Thursday, January 14, 2010

President Hits his Stride: Where to Now?

President Obama's response this week to the bank bailout, the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, and getting healthcare done was more assertive and forceful than, I think, he's ever been in all of 2009. The President is back in campaign mode with a sense of urgency and determination and a posture that projects leadership.

Perhaps it stems from his positive poll numbers handling the failed terrorist bombing, when he pushed back with a pointed “this is not a time for partisanship, but citizenship” against the Cheneys, who have not been heard from since. It appears the President is genuinely at the end of his cooperative tether, and not just a bit ticked off. President Obama was not pleased when the system that should have worked to protect the American people suffered a systemic failure, and he was candid about it. That, by itself, was a departure from the previous administration's secretive fearmongering over all things terrorist, and the public rewarded the President's seriousness of purpose.

With regard to the banks, the President's populist rhetoric -- “we want our money back!” -- announcing a “fee” on banks with assets of $50 billion or more to repay the rest of the TARP taxpayer bailout, comes in advance of the banks disclosing record profits and "obscene" (the President's word) bonuses. The timing is no coincidence. Even as the bankers whine that this is all “political,” the White House's perspective is “so what?” Why not dare the Republicans to defeat this by claiming it's another “tax?” Especially after being told to do so by the “phalanx of lobbyists” the President discouraged the banks from using; instead, challenging the banks to accept their responsibility to the taxpayers who bailed them out.

Heading into the 2010 elections, this is a debate the Democrats and the President welcome. Let the Republicans defeat this fee on the banks. Between this action and the bipartisan commission looking into the financial system meltdown, the banks are caught in a populist squeeze from which there is no rescue, no matter how many lobbyists are thrown into the breach. Getting out in front of this issue in an election year is one of those rare convergences in which “politics” and good policy -- i.e., financial regulatory reform -- are in perfect harmony.

And in a busy whirlwind of activity today the President knocked heads with the union bosses to reach agreement on taxing so-called “Cadillac plans,” with some adjustments and the exemption of collective bargaining agreements from the tax until 2018. Positively LBJ-esque.

But most impressive of all is President Obama's response to the humanitarian catastrophe in Haiti. To the people of Haiti, he said, “you will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten.” This President was decisive and determined, with a rare touch of emotion, and the U.S. government's response so far has been exemplary. Everything that's been done, right down to Hillary cutting short her Asia-Pacific trip to directly supervise State and USAID's response to this disaster speaks to what seems to be on everyone's mind: “This will not be another Katrina.”

And yet the enormity of the crisis, the logistical and communications nightmare, the closing window of time to recover people who are alive, and the increasing restiveness of a population desperately in need of water, food, shelter, and medicines is an unprecedented challenge.

So why then has the President tapped George W. Bush to join Bill Clinton as a special envoy to Haiti? W., the poster boy for malignant neglect of the Homeland's natural (not to mention, man-made) disasters! Why, Mr. President? Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod would probably say, privately, that it's good politics all-round to rehabilitate the former president on arguably his weakest point (with no positives except increased AIDS relief in Africa), and neutralize him politically by driving an even bigger wedge between Bush and the hated Dick Cheney. Were it not for the former president's notable efforts to ameliorate AIDS suffering in Africa, he would not get a pass.

What's unsettling is that this idea to tap Bush did not originate in the White House. It came, in fact, from that hornet's nest of neocons known as the Heritage Foundation, whose catastrophic policy prescriptions through sinister front groups such as PNAC manipulated a tabula rasa president -- yup, W. -- into invading Iraq, with the cascading catastrophic foreign policy disaster for the U.S. that ensued. Here is a link to Naomi Klein's take on disaster capitalism, including a link to this Heritage document, which says in part:
“President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.”
Not overly controversial, as far as it goes, except that President Obama accepted Heritage's suggestion. Which begs the question: Is the President also prepared to embrace other policy suggestions from the Heritage neocons, such as:
In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region. Please to explain, mistah neocon: What, exactly, does this mean?

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. NO. WHILE ON THE GROUND, THE U.S. SHOULD BE IN THE BUSINESS OF SAVING LIVES AND STABILIZING THAT SHATTERED COUNTRY.

Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue. Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms. Here we go with the neocons' nationbuilding again. What bothers me about this is that the neocons' intention for Haiti in reality is to create a buffer state, or U.S. satellite in Haiti to make mischief (trans: destabilize Cuba and Venezuela). This isn't idle speculation. They have a track record in Iraq and Afghanistan. At what cost in blood and treasure to the U.S.?

The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe. Again, this is typical Cold War thinking from a bellicose crowd of neocons who can't seem to shake their “Red scare” obsessions. First off, the Venezuelans (surprise!) are already in Haiti with a contingent of doctors and rescue teams, and very well received by all; second, the Cubans have been completely silent on this catastrophe, not once trying to make political hay of it. When will these neocon jackasses ever realize that peoples with political differences can recognize our common humanity in a time of crisis?
The article, written by a Heritage Research Fellow, is beningly titled: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti.” A rehash of the same old failed neocon Cold War era policy prescriptions that proved so disastrous for this country. Now, evidently, they're trying to get in President Obama's head. Let it go, get over it, already, neocons!

So, will the real President Obama please stand up? To mix my sports metaphors (but I don't care), just as progressives thought the President had begun tacking back toward his base he throws us a big ole Crawford, Texas curveball from deep right field.

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