Friday :: Feb 6, 2009

The Education of Barack Obama


by Deacon Blues

The United States economy lost nearly 600,000 jobs last month, according the Labor Department this morning, with the U3 unemployment rate rising to 7.6 percent as a result.

And yet the GOP senators and their media enablers bicker over "wasteful" spending, and talk incessantly of reducing the stimulus package downward into the neighborhood of $500 billion, primarily by using tax cuts and railing against any spending that they believe doesn’t lead to immediate job creation. As Steve said several days ago, Barbara Boxer and other progressive Democratic senators now fully realize that the GOP is prepared to stall this debate out through the entire month of February to drown this package in March after they have successfully labeled it as pork. They will try to deflect all blame by alleging that Obama didn’t negotiate with them and live up to his bipartisan aims. Any progressive could have told the Obama administration that this is their Achilles heel: if you give away your strength by making the minority cabal more powerful than they really are, you allow them to define your level of effort.

Several wise folks have said of late that Obama should never have allowed the House Democrats to write the initial package. He should have told the House Democratic leadership what the essential elements of an acceptable package were and put limits on David Obey and Nancy Pelosi instead of allowing them to waste time sending up a package that has a target on its back. Obama also failed because he sent word out way too early that he would accept a package based up to 30% on tax cuts, when in fact he should have started at 10% and then been willing to negotiate up to 30% on tax cuts in exchange for GOP support along the way.

It is also true that the Obama administration has failed miserably at the media war and spin war in selling this effort. Robert Gibbs is an inadequate press spokesman every day with the White House press corps, lacking the necessary edge needed to remind the pack that horse race bullshit about cabinet nominees is not as important as fixing the economy before it totters into the abyss of a depression. However, this problem goes far beyond Gibbs. The Obama team still thinks they can sell bipartisanship through a media filter stacked against them with corporate owners who already want to bring him down (read into the comments thread of this post). They have also been slow to mount an effective hardball strategy against GOP obstructionists because it apparently offends their bipartisan sensibilities, yet they are slow to realize that the media is intentionally letting the GOP grab the airtime and own the debate. Until Obama shakes the pixie dust off his shoulders and understands that he needs to challenge the media as well as the GOP, he will keep losing this battle.

The facts and economic statistics are there for Obama to use in this battle; he need not resort to Bush-like lies. The economy is going down and cannot wait for the GOP to strangle this package in the bathtub in March. Obama needs to go on the air one night early next week and do what he hasn’t done yet: tell the country that a recovery package is needed right away and that it must contain essential elements. He also must give some lip service support to those who are working hard towards an acceptable bipartisan solution, namely the 10-12 moderate senators who are about done with their work at building something from the middle outward, (although they seem to want education funding moved out of the bill and into a subsequent debate.) A good deal of the cuts wanted by this gang of moderates are senseless, like cutting Head Start, food stamps, and the core education funding even Obama himself wanted. But keep in mind that this package will go back to the House for a conference committee, so the Senate “moderates” are simply keeping their cuts in their bill at this point, to be possibly added back in at the end of the process in what may be a close but successful vote. And it goes without saying that the final bill can benefit from a closer look at some of the spending, to see if it really is warranted or needed right now. Moreover, it is also important to note that some of the funding proposed for elimination is to programs that Joe Biden championed, so I wouldn’t count on these cuts being in the final recovery package. This is simply a way for the Senate moderates to lay down a marker for future negotiations with the House. However, Obama will need to signal something to this group today that their cuts may go too far in costing jobs and support from other Democrats.

In addition, Obama needs to enlist the bipartisan group of governors who want this recovery package, put them front and center as advocates for the package, and show the media and GOP senators that there are many GOP governors who want the education, Medicaid, and infrastructure funding that GOP senators want cut. It would help for Obama to take a shot at any GOP senator who opposes this bill when their home state has troubled schools, crumbling roads, and a declining economy, and for Obama to point out that these senators may be out of touch with their own governors and constituents. He needs if necessary to take it to the Kit Bonds, Lindsey Grahams, and Jim DeMints by name, and point out that their states need this increased funding.

But Obama must go a step further, and shine a light on those who insist on more of the same that has failed this country these last two decades, who prefer to stall unless they get their way on everything despite the best efforts of his administration and those in the bipartisan middle. He started doing this over the last several days, but he will have to be more pointed and hit these critics even harder by pointing out their own records over the last several years. It is this last part that will be the most difficult for Obama, but he is no longer a candidate talking about change but rather the leader of the nation responsible for addressing critical problems. When someone or something is an obstacle to your best efforts at fixing something, you need to shine a bright light on them before you run over them. Then and only then will you gain any respect from those who are aligned against you, whether it be the media or the Republicans.

President Obama, no matter how distasteful it may be to you personally, if you want to get a package and turn this economy around, you have to run over a few Republicans in this battle, leave them bloodied by the roadside, and make an example of them for future battles. And that goes for the media too.

Deacon Blues :: 12:15 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!