Monday, December 6, 2010

Two words: one term

Last Friday a liberal friend of mine made a post to his Facebook that I was shocked to see, but I found it emblematic of larger issue, so I thought I'd share:
I just removed all my "Barak Obama" links. I know no one will run against him in the 2012 primary, but if anyone does, I will vote for that person. He's proven that he has absolutely no backbone. I regret ever having voted for him.
My response was the following:
I agree that he's a wimp, but I don't regret voting for him. Hindsight is 20/20. I think we should reelect Teddy Roosevelt. That guy knew how to get his agenda passed.
There's two points I like to make right away. First, my friend is not suggesting that we would have been better off with McCain/Palin. Instead, he's arguing we would have been better off with a different Democrat winning in 2008. Second, I'm only half joking when I say we could use another Teddy Roosevelt.

Teddy made the choices he thought were best for the people as a whole and fought tooth and nail with every political tool he had to see his policies passed. I find it incredibly ironic that the great "trust buster" was a Republican, and they hated him for it. But many people think he made the right decision not only for workers but for business as well.

Other TR decisions -- particularly concerning the Panama Canal -- are historically less popular, but he acted with conviction and thought and made a choice without regret or remorse. Say what you want about the Canal, but Teddy never lost sleep over it; I doubt Obama will have the same luxury upon his presidency's end.

Given the picture I've painted of Teddy, he might remind readers of another president we've had recently: George W. Bush. I don't like Bush because I feel his policy decisions were terrible, but they were his and he clearly owns them, and there's something to be said for that.

Do I want another Bush? No. I don't really want another presidency like Bush's because in principle I don't approve of the "bully pulpit" legislative process that his presidency represented. I believe in collaboration and compromise, but the current debate over the Bush tax cuts spurs two interesting caveats to such an approach.

First, you cannot compromise with those who have no interest in comprising with you. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the Republican strategy is tax-cut blackmail, which is essentially the opposite of compromise. Krugman argues that the best Democratic strategy is to refuse engagement now before the blackmailing continues further, and I agree.

Second, there is no reason to assume that a compromised position is better than the position for which you currently advocate. Making such an assumption universally places process above principle. Based on the consequences that follow, there are times when compromise is warranted and times when it is not, and wise men know the difference.

Democrats, whether they admit it or not, are attempting to create greater equality of wealth by taxing the rich. Republicans ran in 2010 on reducing the deficit. Extending tax cuts will lead to greater wealth inequality and cost approximately $4 trillion over the next decade, which is anything but deficit neutral.

If Democrats fail to compromise, they actually achieve what they desire while at the same time holding Republicans true to their own campaign promises, so why compromise? Obama needs to understand -- like TR and W did -- that the role of the president is two-fold: making decisions shaped by public opinion and making decisions that shape public opinion. Voting down the tax cuts for the wealthy actually achieves both.

In any case, you have to make a damn decision, and Obama lets others make decisions for him, which makes him appear weak, it leaves Democrats searching desperately for a true leader, and it leaves progressives -- ironically enough -- hopeless. It's decision time for Obama, and the decision is this: "Do I want a second term?"

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