This Just In: Mr. Obama Is No Harry Truman

In Day Two of Republicans Hold America Hostage, we examine President Obama’s response to kidnapper Mitch McConnell’s pledge to continue doing nothing on anything until wealthy Americans are assured of getting an average of $100,000 in tax cuts.

Before we begin, let’s remember two things.

The bipartisan Slurpeefest two days ago was originally scheduled for November 18.  Obama, ever the gracious one, invited Republicans over to his place to sort of reset their relationship, after Republicans kicked some serious booty via the midterms.  It was supposed to be a working session followed by “dinner in the Obama’s private residence.”

Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, soon let it be known that they were just “too busy” to meet on November 18.  Now, this was widely seen as disrespectful, as it is common practice for legislators to rearrange their schedule, when the President of the United States invites them in for discussions.

But these aren’t ordinary times and these aren’t ordinary Republicans.  Disrespecting President Obama has become something of an art form among Tea Party-drunk politicians, who believe they can do anything they want to Mr. Obama with impunity.

And, of course, they get that idea because it happens to be true.

The President accepted the Republicans excuse that they just didn’t have time and quickly reset the meeting for November 30.  There, that’ll show ‘em!

So, what was Mitch McConnell doing on November 18, instead of meeting with—did I mention this?—the President of the Bleeping United States?  I’ll let Amanda Terkel tell you:

WASHINGTON — On the day that Republican leaders were supposed to have a bipartisan meeting and an intimate dinner with President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spent several hours schmoozing with the conservative Federalist Society — including attending their annual dinner.

The “annual dinner” featured a speech by conservative activist Justice Antonin Scalia, who, along with his conservative colleagues, has done the Republican Party’s dirty work by completely turning the country over to the wealthy, via the incarnation of corporations.

Okay.  So, all that was clearly a  POTUS-slap.

What did our above-the-fray POTUS do? 

Nothing.  He’s above the fray.

On we go to November 30.  After the meeting with Republicans, here’s what Obama said:

…the truth is there’s always going to be a political incentive against working together, particularly in the current hyperpartisan climate.  There are always those who argue that the best strategy is simply to try to defeat your opposition instead of working with them…

But I think there was recognition today that that’s a game that we can’t afford.  Not in these times.  And in a private meeting that I had without staff — without betraying any confidences — I was pleased to see several of my friends in the room say, let’s try not to duplicate that.  Let’s not try to work the Washington spin cycle to suggest that somehow the other side is not being cooperative.  I think that there was a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together to try to deal with these problems.

The Obama who spoke these words is a genuinely nice person. He truly believes this stuff.  He wants it to be true.  He is not an “eye for an eye” guy. Machiavelli is not on his bookshelf. He has risen above the shouts from Republicans of “You lie!” and “Obama is a socialist!” and “Obama is a Marxist-Kenyan anti-colonialist” and other such indignities.

He has turned the other cheek, given up his cloak and his tunic, gone the extra mile. 

Yet, the next morning after the November 30 bipartisan, “commit to work together” meeting—yesterday—Mitch McConnell announced that he has herded all 42 Republicans in the Senate and they will, indeed, hold that body hostage—and by extension America—unless the Democrats pay their ransom: tax cuts for the rich.

Now, most ordinary folks would see this stratagem as the grossest of offenses, both personal and institutional.  Most ordinary folks would, to put it delicately, get pissed.

But Mr. Obama is not ordinary folk.  When asked if “what McConnell did” broke the “spirit” of the November 30 meeting, here is what the President said:

…there’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican.  But at the end of the day, I think that people of good will can come together and recognize that given where the economy is at right now, given the struggles that a lot of families are still going through right now, that we’re going to be able to solve this problem.  And I think we got off to a good start yesterday.  There are going to be ups and downs to this process, but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to get it done.  All right?

Well, no.  It’s not all right.

Essentially, Mr. Obama equated what Republicans are doing in their caucuses with what Democrats are doing in theirs, calling it all “lingering politics.” That response, while typical of the Kumbaya Obama we have all, unfortunately, grown used to, is unacceptable.

Instead of taking a shot at Republicans for playing him as a fool, the President blames it all on politics on both sides

It’s no wonder that Democrats in Congress, with a few notable exceptions, are afraid to stand up and shout down Republican bullies. They’re not afraid of the Republicans as much as they are afraid that Obama will not have their backs in the fight, nevermind fight them himself. 

In an effort to appease the “independent voters,” who have lately abandoned him because of the sluggish economy, Mr. Obama ignores the obvious fact that Republicans are playing him for a sucker.  Who thinks that Democrats, with their large majorities in Congress and with the White House, are in charge?  Nobody.

And most of the blame for that reality lies with President Obama.

All of this is not easy to write, since there hasn’t been a bigger Obama supporter in the entire country than yours truly. I admire his calm demeanor and rational approach, which works well for confronting the problems of actual governance.  But it’s a terrible approach to politics.  It’s a liability.  When your political enemies are lobbing grenades in your direction, you don’t invite them over to roast marshmallows.

And you certainly don’t tell the country that “both sides” are lobbing grenades, when one side is tossing them on your behalf and on behalf of working and middle class Americans.

The Democratic Party needs a strong leader in these times of trouble, both for the sake of the country and for the sake of the party. Since the trouncing on November 2—and some say long before—Obama has demonstrated that he is not the leader we all thought he could and would be.  Harry Truman he is not.

But here’s hoping against audacious hope that there is still time for him to come to his senses, time for him to get out of his foxhole and take back the ground he has surrendered to Republicans.

More important, there is still time for him to free the unemployed and the middle class, who are being held hostage by Republicans, without paying the ransom of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

The Prince And The Prince Of Peace

Now that the Democrats have squandered an illusory 60-vote majority in the Senate, one that wasn’t really manageable considering Joe Lieberman had a man crush on John McCain and other hawkish Republicans, and considering he is as phony as an Allen Shirley guest column, it’s time to try a new strategy of governance.

While I will leave it up to legislative gurus to figure out a way to advance through Congress an agenda that Democrats can be proud of, I want to address something that has bothered me at least since the false-patriot Rush Limbaugh uttered the F-word—failure—regarding Obama’s presidency.

Make no mistake about it, I am a great admirer of the president.  I worked to get him votes; I defended him before angry voters; I supported his initial conciliatory approach to governance, in which he tried to transcend normal partisan politics and forge coalitions to get things done.  I have written many times in his defense over the past several months.  His thoughtfulness, his deliberation,  and his willingness to wait until he has all the facts before he acts are part of a style I love and appreciate.

But, I am now waiting for Obama to channel his inner Machiavelli. At least a little bit. I realize that Jesus is likely Obama’s model of behavior, and I realize that it probably isn’t in his nature to actually apply Machiavellian principles of princely behavior to his presidency.

However, I suggest that perpetually “turning the other cheek” in today’s political environment will lead to failure.  And it didn’t work out too well for Jesus, either.  His earthly career ended in ignominy, hanging from a crossbeam outside the city walls, naked and defeated.

While I am not asking Obama to fundamentally change his personality, I am asking him to at least consider two pieces of Machiavelli’s advice:

He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.

Obama’s administration began with Rush Limbaugh’s famous, “I want Obama to fail” remarks and his flirtation with moving to New Zealand—which not one Republican politician had the balls God gave man to protest—continuing through Jim DeMint’s “Waterloo” comment, in which the creepy religious fanatic masquerading as a U.S Senator pledged that killing health care would be the end of Obama. 

Last summer, we endured the spectacle of so-called “angry” voters, who voiced such anger in terms fit for a World Wrestling Federation event.  We endured swastika-covered placards; voodoo-priest images; messages that Obama was a fascist, socialist, communist, and racist; charges that Obama was not a U.S. citizen, that his presidency was not legitimate and that he wanted to destroy America.  

To top it all off, we endured the embarrassment of a rude, unruly, disrespectful Congressman Joe Wilson shouting, “You lie!” during an Obama speech to a joint session of Congress.

Obama, of course, largely ignored the anger, at least publicly.  He, of course, accepted the congressman’s apology without highlighting the uncivility.  And, of course, last night Obama phoned Scott Brown, who defeated Martha Coakley, to “congratulate” him.

Why?  Why ignore the Tea Party anger?  Why accept Wilson’s apology without using it to embarrass those who hate Obama? Why congratulate Brown so soon? There would have been plenty of time to shake his hand and offer his congratulations. Why last night?

He congratulated a man who opposes nearly every social value that Obama holds dear; he congratulated a man who publicly suggested Obama was a bastard child; he congratulated a man who has pledged to join a small but fanatic group of Republicans who are hell-bent on seeing to it that Obama’s administration will be the failure that Rush Limbaugh famously wished for and predicted.

Why give such an unworthy opponent immediate recognition and instant credibility?

Anyway, we now have the spectacle of a teabagger capturing the seat of Ted Kennedy, who surely must be scratching and clawing on his coffin lid to get out and demand a do-over.  But ironically, despite a poor campaign and some gaffes by the Democratic candidate, Ted Kenney’s life-long issue—health care reform—proved to be the defining issue of the Brown-Coakley campaign.

That didn’t have to happen.

Because of a noble, cautious, protracted approach—apparently approved by Obama—that dragged on much too long in an attempt to attract conservatives in the Democratic Party, not to mention fringe Republicans like Olympia Snowe, we have what we have today.

Because the White House chose a behind-the-scenes strategy of influencing the outcome of the health reform legislation rather than an open and direct and emphatic defense of an acceptable bill, we have what we have today.

Because of a calculated recognition of the difficulty of overcoming conservative opposition in both parties and a desire to get something passed, no matter how feeble, we have what we have today.

Because from the start the White House took off the table a single payer option and signaled that a strong public option wasn’t even an essential part of reform legislation, we have what we have today.

So, I ask:  What did all the soft-sell strategy accomplish?  We all understood the reality of the situation: There were just too many damn conservatives in the Senate to get the best bill.  But my problem is that the White House didn’t even put up a goddamn fight for one.  Thus, the other side recognized a palpable weakness, and as the calendar advanced, wily conservative Democrats sensed the opportunity to game the process.

All of this confounded liberals, those who put Obama in the White House by actually going out and convincing the much-vaunted “independents” to vote for him.  And some liberals, pissed off that their candidate was not fighting hard enough, unwisely threw up their hands and said “let the bill die.”  Or at least began to stop aggressively defending it against the lies being told constantly by Republicans at Town Halls and Tea Parties, broadcast faithfully by the Obama-hating Fox “News” channel, whose perpetuation of falsehoods about the bill and the “Obama is dangerous” meme came to be less and less challenged, too.

Even the feeble attempt by the White House to challenge Fox “News,” which initially had such promise, withered under the criticism of “mainstream” journalists, who incomprehensibly defended the network, despite the fact that Fox is undoubtedly destroying the line between journalism and propaganda and thus undermining the very journalists willing to defend the network.

Finally, although no one knows how this mess will play out, I will offer President Obama one final piece of advice from Machiavelli:

Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.

Hopefully, in the times to come, Obama will move forward with less “turn the cheek,” “Jesus meek and mild” reactions and be more like the Jesus who threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

Because Obama’s political enemies seek not only his office, but seek to destroy him and the promise and legitimacy of liberalism.

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