Political Animal


August 03, 2011 9:50 AM Give them something to fight for

By Steve Benen

It seemed kind of corny last week when President Obama urged the public to contact lawmakers in support of a debt-reduction compromise, but it turned out to be pretty effective. The response was strong enough to crash Capitol Hill phone lines and web servers — twice — and by many accounts, most of those weighing in supported the Democratic approach.

It was a reminder that there’s a sizable number of Americans who care about preventing an economic disaster, and will act when asked. The White House apparently hopes these same folks will be active over the congressional recess.

Facing re-election 15 months from now and with unemployment stubbornly high, Mr. Obama called on Congress to extend unemployment-insurance benefits and a payroll-tax credit for employees. He also urged lawmakers to approve a patent overhaul, free-trade deals and an infrastructure-funding bank.

“There’s no reason for Congress not to send me those bills so I can sign them into law right away, as soon as they get back from recess,” Mr. Obama said. “It shouldn’t take the risk of default, the risk of economic catastrophe, to get folks in this town to work together and do their jobs.”

The White House hopes lawmakers will return to Washington in early September having heard an earful from voters about jobs and the economy. Democrats see potential for bipartisan support on the measures, but they could face stiff opposition from congressional Republicans worried about government spending.

I’m not an expert on grassroots activism, but hoping lawmakers get an “earful” doesn’t seem like quite enough to me. After all, even if Republicans are bombarded every day and at every public event to focus on job creation, they’ll simply respond, “We’re all about creating jobs through austerity and deficit reduction.” The point is, everyone says they’ll push for more jobs, even when they’re touting an agenda that will do the opposite.

It’s encouraging that the White House sees the public as a force that can shift the debate, but it seems to me this would be more effective if the public has something specific to fight for, rather than giving members a generic “earful.”

Why not craft a jobs bill, right now, and urge voters to push for its passage? There’s no need to start from scratch since officials could package the ideas that are being bandied about — payroll tax extension, unemployment benefits, infrastructure, etc. The pitch could emphasize the fact that these have all traditionally been bipartisan ideas and priorities; give it a name like the Invest in America Act (or preferably something with a catchier acronym); and start a p.r. offensive.

Republicans will, of course, condemn the Invest in America Act, because that’s what Republicans do. But why not have the debate? President Obama can take the lead in creating jobs, pushing a targeted plan with popular ideas, fighting a GOP-led Congress that doesn’t seem to care about the economy.

Engaged voters can go to town-hall meetings and express their support for something specific, instead of just “more jobs.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • Live Free or Die on August 03, 2011 9:55 AM:


    Who is Congress? Who is Washington? This seems another way to say "both sides". Why is he incapable of saying "REPUBLICAN"?

  • atlliberal on August 03, 2011 9:57 AM:

    I wish the Obama Administration would hire you as their new messaging guy. Can we all call the White House switchboard and advocate for that?

  • TR on August 03, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Just call it the Jobs Act of 2011.

    That should be enough to get low information voters on board.

  • Anon on August 03, 2011 10:00 AM:

    Because it worked so well to rally the grassroots to bombard congress last time. For all the citizenry's efforts, the Dems just completely caved. Why on earth would anyone want to take the time to do this again?

  • Todd for VT House on August 03, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Amen, Steve! General exhortations are mostly useless. The bully pulpit is for specific calls to action.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 10:04 AM:

    Why not craft a jobs bill, right now, and urge voters to push for its passage?

    Because the White House is functionally unable to craft legislation if Republicans aren't in town for them to capitulate to.

  • Live Free or Die on August 03, 2011 10:06 AM:

    Aon is correct. Republicans do not give a shit about phone calls. When he tells people to call congress, all he does is end up pissing off Congressional Democrats,who are already on his side, by jamming up phone lines.

  • Mike on August 03, 2011 10:07 AM:

    I'm with Anon. The Democrats have lost me.

  • c u n d gulag on August 03, 2011 10:07 AM:

    At this point, yes, bring the jobs argument to them.

    Every day, either continue to fight for an existing jobs bill, or start another one.

    Call one of them "The Republicans Don't Want You To Have Jobs Bill."

    Call the next on, "This Is Another Jobs Bill that Republcians Will Try To Kill - If You Let Them."

  • Anonymous on August 03, 2011 10:17 AM:

    This is what I would say if was Obama:

    Unemployment is unacceptable high. Therefore I have crafted the 2011 Jobs Act. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads and bridges need rebuilding. We need new forms of transportation and infrastructure to compete with China. At the same time we have a 20% unemployment rate in the construction industry. The 2011 Jobs Act will invest $2 trillion in our infrastructure, rebuilding every crumbling road and bridge in America, so we can compete with China. I have spoken to the Congressional Democrats and they will vote for this bill. I have reached out to Republicans to pass this bill. Since we have a divided government the only way if the 2011 Jobs Act bill passes is if they vote for jobs too. Please go to the Republican town hall meeting and ask them to vote for this jobs bill and we can get America back to work. Oh yea, and I am using my Executive Discretionary fund to fund the FAA through 2012. It is very important to me that our airplanes are 100% safe and do not crash because Republicans do not believe in the airplane safety agency.

  • delNorte on August 03, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Call me jaded, but the only public force these Republicans will respond to is when the public votes them out in the next election. Till then, they're not going to do jack squat about jobs.

    But I agree - let's have the debate - it's not like anything substantial is going to get done in DC in the next year and a half anyway. So, keep proposing jobs legislation, and let the Repubs shoot it down (can't the Senate get something passed and send it on to the House?) and make sure the public knows all about it.

  • Live Free or Die on August 03, 2011 10:22 AM:

    The comment about what Obama said is actually from Live Free or Die

  • LWC on August 03, 2011 10:22 AM:

    Because to 'lead from behind' seems to be the only strategy this White House can come up with. Where is our "Greenprint For America"? Why has Obama never articulated a full blown vision for where he and the Democrats want to take America? On paper, able to be sent to and handed out to the voters and the media and repeated ad nauseam by every law maker. Why isn't the White House making a HUGE deal about the holdup at the FAA which is costing billions of dollars while the Congress is out of town on summer vacation? I wonder, are the millions of unemployed Americans having a nice summer vacation this year?

  • June on August 03, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Does it really have to be said again and again that it's Congress's job to craft legislation - not the White House's. Pres. Obama is not a one-man band running the country.

    My mom received her Social Security check today, so thanks, Pres. Obama, for doing what you had to do. I have not yet seen a real-world solution presented from all the brilliant Monday-morning quarterbacks out here that would have produced the real-world sigh of relief from my mom that the income she depends on is there for her today.

    Everyone is gleefully beating up on the Prez with "capitulate" and "cave" being the words of the day, but I've not read a single workable solution from those-who-would-be-president as to how they would have gotten the votes from the teafraggers had they "had the balls" to "fight" and let the country implode into default, or "had the balls" to "fight" for unemployment insurance and payroll cut tax extensions being part of the debt ceiling legislation. And by the way, Pres. Obama included a year-long extension of those items in exchange for extending the Bush tax cuts for two years. Everyone ignored that he "had the balls to fight" for that, while predictably rushing to use their favorite words, "capitulate" and "cave."

    If "we are the ones we've been waiting for," we've been stood up.

  • Trollop on August 03, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Now that the kabuki theater debt crisis is over, let's all hop on to the next crock of shit, shall we?!

    Next week it's privatizing no bid contracts and new and bigger enery subsidies to keep gas at $4.00 per gallon in the only country that "matters"..

  • Anonymous on August 03, 2011 10:25 AM:


    How are the people supposed to vote Republicans out, when Obama refuses to identify Republicans as the problem. When he uses Washington, voters will take it to mean both sides and may vote out democrats.

  • Anonymous on August 03, 2011 10:28 AM:

    Congress takes its lead from the President and then crafts the legislation. They have to know what he will veto b4 sticking their necks out

  • Danny Gail McElrath on August 03, 2011 10:30 AM:

    I would hate to have Obama blowing the bugle call for troops to advance. He blows nothing but uncertain notes. Except when he is sounding retreat.

    And why are you and so many others pushing for extension of the payroll tax, Steve? It will have a miniscule stimulus effect for a dangerous price. That is, it decreases the amount in the Social Security fund and enhances the idea that Social Security is just another govt program, not something people have paid for with money that was supposed to be set aside.

  • Alli on August 03, 2011 10:30 AM:

    Some of you hear are so pathetic. "Obama has lost me" - Go Kick Rocks! You demand he use the bully pulpit then get mad when it didn't work the WAY YOU ALL THOUGHT IT WOULD. Did any of you see the statistics WHERE 2/3 OF THE CALLS MADE TO DC OVER THE DEFAULT WAS FROM REPUbLICANS? 2/3!!! THOSE GUYS ARE FIGHTERS. You all just sit on the comment threads complaining that Obama hasn't said the right words to you. LOOK AROUND you. This is not a joke. This is not a test.

    Just stop lying okay. No matter what he says or does you will never have Obama's back or have the American people's back because ya'll don't care. Stop pretending.

  • Stephen Stralka on August 03, 2011 10:30 AM:

    I agree. Time to stop letting the right set the whole agenda, and Obama needs to show some leadership. Looking like the only adult in the room is certainly advantageous, but we need more than that right now.

    (On the other hand, I'm not about to give up. I'm actually a little curious to know what is the point of coming to a liberal, generally pro-Obama blog and posting comments expressing your disgust and your readiness to give up on the Democrats. You either keep fighting for what you believe in or you don't. Throwing up your hands and walking away is as good as capitulating yourself. It's not like President Romney or President Bachmann is going to take the country in a more progressive direction.)

  • gus on August 03, 2011 10:31 AM:

    LWC, Right now, what would be done? Those comfortable, cushy mofos are taking a month's vacation. Why call them out and make them accountable for months of inactivity when it is ...just...sooooo....much...pointless.....effort....to....lift....a...finger....or....whew...anything?

    It is as if calling out Congress right now would be like cutting down a sapling in the woods and rushing to the nearby town and asking, Did you hear that?

    The political press won't care. Well, most of it. It is just all frustrating. Obama should be out there putting his foot down because he, and his administration, and his re-election campaign, know GOP rats are going to try to put down their feet to let everyone know they are running for president.

    Again, wtf?

    But, he's got to do something and it better be good.

  • June on August 03, 2011 10:31 AM:

    @Anonymous, not sure what your point is, as the President has done just that -- given Congress the lead by calling for the legislation he wants to see crafted, passed and ready-to-sign.

  • Live Free or Die on August 03, 2011 10:34 AM:


    Seriously? You expect liberals to be ecstatic and fired up after the asskicking they just absorbed?? Even the democrats in congress are bitching. Even Dick Durbin is bitching in the Washington Post. So why cant we bitch too?

  • Ron Byers on August 03, 2011 10:38 AM:


    People fight for their families. They fight for their tribes. They fight for their nation. They really fight for an idea. They might even fight for a tootsie roll. People never, ever fight for a "program."

    You have to repackage your high concept. Turn this into a fight for something worth fighting for. How about finding an idea worth a battle. That is what we are short of on the left.

  • Live Free or Die on August 03, 2011 10:38 AM:

    I do not thing the primary idea is practical. It would guarantee a republican president. I plan to vote for Obama. But I am will still bitch about his horrific negotiating skills.

  • cb on August 03, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Alli, how do you know 2/3 of all the calls to DC were from Republicans? I called several times and I was never asked for my party affiliation.

  • Marc on August 03, 2011 10:42 AM:

    We need to have him primaried with a real Democrat.

    Right, because that's worked out so well every time we've tried it.

    When LBJ was primaried by "real Democrats" the end result gave us that great progressive accomplishment of President Nixon.

    And when Carter was primaried by a "real Democrat" the end result was that amazing liberal dream of President Reagan.

    Yeah, let's try it a third time. I'm sure it'll work this once.

  • bdop4 on August 03, 2011 10:44 AM:

    It would have been nice to push for jobs in refuting the bogus "debt crisis."

    Since we now are committed to massive spending cuts, how are we going to pay for an ambitious jobs program?

    Short answer: we aren't. Any funds for jobs will be borrowed from SS (payroll tax credit) or other needed programs, and the overall scope will be sorely lacking.

    We need a revolution in 2012. Only by taking back the House and strengthening our majority in the Senate will we be able to enact bold reforms.

    Prospects don't look good, but in our society, it's sometimes darkest before the dawn.

  • TR on August 03, 2011 10:46 AM:

    You expect liberals to be ecstatic and fired up after the asskicking they just absorbed??

    What asskicking?

    The president was negotiating a hostage crisis. You don't win those, as John Cole said, you resolve them.

    And frankly, as a liberal, I think it was resolved as well as it could be. They didn't kill the hostage, and the ransom was a deal that -- after the Super Congress stalls like everything else in this gridlocked Congress -- will end up cutting from Defense contractors and the provider end of Medicare.

    Could you explain to me which one of those cuts is a massive asskicking for liberals? The defense contractors' losing their DOD money? Or the insurance companies and hospital chains losing their middleman fees for Medicare?

    There will be no cuts to Medicare beneficiaries, no cuts to Medicaid period, and no cuts to Social Security.

    If you're a liberal and you feel like your ass was just kicked, I suggest you pull your head out of it.

  • PaulB on August 03, 2011 10:47 AM:

    According to polling data, the majority of callers to Congressmen after Obama's plea were Republicans and Tea Partiers, not Democrats or liberals.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 10:49 AM:

    gus said:
    The political press won't care. Well, most of it. It is just all frustrating.

    I strongly disagree. Hordes of White House and Congressional reporters still have inches and minutes to fill every day. There is a month-long vacuum that Obama can fill, IF Obama has the guts to start a fight instead of retreating from one.

    I said earlier today:

    Every time there is another piece of bad economic news, Jay Carney should say a variation of the same thing:

    - The President is very unhappy about these numbers and about the effect that they have on the American people.

    - The President and Congressional Democrats have proposed ____ to fix the problem, but unfortunately the Republicans in Congress have blocked it. It's almost as is they don't want the economy to get better.

    - The these key offices that deal with the problem have been vacant for ___ months because minority members of the Senate will not allow an up or down vote.

    - While Americans suffering, House Republicans are on a month-long vacation.

  • June on August 03, 2011 10:51 AM:

    @berttheclock - my mom gets her check on the 3rd of every month - that's just how it works for her. The change-of-date came about in 2009, if I recall correctly.

    What Liberal Democrat do you have mind that would actually do more than just split the vote in the Democratic Party and help get a Republican elected President?

    Further, what Liberal Democrat do you have in mind that has so distinguished themselves through all these recent political battles that they inspire confidence that they will be able to bring the Tea Partiers/Republicans to their knees and make them vote the way they want them to vote in every battle that comes up.

    Here you are directly benefiting from the Prez choosing his battles to make sure you get your check - rather than allowing the country to go into default -- and you turn around and give him a figurative whack for doing so.

    I have to say again, if we are the ones we've been waiting for, we've been stood up.

    That said, I'd like to add that I agree with other posters it's frustrating as hell that the Prez will not name and shame Republicans. That is something about him that makes my blood pressure go through the roof.

  • Varecia on August 03, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Both critics and defenders of the President and Democrats each have valid points. If you want a Republican as President, by all means, primary Obama. A high risk strategy with low chances of success.
    The only concrete thing to do, however, is to work to get a majority in the House and to retain the Senate. The number one priority is to get the Tea Baggers out. Grousing and moaning is a luxury none of us can afford to indulge in for much longer. Also, get involved with your local or regional voting rights activists. In the 2008 General election my husband trained as a poll watcher, and I helped test voting machines.

  • berttheclock on August 03, 2011 11:00 AM:

    @Marc, LBJ was not primaried. He made his announcement to not run for re-election before the primaries.

    Teddy Kennedy did primary against Carter, but, it was the Iran hostage situation and the high economic prices caused by the 2nd oil embargo, which helped St Ronny defeat Carter.

    So, if you are an Offensive Oc-ord and two plays go awry, you take that play out of your play book? Or do you perfect it and keep it in your arsenal of weapons?

    BTW, Steve, why was my earlier post removed?

    [Sorry about that. The moderators see comments as they come in, regardless of thread, and a spambot evaded captcha on some older threads. I clicked the first one, scrolled down and hit "shift" when I clicked the last one to select all the comments in between and hit "delete" before I realized your comment was in the middle of the comments that were being removed. --Mod]

  • RES on August 03, 2011 11:02 AM:

    "officials could package the ideas that are being bandied about..." Officials? Could you be any less specific?

    Yes, we need a plan and it would be refreshing, to say the least, for Obama to not delegate to Congress for a change. Last, but not least, why is Congress on recess for the next 5 weeks? Real leadership would be to call the bums back to DC to work on growth and getting Americans back to work.

  • Blue Girl on August 03, 2011 11:06 AM:

    Hey, I despise this "Satan Sandwich" as my Congressman put it. But talk of primaries is just stupid. When is this Perfect Liberal Democrat Who Will Fight going to come riding in on his or her unicorn and save us all?

    I keep reminding myself that one of the things I hated the most about Bush was that he was just the president of the republicans, the rest of us could go to hell.

    Even stupider than talk of primaries is talk of "Obama should get mad and fight." Yeah, y'all talk like you ant President Shaft, but the first hint of anger last week and he was painted as the volatile angry black man. If he really did bring a metaphorical baseball bat and start whacking kneecaps, even the people who say that's what they want would be horrified. The wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Huffpo comment section would be a sight to behold.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 11:25 AM:

    June said:
    Everyone is gleefully beating up on the Prez with "capitulate" and "cave" being the words of the day, but I've not read a single workable solution from those-who-would-be-president as to how they would have gotten the votes from the teafraggers had they "had the balls" to "fight".

    The way you win a battle is to fight it on your own terms. When Obama, for whatever reason, accepted the utterly insane premise that deficit reduction should be the country's number one economic priority -- when it isn't even in the top three -- then he surrendered the initiative to the Republicans and allowed them to dictate the terms of the battle.

    What Obama should have done is draw a line in the sand. He should have said that he would veto any spending reductions until unemployment was below seven percent. He should have started hammering on a few, easy-to-understand talking points:

    - The best way to reduce the deficit is to get jobs for the 14 million Americans who don't have them so the government doesn't have to support their families with unemployment and food stamps and so they can start paying taxes into the Treasury again.

    - We've already tried cutting spending during an economic downturn. In 1936, after FDR had brought unemployment down from 25 percent to 15 percent, fiscal conservatives convinced FDR to cut back on spending. He did and unemployment shot back up to 19 percent. It would be stupid to make the same mistake again.

    Remember, before this latest manufactured crisis, the Republicans were in retreat. To their astonishment, Americans forcefully told them that they don't want to see Medicare dismantled. To the Republicans' even greater astonishment, Democrats were actually taking advantage of this. Democrats could have been hammering on this issue through next November.

    Then Obama cut the legs out from under the Democrats' argument.

    Once the battle over the debt ceiling was joined, Obama should have said that he wants a clean bill raising the debt ceiling, like Congress had passed 89 time before or he would veto it. He should have privately told Republicans that he would not allow the United States to default and left them wondering whether he was planning to use the 14th Amendment, or the trillion dollar coin option, or something else.

    If the Republicans balked, then what could they do? Refuse to approve Obama's nominees? Compare him to a Nazi? They're already doing everything to him that they can.

    And if the Republicans had actually impeached Obama in the House, they would have been handing the 2012 elections to the Democrats.

    But for whatever reason, Obama can not draw a line in the sand -- except with his progressive base.

  • yellowdog on August 03, 2011 11:35 AM:

    What Obama said yesterday was essentially:

    -that business we just got through with had nothing to do with jobs
    -I have pro-jobs legislative plans pending on the Hill that no one is talking about - Let's talk about them now and get them done.

    That's the cue for the press gaggle to change the focus from deficits to jobs, where it belongs. He's just laid out 3-4 pro-jobs initiatives that deserve Congressional support and can get done fairly quickly. (Modest, yes, but something.)

    If this action does not happen, predictable criticisms of Obama will be:

    -Obama obviously did not use the bully pulpit well; he should have made the differences between parties crystal clear and given his base something to fight for.
    -Obama obviously killed the initiatives by coming out so strongly in support of them. - The GOP won't pass anything that is identified with him.

    Do you see the box he is in? The opposition is catering only to the right wing, and cares nothing for public opinion, meaning that the bully pulpit won't work. If the right wing hates Obama, they will veto anything with his name on it, or try, even if it is in the public interest.

    Progressive strategy, even in the reddest districts, now ought to be publicizing the radicalization of the GOP, especially to low-information voters. That's the plus of this whole episode. There is plenty of stuff for Dems to point to in local races--for instance, about what the GOP is planning to do to Medicare. It is avoiding pro-jobs bills. It is killing education and the environment. The lines of argument are set up for the coming months. Now is the time for progressives to tie the radicals to their own agenda. Make them own it. Let them run on killing Medicare. Let them run on keeping the Bush tax cuts. Let them run on their obstruction. If they are as far out of step with the public as polls suggest, they are going to give Obama a second term, with House and Senate to go with it--as long as their voter-suppression tricks aren't allowed to succeed.

  • Ted Weissgerber on August 03, 2011 11:41 AM:

    To ALLOW the Republicans to win the Presidency would be the END of this country as we knew it! That would be the ULTIMATE MISTAKE!

  • June on August 03, 2011 11:41 AM:

    @Steve T -- you know, there is the conventional wisdom inside the beltway, and then, there is the convention wisdom inside the progressive base.

    "When Obama, for whatever reason, accepted the utterly insane premise that deficit reduction should be the country's number one economic priority -- "

    This is bandied about as though it's the God's honest truth in the blogosphere, when exactly the opposite is true. Or did I miss it? I've not yet seen Obama say anything like this. What I have heard him say is that this whole mess was a distraction from what we should be focusing on, jobs and growing the economy. Why did all progressives seemingly conveniently forget that Obama also campaigned on cutting the deficit in half, and also convened the Simpson-Bowles Commission to address cutting the deficit. He is no johnny-come-lately to the idea of deficit reduction.

    I have to actually get to work now, so I can't go through the rest of your points, but long story short - it all sounds great what you wrote - but it leaves two options - either we would have defaulted, or Obama would have raised the debt ceiling on his own -- an option which for several reasons, he didn't consider to be a legal option.

    Durbin, et al. can vent all they want, but if they had a genius idea to get to a different "we have the balls to do it" result, why didn't they speak up?

  • Marc on August 03, 2011 11:50 AM:

    @Marc, LBJ was not primaried. He made his announcement to not run for re-election before the primaries.


    LBJ announced his intention not to run on March 31, 1968.

    Gene McCarthy launched his primary challenge in four separate states on November 30, 1967.

  • JM917 on August 03, 2011 11:51 AM:

    @berttheclock: No, Marc is right. McCarthy announced his challenge to LBJ at the beginning of 1968, and the first primary was in New Hampshire, in early March. McCarthy didn't win the primary, but he ran up a surprisingly strong vote against LBJ. (Many hawks, who thought LBJ wasn't fighting hard enough in Vietnam, also voted for McCarthy as a protest.) LBJ announced that he wouldn't be a candidate for reelection on March 31, a couple of weeks after NH. (This came at the end of a TV address in which he announced a bombing halt and the start of negotiations.) It was at that point that Bobby Kennedy jumped into the race.

    JOBS: Are the crowds going to start coming to the Repugs' town hall meetings waving signs and screaming "Where are the jobs?" Get on the stick, MoveOn % Co. (Of course, here in my Republican district, the Repug--Robert Hurt--has NEVER held any kind of public meeting, unlike his Dem predecessor Tom Perriello, who in 2009 met more than 20, a record I think, and did a great job of talking reason. Hurt is smart not to expose himself to the public scorn he so richly deserves.)

    If Obama is smart and gutsy (now a big question mark), he will greet the returning Congress in September with a big, ambitious jobs bill and DARE the Repugs to act on it. (Boehner probably won't even let it come up for a vote, and in the Senate it will get filibustered.) By shifting the focus to JOBS and RECOVERY, even though nothing will get done for the duration of the 112th Congress, Obama can start the 2012 campaign and keep it focused on what really counts for ordinary Americans.

    Every Repug needs to have "Where are the jobs?" hung around his/her miserable neck from now till the November 2012 election. Make it noisy and incessant. And contrast Repug refusal to act with their manic defense of every last tax break for the rich and their refusal to lift a finger to stop the export of jobs to China.

  • Josef K on August 03, 2011 11:53 AM:

    LWC made a salient point at 10:22am, to whit: this doesn't appear to be a President who wants to/willing to lead on any major initiative. He's an 'organizer', after all.

    Which is a pity because you can hardly expect Senator Reid or Congresswoman Pelosi to pick up the baton; the former is too wedded to Senate culture to inspire anyone, and the latter is too easily drowned out by the House GOP's antics.

    Like it or not, until some standard-bearer emerges from the nominal left that can both articulate a clear, simple vision for the country...

    Well, I guess we'll all be chugging a lot of tea until then.

  • JM917 on August 03, 2011 11:57 AM:

    Add to mine of 11:51:

    If Obama calls his jobs bill "a bipartisan solution" or any such crap, I'll scream. Call it a Republican-killer, because the ones who really and truly don't give a rat's ass for American jobs (other than as a stick to beat Obama) are the Republicans and the job-exporting, low-tax-loving capitalists they represent. (And too many corporate Democrats are in that boat as well, I regret to add.)

  • Brian T. Raven on August 03, 2011 11:59 AM:

    June, in the post of 10:24 has it about right it seems. Democrats are rather famous for eating their young - where Republicans may grumble, but they don't waver. Nor do they seek out a third party candidate to punish, symbolically, the "under-performing" Democratic Party.

    June is also correct in tossing the ball back to Democratic legislators who should have understood by now that the irrational behavior of their TeaParty-threatened colleagues in the Capitol is not about a "debt crisis". It is about making sure an African American is not able to assume the top spot in this country - and they are adamant about making sure it doesn't happen again.

    If the Democratic Party doesn't come to understand this, and doesn't shape its approaches to the GOP and to voters to account for this bias, then much time will be wasted on introducing legislation that is instantly crushed for no apparent reason.

    To understand more about bias, read this article. If you read it carefully, you won't have to take the test because you'll develop a sense of just how biased you were raised to be by the world around you. If you think you're the best driver on the road, then you need to take the test - so you can experience the same shock as the person who developed it.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 12:24 PM:

    June said:
    . . . it all sounds great what you wrote - but it leaves two options - either we would have defaulted, or Obama would have raised the debt ceiling on his own -- an option which for several reasons, he didn't consider to be a legal option.

    Actually, although I'm not a Constitutional scholar, I found the idea of minting two trillion dollar platinum coins and depositing them to be very appealing. And I haven't heard a single reason given why it wouldn't be perfectly legal.

    Again, so what if the Republicans in the House impeached Obama? How did that work out for Republicans when they impeached Clinton?

    Obama just doesn't seem to understand the American people. If Obama had drawn a line in the sand and said that he would do whatever it takes to make sure the U.S. doesn't go into default, and then pulled a rabbit like the platinum coins out of his hat, the American people would have loved him. They adore strong heros who face down the villains with a smart-ass remark and who are not afraid to go a little outside the rules.

    Who's the hero in the movie First Blood? It's not Brian Dennehey's law-and-order sheriff. Who's the hero in Die Hard, Bruce Willis or the police captain who tells him to stand down and let them take over? Yes, I know movies aren't real life. But I'm talking about the perceptions of the low-information "independent" voter. They'll vote for a strong leader who they think is wrong over a wishy-washy politician whose policies they agree with.

    I recognize that Obama will be the Democratic nominee. And I recognize that he will be light years better than whatever loon, buffoon or secessionist the Republicans nominate. But if unemployment stays above nine percent and the public doesn't see Obama himself in a bloody fight, biting, kicking and clawing to get jobs bills passed, then he will lose in 2012.

    Howver even if Obama doesn't get a single jobs bill passed, if next November the public sees him looking like Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard -- limping, bleeding and with his shirt ripped half off, but still standing and fighting -- then he can win.

    Obama was right when he said that Ronald Reagan was able to change Washington politics. The problem is, he just doesn't understand why Reagan was able to do it.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 1:06 PM:

    June said:
    What I have heard him say is that this whole mess was a distraction from what we should be focusing on, jobs and growing the economy. Why did all progressives seemingly conveniently forget that Obama also campaigned on cutting the deficit in half, and also convened the Simpson-Bowles Commission to address cutting the deficit. He is no johnny-come-lately to the idea of deficit reduction.

    Saying that deficit reduction is a "distraction" isn't the same as saying "Cutting spending when unemployment is over nine percent and going up is a really stupid idea." And if Obama doesn't understand that cutting the deficit now is a really stupid idea, well . . .

    I'm not being anti-intellectual here. I want my president to be the smartest guy in the room. But Obama can't seem to understand that he has to dumb it down for the people who think "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" is great entertainment. He needs to sound less like a doctoral dissertation and more like a bumper sticker, because a lot of American's eyes start to glaze over after listening to more than 15 or 20 words.

  • June on August 03, 2011 1:10 PM:

    @Steve T, I take your overall point, that instead of calm deliberation, people want a bit more political theater out of the Obama administration, which would be better for perception's sake, even if all the blustering still led to even less favorable results.

    I'm not sure Obama is capable of that. As most here probably are aware, I'm a strong supporter of his, but on this point, I do think Obama, from the start, has been completely wrong in how he's approached managing perceptions of the administration. I also think he's congenitally incapable of naming and shaming Republicans. And it may lead to his downfall. But he stubbornly refuses to stop sharing in the blame with the Republicans - "we did this and that" -- when it's Republicans who are doing it -- I don't think we're going to get Rambo from this president, but I agree that after this episode, the White House needs to come up with something other than what they've been doing to frame the debates.

    To your point about the platinum coins I'm essentially saying "wha-?," but I think I get your gist.

    Commenters keep harkening back to Clinton's day as a comparison Obama should take to heart - if Obama was convinced there was truly a strong legal argument to be made for unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, I don't have much doubt he would have come to the public, made the case, raised the ceiling, and let the Republicans do their best. But whether I agree with that or not, this former Harvard Law student, former editor of the Harvard Law Review and constitutional law professor, for what, 12 years, was not convinced that the law was there for him to take that action. It's ironic that those who castigate Obama for "caving" also invoke Clinton without castigating him for signing off on legislation, that if Obama had enacted the same thing, would make people go ballistic.

    Overall, though, Steve T, I take your points. Fair enough.

  • June on August 03, 2011 1:13 PM:

    Steve T, just a quick response to your other post -- the spending cuts are not going into effect until 2013, as I understand it; there are no spending cuts **now**. But I still take your point that Obama is speaking in intellectual terms too complicated for people to pay attention to. He needs to make it visceral.

  • Vince on August 03, 2011 1:28 PM:

    The sad reality is that the majority of the Democratic party is beholden to the same interests as the Republicans. That is why no amount of calling or rallying in the streets on the part of liberals (or, forget ideology, just on the part of working people) is going to help, I fear. If Steve is right about most of the calls being in favor of the Democratic position, this latest effort at grass roots organizing is more proof of this point, since the Republican position is what got passed.

    Note also that the vast majority of the national Democratic party pretty much completely ignored the huge protests during the Wisconsin standoff. I mean 100 dipshit Tea Baggers get together and it's a huge A1 story, but 100'000's of people hit the streets in support of unions and it's an A14 story.

    The Tea Baggers, since it is really just a front group for billionaire oligarchs, will continue to have disproportionate influence on policy precisely because the billionaire, oligarchic, class is all our political system listens to anymore.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 1:48 PM:

    June said:
    To your point about the platinum coins I'm essentially saying "wha-?

    From Jack Balkin:

    "Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there's a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time.

    "Ironically, there's no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds."


    Balkin goes on to say that once this solution is used, it can be used over and over again. And it still might have upset the credit rating agencies. But as a non-economist, I don't see how it's different from Congress authorizing more deficit spending.

    At least it was a credible threat that would have made Obama look less impotent in his negotiations with the Tea-liban.

  • June on August 03, 2011 2:05 PM:

    Steve T, thanks for the background on your platinum coin remark. I can't honestly see Geitner or Obama considering that as anything more than a parlor trick, though, to say the least.

    And I can't really agree that Obama looked "impotent," in dealing with the teafraggers. His negotiation tactics had them scrambling and fragging their own leaders, and in the end, terrified that they might actually have to hold the bag for making the nation default. I can agree with you on some points, but I'm not ready to jump two-feet-in into that characterization.

  • gaardvark on August 03, 2011 2:39 PM:

    I've been haranguing the WH for weeks now suggesting that "I'm not as bad as the other guy" is not a very motivating campaign slogan. (OK, in truth, I've suggested the Obama campaign adopt, "Obama Sucks Less". For some reason they don't seem receptive.)

    I you didn't see the piece by Ruy Teixeira yesterday, Obama’s Unhealthy Obsession With Independents, go read it. http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/93041/obama-independent-voters

    But it argues that Obama's pursuit of the "independents" is a fool's errand. I think Obama is dismissing the Democratic base (I deliberately didn't say "his base") at his peril.

  • SteveT on August 03, 2011 3:08 PM:

    June said:
    Steve T, thanks for the background on your platinum coin remark. I can't honestly see Geitner or Obama considering that as anything more than a parlor trick, though, to say the least.

    Of course it's a parlor trick. But having Congress raise the debt limit after they've already spent the money is nothing but a stupid formality.

    I love formality, as long as it doesn't interfere with getting the job done. The Swiss Guards with their halberds and their 16th century uniforms are cool, but there are also Swiss Guards who dress like the U.S. Secret Service and carry guns to protect the Vatican. If a formality like the debt ceiling or the Senate tradition of "holds", is abused to prevent something necessary from happening then it needs to be worked around or gotten rid of.

    The Republicans don't let "formalities" get in the way of advancing their agenda, and they don't mind using "parlor tricks" if that's what it takes. As long as you aren't breaking the law, once the other side sets the rules you play by those or you will lose. In the case of fights with Republicans, that means the whole country -- even most of the people stupid enough to vote for the Republicans -- will lose.

  • George Colombo on August 03, 2011 4:20 PM:

    Obama asked people to call their representatives to demand a balanced approach to deficit reduction, they did, then he caved in to Republican demands anyway. So, my question is: What's the point?

  • Ohioan on August 03, 2011 4:26 PM:

    There's a 'BUILD ACT' bill in the Senate. I say put Kay Bailey Hutchison et al on the spot - focus singularly on organizing around this bill. Then move on to the other items. That way, Repubs will be forced to argue on the merits of each item, as opposed to 'a laundry list/wish list'.


  • June on August 03, 2011 5:00 PM:

    Steve T, yes, before teafraggers, raising the debt ceiling was like the Swiss guards in all their finery, performing their ceremonious roles. But what we just went through here was more like Swiss Guards who are supposted to protect the Vatican, and instead threaten to do away with the Pope.

    I have to go back to what I originally wrote. Obama's resolution of this crisis ended with my mom receiving her Social Security check and with her full Medicare benefits intact. And the assurance that these benefits will not be touched as part of this agreement.

    I would have loved to see some teafragger heads knocked together (figuratively speaking), but the bottom line is, we didn't default and my mom's benefits and income were protected. Bottom line is, I thank the Prez for that.

  • Doug on August 03, 2011 9:32 PM:

    "Proressive strategy, even in the reddest districts, now ought to be publicizing the radicalization of the GOP..." yellowdog @ 11:35 AM

    The latest polls, the ones showing President Obama' approval dropping, ALSO show the Republicans in Congress to be at the BOTTOM of the approval pole - basically, they've been reduced to their "base" and NOONE else.
    President Obama, at least until the campaign officially starts in 2012, HAS to remain President of the United States and not Barack Obama, President (D). Let the low-information voters discover on their own just how radical the present GOP is, the results (NOT electing Republicans) will last longer.
    Vast numbers of "Republican" voters switched allegiance in 1932 after seeing for themselves the unwillingness of THAT Republican Party to abandon ITS ideology and face up to the reality of the Great Depression. Support for the Democratic Party peaked in 1938, with Democrats retaining the Presidency until 1952, control of the House, except for 1947-49 and 1953-55, until the 1980s and the Senate, except for 1953-55, also until the 1980s*.
    THAT is what scorned voters can do...

    *Those dates are what I remember from my readings, I might have one or two additional periods of Republican control, but the major point remains - once voters are shown the incompetence of a political party, they DO NOT go back.