The White House loves to trumpet the idea that one of President Barack Obama’s greatest virtues is how he operates above the fray, choosing not to waste time with the political battles in the trenches.
“No-Drama Obama” is who we heard about during the 2008 presidential campaign, about how his cool, calm demeanor was his biggest asset. But look at how the GOP forced the president’s hand on extending the Bush tax cuts; how it created political hay out of the debt ceiling and led the nation to lose its triple-A credit rating; and now how it grossly disrespected him by rebuffing him while he spoke to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
And now, I think it’s fair to ask: When will Obama strike back and exert some presidential muscle?
No doubt Obama has taken an aggressive position in going after al-Qaeda. We have taken out far more of the terror group’s leaders than we did under President George W. Bush. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden and the group’s number-two leader in Pakistan. And even the most belligerent of hawks can’t complain about Obama’s decisions in Libya and Afghanistan.
But the 2012 election will not be decided on foreign policy. The economy will trump all of that. And on that note, Obama looks like a man who, despite all the trappings of the most powerful position in the world, refuses to assert any of his authority.
Obama’s unwillingness to flex his muscle was first seen when Democrats were ready to tar and feather Connecticut Sen. Joe Liebermann for his stern opposition to then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was battling against Sen. John McCain. Democrats wanted to strip Liebermann of his committee assignments, but Obama squashed that, saying it wasn’t necessary. How did Liebermann repay the president for his support? By being a thorn in his side during the health care debate.
I would say that when you save someone’s butt, it’s fair to think you can lean on him when you need to. Didn’t happen.
When the obscene AIG bonuses became public in early 2009, the American people reacted angrily, wanting to take off the heads of Wall Street executives. The White House, however, responded with delayed righteous indignation. Then it did nothing.
The president talks tough with banks one day and then extends the olive branch the next. At the same time, the banks put the screws to the American people, taking the homes of the taxpayers who lent the fat-cat bankers billions and kept them from losing their multiple-million-dollar mansions.
What did JP Morgan Chase leader Jamie Dimon do? He criticized Obama for picking on bankers, saying it was wrong to keep blaming them, despite the fact that their destructive plans of jacking up quarterly stock prices with foul schemes nearly destroyed the world financial system. So the president helped fatten their balance sheets and they still dumped on him? Has he jumped on their banks for refusing to modify loans? Nope. Their plan of action, according to HUD Secretary Shawn Donovan, is voluntary.
It is abundantly clear that Obama is unwilling to fire back at the critics who disrespect him and the office of the president.
He wants to take the high ground, while his critics are ripping the earth out from beneath him. Instead of taking charge of his agenda, he’s willing to let others blow him off to pursue their own.
When he took office, President Obama decried the ways of Washington, saying that voters didn’t want to see acrimony. But they sure as hell want to see a president fight for what he believes in — even if that means losing a battle or two.
The White House bowed to Republicans in the Senate in not appointing Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Protection Bureau. The GOP considered Warren enemy number one. So by appointing Richard Cordray, the Obama Administration hoped that the Senate would take a break and make Cordray a recess appointment. Except for one tiny problem: the only thing the GOP hated more than Warren was the bureau itself. They didn’t recess, and now Cordray will be put through the ringer on Tuesday during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Has the president made a bigger stink about the GOP refusing to allow his appointees to move forward? Yes, every now and then, but it’s nothing close to the heat President George W. Bush and his supporters put on the U.S. Senate when his conservative judges and appointees were being held up.
Maybe White House Senior Advisor David Plouffe and campaign manager Jim Messina think that Obama’s tactic is appealing to independent voters. But the president’s unwillingness to go to the mat — on anything — has angered some of his ardent supporters, who feel as if the White House will leave them hanging in the wind when it’s time to fight.
After his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, Obama signaled that he was ready to do battle leading up to the 2012 election. But the bungling and eventual capitulation over when he would address a joint session of Congress to present a massive jobs bill shows that we have seen more of the same: Obama takes decisive action only to back down shortly thereafter and acquiesce to the GOP.
After buckling to Speaker John Boehner on the speech, a friend of mine — a hard-core Democrat who hates anything the GOP does and has never voted for a Republican for president — texted me the following: “Does the POTUS need back surgery? I think he does. He needs a spine transplant.”
President Obama’s feeble attempt to engage his foes is angering those who are ready to do battle and have his back. I’ve heard it from folks in the labor movement, civil rights leaders, women and young people. And don’t be surprised if polling shows that Independents want a president who will stick to his guns, even if they disagree with him on policy.
Americans respond to decisiveness. They respond to a leader who makes clear what he wants and will use the power of the presidency to lead his troops up the hill to take on those who oppose him.
Right now, it appears that President Obama is trying not to lose, as opposed to working to win. And that simply ain’t gonna cut it.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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