Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Channeling His "Inner Truman"? Not Quite Yet.

Somehow, a presser delivers more punch than a tweet or an e-mail. President Obama delivered his strongest rebuke of Congress to date telling them to "get to work" and "get this (agreement on the debt ceiling) done" from the bully pulpit of the presidential press conference. The President tried to shame Congress into action by noting that his two daughters, 10 and 13, do their homework one day ahead of time.

Politically, it was an astute remark sure to rankle Republicans, casting him as the adult in the room, his children as responsible young people, and the Republicans as ... well, thumb-sucking infants? President Obama also drew a line in the sand — of sorts — slamming Republicans for protecting tax breaks for “millionaires and billionaires, oil companies and corporate jet owners” implying he will not tolerate such antics at the expense of Medicare, education, food safety, and weather forecasting, among other essential government investments.

But the President also said some things that do not inspire confidence in the liberal "elites" as the trenchantly quotable Chuck Todd described the base. (To Chuck, who harks from Miami, hotbed of right wing conspiracies, the liberal "elites" must seem like the vanguard of a Marxist revolution.) Concerns remain over whether the President will stand strong against the Republicans, as Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders persistently pleaded, when they dig in their heels and prepare to push off the precipice, taking the country and the world along for the fall. As of now, the scuttlebutt in Republican circles is the President will "cave." Despite this press conference, the GOP hostage takers have reason to be more than confident, cocky, that once again they'll transform President Obama into the doormat on which their radical right wing policy prescriptions will stomp.

As usual, the President treated his liberal/progressive base as a whackin' piñata to curry favor with Independents and the Beltway types, or as Savannah Guthrie noted, people of Chris Cilizza's "ilk," by throwing out the gratuitous line that he'll make some tough choices sure to have his base give him "a hard time." Shameless but we're used to it. Still, except for the examples cited above, the President was fuzzy on the specifics of any agreement, other than a broad "balanced solutions" bullshit.

This business site implies the President is willing to swap the specified revenue increases for $600 billion in Medicare cuts proposed by right wing senators Tom Coburn and "Independent" TRAITOR Joe Lieberman. THIS MUST BE A COMPLETE NON-STARTER FOR DEMOCRATS. The notion that the embittered Joe Lieberman will exit the Senate having stuck ANOTHER KNIFE IN OUR BACKS is totally beyond the pale. Take heed, Mr. President. If you cave to the Coburn-Lieberman proposal there will be HELL TO PAY WITH YOUR BASE. You cannot afford another "enthusiasm gap" in 2012.

Curiously, the President was "very amused" at critics (Mitch McConnell) who said he must "lead" on this issue. He ticked off a litany of presidential activites which included lengthy meetings with the leaders of both parties, caucuses, working groups, etc., none of which the public outside the Beltway were privy to, as an illustration of his engagement with the issues on a semi-granular level — and presidential leadership.

With all due respect, Mr. President, that's the Jimmy Carter excuse. President Carter is remembered not only for ineffective leadership but getting into the weeds on every issue, often to the annoyance of Congress. President Obama has yet to decide whether to be aloof or engaged. The right answer is to take his case to the people, Harry Truman-style. Mr. President, these Republicans will not hand you a "win" even if it's the country that wins. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks analyzed the President's leadership style this way:
"Far from being a heroic quasi Napoleon who runs the country from the Oval Office, Obama has been a delegator and a convener. He sets the agenda, sketches broad policy outlines and then summons some Congressional chairmen to dominate the substance. This has been the approach with the stimulus package, the health care law, the Waxman-Markey energy bill, the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and, so far, the Biden commission on the budget.

As president, Obama has proved to be a very good Senate majority leader — convening committees to do the work and intervening at the end.

All his life, Obama has worked in nonhierarchical institutions — community groups, universities, legislatures — so maybe it is natural that he has a nonhierarchical style. He tends to see issues from several vantage points at once, so maybe it is natural that he favors a process that involves negotiating and fudging between different points of view.

Still, I would never have predicted he would be this sort of leader. I thought he would get into trouble via excessive self-confidence. Obama’s actual governing style emphasizes delegation and occasional passivity. Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern."
While I disagree with David's self-serving analogy — the alternative is not liberals pleading with the President to be more like Howard Dean, whatever that means, but more like Harry Truman — his analysis of the President's leadership style has merit. For the President to mention all those meetings he attended is enough to make non-politico eyes glaze over with inside Washington-speak. President Obama whiffed on many levels with this definition of leadership — a variation on, '90 percent of life is showing up'.

Frankly, what David Brooks hopes for President Obama is what most concerns liberals and progressives:
"If he can overcome his aloofness and work intimately with Republicans, he may be able to avert a catastrophe and establish a model for a more realistic, collegial presidency."
The President, in his presser, leaned in this direction, which I'm sure warmed David's heart. “Call me naïve,” said President Obama, “but my expectation is leaders are going to lead.” Okay, Mr. President. Regarding this Republican Congress and this GOP leadership, we’re calling you naïve.

Anchoring NBC's coverage of the presidential presser, Brian Williams remarked on an e-mail he received that said the President was "channeling his inner Harry Truman." Not quite. It might yet come to this, but Harry Truman invoked his presidential authority to covene a special session of Congress:
"On 27 occasions, presidents have called both houses into session to deal with a crisis. The most recent of these special sessions -- and the first one since 1856 -- met at the behest of President Harry S. Truman on this day in 1948.

With less than four months remaining before Election Day, Truman's approval rating stood at 36 percent. His GOP opponent, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, looked like a sure winner.

So in search of a bold political gesture, the president turned to the provision in the Constitution that allows the president "on extraordinary occasions" to convene one or both houses of Congress. And Congress at that time was controlled by the GOP.

In accepting the Democratic presidential nomination at 1:45 a.m. in a stifling Philadelphia convention hall, Truman stunned delegates by calling on the Republican majority to live up to its party platform by passing laws that bolstered civil rights, extended Social Security and created a national health care program. "They can do this job in 15 days if they want to do it," he said.

Republicans reacted with scorn. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) said, "No good can come to the country from a special session of Congress which obviously stems solely from political motives." Nevertheless, some key GOP figures -- including Vandenberg -- favored action to widen the party's electoral appeal.

The gesture went only so far when Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, accused Truman of abusing his presidential prerogatives and blocked all votes.

That decision presented Truman with a campaign theme: He railed against the "do-nothing 80th Congress." Against all odds, Truman went on to win in November in a four-way race against Dewey, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and former Vice President Henry Wallace."
President Truman stood his ground against a Republican Congress and pushed back HARD, TAKING HIS CASE TO THE PEOPLE. As a result he won the presidency in the greatest upset in the history of presidential elections and reclaimed his Democratic majorities. That's presidential leadership. Will President Obama be Harry Truman or ... Jimmy Carter? The jury's still out.

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