Obama’s leadership: Get real!

Pres. Barack Obama

I was watching “Morning Joe” today and the steam was coming out of my ears. Republicans and Democrats were criticizing Pres. Obama for not asserting himself, for “standing by” while Republicans took advantage of him.

Really? What, pray tell, can he do with a Senate whose minority leader has publicly announced that his top priority is to make Obama a one-term president? Wielding the filibuster, Mitch McConnell has ensured that the Republican minority will oppose and obstruct every one of the president’s initiatives. And forget about the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a commanding majority.

Yes, Obama caved to Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts. He wanted to extend the tax cuts for the middle class and let the tax cuts for the wealthy (making over $250,000) expire on Dec. 31, 2010. But what choice did he have?

“[A] middle-class tax hike would be very tough not only on working families, it would also be a drag on our economy at this moment,” Obama said at the time. The Republicans agree. They know that a worsening economy will practically secure Obama’s loss in 2012. They will go to any lengths, including sacrificing the unemployed and the futures of all Americans, to achieve that goal. It’s been estimated that extending the cuts will add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. But the Republicans are adamantly opposed to any increase in taxes: they’d rather see the economy tank than take away the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

In the end, the the Republicans exacted the extension of all the Bush tax cuts as the price for extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. They have the majority, and there’s little the Democratic minority can do.

After last summer’s debt-ceiling crisis—when the Tea Party Republicans were willing to let the U.S. default on its debt obligations—a super committee was designed to figure out ways to reduce the deficit. As intended, it specifically excluded the president from its negotiations. If Obama had intervened directly, you can be sure that  he would have been rebuked. Now that the committee has failed in its mission, as it was doomed to do, it’s Obama’s fault.

He’s been roundly criticized for not embracing the Simpson-Bowles plan. Does anyone really think that Republicans would have gone along with Obama’s imprimatur? Like everything else he’s proposed or favored, the president’s endorsement of Simpson-Bowles would have guaranteed its demise.

Given the congressional Republican hostility to Obama, a hands-off policy may well be the wisest one for him to take. Rather than shouldering more defeats than he’s already suffered at their hands, Obama’s letting his opponents dig their own graves. Though his poll numbers are scraping the floor, the majority of country still agrees with him that fighting unemployment now is way more important than dealing with the dangers of the deficit looming several years down the pike. But the media that reiterates its insistance on Obama’s “isolation,” “detachment,” “lack of leadership,” labeling him an intellectual—along with “elite” a dirty word—draws attention away from the real problem—unemployment—and drives his approval rate down, potentially helping Republicans succeed in making him a one-term president.

Update: well worth reading:

Leading Bystander by John Dickerson

Obama’s leadership ‘failure’ on the deficit by Darrell Delamaide

Debunking Obama’s So-Called Leadership Failure by Jonathan Chait

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Filed under economy, Politics

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