this week, but I'm trying to make a point. What's interesting to
me about the highly politicized debate over the economy and the
Republicans’ efforts to blame it all on the president is how
late White America is arriving at this particular engagement.
Black America has been in a recession for generations. This is
old news to black folk: high unemployment, foreclosures, denied
car and bank loans, tough economic times. White conservatives
never seemed to notice or care that black unemployment has
routinely hovered around 10% or that the black community has
struggled since Reconstruction. The recession is only news now
because it’s happening to them, because White America is now
suffering the way Black America has always suffered. This has
always been our economic reality. White America sounding the
klaxons and getting up in arms seems a bit tragic to me. Where
was that alarm when it was mainly minority communities enduring
It is ironic the people joining voices in this new Republican mantra, “Obama has failed!” are, to a man, the very same people who supported Bush’s squandering of the $236 billion national surplus he inherited when he took office, the Bush tax breaks for the rich, the Bush invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush pointless misadventure into Iraq, and the massive Bush deregulation policies which led to a near-collapse of America’s banking system and the Gulf oil spill. These are the very same people President Obama foolishly sought to appease by limiting the scope of the stimulus—which the GOP is (no surprise) now calling the “failed” stimulus—the very same people Obama foolishly sought to partner with over health care, stripping health reform of its teeth in a fruitless attempt to win even a single Republican vote.
I’m on the anti-Obama bandwagon to this extent: that he wasted, fully, half his presidential term golfing in Fantasyland. His ambitions were politically naïve and he fails, even now, to fully accept the evil—yes evil—that goes on in Washington. He keeps expecting people to behave like adults, which makes me worry about the president’s leadership qualities. Washington D.C. is not now and never has been a place for adults. The Republicans are obviously and unapologetically playing politics with the future of the entire planet, risking global economic meltdown and catastrophic political and even military aftershocks across Europe and Asia, all in a gamble to make the president look weak. And, it’s working. He does look weak. The president is agonizingly slow to respond to sharply-focused and disciplined GOP rhetoric. Any rational, thinking person could read the GOP’s play, here. The Obama Administration is, as usual, unfathomably slow to respond and seemingly bereft of much of a proactive, get-in-front-of-the-train strategy. They actually seem to have no political strategy, no message, whatsoever. “Obama has failed!” The GOP is winning the message war while, as usual, it seems the White House is relying on thinking men and women to know and understand that the stimulus was, in fact, too small (see sidebar). It was too small because the president compromised himself to death, making fully 60% of his economic stimulus package Republican-style tax cuts. Even a bad economist can tell you cutting revenue during a severe economic downturn is precisely the wrong thing to do. These folks have gotten so good at putting the president in a corner, that, even with the Democrats in power, the Republicans are still calling the shots.
If the Republicans had any guts at all, that would be their effective 2012 campaign theme. Not, “Obama has failed!” but “Obama Is Weak,” or, “If Obama Is The President, How Come We’re Still Calling The Shots?” That’s precisely what they’ve been doing because that’s what the president has allowed them to do.
Obama seems to be trying to man up now, defying Congress on the War Powers Act and butching up on the debt ceiling negotiations. But it might be too late. Any school kid can tell you: the longer it takes for you to assert yourself, the harder you have to break bad in order to finally push the bullies back. The president has extended one olive branch after another at the expense of the nation’s economic and emotional recovery, and he is now seen by friend and foe alike as a bit of a milquetoast. Given majorities in both houses and a serious electoral mandate, Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the GOP without hesitation and done what was in the nation’s best interest. I agree with Bill Maher who asserted the president has put bipartisanship ahead of the national interest. His responsibility was not to change Washington politics but fix the country. He had a huge and unprecedented opportunity to do that, an opportunity he squandered chasing three Republican votes on stimulus and zero on health care. Over and over, the Republicans ran out the clock on the president in stupid and useless negotiations and then jammed him anyway. They ate up half of Mr. Obama’s presidency that way. And he’s still negotiating, still playing their game and allowing this tiny minority—the Tea Party, the tail wagging the GOP dog—to not only hold all of America hostage to their extremism, but risk running it into the ground.
The GOP running around blaming Obama for the terrible economy is wholly disingenuous and, frankly, gutless. Their real campaign should be, “How Foolish This Guy Was To Waste Time Getting Rope-A-Doped By Us.” This tactic would require the GOP to admit how contemptibly evil they are to prolong the economic malaise just to make political trouble for the president, but at least that’s an argument with some truth to it. Somehow and in some way, between now and November 2012, the president has to demonstrate that he’s actually learning, that’s he’s actually growing and becoming wiser about getting things done. That he is, well, the president, and not the negotiator-in-chief. The economy may or may not help him out. It’s so hot right now, it’s hard to remember that winter will be here in a few months. The economy is so awful right now, it is difficult to imagine better times coming. But the economy is so volatile that it could flip on us, raining sunshine all over the political landscape. The Republicans will seemingly stop at nothing to prevent that from happening. So far as they have demonstrated, if another 10-20 million people lose their homes, so much the better. The president’s reluctance to call them out on that fact, to charge them with wasting time with idiotic and racist “marriage vows” rather than getting serious about the debt ceiling, is his biggest drag as a candidate.
African Americans coast-to-coast must be asking themselves the same questions I’m asking myself: if Obama weren’t black, would I be supporting him? If the GOP nominate Mitt Romney, a flip-flopping political opportunist and bald-faced liar, the answer is “yes.” The GOP would have to come up with somebody amazing for me to not vote for the president, race notwithstanding. Because the GOP are acting so hatefully toward Black America, I can’t imagine giving them my vote for any reason whatsoever. But, truthfully, if the president was not black, I’d rate him somewhere near Bush 41, George W’s father, who accomplished amazing things in office (as did Jimmy Carter), but whose disconnect from the common man and seemingly inept handling of the economy did him in. Bill Clinton was the charismatic Arkansas rascal brimming with energy and ideas. Thus far, the Republicans don’t have anything even remotely like Bill Clinton in their stable of dull and wingnut candidates, which is, for the moment at least, the president’s saving grace: the Republicans really don’t have a better idea.
It’s just really sad that that is my strongest argument for reelecting the president.