Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Obama: a willing hostage to minority GOP obstruction

The irony is becoming painfully clearer with every obstacle thrown up in front of President Obama by the Republican minorities in Congress.

The president has sacrificed the power of his bully pulpit to the small gang of bullies of the "No!" party.

Yes, the president has achieved notably and admirably during 22 tumultuous months in the Oval Office, perhaps the most demanding stretch of any president since World War II's Franklin Roosevelt. Despite two wars, a catastrophic recession, runway debt and deficits and a Republican bloc sworn to sabotage his presidency, Obama saved the auto industry and turned a profit for taxpayers, enacted historic health care reform and began to collar Wall Street misbehavior.

But against that praiseworthy checklist, the president has shown an unwillingness to use the power of his office to ram through, by sheer muscle or commander-in-chief verve, urgent climate change legislation, an end to the ban on gays openly serving in the military and, worse, ending the privileged, costly tax cuts for America's small core of the wealthiest.

President Obama's explanation for caving to Republican demands that he preserve Bush tax cuts sent chills through Democrats and presidential observers.

"I have not been able to budge them," the president said gravely of the GOP.

If the GOP can draw a line in the sand and force this president to knuckle under, how can Americans possibly expect him to dig in for tougher showdowns with the mounting power of China and the stubborn rivals in the drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian peace deliberations?

The presidency is far more about politics and persuasion than legislation.

Americans can be moved mightily by a president who creates memorable, stirring programs—FDR's "nothing to fear but fear itself" call to arms, JFK's New Frontier, LBJ's Great Society, Reagan's "morning again in America"—but are left feeling empty with a president who cannot use a congressional majority and the Oval office to "budge" unabashedly destructive Republican politicians.

Credible critics of the president are less concerned about the welfare of the Democratic Party and whether Obama has the stuff for a second term. Their fears are for America, its future and the integrity of the presidency.

If Barack Obama only rises to greatness as a scholar, orator and a man of quiet patience, he will be remembered fondly for a new level of Washington civility—and shown the door in the next election.

Meanwhile, legislative chaos, indecision and political guerilla warfare will become a standard of governance for lack of a president's understanding of the difference between conquering and budging opponents.

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