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      What's Next for Obama and Democrats?

      Launch a campaign progressive to the core, with no compromises on ending tax cuts for the rich and trillion-dollar wars.

      President Obama’s position as a centrist has left him wounded by left and right in the raging deficits debate. In one sense he has succeeded politically by appearing far more rational than a Republican Party tethered to the Tea Party. That should serve him well in the 2012 national election. On the other hand, he has seriously alienated most of the progressive community, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose strong support he will need in the year ahead.

      Some of the damage is due the White House and Obama himself. Sarcastic comments about “the professional left” or Democrats who want to slash the military budget to zero have poured salt on festering wounds. The president’s own temperament and political calculation rules out the militant rhetoric demanded by columnists like Paul Krugman.

      But there is a disturbing tone among some critics of Obama, ranging from personal disgust to out-and-out hate (I can remember the same vitriol by Eugene McCarthy supporters towards Robert Kennedy).

      One difficulty for many progressives is what to expect from presidential power when the House, the Supreme Court, FOX News and most of the mainstream media owners are conservative, and only about 20 U.S. Senators can be described as staunchly liberal. A president is expected to protect the nation’s reputation from military attack and economic default. Obama faces a dire future if he “loses” a war or plunges the economy into the first default in U.S. history. That’s the basic reason the House Republicans have the competitive advantage: they know that a catastrophic default will be good for them because Obama will be blamed. So they can afford brinksmanship while the president is limited.

      Some disagree. Rep. Raul Grijalva thinks that Obama should have demanded a debt-ceiling vote all along, evenly balanced between cuts and revenues. Grijalva acknowledges that such a vote would have failed, and says that Obama then should have utilized the 14th amendment to “end this manufactured crisis.” The Congressional Black Caucus and many liberals like Bernie Sanders backed the concept. In other words, Obama should have asserted presidential authority to prevent a default by relying on a constitutional proviso that the “validity of the national debt of the United States... cannot be questioned.” That’s brinksmanship, and could have been worth the risk. However, the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court probably would have rejected Obama’s bold move, leaving the Democrats’ in a weakened position. And then... there is no answer to the question of what might have followed. The rabbit hole comes to mind.

      Having driven down the Tea Party/Republican poll ratings in the recent debate, now it becomes the president’s political obligation to back a resurgence of the progressive wing of his own party. He can do that only by relentless work between now and the November 2012 election. Here are steps he might take on the road to progressive recovery:

      • Change the frame from “big government versus small government”, and not by trying to create a smaller government in a Democratic image, but by arguing that Big Money has hijacked democracy; broaden the campaign discussion to fault the Roberts Court and FOX News;
      • Declare absolutely that he will let tax credits for the rich expire in 2012, instead of making that issue another bargaining chip.
      • Take on the immoral and unfair  system of lobbying and campaign contributions in a new way. Currently the American taxpayer is subsidizing the very lobbies who are protecting the rich, the bankers, the corporations, and the polluters – and writing all their costs off as tax-deductible expenses. This approach has never been prioritized by either party, but the Republicans are the most scandalous.
      • Campaign on the Democratic Senate leadership’s smart decision to include $1.2 trillion in budget cuts for Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s more like $5 trillion – see National Priorities to spell out the impact. Enlist the mayors led by Antonio Villaraigosa to call for new priorities.
      • Highlight how the federal bailout of the American auto companies has led to economic improvement and a negotiated doubling of fuel-efficiency standards.
      • Reject the Republican/Tea Party anti-immigrant campaign. Implement the DREAM act through executive orders protecting undocumented students and soldiers from deportation.
      • Meet organized labor’s and environmentalist demands for fair trade agreements which attack sweatshops, raise wages to above poverty-levels and include enforceable standards.
      • Revive the dormant debate over global warming, linking it to saving the environment through green jobs.
      • Progressive populism should be the essential Democratic brand. Promise a second term that is progressive to the core, and leave it to the voters.

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      Reader Comments (6)

      Tom: I am one of Obama's biggest critics. In my opinion ad a Constitutional Lawyer, he is a man without any legal or negotiating experience. "An empty sue" His audacity of hope has turned into the Audacity of Despair. The only law he practiced was working for his wife as an "intern". Talks big but no action. I consider the T Party to be like the kamikazes of japan.You cannot negotiate with them as they will destroy themselves along with the ship of State. He should have done what Truman did. DROP TWO ATOMIC BOMBS ON THEM". I am talking figuratively, not literally. He should have had a plan to DESTROY them with a coup de grace to the back of the head as the Marines did on Iwo Jima. (1) He should have let the tax cuts expire no matter what the cost. He would then have 4 trillion in revenues for "stimulus". He never should have taken the 14th amendment off the table BEFORE negotiations began. That was ammunition and leverage. I read the 14th Amendment, Sec 4 and wrote a 35 page legal opinion. I read Tribe's and Clinton's. They all came to the same conclusion. The Constitution make the debt ceiling statute unconstitutional. Then Obama had another fallback position. Do what Andy Jackson did after John Marshall overturned the Seminole Indian statute to move the Native American on the "trail of tears" to the Western territories. Jackson told Marshal that the Judiciary interpretes the law but the Executive executes it. In other words a screw you response couched in more acceptable language would have created a Constitutional Crisis. I love them. The Country lived through many and we survived. For example, Gore never should have accepted the Gore v Bush political decision and prepared to take possession of the White House. Marbury v Madison deserves another review as it makes the Judiciary more powerful than the other 2 branches of government.

      Tom. I thought you were a revolutionary during the VN war. So was your wife Jane. I supported both since Johnson lied his way into a stupid war and Bush followed suit. Hoffman's trial was a joke.

      August 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartin S Friedlander

      I have to disagree. Since he took office, the President (and the Democrats in general) have allowed the lunatic GOP to frame every message. This was particularly odious during the time when they were in the majority. The President has both a bully pulpit AND amazing oratory talent, which he could have used to re-frame the message. Look at the health care debacle. He said nothing until the public was totally misinformed. He has chosen to do what's been done, over and over. He isn't of victim of political circumstance. These are his policies. He is the one who put Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid on the table, *before* any GOP demand. His choice. He allowed the D.C. debate to be about the national debt, not job creation. He's never pushed to shore up the nation's crumbling infrastructure, creating milliions of jobs at the same time. His choice.

      From the very beginning, he immediately surrounded himself with Wall Street advisors, thumbing his nose at the likes of Krugman and Reich. His choices. The reality of "Hope & Change" turns out to be hopeless change. Change for the worse, for everyone but the top 1/2%.

      You can't dress that up.

      August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Meredith

      Several savvy commentators have been trying to answer the question: "Who is the most effective politician in Washington?" The answer most of them come up with is Barack Obama. See Andrew Sullivan's piece on The Daily Beast at:

      August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Speer

      Obama's job, the same as all politicians, is to do what is in the best interests of the American people. That must be the starting point of any evaluation. The unfortunate tendency in current times is to evaluate the political leaders as if they were on a TV game show, with call-in voters deciding who wins. Obama may be a savvy politician, attacking the left and gaining popularity among moderates, but that doesn't make him a good president or a good leader. In fact, the more effort he puts into guaranteeing his reelection and a billion dollar retirement package when he leaves office (donations from wall street, corporations and foreign interests, which he will receive, which is now the norm after Bill Clinton's craven solicitations post-presidency), the less time he spends doing his job.

      I don't care if he or anyone else is reelected. That is not their job. Their job is to do what is right for the citizens, and if they lose the election as a result, that's what you call character, something missing from our politicians in d.c.

      Obama doesn't just insult the left or call names, he has completely abandoned all working people, solely devoting his energies to carrying out the dictates of the rich and wall street. He has his people come out routinely and lie to the public (the war in Iraq is "over" -- don't pay any attention to those 50,000 troops we've left behind). He knows he has no authority to take this country into war, because only congress has that authority, and when he's called out on it he says, essentially, tough, I'll do what I want. Obama has routinely ignored even the democrats in congress, cutting his own deals with the republicans. The effect is to continue the bush-cheney goal of changing the minor role of president into that of king. Now, with the Cat Food Commission deal (obviously unconstitutional but don't count on the Federalist Society judges to uphold our rights), the entire country will be governed in secret. The Cat Food Commission in congress, and Obama in all his backroom deals.

      Remember when people were outraged about cheney's secret meetings with the oil corporations in 3/01? Not so different from Obama's secret meetings with the healh industry in which he completely abandoned any effort to get single payor, or really to get any kind of national healthcare that would help the people. When Obama agreed to continue the bush give-away law prohibiting Americans from buying their prescription drugs in Canada, he effectively stole money from the citizens of this country, gave it to the drug companies, and they gave him a percentage as a kick-back. Do we need any more information about this guy, in light of the fact that we know many lower income people can't both buy their needed drugs and eat. He's making money off of dying citizens. As for that nonsense that he called health care reform -- ordering Americans to buy insurance even if they can't afford it -- it's disgusting to give the president the authority to order the citizens to buy products, on a for-profit basis, from a business. My own health insurance premiums have gone up 40% in 18 months. For no reason -- no health problems. Just because they can, because our government refused to help the citizens. Obama put the major business holdings in front of the people.

      The trade deals -- more of the same, sending jobs out of this country. Demanding that the receiving countries have decent labor standards is so meaningless to all the unemployed Americans. It's absurd to suggest that we should round up the millions of unemployed Americans and tell them it's okay that they don't have jobs, because Korea will give their workers a bathroom break. We don't care. Honestly, bring our jobs back here, and let the korean workers represent their own interests.

      As for the wars: end them. No debate, no nothing.

      I don't know that I would call Obama a Republican. I would simply say that he, like most of the democrats in d.c., are on the payroll of wall street and do as instructed. They do not represent the working people (the 80% of us who work for a living our entire lives). They don't care about us, and they don't think we'll ever do anything to stop them from destroying our country, looting and plundering our resources, shredding our constitution. So far, they're right.

      A platform or program for democrats, liberals, leftists: direct action. E-mails and letter-writing do nothing. The majority of the public was opposed to the recent debt deal. The overwhelming majority was opposed to the wall street bail-outs. It doesn't matter what we want. The only way things will change is if the people in this country get organized and shut the whole thing down. Don't let the trains run, don't shop, organize direct-action on targeted businesses. Why don't we have a usury law? Honestly, thousands of years ago citizens in other countries were protected against usury, just like we used to be, so why not now? Because wall street and the banks have paid bribes to the politicians to get rid of the usury law so they can charge 30% interest on short-term loans. It's disgusting. It would make loan sharks blush. Sit down in the banks, make it impossible for them to conduct business until they do what we tell them to do.

      Our government doesn't represent us. All the discussion about what Obama or the democrats might do -- seems pointless. The public is against the wars, but they go on. The public wants jobs, but the government refuses to do anything. I think we should rename the whole gang the house of lords and the king, and at least be honest about it: we don't have a democracy, and the government does not represent the citizens.

      August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNABNYC

      Obama is neither weak nor ineffectual, and in fact has accomplished every one of his goals since coming into office.
      When judging any man, especially a politician, it is imperative that all words be discounted and deeds credited. In this, both his appointments, carrying on and even enhancing the Bush attack on our civil liberties, increasing our military spending while spreading war into areas W pretty much left alone, increased use of both drones and mercenaries(not contractors), his embrace of offshore oil drilling, clean coal and nuclear eneregy and his all but certain OK on the Keystone XL, his rush to continue the Wall Street bailout with no real conditions or threat of legal action while letting the victim in all this, the homeowner, free to twist in the wind, his business friendly health insurance(not health care) reform, and finally his bear hug with free trade in the looming Korean trade deal, make it plain that this man is a complete corporate whore.

      His skill has been to play the tea party card not against the Repubs but his own base as he has used their demands to mask his true intent all along. Those liberals who claim their man is playing chess while all others are at the chessboard are oblivious to the irony of their claim; he is indeed playing the game they credit him with, but he is doing it for the corporations and against them.

      This man is the biggest empty suit I've ever seen and is the logical result of voting for the lesser of two evils even as that lesser evil becomes worse than the previous greater one.

      August 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermichael nola

      Thank you, Tom.We're on the same page. I invite you to read my recent commentary in the Arizona Guardian on this very issue of failed leadership -- by both Obama and the Democratic Party: Ceding the Sensible Center: Crisis at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue @ Time for a fundamental reframing and a more aggressive proactive initiatie by progressives. Makes me think about another run for Congress!

      August 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHerb Paine
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