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BY JIM BARON
I would love to play poker with President Barack Obama.
I could sit there all night, never holding anything better than a pair of deuces, but I would bluff and raise, raise and bluff, and he would just fold his hand every time, allowing me to rake in all the pots. Republicans caught on to this early in his presidency.
I didnât vote for Obama, but he has been an inspirational leader and I like a lot of things he says he wants to do. But therein lies the problem: he is all talk and no action. He proposes good, sometimes great, initiatives then he seemingly abandons them. He leaves it to an unreliable Congress to do all the heavy lifting and as a result he lets them decide what the final result would look like, which often isnât within shouting distance of the vision he first put forth. To this point, he has utterly failed to stand up and fight for virtually any of the good ideas he has put forward.
He is, alas, a gutless wonder. When the going gets tough, Obama is nowhere to be found.
The centerpiece of his campaign was comprehensive health care for all with a public option to provide the kinds of coverage that many private insurers refuse to offer. While the congressional debate over health care dragged on for months, the President who proposed it was serenely above the fray, leaving the bully pulpit completely unattended. Practically the first thing he did once he actually stuck a toe into the health care debate was sell the public option down the river.
One reason many of Obamaâs actions are so unpopular is that not only does he have knee-jerk opposition from Republicans and the conservative right, but he also disappoints his own supporters by selling out so often and so quickly. They end up voicing their disapproval as well and their negative numbers get lumped in with the Republicansâ. His low popularity comes almost as much from the disappointed left as it does from the mad-as-hell right.
The man had a mandate; he was elected with 53 percent of the vote to Republican John McCainâs 46 percent. But he never stepped forward and used it and as a result it has now dissipated into thin air, right along with his Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and his 60-seat Democratic cushion in the Senate. The enormous political capital he came in with is completely squandered.
If he had fought for a public option for health care, if he had challenged the big banks that went right back to handing out overly lavish bonuses once they got their fingers on bailout money, if he had let the militaryâs Donât Ask, Donât Tell policy for homosexuals die rather than filing an appeal after a court found it unconstitutional, he would have kept that largely youthful coalition that swept him into office energized and motivated, and he probably would not have gotten his backside handed to him in the midterm elections. Instead, that coalition was as absent on Election Day as Obama was during the health care fight.
If he doesnât stand up for himself soon, if he doesnât stand up for the issues he ran on and for the people who supported him, he will be a one-term president, remembered only for his ineffectiveness and ineptitude, the James Buchanan of the 21st Century.
How long is it going to take Obama to realize he is beating his head against the wall by trying to come to a consensus with the Republicans? Earth to Obama: The Republicans are not going to compromise with you. Both incoming House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have come outright and said it, if Obama wants to compromise with them, he can do so by coming over to their side, in effect, by agreeing with, or at least surrendering to, them. They are not going to budge an inch to meet him anywhere near the middle.
Obama should get it through his head: He could have a cure for cancer and the Republicans in the Senate would filibuster it and Republicans in the House would vote it down.
It is happening again with the Bush tax cuts.
Obama absolutely has the winning political argument here: make the tax cuts permanent for all Americans earning less than a quarter-million dollars a year and let them expire for those above that cut-off point. Letting those cuts expire for the millionaires and billionaires would mean letting the tax rate increase by a crummy 3 or so percent on their income above $250,000 in a given year, up to the rate they were at during the Clinton administration, a time when the rich were doing quite well for themselves, thank you very much.
He should show some gumption. Obama should take that argument to the public, and demonstrate that he has the guts to draw that line and enforce it. Not only would he win the fight, not only would his government get to cut the deficit and fund many of the other programs he wants to implement, but his popularity rating would shoot back through the roof.
Make the Republicans stand up and say: âNO! Weâre not going to allow the middle class to have a tax cut unless millionaires and billionaires get an even bigger tax cut.â Make them stand up and say they are willing to borrow $700 billion dollars from the Red Chinese so we can give the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans tax cuts of six figures or more annually.
Instead, Obama has already sent out strong signals that he is going to cave on this one, too.
Mr. President, put up your dukes and have this fight. It is one you can win. It will show your Democratic base that you are willing to fight for them. It will show independent voters that you are willing to fight for SOMETHING. And it will show the congressional Republicans that you are not going to let them push you around and bully you out of the things you want to achieve as president for the next two years or more.
Looking for compromise and consensus is all well and good, and it would be a fine idea if it were possible. BUT IT ISNâT POSSIBLE!
The president and congressional Democrats can compromise and give in all they want and the Republicans are just going to stand there and say, âThatâs fine, what else are you going to give us?â
If Obama is going to go down as a one-term president, he should at least go down fighting.
STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY
Finally it happened. Finally!
I always wondered what it would take to make Americans stand up and say âStop!â to all the indignities and inconveniences we are subjected to in the name of security these days, especially at airports.
It turns out that what it took was having our private parts handled by strangers. That, apparently, is where at least some of us are willing to draw the line.
The brave words of John Tyner are reverberating in airport terminals around the country: âYou touch my junk, Iâll have you arrested.â I grant you, itâs not âGive me liberty or give me death,â but it will do for the present situation. And unless I miss my guess, someone is going to write a country song with that line in it real soon.
Instead of being pre-emptive on terrorism, our Homeland Security system is hopelessly re-active. It is always responding to the last threat: someone tries to smuggle liquid explosives onto a plane, and days later we can no longer travel with shampoo in our luggage.
Some idiot tries to light a bomb in his shoe and instantly we are shuffling through airport security lines in our stocking feet. The latest guy has a bomb in his skivvies, so now we are getting our privates groped. I fear the day a terrorist tries bringing a bomb on a plane inside a body cavity. What is it going to be like for the rest of us to fly the friendly skies after THAT? But I can already picture some moron being interviewed on the TV news saying, âIf bending over and spreading my cheeks is what it takes to be safe in the air, then thatâs what it takes.â
Other countries get passengers safely on and off airplanes without giving them the Oriental Massage Parlor experience. We should be able to as well.
But donât expect a big civil disobedience demonstration of people opting out of the full body scan that photographs your privates in lieu of groping them.
Nobody is going to delay their trip to Grandmaâs house for Thanksgiving to make a political point. We should, but we wonât.