowd. And he must be a much more forceful Executive, rather than worrying about stepping on the toes of the Legislative; he could fly over their heads and they would still yell ouch and foul. We cannot afford business as usual. We’re in the midst of a political, financial and ideological crisis and we need a warrior, not a peacemaker. Take up your arms, Mr. President – and give us reason to trust you and believe in your promises once again.