Now that the lame duck session of the 111th Congress has adjourned, the embedded mainstream media tell us that the President is on a roll as the new Comeback Kid. And from this position of strength, certain media pundits have declared that there will be no primary challenge to Obama for the 2012 nomination - and those pundits may be right. After all, who would be foolish enough to try to unseat a sitting President, say like Sen Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and who would want to be the cause of Obama’s ultimate defeat in 2012, say like Hubert Humphrey.
It is true that the lame duck session was one of the most productive in recent memory showing that after the drubbing in November, Senate Democrats are capable of accomplishment. With a strident new Republican House and Senate Democrats about to lose their majority edge, it remains to be seen whether the fruits of the lame duck were sufficient for Obama to experience an epiphany of leadership.
Obama’s future may depend on whether discriminating citizens who expect a high standard of achievement from elected officials, those who take the time to scrutinize the details and who may be less impressed with quantity rather than quality and less accepting of the ‘all we could get’ philosophy will be sufficiently satisfied. The on-going reality is that Obama has not lived up to expectations he himself raised, failing to deliver on campaign promises as he gave away the store compromising with the R’s that in turn rendered his efforts less than effective.
The President was, after all, able to achieve ‘major’ health care reform legislation largely due to the appeal of protecting the President’s image. The first substantive movement on health care in 50 years since LBJ began Medicare and Medicaid did include some positive benefits such as a ban on pre-existing conditions. However, some may suggest that passage was more like a previous Republican idea requiring 30 million Americans to buy their own coverage sure to be a windfall for health insurance companies. Even as the United States spends more on health care than any other country, the President failed to lead a discussion on the economic benefits of universal health care. Although the House did include a public option in their bill, legislation was adopted with no cost containment; a fact that has become lost in the current deficit discussion.
And then there is the most ‘sweeping‘ financial reform since the 1930’s which will ‘never again’ allow a financial meltdown like 2008 – even though there are no regs on derivatives and no restoration of the brick wall separating the more conventional commercial banking industry from its more risky investment counterpart as Glass Steagall did. Most importantly, there was no break up of the Too Big to Fail banks – which, as any Wharton School grad can tell us that with the confidence of future government bailouts, the TBTF banks will continue their reckless behavior.
With the human and capital costs of perpetual wars on the backburner, the long term implications of Obama’s tax cut ‘compromise’ with Republicans is of considerable concern. Was the President unaware of the R’s clear intent to savage the country’s social safety net, the sacrosanct entitlements that have been in place for 75 years? Now that took real eyeball to eyeball “know when to fold ‘em” negotiating skills.
A year ago, the Senate rejected (53-46 with 22 Dems, 23 R’s and Sen. Sanders voting no) Sen. Conrad’s (ND) effort to establish a Deficit Commission. Two months later, in a stunning display of audacity, the President created his own Commission stacking it with critics of the country’s most popular People Programs.
As the deficit debate has only just begun, most Americans are unaware of the impending international significance. At considerable US urging, the International Monetary Fund has a long history of forcing onerous belt tightening measures on ‘emerging’ global countries as a result of their own irresponsible behavior. It is not without some irony that the international community recognizes the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot.
Presented with uncomfortable options, will the President recognize the need to separate political strategy from policy decisions or will the public interest continue to be sacrificed to assure re-election. As the President and his family enjoy their warm, sunny Hawaii vacation far from the trials and tribulations, is it too late in America for a dark-horse candidate to emerge, as Abraham Lincoln was, who better understands the suffering of millions of Americans.