Stand up, of course, means many things to many people. But in the context of my question, I define it as standing up for campaign pledges made in two elections; to end Wall Street and banking abuses, uphold his oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States, break Congress loose from its ideological deadlock, ease the burdens imposed by a shrinking economy and set America on a sustained and sustainable path to its former international reputation. That reputation necessarily includes a sense of fairness, opportunity and respect for international law. I voted for him on the basis of those pledges and a concern for the direction of the country after 9-11. Perhaps you did as well. Having won that election by 7.25% and 10.5 million votes, he came as close as any president in recent times to a mandate. He was given the choice between standing up and rolling over. For whatever reason, he chose to roll over. In my mind, he threw away the opportunity that such mandates seldom provide and opted for the continuing policies of fear-based politics and re-election at any cost. In his defense, the circumstances at his inauguration were far bleaker than either he or the nation might have supposed. To list but a few;
Wall Street was a disaster born of decades of bailouts by the Federal Reserve in a scam (there is no other word for it) that privatized winnings and socialized losses. President Obama chose to bring back as his closest financial advisors exactly the same people from exactly the same private sector that enabled the crash he inherited. He gave in and threw money at them once again and ‘too big to fail’ came into the American lexicon. They were indeed too big, but the price of salvation might better have been a breakup of large firms into smaller, the separation of commercial and investment banking, a haircut for investors and the wholesale dismissal of top management, perhaps with indictments, perhaps without. He blinked, when he promised us a steady eye, no doubt terrified by the tales of collapse whispered in his ear by those same advisors.The result? Wall Street recovered, unchanged and unrepentant, while the American worker and a shrinking middle class staggers under the burden of that failure.
Healthcare. He got it, but it was and is a Pyrrhic victory without the ‘public option’ that might have made it a success. Obama caved on that as well, giving us a controversial and largely despised patch-job in order to achieve anything at all. ‘Anything at all’ necessarily took that steady eye off the ball at a time when other matters were far more crucial.
Banking. With management bloated on record profit, deep into fraudulent mortgage scams and faced with the burst bubble those scams produced, our largest banks faced equity shortfalls that would have sent earlier iterations into FDIC receivership. Again, when he could have taken over the most egregious offenders and reopened them as Federal banks, Obama blinked and threw our money at them, yours and mine. As Federal banks, they might have been broken up and managed properly, substantially changing the banking environment for the better. Instead, a CEO or two at the top lost their jobs, but from Bank of America to Wells Fargo, from Citigroup to JPMorgan Chase, they’re still ‘too big to fail’ and (recently, according to the Justice Department) ‘too big to prosecute.’ That’s a watershed admission that belongs entirely among Barack Obama’s no changes you can believe in.
Guantanamo was a promise to a major part of Obama’s base, its closing meant to heal the outrage over disclosures of Abu Ghraib and the outright torture poisoning our culture at home and reputation abroad. Through two Obama administrations it remains open, the President outgunned by Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate. The President himself claims it was (and is) a major recruiting agent for al Qaeda and Muslim terrorists worldwide. Repeatedly, he shows the world the incapacity of an American president with his failures. As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces he could have closed it by Executive Order and let the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court, fight out the result. At the very least, the moral burden would be elsewhere than the Presidency. He blinked andcontinues to blink, save for an end to waterboarding.
The debate he ‘welcomes’ and will not have. I watched a recent 45 minute Charlie Rose interview with Obama and it was heartbreakingly the same president; controlled, speaking down to me like the professor he is and, in my view, lying through his teeth. I understand that presidents prevaricate and have a long history of listening to them do just that. But the nation is in crisis and the time is long past to ‘stand and deliver.’ Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning are heroes to me and criminals to this President. End of ‘debate.’ As I write this, it appears Snowden’s father has forwarded terms to the Department of Justice under which his son would turn himself in for prosecution. Perhaps that, if accepted, will bring the ‘debate’ to where it needs to be, American courts on American soil. Mr. President, dial up Eric Holder and get this job done if you mean what you say.
Breaking Congress loose from deadlock is something on which I’ll give him a pass. Congress has buried itself with a less than 10% approval rating and seems indifferent to crawling out from under the dirt. I know Obama tried to be bi-partisan and gothis balls handed to him each time. But to continue the national divisions that exacerbate that deadlock is not conscionable, nor is it part of the pledge he made. Part of ‘standing up’ is holding people’s feet to the fire in front of America.For twenty-seven years, Grover Norquist got away with pledging all Republicans to ‘no increase in taxes’ under any circumstance. Talk about feet to the fire,Obama should go after him for illegally circumscribing the constitutional obligation of Congress and cause the uproar that will result. Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution, states “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.” gives Congress a power that Norquist has essentially denied them. That denial prevents Congress from negotiating an economic path forward.
Setting America on a sustained and sustainable path to its former international reputation has not been an apparent priority, much less an achievement. Former President Bush left the new President Obama with America’s reputation infree-fall across the globe. That downward spiral continues under policies that are essentially unchanged; a shrinking economy, job loss, domestic spying, international fear that we have lost our way and political arguments that support that view, including disastrous immigration policies and the bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy of record numbers of citizens, cities and even states.
The difference between politicians and statesmen is individual. People who are politically active, especially in party politics are, quite obviously, politicians. To be a statesman is a steeper climb over a considerably longer period of time and we Americans are impatient with both time and climb. Perhaps that’s why we produce so few statesmen and such a volume of partisan politicians. Their goal is re-election, party dominance over all and to hell with the nation’s long-term welfare. We elected Barack Obama (twice) with the diminishing view that he might be the statesman we so badly needed. He has, in my opinion, turned out to be a politician and not very apt in even that lesser role. Obama stated positions we found attractive and trusted him to fulfill. Rather than go to the wall with those pledges, he turned professor on us, trying to bring bipartisan agreement to a strongly and wearyingly partisan Congress. We are not a classroom, we are a nation in great distress. Nor are we students in lecture hall, taking notes for an exam. Knowing not what else to do, we have begun to take to the streets in search of freedom and fairness in our damaged society. Those demonstrations are as much against Obama’s own disregard for ‘change we can believe in’ as they are Wall Street and the continuing decline of an America we once knew and remember.Barack Obama is a young president, with decades remaining for personal reflection on his service to America and its legacy. The day is late and the time is now. Time for the real President Obama to please stand up.