In a memorable segment of the movie, American President, Michael J. Fox’s character, Lewis, tells the President that people are so hungry for leadership they’ll crawl towards a mirage and even drink the sand. The cynical President replies that the reason is “they don’t know the difference.”
The reaction of liberals to the President’s speech Wednesday reminds us how thirsty liberals/progressives have been for President Obama to show the slightest hint of courageous and progressive leadership. So when Obama, who has repeatedly betrayed liberal values cherished by the Democratic Party since FDR, finally said what liberals/progressives have been saying for months, much of the liberal community cheered or at least said, “finally!” But this was easy.
This President has spent the last 18 months undermining liberal values, nowhere more blatant than his repetition of Tea-GOP talking points about deficits and debts, and how government had to tighten its belt because that’s what families do. What gibberish. His convening of the Catfood Commission, whose chair proposals would worsen the distribution of wealth towards the rich, and his partial endorsement of its framing today still hang over Social Security and other safety net programs.
Candidate Obama often told voters that government programs are both legitimate and necessary as a collective response to problems that can overwhelm millions of individuals if left alone. In today’s speech, we heard candidate Obama again, with only a hint of the Obama who’s been our President for two years. Which is the water? Which is the sand?
You could see this one coming late Friday night when the Tea-GOPs and the White House confirmed the deal to cut spending by some still undetermined amount for the fiscal year 2011 budget. The reaction among liberals, including some deep into what Jane Hamsher calls the “veal pen,” was almost universal disgust. You could see the concerns in the blog posts at WaPo, at TNR, at Mother Jones; you could feel the disillusionment in angry tweets.
It was clear by the weekend that the White House was facing a potential revolt among even the more loyal but now wavering followers, so something had to be done. And they sent White House adviser David Plouffe to do it, on four cable/network Sunday shows.
My guess is that Plouffe’s priority was to change the subject. The new topic, which immediately grabbed the compliant media’s headlines, was the announcement that Obama would make a speech on Wednesday laying out his framework for deficit reductions. It would be Obama versus Paul Ryan and the Tea-GOPs. Great theater. Supporters stopped moaning and waited.
Political genius? Hardly. All Obama had to do was beat pitiful Paul Ryan, the Tea-GOP’s budget flim flam man. Ryan not only fixed the numbers, he proposed to dismantle Medicare, the very program the GOP ran on saving from the evil Obama last November. How stupid is that? And he did it with a set of arguments and numbers that were so blatantly dishonest and so easily debunked that he left himself and his party exposed. Even better, Party leaders and numerous Tea-GOP Zombies endorsed Ryan’s budget, making it the official Tea-GOP position.
From that point on, Attila the Hun could have found room to run to the left of the radical Ryan Tea-GOP Zombies. My cat could’ve hit this one.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that even the inept political team in this White House realized they’d been handed a gift. All they had to do was to restate the central premise of American politics since FDR: Americans accept that while we honor individual initiative and freedom, we also share a collective responsibility to take care of each other, especially in individual or collective tough times. And the core programs that honor that belief — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — are sacred.
That core human value is not just liberal or progressive, though liberals embrace it without question. It transcends the left-right dichotomy. Every advanced society embraces it. The only people who don’t are Randian nuts and corporate thugs.
So I”m glad Rachel Maddow is happy with the President’s speech; Cenk was ecstatic, and Ed’s all aglow. But their President just made one of the easiest, most obvious political statements one can imagine, given how extreme and radical Paul Ryan and his Tea-GOP Zombies have become.
The only wonder is that it took so long for this White House and Dem leaders to make this move. The argument was available before November; it was available in December when Obama gave away what he said today he would never give away again. But it would have taken a bit more courage back then.
So was this a great liberal/progressive statement by a courageous President? Yes, as Rachel said, he made a lot of good points — good for him — but points that have been obvious and unsaid for over a year. He only made them now after Paul Ryan’s radical extremism made them easy to say.
What more could a courageous liberal have said? Ask yourself, where was the proposal to provide additional funding to states to replenish their unemployment insurance funds or to relieve states of their huge Medicaid burden, at least until employment recovers or the expanded Medicaid kicks in in 2014?
Where was the defense of government employees and the sanctity of their pension contracts? Where’s the major jobs program for the 25 million still unemployed or underemployed? Where is the warning that austerity plans are already hurting European economies and could hurt ours too?
Where’s the defense of climate change efforts in the face of the Tea-GOP meat axe to EPA? Where’s the defense of financial regulation or the proposal to tax Wall Street casino deals or clamp down on too easy money flowing into derivatives/commodities speculation?
Why was it okay to claim as a “savings” the unused funds for poor women and children merely because the states neglected to seek them out? What about the women who need family planning in DC?
The President got a soft slow pitch and he hit it out. Now, let’s see him hit a fastball and a curve and do it with the game on the line. We’re waiting.