Obama and America at the Crossroads
By Basil Wilson
Barak Obama won the Democratic Party nomination at a time when the American economy was in a free fall. Unemployment was climbing, housing foreclosures were going through the roof and the collapse of Wall Street assets threatened the pensions of Main Street investors.
Obama put together a majority coalition of young whites, the highly educated, Hispanics, and the African American voters. He not only won the Presidency but his Party was in control of both Houses of Congress. Immediately on taking office, he got Congress to pass a stimulus package of over $800 billion to boast economic activity and propel the economy out of recession. He spent a protracted amount of time passing a health care bill to provide more Americans with health care insurance and to drive the cost of health care down to extend the life of Medicare and Medicaid. The cost of health care supersedes inflation and containing those costs were seen as vital to the economic recovery and making American goods competitive in the world market.
The Affordable Care Act was passed at the eleventh hour of Obama’s second year in office. The specter of extending health care created immense rancor in the country and gave birth to Tea Party advocates who saw the expansion of government as constituting a threat to the constitution and infringing on sacrosanct liberties.
Two years after Barack Obama was sworn into office, the American electorate became impatient of incumbents and in the 2010 election provided the Republicans with a majority in the House of Representatives. The shift in the electorate signaled the end of the first stage of Barack Obama’s Presidency.
The stage 2 period of Obama’s Presidency lasted one year. Obama played the role of the great reconciliator. He sought common ground with Republicans. During the year of reconciliation, legislative initiatives came to a screeching halt. The Tea Party seized control of the public agenda and demanded in a time of sluggish economic growth, massive cut backs in government spending. The Tea Party became the tail that wagged the Republican elephant.
Barack Obama had lost control of the national agenda. The Tea Party advocates seized control of the bully pulpit. As the newly constituted House sought to slash spending and to preserve the perks of the wealthy, the economic conditions in the country became increasingly worse. Economic forecasters estimated that growth rates would be less than 2 percent and unemployment would remain at 9 percent or more going into the 2012 election.
The newly elected zealots in the Republican Party forced the leadership to dance to their drummers. The debacle over lifting the debt ceiling revealed to the world that political leaders in America were incapable of finding solutions to the long term debt and agreeing on policies that could get the economy functioning at optimal levels of production. The tawdry display of foolhardiness by the Republican Bachmann’s of the world led to a downgrading by Standards and Poor, the first time in American history.
A compromise was arrived at the eleventh hour and the debt ceiling was lifted with an agreement of cuts to the budget and the establishment of a Joint Super Budget Committee comprised of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans to further reduce the deficit and to get the economy moving at an accelerated pace.
Facing re-election in 2012, Obama as the head of the executive branch, will be blamed for the state of the economy. Obama has abandoned the reconciliatory posture and rather than finding common ground, now seeks high ground in an attempt to rescue his Presidency. His speech before the Joint Session of the House and the Senate marked the third stage of Obama’s Presidency. He is now faced with the reality that Mitch McConnell, Boehner and Cantor will not pass any proposed legislation as it is in their Party’s interest to make him a one-term President.
Obama is attempting to wrest control of the bully pulpit from the Pea Party. He has put before Congress the American Jobs Act which represents another stimulus package to boost the economy from its state of economic non-job-growth. He has taken his Job Act initiative on the road. He has proposed expenditures of $447 billion to recharge the economy and to create jobs. There are initiatives to rebuild America’s infrastructure, extend unemployment insurance, tax credits for the middle class and summer jobs for youths. The President is proposing to pay for his new expenditures by closing tax loopholes and higher taxes on the wealthy. The President also sent to the Super Committee in Congress a $3 trillion deficit reduction package over the next ten years which will entail savings in Medicare and Medicaid and from the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All this represents the opening salvo for the 2012 election. The Super Committee must act by November or it will trigger automatic cuts in the Defense Budget and spending cuts across the board. It is unlikely that any agreement will be reached by the Super Committee. That could be bad news for Barack Obama because if the economy worsens, the electorate will be more predisposed to kick out the incumbents.
In the 26th Congressional District, the electorate elected a Democrat in a red congressional district. The threat to Medicare as imposed by Paul Ryan’s Budget passed in the House seemed to have been the decisive factor in that bi-election. In the recent bi-election for Congressman Weiner’s seat, a blue Congressional seat, a Tea Party Republican was elected. In the 9th Congressional District, voters wanted to send a message to Obama on the state of the economy and presumably on his policy vis-à-vis Israel.
What is most ominous for Barack Obama achieving a second term is that what occurred in Queens could be the beginning of white back-lash movement that could become a white tsunami and make him a one-term President. The tragedy is that will not just be Barack Obama’s loss but it would mark the triumph of escapism in American politics.